For some of us, thinking outside the box is a challenge — we don’t get that light bulb moment in the shower. And while other entrepreneurs make it look easy to come up with next big idea, the truth is, it’s not. Innovative products and ideas that change the game and make an impact on our society aren’t easy to come by. But when you create a product that a customer or industry didn’t even know it needed, you’re on your way to striking gold.
It’s not always the case though, as you’ll find out. How do you develop a product customers didn’t even know they need? We caught up with CEO and co-founder of Phoria, a Melbourne based immersive media company working to find out exactly how he and his team did it, and what it took to get them to where they are today.
CeBIT 365: What is Phoria?
Trent: Phoria is an immersive media start-up aiming to transform imaginations with tools like virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D technology and beyond. Originally Phoria started as Scann3d. We’d scanned buildings and created 3D renders. But we realised the space we were playing and working in can work far beyond the scope of scanning. Through core immersive media we had the ability to transport people to places. Scanning is just one of our four immersive technology capabilities. Originally, we worked solely in the real estate space. We scanned properties for buyers to experience before they purchased - they could be overseas investors or anyone who couldn’t attend a property inspection in person.
CeBIT 365: How did you come up with a product an industry didn’t know it needed?
Trent: It was inspired by pain. At the time we were looking for a house to rent. On the real estate’s website there was an endless array of alluring photographs. But when it got to inspections 9 out of 10 times it was completely different. We planned our entire weekends around these inspections and after them we felt deceived and disillusioned. We wanted to know, how could we bring more transparency online?
Then we started to research deeper into what technology there was, and what technology was emerging, that could help, that could alleviate this pain. We connected the dots from there.
We first started in the residential space with Matterport’s 3D tours, which at that time, was very edgy and innovative.
CeBIT 365: How did the market react when you released Scann3d two and a half years ago?
Trent: Back then we were perceived as something as a novelty. We presented at a number of real estate conferences and many said: “We’ve seen this before, it’s a fad, it will pass.” The price point was also high. Today the reaction is completely different. When we go to conferences now, people can see the strategic and commercial benefits of having this functionality.
We’ve also evolved. We’ve stopped being a scanning service provider and now focus more on creating an ecosystem. We can help equip and upskill businesses and their teams to do the scans in-house which has reduced the cost from $500-$700 per scan to $170.
CeBIT 365: Was there a similar product already on the market when your first launched the business?
Trent: There were existing offerings but we were met with a jaded market. The technology was being promoted as a solution that would put a link on the agent’s website to a slideshow. It was a bad experience for buyers. Our solution was different, we had to re-frame people’s mindset and market our solution differently so it wasn’t disregarded upfront.
Property is a low-hanging fruit, we have a big appetite for it here in Australia. However, property isn’t the only market. We’ve been able to apply our technology in other sectors that weren’t aware they needed a product like ours.
CeBIT 365: What other industries have you had success with? And how did you make these industries see the benefit of your product?
Trent: Through real estate we realised the value we could provide to preserving historical sites. These sites are our history, they’re our DNA, but they’re constantly under threat of erosion and damage. We noticed that we could use our skills to create digital blueprints. For example, we did some work with the National Trust capturing unique sites. At first we were met with skepticism - they were very averse to technology and considered it a novelty and a fad. We ended up working closely with the Victoria branch and scanned the Old Melbourne Gaol. They saw the value of virtual reality and weaved it into their strategy.
Now the National Trust can see how this technology could help them connect with younger demographics and give access to the historical site with ease. For instance, schools can go on virtual field trips. The gaol is three storeys high, the second and third storeys are not accessible to people in wheelchairs. VR gives everyone access to these places.
CeBIT 365: Is this experience affordable for everyone?
Trent: Absolutely, VR is becoming more and more mainstream. You can create a headset for $15 with Google Cardboard. This gives you the ability to turn your smartphone into a vessel for VR and we launched 1,000 Matterport VR experiences like the Gaol for free!
CeBIT 365: Where do you see this type of technology going in the future? Are there more markets that you think will use it?
Trent: I feel VR is mainstream. It’s so accessible and we’re going to see a bunch of businesses tapping into this. We have designed VR immersive wine tastings for clients and also see huge potential for it to be used as a form of therapy for patients in hospital.
Last year we worked with the TV show The Block for their season finale. Our technology was used as part of a competition to find a hidden key in the apartments. After the segment, a family who watched the show reached out to us and asked if we could bring the headsets to their daughter in hospital. The Block contestants took a VR headset to the hospital and she got to go through the house in this immersive VR experience, from her hospital bed. You could tell by watching her she was transported to another place. The doctors commented on the impact it had on her vitals and well being.
We’re now looking at how we can use this technology for therapeutic benefits. This resonates on a deep level with us as we’ve wanted to do social good from the beginning. We reached out to a few hospitals and were invited into an incubator hosted by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute at the Royal Children’s Hospital, to perform their first clinical VR research. We want to help validate the efficacy of VR to help reduce pain and anxiety in patients. We’re going to do this through gamification, through a choose your own adventure story. VR will give patients the tools to be the master of their own journey, to become the storyteller and get empowerment through that. They can go on an iconic holiday to the Taj Mahal or even explore Mars, right from their hospital bed.
CeBIT 365: Do you think VR is going to have negative impacts on society?
Trent: We’re dedicated to having a positive impact and not creating addicts. The strength lies in providing a solution that allows us to remove physical barriers that stand in the way for everyone to have access to the same kind of experiences. We want to improve life for those people who have a tough time. We can't know what’s going to happen, but if we approach it consciously and find the balance we’ll be fine. If you look at our work with the National Trust, we still want to compel people to go and visit the sites in person. Right now it doesn’t replace the sensation of physically being there. VR isn’t a substitute, we feel it’s complimentary.
CeBIT 365: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs to create a product people don’t even know they need?
Trent: Look at the pain points. Everyone feels they have found a solution. But it really comes down to finding a pain point that people will pay for to be fixed. Focus on the common challenges that people face in their daily lives and work back from there to find a unique solution.
Collaborate. Don’t operate in a silo. If you can focus on your strengths and know your weaknesses, you can find people to fill those weaknesses for you. I’m a massive advocate for having a co-founder. We have a team of 8 co-founders and through this we share responsibilities, we address everything together and we’re a family. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
Keep at it. When we started out we were dismissed as a fad and now VR is the topic of conversation.
Stay true to your core vision, don’t sell out for a quick buck. Secure enough resources for where you want and need to go.
Listen. Listen to your customers, what they need and see if you can meet them halfway.
If you're interested in seeing Trent speak more on the future of VR check out his presentation at Melbourne University.
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