A plain room with a table, a few chairs, and a whiteboard has never sounded so…futuristic! But that’s one way to describe the technology behind meetingRoom, a VR space, where colleagues from around the world can gather and discuss business as if they were all in the same, plain ol’ multi-purpose room!
meetingRoom CEO Jonny Cosgrove does a better job of describing it, so take a listen!
Alan: Today’s guest is Jonny Cosgrove, founder and CEO at meetingRoom.io. Jonny is responsible for creating a new collaboration platform that allows anybody from multiple devices to be in one room and collaborate together. Jonny started his career volunteering and doing activism, before moving into events, marketing, and technology, operating in Dublin and Boston. He completed his MBA at Trinity College, Dublin, and began building the future of work, with a focus on sustainability, collaboration, and emerging technologies. You can learn more about Jonny and his team at meetingRoom.io.
Jonny, welcome to the show.
Jonny: Thanks for having me.
Alan: Oh, it’s my absolute pleasure, Jonny. We’ve known each other quite a long time, through the VR/AR Association and through great calls like this. We’ve met in meetingRoom, and I’m really, really excited to share with the world what you guys are working on, because the work that you guys are doing is really pioneering how people will meet in the future — in now, not even in the future, but right now — how people are meeting and collaborating. And I think, as we move to a world where we start to really think about travel — not just international travel — but travel to and from work, having people drive two hours to work, back and forth every day. It’s really inefficient, and it’s a real time suck for everybody. Not to mention, creating disastrous effects for the environment, as well. So let’s dive into this. Explain who you are, and your company, and what does meetingRoom do?
Jonny: No problem at all. So I agree. Pollution sucks. Unnecessary commutes absolutely suck. What we’re trying to do is make sure the collaboration is easier. One thing we found everyone can agree on is that collaboration is easier and more effective when teams work together in the same place. So, meetingRoom is a service that allows people to work with each other, using familiar meeting room facilities — like whiteboards — in a virtual environment, from anywhere. We’ve made this accessible from anywhere. We made it secure, and we’ve made these places in the spaces persistent. So, when you write in a whiteboard and you return next week, it’s still there, just like in real life. And what we found is, that it allows employees to feel a higher level of immersive engagement with what’s happening in the actual meeting. It keeps you focused in that time — in that moment — and lets you have more effective meetings. Even though employees are spread all over the world.
Alan: You mentioned something… heh heh, I thought it was funny because as you said, “Oh, yeah, you know, you put all your notes on the whiteboard and just like the real world, they’re there when you come back.” I was thinking, no, that’s exactly the opposite of the real world!
Alan: Somebody’s erased all your notes, and you’re like, “no! I didn’t take a picture of it!”
Jonny: Thank you for helping me explain it. So, one of the thingsthat actually happens a lot is that exact issue. That’s one of our own internal metrics; we’re working to get this through this point, “how are you using their internal rooms existing today,” if you’re working in-house, or how do you work remotely as it is right now? And one of the biggest problems was the work you do in that time, that space, on that Skype call, on that Zoom — whatever it might be — it disappears into that time. Unless someone’s been taking fantastic notes, it doesn’t come out — and that’s something that we get onto later, but note taking VR is lots of fun.
What we found that worked pretty well was, being able to add simple things like working this into your workflow. So, if you work on a whiteboard in meetingRoom, you can save out that whiteboard for work later. You can copy and paste it into your Slack notes, you can copy paste into an email; whatever your existing flow, it’s just there. Or you want to add it to your G-Remotes? All those little bits and pieces come together so that it’s much easier to get context around a conversation, but also just letting people have good, proper conversations and remove that extra asynchronous conversation. Slack is great, but you’ve got to be disciplined.
Alan: Yeah, I can imagine. Slack gets crazy sometimes, you got a bunch of channels and all of a sudden you go away for a weekend and come back and “you have 50 new messages.” Sometimes it’s just a couple of people that have gone off on a conversation.
With meetingRoom, what are features that are being used the most? What is it that people are using it for, with great results?
Jonny: One thing – as you were saying, you broke up slightly, but I caught it, so this call’s actually a good demonstration – one of the things we do, from a technical point of view, is we do things very basically. We’re a low-tech solution, rather than a high-tech solution. I know the minute you hear “VR,” people think you need 5G. For us, though, we’ve taken a step back and said, “how can we use today’s technology really effectively?” And yes, we’ll take on board more of that as it comes. But that means this works on 3G calls. A meetingRoom call uses 90 percent less bandwidth than something like Skype for Business. We’ve done tests against this. We’ve actually just been published in spring earlier on this year. But in terms of what we focus on, it’s having a good meeting experience. That’s what people do in there. They’ve got a table, they’ve got a whiteboard, they’ve got a collaboration wall with sticky notes, and they’ve got a reference wall for sticking their agenda up and setting a timer. So they actually get through these meetings effectively.
