Lori-Lee Elliott believes her software can replace paper and pen with a smartphone, while improving training, productivity and safety on the oil and gas jobsite. And she is launching her technology startup here, in the nation’s energy capital.
Brittany: Hi, my name is Dr. Brittany Barreto, CEO and Co-founder of Pheramor. And this is HXTV, the show that champions Houston’s entrepreneurs and innovators, brought to you by PKF Texas, advisors and CPAs supporting Houston innovators for the past 15 years. Last year, I was honored to be interviewed by Russ Capper, and this year, HXTV continues to bring you thought leadership. Today, I’ll be interviewing Lori-Lee Elliott, CEO and Co-founder of Future Sight AR. Lori-Lee, welcome to the show.
Lori-Lee: Thanks for having me.
Brittany: It’s so great that you’re here. The first time that I met Future Sight AR and Lori-Lee was at TMCx during a pitch competition hosted by Startup Grind. I was really impressed with your product and even more so by your team’s energy. Why don’t you start by telling our audience what Future Sight AR does?
Lori-Lee: Future Sight AR is a very early stage augmented reality software company. We make AR products to help improve worker productivity in construction. Because we’re in Houston, it’s specifically oil and gas.
Brittany: How early in the company are you all?
Lori-Lee: Like I said before, we are really early stage. It’s just us founders at the moment. We have been working on it for about 18 months, and in late 2017 we did a beta test, which went awesome. Now, early this year, we’re looking to do our first pilots, and we’re currently fundraising, so we hope to be generating revenue by 2020.
Brittany: I heard that you have two products, right? The Bridge and the Atlas. Can you break down a little bit by why those two products are unique and what they are providing to construction workers and oil and gas engineers?
Lori-Lee: Our first product was The Bridge, and that’s sort of synonymous with Future Sight AR. The Bridge is our augmented reality product offering and it’s a work instruction tool that helps people in the field to complete tasks with better efficiency and higher quality. It’s unique because unlike other products out there, it’s an AR platform, but we also provide content and procedures on the back end, so it’s kind of a one stop shop, off the shelf product. And then we have Atlas. Atlas is our VR product, and that’s a little bit different. With Atlas, project teams can conduct 3D model reviews collaboratively in VR. People can port in from anywhere in the world and all review the same project at the same time.
Brittany: No matter where they are?
Lori-Lee: No matter where they are.
Brittany: Oh my gosh. Ok, so just to clarify really quickly for the audience: AR is augmented reality, and VR is virtual reality. Augmented reality being, you’re essentially projecting an image next to something in real life, right? And virtual reality is where you’re in it. Is that right?
Lori-Lee: Right. So, with augmented reality, digital assets. Those can be anything from pictures, words, animations, 3D models. And we overlay that on your field of view so that you can still see what you’re doing, you can still see your surroundings, but you have these extra digital things that you can interact with. That’s in contrast with VR, or virtual reality, where you are completely immersed; you’re taken to another world; you could be in a facility’s 3D model; you could be on Mars; and you can’t see what’s around you; you’re completely gone.
Brittany: How is AR and VR increasing the efficiency on these sites?
Lori-Lee: With AR, that’s really the tool that we use to help increase efficiency and productivity. We do that by supplying all of the information and documentation procedures and 3D models that a worker needs to get their job done when they’re doing their job, and because we’re using AR, we have the ability to do that hands-free so it just kind of shows up in your field of view.
Brittany: Instead of a paper book manual on how to fix this pipe, you essentially are having a digital 3D model being shown to the worker on how to fix that pipe, but they don’t have to read step-by-step.
Lori-Lee: That’s it. What we do, and I think this is what really makes us unique, is that we’ll have a 3D model, so you know, an image asset that shows you what you’re working on, what the thing should look like. It could be a pipe, it could be a valve, it could be an instrument, it could be rebar. Coupled with that we have text instructions that walk you through what you need to do. Each instruction pairs with an arrow prompt so you know what to look at. You know, if you’ve got this giant valve that you’ve never seen before and you’re like, well, where does this thing attach? It will tell you.
