Building an XR Vocabulary for Businesses, with XR Bootcamp’s Ferhan Ozkan

Code is a big part of what makes XR work, of course. But for most businesses, knowing the DNA of the technology will be less important than knowing how to best use it. XR Bootcamp co-founder Ferhan Ozkan is enabling businesses interested in XR to enable themselves.

Alan: Welcome to the XR for Business podcast with your host, Alan Smithson. Today, we’re speaking with Ferhan Ozkan, the co-founder of XR Bootcamp, a platform to teach professionals how to create VR and AR applications, and support companies to bridge their skills gap in XR development through an intensive onsite program, cutting edge curriculum, and industry renowned lecturers with a focus on industry portfolio projects. I am personally very, very honored to be on the advisory board of XR Bootcamp and helping them really develop the future of how organizations will train their staff on how to build XR technologies. And so with that, I’d love to welcome Ferhan to the show. Ferhan, welcome to the show, my friend.

Ferhan: Hi, Alan. Pleasure to be here. Thanks for inviting.

Alan: It’s absolutely my pleasure. I just want to give you a little bit of history about you. XR Bootcamp started from VR First, which was an organization bringing VR labs into universities and colleges around the world. Is that correct?

Ferhan: Yes. Yes. Back then — almost four years ago — we started as VR First. The main mission was to democratize VR and AR around the world. And you also supported us on these times, because it was hard to find headsets as a developer, as a startup. And we actually tried to tackle this problem with the help of major headset manufacturers – Oculus, HTC, Leap Motion, Intel — and they supported us to create VR/AR labs around the world. And we are quite happy with the impact being created now, these labs are actually really become big and creating amazing projects. And we are actually proud to have this network and enable this network. Yeah, we are now actually around 800 university that we can reach and over 400 startup clusters. But as a lab that we have supported and seeded — as in equipment and other support — we reach to almost 52 labs. And now we see that these labs become actually quite impactful in their own region to create a regional VR/AR development scene, and VR/AR startup and clusters, and they are even creating VR/AR programs — academic programs — and industrial based trainings.

Alan: Ferhan, when did you guys realize that bringing this type of knowledge into the enterprise was the next step?

Ferhan: It is quite interesting, because we talk with institutions not only in educational, but government institutions. They reach to us after hearing about VR/AR. “Can we educate the people in our health institutions? Can we train the people, the employees that is actually working in the– airport workers, like on the aviation industry?” And we understood that there is actually already an initiative happening on different parts of the world, on different industries based on each government’s or each region’s industry focus. And then we decided, “OK, what we can do first of all to start the VR/AR innovation in each key destination?” So as I mentioned, seeding the equipment was the first one. I remember in the beginning of 2017, we had some kind of survey, and unfortunately for every 51 developer, there was only one headset in any institution or in a startup cluster. So think of like you want to create something, but you cannot even access the VR headset, which is a shame for this region. So we first of all started this seed equipment program, and then training programs come afterwards. And the biggest supporters or beneficiaries were actually the top enterprises in this local area, from manufacturing to automotive, from aviation to defense industry. And we would like to utilize all of these ecosystems like a startup cluster. So from the institutional perspective, they can even help creating a regional economy, with the help of science, parks, education institutions, and the agile startups.

Alan: You’ve seen a lot of startups in the industry kind of come– some of them have come and gone. But what are you seeing as the major trend as we enter into kind of 2020? VR and AR are starting to pick up steam. Companies are starting to ask for– what are you seeing from startups now, that you weren’t seeing a few years ago, that is really trending?

Ferhan: Yeah. I mean, this is a question that I can answer differently in every year, because of the rapid, crazy, evolving shape of the industry. But when we look ahead — 2020 and 2021 — what I see personally is the startups are usually creating platforms as a service. They just try to create their own businesses based on their maybe previous experiences, their previous business strategies. But they also see that it is not working like that, especially on B2C side. And what I have realized that there are many agencies, solution providers and startups who have started as a B2C product. Most of them are pivoted to enterprise application, because they see that there is already a market there that they can benefit from. At least to make a proof of concept for the enterprise and prove themselves there, and then skip to the B2C site whenever the mass adoption starts. But on the other side, from an enterprise perspective, most of them already need solution providers and they are not– maybe they were looking for some kind of normal advertisement agency. They were approaching to their advertisement agency, their usual film producer, production agency to create VR/AR experiences. But they understand that if they want more than a glorified POC, they have to actually reach the real VR/AR solution provider or startup. So we are right now seeing the clear distinction between the advertisement agency based VR/AR solution providers, and the enterprise based VR/AR solution providers. Especially in Europe, in Germany, what we have observed, the most successful startups — or startup leaders, let’s say — is coming directly from the heart of the enterprise, because they know how these big corporates work. They know all the old-fashioned — maybe you can call it — infrastructures work. And they are also aware that they have to find a solution based on these IT infrastructures, without changing so much on the IT infrastructures. Otherwise, it would create a lot of decision making process longer or it will make a lot of commitment from the corporate side, which is not easy from a startup perspective. So I have realized that the startups with this kind of enterprise knowledge, previous knowledge, they are the ones who actually achieve to work directly with the corporates. And we also see a lot of, of course, spinoffs from these corporates. They see one niche enterprise XR application needs, and they actually spin off to create the solution for the company that they have worked with.