Our dream isn’t to have you sitting in VR all day. It’s to have effective – say, if you’re doing daily sinkholes or scrums or whatever you call them in your industry — you’re in there for 15 minutes a day, and it’s the most effective way of you passing that information together, so that you’re not having to live on a Friday afternoon in a Slack or an email thread. You’re getting in, chatting it out, getting everyone on the same page, and then getting back to work.
Alan: There’s so many tools out there that extend our workday and really help us collaborate. But at the same time, as you leave your office, the Slack notifications never end. And I think one of the things that VR does well is eliminate distractions. I’ve said this before, when you’re in VR, you can’t be on your phone, you can’t be doing other things. So, you get somebody’s 100 percent attention.
Jonny: Yeah. Even building on that; for us, it links in with our own… everyone has their driving values, and for us, adding some simple things — aside from the economical and the ecological points of view — we can save the world if we’re a bit more effective in how we all met in person. And remember; AR travel is only beginning. It’s moving into the whole world, having access to AR travel, and that’s going to grow exponentially over the next few years, if we don’t actually take on board. That being said, I’m not saying it’s not that you can’t travel. It’s much more case of we need to do it more effectively, especially from a business point of view. But for meeting room, it’s about enabling–
Alan: Hold on, hold on.
Jonny: Go ahead.
Alan: The reality is, anybody who’s travelled for business realizes that business travel is great when you’re 20.
Alan: Any more, you’re going, “okay, I don’t really want to get on an airplane, fly for a whole day, get to a meeting for a two-hour meeting, get on a plane, and fly all the way back”.
Jonny: That’s it.
Alan: Travel for vacation, when you’re with your family at the beach, or traveling in the world or something? Awesome. Travel to go to a three-hour meeting? Not so much.
Jonny: Business travel used to be a perk; now, it’s a nuisance. If you’re under 30, you get paid to travel. If you’re over 30, you’re paying to make sure the family get a bit of extra travel. Then there’s some good metrics there; it’s a good understanding when you’re talking to someone, trying to say you’re going to remove air travel from their life. You might be talking to the wrong person who loves that perk, and it still is a perk for them. But in terms of for us, the one driving point – again — a lot of the XR/VR world is very much about, “you’re going to live in here forever.” You’re not. That will come at some point. But — [chuckles] — for some people. Personally, I love the real world, and I would like to augment that, more than take it away.
But for us, you’re always gonna eat the meat. Sorry, that’s an answer to your question: we’re not getting rid of physical meetings, overall. That’s not our drive. Our drive is to replace the physical office as the primary means of business collaboration over the next decade. And that is something that we feel is achievable. But it’s also taken into account that you’re always going to eat the meat. Deals are done in person, and that’s going to get more brilliant — in the digital sense — over the next few years. But again, real world collaboration is there for an important reason. Even from an education point of view. Which isn’t one of our primary markets, we do deal with a lot of education institutions. And the point we see is, you’re always going to have educational institutions; they’ll change in how the distribute information, but one of the basic building blocks of humans is they’re social. So for me and our company, we’re not trying to drive you to stop being social. We’re trying to drive that they’ll actually get to the more important things and find that balance.
Alan: Yeah, I think really, when it comes down to it; business travel — deals — are not really ever done in a boardroom.
Jonny: They’re done before.
Alan: They’re not really done in a boardroom. They’re in a bar late at night, at the end of a conference. Or over a nice dinner. On the golf course. Deals are done when we are socially working together, and we feel comfortable with the other people. That’s one of the things that VR can’t do, and it never will do. But being able to get the meat and potatoes of the meeting — the technical side — and bring them together and say, “okay, let’s all work through this deal.” Then, because the deal’s probably already been negotiated from a very high level — on the golf course, or at a dinner or whatever — it’s like, “okay, we’re going to do business together. This is what it’s going to look like that. Now, let’s bring our teams together to figure out how this actually works.”
Jonny: Yeah. And with that in mind, I suppose one of the things that we really focus on — from the business side, as well as with the product — is allowing and enabling equal participation. Making sure everyone gets to participate, engage. and facilitate. Everyone can unlock that productivity. If people aren’t great at doing video calls, or a face-to-face — they’re both learned skills — this can be an easier way to get everyone in and breaking down those cultural divides to say, “right, different opinions drive sustainability of business,” and making sure that everyone has the ability to actually have an equal way of saying that. That’s what drives us.
I do think that I would agree completely; the deal is done before you get there. But it’s making sure that, by the time you get there, the deal is done. Things can fall apart if you leave it until you see each other in person. For anyone listening — I suppose from the C-suite — who’s worrying about their group trips going away: I think, if anything, it would improve the return on investment from those trips in the future.