Brittany: Awesome. I can imagine that this probably helps with safety on these construction sites as well. How do your products assist in the safety of these workers?
Lori-Lee: On every project safety is paramount. Building a safety culture is a top priority no matter what project you’re on and no matter where in the world. While we didn’t originally build the product this way, we were so happy to find out that it actually helps add another layer of safety around your project workforce, which is great. We do that kind of one of two ways. The first way is what we call a safety gate, and a safety gate can be something that can be sort of passive and just like a reminder, like a prompt that comes up before you start a task to check and say, hey, do you have the right personal protective gear, are you wearing a hard hat, do you have the right gloves, do you have your steel toes on, do you have hearing protection? That’s something that you just sort of have to acknowledge that, yes, I’ve read this prompt and I have all the gear, I’m good to go. And then we have a stop-work safety gate. These gates go in front of work instructions and processes that could involve live equipment. Anything that is plugged into electricity or could have pressure behind it, anything like that. It actually won’t let you progress and do the work or see the work instructions until you put in a permit number that says, hey, I’ve gone to the safety office, they have made this safe for me, I have mitigated all the hazards and I’m ready to go.
Brittany: I know that you’ve worked on a bunch of different construction sites. I love—Lori-Lee has a picture in her pitch deck of her on a construction site with her boots and her one-piece suit, dirty, construction hat, glasses. So, you’ve been out in the field. What made you become an entrepreneur? What sparked this idea for the product and what got you into this startup community?
Lori-Lee: It all really started when I was a grad student at NYU. I was lucky enough to be in their Entrepreneurial Institute, so I got to be around a ton of entrepreneurs, NYU Poly, and see all of this cutting edge tech. And I was a student so this was just the most exciting thing in the world. When I was there—this was back in 2013, I saw some really early stage AR hardware, so some smart glasses and it was—compared to what we have now it was like the ugly teenager phase of things. So, I saw that and I was like, oh, this is amazing, this is going to be big. But I wasn’t in that field.
Brittany: What were you in?
Lori-Lee: I was actually going to school for journalism and entrepreneurship. I wasn’t involved in AR at the time, I was working on a renewable energy startup, so completely unrelated. When I graduated, I got into the oil and gas industry and I took my first job and I went to Australia to do the commissioning and startup of an LNG plant, of several LNG plants. That was kind of my second taste of the oil and gas industry; I had worked in the Alberta oil sands before. What really struck me when I was there was I was working for some of the biggest companies in the world, biggest construction companies in the world, on these massive high capital projects, and it’s the best of the best and the biggest of the biggest, and so much of what we did relied on pen and paper and a lot of analog systems and I was like, this is crazy, how is this happening? But it was the tried-and-true. This was the way that worked and this is how we got the work done, and we did. We got those projects going on pen and paper, but I was like, there has to be a better way.
Brittany: You couldn’t do this by yourself, right. I think you have two co-founders, correct?
Brittany: How did you meet them?
Lori-Lee: I actually met Future Sight Co-founder Sofia Lazaro, who was the then girlfriend and now wife of one of the electrical engineers I worked with in Australia. So, when we finished up that project we all came back to Houston and we got to meet everyone’s significant others, and I met Sofia. A couple weeks later—and she loves this story because it’s something that only I would do, we were having a get together, we were all coming back to the States so we wanted to all meet, and we were having a wine and cheese night, I brought a pitch deck with me. I had come up with this idea, I was like, I want to do this AR thing and I needed feedback on the deck, and so after everyone was like one or two glasses of wine in I was like, ‘Hey guys, do you mind if I pitch you my—’
Brittany: Look at my business plan.
Lori-Lee: Yeah, exactly. Sofia was actually interested. Everyone else was like, ‘That’s great,’ but she was like, ‘no, I really like this.’ So, we met up afterwards and decided we were going to do this together.
Brittany: That’s awesome that you found her. You also have an in-house virtual reality and augmented reality engineer, right?