Alan: What are some of the solutions that you’re seeing that are driving the value now?

Ferhan: Yeah. Instead of maybe the content related stuff, I think the navigation and also what I am seeing right now is on the enterprise application side, there is a lot of remote collaboration solutions right now, that is ramping up. But still it is not easy to show this to the corporate or to a client how it will work from their perspective. They can easily create a prototype and make a very nice pilot program for maybe one seat, two seats, five seats. But when you want to deploy this in the long run, it always comes down to how to scale. And we have witnessed that most of the startups who can tackle with this scaling challenge, are the ones that is actually having much better success while working with the clients.

Alan: So you also mentioned something that’s really interesting to me, the fact that large corporations are kind of spinning up teams, and this leads directly into XR Bootcamp and the work you guys are doing. It almost seems like enterprises have realized the value of virtual/augmented/mixed reality technology — or XR — and they’re starting to spin up teams in-house. What are some of the recommendations that you can give for a company that wants to start an XR division or a team?

Ferhan: What we have seen is, there is actually– this not only for VR/AR. This is usually in some kind of a vicious cycle or a chicken-and-egg problem that we are seeing right now. If I’m– let’s say I’m an evangelist in a large corporation and I see that OK, for my learning development needs, I would like to start the transformation towards VR/AR. Perfect. But there is always a boss that I have to convince. So in order to achieve that, I have to bring a demo to convince the decision makers, the board, my boss, whatever, so that they will provide– allocate some kind of budget for me. And then I’m going to an agency without any budget telling them, “OK. Let’s create a demo. It should look nice. It shouldn’t be maybe the whole experience. But I need to have something to pitch to my boss, to my executive board,” and then agency says “It is not possible, because you are not paying it. And I don’t know if your boss will allocate money for the upcoming potential project.” And since agency needs budget, I cannot even create a demo showcase. From an internal capacity perspective, this is actually a very unlucky situation and disappointing situation for the people who would like to initiate their first VR/AR deployment or pilot. And we believe that instead of trying to find an agency, what if a company creates their own team of VR/AR– we can call it maybe “VR/AR creation team” and then they will be self-capable of creating at least demos or showcases for convincing the bosses. OK? So in order to achieve that, you don’t necessarily need to even hire new staff members, because hiring new employees is always a problem, because it shows that you have to have a long term commitment, etc. But you can easily tell to your own team — or your own content creation team — to create a project for 2-3 hours per week, so that in the following weeks they can even create a small prototype, or maybe you can create a Hecaton. But it all comes down to how you will make your own engineers, your own designers, your own developers become a creator of your XR learning demo, or your XR app interface, or your XR club.

Alan: It’s interesting you say that, Ferhan, because as you know, we spoke offline earlier about what we’re working on. Part of what we’re working on behind the scenes is enabling individuals web– just regular web developers the ability to create spatial computing, and make that as easy as making a website. And I think the tools are starting to come that will allow anybody, in any organization to start making this content. And if you look out even five years from now, the glasses will be super cheap. They’ll be running on cloud and edge computing. So the processing power will be distributed. And it really comes down to making content, and making content fast and inexpensively, and democratizing the content creation, in my opinion.

Ferhan: I totally agree. Eventually– we already see a few examples, but it will become much more seamless — or let’s say frictionless — from the developer perspective or developer– we can call it a developer-friendly, and we will see WordPress or Wix of VR/AR creation. So the most important point here is, that is why we also concentrate on our upskilling bootcamps, instead of trying to show tools — which it can change, because if you have a WordPress or Wix or these kind of tools for VR, you don’t necessarily need to know all the coding and knowledge or all the details of the tools, because it would probably be intuitive and developer-friendly — but understanding how to create an immersive experience or how to even project the data to your AR device on the right moment, to the right person, to the right eye is more critical than explaining or teaching any tools on the market. Of course Unity, Unreal, and these engines is already important to make you enabled, which we strongly recommend if you already have a commitment for VR/AR. But on the basic part, how to create a digital reality and immersive strategy on your own company, how to create a VR/AR demo for your company and so that you can convince your boss, is much more important than other options, because now you become self-capable of understanding how you can work with even the third party providers.

Alan: Basically what you’re doing is you’re enabling businesses to enable themselves.

Ferhan: Exactly. Self-capable, self-capable.

Alan: Wonderful. [chuckles] OK, so how can people find out more information? I know the website is xrbootcamp.com. What do you have coming up in the next little bit with XR Bootcamp?