Alan: It really will, honestly, because a lot of times, we’ll spend money flying people to a meeting around the world… and they really don’t have to be there. And that’s something that I’ve noticed; fly a technical person around to a sales meeting to present to the sales team. And it’s like, okay, that technical person presented for an hour, and you’ve just spent X amount to: fly them there, to house them for the three days or four days of the meeting. And really, they were only there for a one-hour meeting.
Jonny: You have no idea how many times I’ve been on the end of the call, especially the last few months as we’ve been releasing our more open version — we just released our open beta — so finally getting used to be able say, “our product’s ready, it’s out there!” But in terms of saying, “oh, no, we don’t need to hop on a flight and get to you. Let’s just get in the room. That’s the best way of testing this out. I don’t need to talk to you about the product; let’s get in there and talk in there.” And the results from that are — from a user testing point of view — so much fun, in a short sentence. But in terms of from a proof point, it’s a great way of seeing, are people ready for this or not? I think we’ve moved beyond the early, early innovators. I think we’re into the fast follower stage, where a lot of people are seeing all good work done. Remember, this isn’t just work from the last three-to-five years, which I think people tend to forget. There was so much activity in the oughties. There was so much activity in the 90s. And the tech has been around since the 60s, which we all know well and good. But in terms of picking up on use cases that were just maybe a little bit early, and picking how we can go forward? Our philosophy is, every company has a meetings universe, and all we’re trying to do is take up a certain part of that. You’re not trying to take over the whole lot. You’re just trying to come in and say, “we can fix this problem now for you really, really well.”
Alan: What are some of the use cases? I’ve talked to other collaboration platforms that are out there. There’s The Wild, there’s Spatial. They all have their different spin on it. What are the use cases that you guys feel that meetingRoom is uniquely positioned to take advantage of? I know one of the things you mentioned earlier was smaller groups.
Jonny: We haven’t got our virtual pizza in there to do the test just yet, but letting [in] enough people who could share a pizza. And going from that old rule, which is keeping small groups and small sessions.
Right now, up to 12 people can join a room from our standard offering. We can go a little bit higher when people request it. But right now, if you go to the website, that’s how many you can get in there on the standard plan. And what we focus on is internal meetings. We’re not trying to come in on the sales front and that. People do hack our own system for doing different things. “Yeah, we’d love to use this for sales and customer calls.” Yeah, sure, use your room for whatever you want. Our business model is probably close to something like WeWork or Regus, in terms of the space you’re going for. And when it comes down to what they’re using it for; it’s daily meetings, it’s weekly scheduled meetings, it’s regular meetings, and it’s very much at that decision-maker level.
There’s great tools out there for doing screen sharing. There’s great tools out there for doing lectures. There’s great tools for training specific things, and also on those bespoke training end other things. But for us, if you’re just looking to come in and work through an agenda, and set a timer to make sure you all get in there in time, and pass that information, that’s where we fit in. And also, I think the big thing is that we work on every platform. We work the same on your iOS device as you do in your Oculus Quest. Obviously, inputs are a little different in your head’s in a VR headset, but for us, it’s having the same ability across all the platforms. So, having a table, having a whiteboard, having a collaboration wall with sticky notes, and having that agenda and timer, so that you can just get to work.
Alan: Now, are companies able to change the look at the room? Or do you have different templates? Different looks and feels? Can they brand the room, so that it feels more to their corporate branding?
Jonny: Yes. We do a lot of that with the older enterprise clients at the moment. We are going to be bringing some fun releases coming over the next few months, to let more users do that. But for now, the way we usually have people brand their room is, they set up a sticky board in the way that suits their business. They set up their whiteboard with the templates they want, or with their own agenda items. And they use a PDF wall for bringing in presentations or whatever they’re doing. That’s where it starts off. I’ve seen a lot of logos that are about 10 feet tall in there; quite fun. [laughs]
Alan: They’re all pixelated.
Jonny: [laughs] Well, what we really try to do actually, I suppose, is… it’s very much like a coworking space. We’re there to help people get through there, as much as just use the software. So making sure that there’s guidelines on how to get the best use, as it is today. Because what we see an awful lot of is people acting like the world’s changed already. And you and I both know from all of our conversations and — one of the funny ones, actually, is that I remember my old beta room, which I had to retire for this new release. And it’s weird saying goodbye to the room you built your company in, but it comes down to bringing people through in a realistic way and saying, “look, let’s get you started in the right way. Let’s map out the process to get to deployment.” And again, a lot of the time it comes back to, “oh, here’s our tech, it’s great.” For us, we know that for the clients we work with, it’s bringing it through and bringing this throughout the organization, as opposed to just expecting it all to work, out the gate.