Lori-Lee: Yes. That’s our technical co-founder, Veena Somareddy. She’s based out of Dallas. We met Veena online. It’s like an online dating story. We met her through—
Brittany: I know all about that.
Lori-Lee: We actually met through—Unity3D has a connector, which is sort of like a job board, match making, probably part-time dating site, and we saw Veena’s profile and we sent her an email, and she emailed us back and was like, ‘yeah, I’m interested.’ So, we drove up to Dallas and got coffee and we were there for eight hours talking.
Brittany: Wow, that’s awesome. You’re highly compatible. I should swab y’all. Were there defining moments in your company’s development where you knew you were on the right track and you’re doing the right thing?
Lori-Lee: Yes. We had a couple of big milestones where it was like external validation that things are going in the right direction and then just sort of milestones. I’d say the first big one was when we got into South by Southwest last year.
Brittany: Which is right there in Austin; next door.
Lori-Lee: Yes, in Austin. We drove up there for that and I think I was the most nervous I had ever been. I was more nervous going up on that stage than what I was on my wedding day. And then afterwards I was like, I’ve got this, but before you’re all shaky. That was just kind of like I said, external validation that we were on the right track; our idea was resonating; it wasn’t just, hey, I have this really weird problem that we have a solution to; other people saw it as well. Then, later on in the year when we met you and we sat down for a mentoring session with Sofia and you really got us on track. You were like, here are the things you need to do; this is what we want to see. After that meeting we started preparing an application for an accelerator, a very exclusive accelerator program in Seattle, and we got in.
Brittany: Wow, that’s awesome. What made you found your company in Houston and grow it here in Houston, Texas?
Lori-Lee: Basing things out of Houston was really a no-brainer for us. It’s the oil and gas capital of the world, and people can argue, no, it’s here, no, it’s there. It’s Houston. There’s so much opportunity and so much drive here to build solutions and have good ideas, and coupled on top of that we have so much AR and VR talent that comes out of A&M and University of Texas, it’s perfect. Whenever I’m talking to investors and they ask about runway and they hear how much runway our seed round can get us and they kind of give me a look. They’re like, ‘really?’ I’m like, ‘yes, because we’re in Houston and we can afford it.’ We can make money go so much further here because we don’t have the crazy high overheads that you get in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and New York. I think Houston is just really accessible. There’s that touch of southern hospitality. Everyone wants to help; everyone wants to listen. You can kind of go—we met you at a coffee shop for mentoring and it was just the easiest thing.
Brittany: That southern hospitality thing I can totally see that. I’m actually originally from New Jersey, and it’s kind of much harder to get free advice up there. Down here in Houston people are much more willing to put out a hand and make time in their schedule to meet with you and talk about ideas regardless of you’re still pre-revenue or not.
Lori-Lee: That actually has been amazing. The amount of people you can cold email or just say, hey, this is me, this is what I’m doing; can you help me? Can you give me some advice? The amount of yesses you get is astounding. When you get into the oil and gas world, you realize how small of a world it is, and people are just so great with getting introductions or saying, ‘hey, I know a guy over there; let me introduce you.’ It’s been great.
Brittany: Last question. Where do you see Future Sight AR in five years?
Lori-Lee: In five years, say, five to ten years—I’ve got to give myself a little bit of leeway here. We want to completely get into the construction vertical, and oil and gas, and enterprise. We also want to expand outside of that vertical into other areas. We want to get into AR ecommerce, AR social, AR medical— Veena is very passionate about that, so we definitely want to get into that as well, and then, education technology with AR. We’ve already had people come pitch us ideas and we’re like, sounds great. We’ve got to hit this home run first though.
Brittany: Lori-Lee, thank you so much for being on the show. This has been a really informative interview.
Lori-Lee: Thanks for having me, Brittany.
Brittany: And that wraps up my discussion with Lori-Lee Elliott, CEO and Co-founder of Future Sight AR. My name is Dr. Brittany Barreto, and this is HXTV. Houston, keep on innovating.
brought to you by