Ferhan: So with the valuable contribution of our advisory board, our board members include important pioneers, like yourself. And in addition to that, we have VR/AR managers from all the Accenture, BNP Paribas, KLM, Bosch, HTC Vive. So all these people are coming together. We are actually meeting quite often, every month. Even though all of out board members are quite busy, they really give a lot of important. So I would like to thank to all of our board members for their valuable support. And we are actually designating the top skills requirement of today and try to find the best matching modules, so that we can add to XR Bootcamp program. Our bootcamp is starting on May and we will have two paths. One is VR/AR full stack development. The other is VR/AR full stack design. So you can select one of them. And the first batch, it will be in Berlin. But in the upcoming batches, we would like to actually use the opportunity of our network in both US, Europe, and Asia with the help of our labs. We would like to deploy the similar bootcamps with the similar industrial based curriculum on different locations, based on the demand. So from a B2B perspective, of course, when a company wants– a company may want to send one of their employees, or a few of their employees to these bootcamps, or if they would like to upskill all of their designers, developers, engineers. We are also receiving applications for onsite bootcamp. So deploying this similar industry based curriculum inside the company for a few week long period.

Alan: So you have these things coming up soon. You’ve got the ability to do this onsite for companies that have larger teams that want to spin up. You’re going to be running this in Berlin, but then in also North America as well. I guess people can apply to be part of the XR Bootcamp at xrbootcamp.com.

Ferhan: Yes.

Alan: And is there anything else that you want to discuss about XR Bootcamp before we move on?

Ferhan: The most important part that I would like to share: our normal bootcamp programs is– maybe I can mention a little bit about the model here. The coding bootcamps is quite popular around the world. As far as I know, there are over 300 coding bootcamp programs in US. Most of them are providing web development, UI/UX design, product design, sometimes cybersecurity bootcamps, which– some of them are quite good. What I’m seeing here that the perception of upskilling is changing. Of course, universities are still serving an important purpose to give you the fundamentals of your own discipline. But from a bootcamp perspective, there are still people who like access to this knowledge without being part of a university. Since on a bootcamp you have– either you have a full stack– sorry, a full day program, which is, you are actually coming from morning till evening every day, it is three months. But you can also have a after work program, which we call it “part-time”, which you can actually finish the whole program in six months. So what we have seen that people like to access this kind of high-tech knowledge, even though they are not coming from these disciplines, because as you can easily see, VR/AR is something quite interesting for many people. And then you look at from a professional perspective or from an employer perspective, if I have a digital teaching project that I need maybe five people to upskill, instead of finding VR/AR developers and giving them engineering skills, I’m actually finding five engineers and upskilling them on VR/AR development, which is easier than upskilling on engineering background. So that is the exact thing that we are right now focusing. And as I mentioned, for our onsite programs, sometimes companies requires not the whole module itself, but some specific parts. So we can actually shape it based on their needs, since we have an modular program.

Alan: So Ferhan, what problem in the world do you think we can solve or do you want to see solved using XR technologies?

Ferhan: Yeah, so this is– this is hard to answer. And if you are talking about today, my answers will be different than if you are talking about in the long term, because–

Alan: Let’s talk about today, and let’s talk about 10 years out.

Ferhan: Okay. So today, I believe VR is quite a meaningful tool to use, especially solving today’s problems. Especially since we are talking about today, I would expect from the enterprise side, I would like to see people coming to their work or accessing to their– any kind of job opportunity with the help of very nice training and onboarding processes happening on VR/AR. So making the jobs — or even the jobs that requires more skills — and making it accessible is quite important. So making these jobs accessible through VR/AR development is quite important from my perspective. Maybe you have heard as well. The best onboarding is no onboarding, right? So in order to achieve that, maybe you will just start your job today and then start already contributing to your company, by just with the help of augmentation or with the help of virtual/augmented reality tools. So this is the world that I would like to see today and in the upcoming years, which is already shaping up in some companies. And for the next ten years, of course, we may think about a little bit like mass adoption on the consumer level, and AR. We are part of Open AR Cloud. So I believe that 10 years from now, we can see the implications and impact of AR cloud. So VR/AR can also be part of our daily lives, and helping us on any way possible. So I’m expecting that we don’t need to look at screens anymore. So 10 years from now is screenless future that I’m imagining.

Alan: That’s pretty cool. Today’s focus is enterprise. Tomorrow is the mass market in a screenless society. Well, Ferhan, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule. How can people find you?

Ferhan: Yeah, xrbootcamp.com. I’m happy to connect on LinkedIn, “Ferhan Ozkan”. If they write, they will probably find me.

Alan: Awesome. Well, thanks again, my friend. Have a wonderful day. And that has been the XR for Business podcast.

Ferhan: Thank you.

Looking for more insights on XR and the future of business? Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify. You can also follow us on Twitter @XRforBusiness and connect with Alan on LinkedIn.

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