Alan: One of the other podcasts I recently did, we were talking about [how] this is no longer a technology problem; it’s an adoption problem.
Jonny: It’s funny you say that. So, everyone talks about the mom test. If you can sell it your mom, that great. But you’ve got to sell it to clients. For us, we’re looking at, it’s a case of going, “it’s the adoption test.” It’s “will you bring this thing home for the next 18 months?” Because that’s the one way you’re going in to make sure this thing — like any system, like, look at how Slack and Microsoft Teams have been pushing that the last three or four years — it takes time for these things to get through.
I used my old man as an example; he’s brilliant with his iPad. I bought him an iPhone for the last 10 years for Christmas. And they’re expensive bricks, because Apple didn’t train him how to use his iPhone; they trained him to use the iPad. He’s brilliant with his iPad. The same thing comes in with this kind of thing. Part of why we would have — not just because my old man, because Apple is such a great job to train people how to use technology — iPads are a useful part of the day. For us, one of our first engagements is usually me and Eddie coming in from a quest, and meeting a C-suite executive in a blue chip company, on the device they use every day. So, making sure that it’s a simple and easy for anybody getting in, not just your engineers. Not just your software developers. They’re some of my favorite people to get in a room with, because my user testing with that group, versus with a C-suite audience, is completely different. We make sure we just…keep focused around making sure people can work more effectively. Back to our own values of participation, and making sure everyone has the equal opportunity — from any device.
Alan: So, explain to me the typical onboarding. A customer says, “okay, I want to start using this; I want to run my weekly sales scrum meeting in meetingRoom.io. What’s my path to getting up and running?”
Jonny: I’ll call it a sign up to a “ping-pong” meeting. A ping-pong meeting is, every company has their first meeting in any of these tools, whether it’s Skype, Zoom, or meetingRoom; you’ll play around, and you’ll try and push your limits. That’s a great first meeting to have, especially in a room like ours, because you’ve got a whiteboard to play with. And you’ve got different things you can do, which are great fun. Getting started, you go to our website. You sign up, just there on the front page. What will happen then is,ou get access straight away into the open beta. You can invite your team. That’s the first thing I’ll tell you to do. And then you enter into, I suppose, our onboarding process. Our process is talking to myself along the way to try and understand — and my team, obviously; I do my best to actually get in what every client comes through at some point in the early part of the journey — and making sure that we fit a program around it. Just getting that first team meeting in there is key. It’s absolutely key to make sure everyone is in there and has their first meeting as a group. Because obviously, we’re a group conversation app. It’s not for you, one-on-one, to go in and while the day away; it’s for you to be able to have effective meetings.
What we’ve done with that is we’ve actually built up a number of little resources — I’ll call them “presents” for now — but you get stuff like a “how to copy and paste this in and get this going for your whole team,” from an agenda point of view. We also get different items, like an agenda that works really well with the room, and how to set up different parts of it along the way. That’s if you’re coming in as one small team, to try this out and see what’s going on. And then we work to see how can we get into a wider part of the organization.
In particular, I love talking with IT and risk departments, because we’ve built for that requirement; we’re built for the enterprise. We’re not a social app suddenly jumping into the enterprise space. We spent a bit longer getting our product together than others might have who jumped in this, because we wanted to make sure it hit all the compliance — from your GDPR, to different bits and pieces of brand regulation — and making sure that it’s easy to get through your process, because that’s one of the biggest problems, back to your adoption item. It’s easy to want something. It’s hard to make sure it stays with you.
Alan: This has come up on the podcast, where you have adoption — you have buy-in from the C-suite — and they’re like, “okay, we’re going to execute on this.” Walmart’s a prime example; they rolled out 17,000 headsets without a way to update them.
Alan: I’m sure they’ve figured it out now. I interviewed PWC’s Jeremy Dalton and they built a presentation to 275 people in VR simultaneously — and I actually happened to be there, because it was in Toronto. After the event, all the executives went out for coffee or whatever, and then there was a team of 15 people collecting all the VR headsets and then putting them in a room, and there was literally a pile — five feet high — of headsets. Just, they piled them onto a pile, and then one-by-one, they had to go through and put them in the right boxes. It was a substantial amount of work and just the device management alone on rolling it out on that scale. I think there are still some challenges around there.
Jonny: Well, that’s it. I mean, like, look; we’ve had requests to roll this out to 300,000 people, and we’ve said no, because there’s a lot of parts to that. Now, this is a bit earlier in our days, but this is a point where all this is becoming an awful lot simpler. And the suppliers are doing a great job of getting enterprise ready, and pushing that from a device management point of view. From getting failure-proof devices, and the likes of any of the standalone devices are getting very — when I say point of failure, I come from a hardware background as well, which I don’t talk about as much as I should — where if it was still connected to a PC? It was a great prototype. There’s some awesome stuff happening, say, in the automotive space. But as soon as that goes into stuff like the Quest and the Focus being able to handle that at scale, people will move to that. We’ve seen huge jumps around that already. It has to be, “how easy can you get this out there? And can you actually get us through a program of work getting this installed in an organization, not just in one team?” And that’s something we pride ourselves on doing.
Alan: From an adoption standpoint in a company, having a VIVE or a Rift, and then having a computer system — however small, you get them pretty small now — but being able to set that up, install Steam or install the Oculus Store, and then every time you go to use it, there’s enough
Jonny: If it takes as long a sentence for either of us to get people going on a PCVR, it’s got to be a bloody good use case, and really valuable. I’m at least 90+ days using a Quest every day, and using it for both work and play. And — as you well know — I’m a fanboy of PCVR, because I’m a gamer. But in terms of everyday life? Yeah, I use my Quest every day, because it’s easy to get in and out of. And it has all those things that I want it to do, including meetingRoom, so that it fulfills my need. And that’s what you’re trying to do with a device: provide a more convenient solution to what’s already there, as opposed to trying to force it in.
Alan: Agreed. So, meetingRoom works on Quest now?
Jonny: Yes! So, we’re having lots of fun. We’ve announced it will be releasing later in the fall, with the enterprise and other things.It’s a dream. [laughs] To put it shortly.
And people can get started right away with our beta version. They just need to take out a form on the website where you sign up, and we can get started there. I thought the last important point, which is kind of an exciting time; one of the big differences is we also have a web application — not WebXR, but an actual web application — to manage how you do everything. Right now, it’s really basic. For our beta, you can do invite teams, you can upload your documents you need in there. What we’re doing right now is engaging our community in a big way; building our next iteration of the dashboard. So, really looking forward to over the next two-three months, having that. Essentially anyone who gets in touch now can have a big impact on that because again, that’s customer-led as opposed to… we had to build our first room and get the infrastructure together. Now we’re making it easier for people to manage all these meetings. I know personally, I’m in a lot of rooms. So first-hand, I get to see what happens when suddenly, “oh, I’m in 30 or 40 different rooms on this account. Right.” [laughs] Same way you’re talking about the poor person in Walmart who have to maybe individually update 17,000 different headsets — which, as I said, it gives me coils.
But again, for us, it’s making sure all that is nice and simple. It’s making sure it’s wrapped together in more. So again, say we treat enterprise clients a certain way. We have startups who are going through our own journey, which is building a business in the cloud. Forget your garages, your hackathons — I built businesses in both, and they’re great fun. But for me, any business going forward, I get to actually build in the cloud. Obviously, building in meetingRoom is great fun. But for us, what we didn’t have at the beginning was the tool we have today. So we had a lot of gaps, we had to kind of realize, “oh, we haven’t built that thing on the whiteboard yet. Oh, that’s really difficult to do.” That’s been ironed out. As I was saying earlier on, we had to retire our original room. We’ve just brought in the designers to upgrade the room. It was very odd saying goodbye to it. At least on a daily basis. It’s like, “oh, I’m in the wrong room.”
Alan: Hidden Easter egg.
Jonny: [laughs] At some point there’ll be a retrofit, I’m sure. I want it back. I liked it.
But again, this is our first room of many. We’re really core-focused, and we do have a lot of different custom builds, like people making digital twins of existing services and doing a lot of really interesting stuff. So again, we built a platform. The first part of that is our meetingRoom, and letting people actually get in the plan every day.
But as you know, everyone is trying to get their heads around what they’re going to do next in VR and what can they do in XR to either be the first in something, not just for gimmick’s sake, but actually, hey, “we can make a fundamental change to our business. We can make ourselves more sustainable over the next 20 years, forget the next two or three.” It’s actually making sure that we can do stuff today and we can amplify that over time. And 2019 is going to be… everyone’s called 2019 the big year — every year’s a big year for VR and XR. And that’s fine and dandy. For me, I see this as the first year of true deployments into everyday use cases, beyond the very bespoke things. We’re talking about where every kid’s gonna want Beat Saber for Christmas. That’s fine. But at the same time, from a C-suite point of view, it’s now at that point where it actually makes sense. You’re not having to lug around a PC and connect three cables worth of gear, along with all those different updates to come along. Now it’s simple plug and play.
Alan: Absolutely. It’s easy to deploy. I think the Quest was a game changer. The Focus, again; being able to come in at a 10X cheaper device with no computer, no wires, no nothing, being able to put it on. Look, everything that I’ve seen is like, “yeah, we can stand up,” or, “we can wave our hands around or we can do all these things.” The real practical use cases where people are going to really dig in to using VR on a daily basis, they’re going to be sitting at their desk. They’re not be standing up, waving their hands around like idiots. They’ll be sitting at the desk, going into a meeting — maybe they’re on a beach, maybe they want to see their giant screens in front of them, whatever it is — but it’s going to be them sitting down, doing what they typically do, because how many times are you in a meeting where you’re all standing up?
Jonny: [laughs] It’s funny. Like, even we sometimes do find ourselves standing up more because we’re using these things. But for me, what that actually means in real life — and this is also linked with using stuff like Rec Room and other bits and pieces every other day — but I’ve dropped like 30 kilos since I began the business. I was too big then — I’m still too big now — but without actually trying, I’ve been able to be a little bit healthier. That is not a direct reason just because of VR. But it gets you thinking about how you approach your day, about how you do everything.
But, I suppose in terms of the future of XR/VR, as it pertains to the business end of things, I do think it’s the future of business and social. I do think that it’s going to change how we do everything over the next 10 years — not just driven by climate change, not just driven by cost controls– but by preference. We did a paper — our first week in business, we went out and tried to kill the business — we got to client to pay us to compare Skype for Business versus VR. Really, really simple. We said going in, video communications versus VR. This the question we are going to get asked, and we always get asked, and we will always get asked about it.
It came down to some really simple bits and pieces; like engagements, like excitement, and again, focused. Linked in with those lovely bits and pieces — remember, this was also our prototype day zero (and we’re always in day zero) — but this was the proper first version. In a study of a hundred people, which got published in spring early on this year, we beat out Skype for Business. It was actually one of the suppliers who pointed out to us, “guys, that’s bloody amazing. You put 20 quid into this product in comparison to, say, $20-billion into Skype,” which is now, from a business point of view, moulding back into Teams. So it was very interesting, even on that first Pepsi-Cola test, to see it coming through.
What I’m most excited about within that is it pulling us out of that Wild West. We’ve had digital twins since my first Facebook or Bebo account. That was my first digital twin. I know Metaverse is close to your own heart, and we’ve had a Metaverse since the Internet turned on. What we’re doing right now is visualizing and virtualizing all that, which is awesome. But we know how that can go if we go too much into living in there. I think South Park covered it [laughs]. But in terms of actually getting us there right now, it’s about balance and keeping everyone nice and on the same page. And that’s what my hope is for the future of all this.
Alan: Well, you talked about web apps and being able to upload documents. What is the document that you can upload natively? Can I grab my team’s stuff? Or can I grab PDFs? Or can you grab PowerPoint or Google slides?
Jonny: Because this is open beta — and we know we’re actually rebuilding all of this currently — we decided to start with something really basic and go with PDFs, because that what we’ve found — with users in over 50 countries — was the obvious most common document that’s used for these kind of meetings. And what we said was, we’re going to bring in our different sources over the next few months because, again, when it comes to enterprise, you don’t have to get people to sign up to get all of our stuff through the risk and requirements. They’ve already done that with a lot of their services. We built the infrastructure. So imagine you’re coming to me and I worked in Regus, and you want to build the perfect room in physical life; that no one ever removes your sticky notes from the wall — that issue that, we actually have a few clients, that answers the issue for them. It’s kind of funny — and they can leave it there for all time, if they want. The point is, that you can come in and you can get to work right away with it.
Alan: You can import PDFs. What else?
Jonny: So right now you can import PDFs, and we have a number of custom builds running stuff like bringing in 360 site imaging. We have stuff like bringing in different 3D models, but our focus is always on doing in a low-bandwidth way. So we very much work with clients who might have places working from one distant part of the world, down into a Central European office. And you’ve got to make it nice and simple for everyone to be able to partake in that conversation the same way. So bringing in a 360 site means they can make impact from abroad. But for now, what you can do from the basic — if you sign up on the website today — you can bring in PDFs. If you want to go beyond that, just drop us a line and we’ll get in a room, we’ll go through it with you. But that’s going to be a big part of the next step. Got a big release in about three months time and that’s going to be… I’m pretty excited about that. [laughs]
Alan: Fantastic. Yeah, because I can see people, once they get the ability to import PDFs and get that, they’re going to go, “okay, well, I want to import PowerPoint slides,” because people love their PowerPoint. I don’t know why.
Jonny: Not going anywhere.
Alan: Being able to, like you said, import a 360 image. So saying, “I’m in the middle of my PowerPoint, I’m in my next slide, I click it and then all of a sudden I’m no longer in a meeting room. I’m in a 360 image,” because let’s be honest, 360 photography is not being leveraged nearly as much as it could be in all sorts of different ways. The 360 photo gives you so much information about a space. If you’re talking about manufacturing, you could literally have somebody in the manufacturing
stick a 360 camera on a stand, take a picture. The photos are not very large anymore. You can upload that right in there. Everybody across the organization can stand where that camera was, look around and say, “okay, you see how this information is coming off of this machine or whatever,” and you can discuss that in a realistic environment. It transports them.
Jonny: And a key part of that is making sure that you can bring it out of there afterwards, so it’s not all just lost in that one moment. I’ll put it this way: I love writing in 3D. For me, because I can go to the angle I know I need to be at to see what’s going on there. But when it comes down to it, we found sticky notes actually work an awful lot better. And our sticky notes are actually 2D first, so you type in something at the moment. We are adding in VR support for that in a while. But because so many users come in from different platforms, we made this for our users first. Our users are teams in blue chips, SME, start-ups. We have a lovely wide berth of people with very specific use cases, but in terms of actually getting it in there, it’s got to be something you can bring out into the real world, because otherwise it gets lost in workflows. If it can’t fit into your audit trail, it’s not gonna happen in the enterprise.
Alan: You mentioned audit trail. So, I want to unlock a couple of things here. What are some of the data metrics/analytics that you are capturing or are able to capture from this, that would be able to be used maybe for training, or for whatever?
Jonny: Yes. So we go with privacy first. These are encrypted rooms. We do basic things with collecting obvious usage data to make sure it’s better. But tracking, all that kind of thing, we’re doing our best to leave that with the user. So we do also some on-premise deployments in that. Obviously, we work with companies where security matters, and we make sure we’re GDPR compliant. We make sure that we hit with the regulatory requirements for each industry we go in with, and we very much go through that nearly at the beginning of the project, because that’s a key thing for people to understand. As we said, the whole industry has come forward leaps and bounds, but, say, two years ago? You couldn’t do all of the things you need to do, because the enterprise deployment wasn’t there. And for us, it’s very much a handholding experience to get people through that and to make sure that you’re not getting a senior management team brought in to have the risk or IT team come back and say, “okay, guys, that’s not feasible.”
We make sure that we lead them back to their encrypted rooms first and foremost, because – again — this is business conversation. It’s not even like your social apps, where you’re living on Facebook, or you’re living on one of these different things, where it’s expected that these things are part of doing business. But when it comes to, “I’m paying for a secure space to come in to have a private conversation, and we might be a boardroom of a Fortune 500 company,” that’s information they don’t want going outside of the room, in the same way as they do in real life. So we follow the premise of “do it how you do it in real life” and keep it secure.
Alan: Now, is there any metrics that — let’s say, for example — the executive team would have access to? Maybe it’s as simple as–
Jonny: Oh, of course! Sorry. From an internal. I’m talking about from the external, apologies. From the internal point of view, what we’re doing is building up some very good reporting system. And again, that’s part of what I will be excited about in the next while. But making sure that you can see simple things as “Alan and Jonny are working on this project for three months,” “Alan and Jonny talk for the first two months, and then they stop talking.” We don’t know exactly what they’re talking about, word-for-word, but we know that they stop talking and suddenly the project went off-rails. That’s the kind of performance and impact I want people to get from this kind of stuff over time, and make sure that people can actually take action.
Originally, I would have studied around behavioral economics — I was a history and politics dropout — originally went over to Harvard for summer school and fell in love with arguing about behavioral economics. And one of the biggest things that happened over — I used to have trouble with my MBA, I used to be terrible — in terms of giving out about — this is all qualitative versus quantitative data — if you’re talking about biases and heuristics, and obviously those are huge talking points in today’s age, and what has frustrated me over time is a lot of this is still qualitative. You might have a thousand people looking at one meeting happening and figuring all the different movements, but it’s not data-led. So, trying to build a better understanding of how meetings work and how they can be more effective? In a future meetingRoom, I might get a notification saying, “all right, finish the meeting early.” Why? “Because everyone’s head’s tipping. They’re tired. It’s Friday and it’s ten to five. Give everyone 10 minutes of freedom.” [laughs] They’re the parts that I want to hear back from people over time. But as it starts right now, I’m already getting lovely things like, “you got rid of my Friday afternoon email thread. Thank you.” [laughs] Small little things like that are the parts… I know it sounds geeky, but that’s what gets me excited.
Alan: It’s so small, but it is a really big win.
Jonny: I’ll definitely link you on as well; there was a great piece in The New Yorker recently about asynchronous versus synchronous conversations. And I live in Ireland. We live in a place where we got to do 2 percent to 6 percent GDP. We don’t do a nice & neat 4 percent; it’s out on the night out or hung over. But in terms of how people want to approach things, it’s nice and consistent. That’s what’s going to come from this stuff going for all asynchronous and all synchronous. It’s a good healthy mesh. And this lets you — as you’re saying at the beginning — it lets you do all those technical things in between. And what VR as a whole — I mean, every experience I hear about is “we can do what we can’t do in real life together.” And there’s so many things that come from us. But for us, it’s about staying focused, giving that solution that lets you have what you need in real life and doing those things. Really, really simple stuff. But it’s making sure you can do with the device that exists today, rather than what exists tomorrow.
Alan: So, I want to just reiterate that this is still early days in this technology, but we’re rounding that corner where the devices are easy to use. The platforms are now up and ready. You got meetingRoom.io that you can just sign up, you can have it multi-device. And I think this is key. You guys have realized this as well, that some people are going to enter from an iPad. Some people are going to enter from web. Some people are going to put on a VR headset. Some people in the future will put on an AR headset. Being able to have that consistency of quality of meeting regardless of the device is essential. And I think you guys are really on your way to do that.
What are some of the best business use cases of this technology that you’ve seen that people are using it for? What parts of a company are using this most now?
Jonny: That’s a good way to put it, actually. I’ll address the last point, because I think that’s the one that you can really answer at the moment. It’s gone beyond the test case. There’s not one thing in particular that’s driving this forward. It’s everything’s come together. It’s communities like what you’re doing and coming together and actually pushing the agenda; both online, but also getting into companies and talking this through. And it’s the ecosystem I’m seeing building, is driving it forward.
On the enterprise end, I’m seeing a lot more interest in our specific area, not just meetingRoom. But people are coming in and saying, “look, we’re going beyond tire kicking. We’re looking for an active solution to implement,” as opposed to what I would have seen for the first timer company — which we fully expected, as we were still connected to PCs — where it hit for automotive really well. And now I think other things like that — industry-led things — the same stuff that kept the VR dream alive for the last two decades. Same with energy.
But again, back to where I’m seeing current trends. Everyone needs to plan out what they’re doing next. And it generally starts with a whiteboard. So our system is well-suited, obviously, but that’s where I see people trying to get in, trying to understand, “how can I use this for training beyond bespoke service?” Obviously, in our world, a PDF is a PowerPoint and it works very well right now; you don’t need to do any bespoke work. You can do your first trial with all the resources you have today. And that’s the number one tool which I see coming through. People realizing we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We already have a training process. We already have a way that we do regular meetings. So again, where I throw my hands up to go “we’re a really great fit for that.” But it’s not a case of — we always try and divert both ourselves and clients away from it — don’t try and make something brand new. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel. No one wants to be first, but sometimes you’ve got to be in the first few. And it’s just a case of putting something small and manageable together, and getting some good internal case studies going together. And again, we’ve got a team based in academia where we transfer that into industry with saying, “let’s get some proof points around this.” And they’re the trends that are driving this most forward: people want real use cases. They don’t want flashy gimmicks.
Alan: Right. Couldn’t agree more.
Jonny: And as makers in this space, no one wants to work with gimmicks; that can kill your company. And any other startups who are working in this space, or getting into the space: take advantage of what was different when we started off. The ecosystem even from a development point of view is totally different. But you got to build your moat up. What is different about you if you said your name outloud? What is different about you versus other people? So if you replaced your own name with a competitive name, is it understandable that you make different things? Because there’s a lot of people building Word out there. There’s a lot of people building Notepad. There’s a lot of people building Excel. Knowing what you want to be when you grow up is a good way to start.
Alan: So, with that, I’m going to ask you my final question. What problem in the world do you want to see solved with XR technologies?
Jonny: [laughs] Ok, I’m biased, but transport and mobility. As I said earlier on, not that we’re going to replace everything. It’s just that we can use our resources in such a more effective way. And I think that genuinely. This is why I worked in blockchain before with Freeman as an engineer. I worked in it when it was technology, and people were using it to use that technology… whatever it’s turned into now at the moment. You don’t want to be looking for a solution. You want to actually have something that fits that problem. And that’s what I feel; XR goes right now for mobility. I think the 5G is a fantastic use case to show where this all can go. I know yourself and Julie do some awesome work with showing “here’s how not to do a 5G experience,” which I think is a great one. In terms of showing what is here today and showing what can be, we have that here on our tippy tongues. We’ve already started that, with what we see in the current trends around remote work. Everyone, once you go beyond one office building, is working remotely to a certain point, and linking that in with knowing what infrastructure we have now — the movements over in the US and all over Europe — around reclaiming rural to a certain point.
I live in Ireland, so homelessness and house prices are always on the tip of our tongues, unfortunately. And it’s something that we have a great international community coming into Ireland, and we have a better way of doing things to actually push this forward. And I think, again, XR/VR; all these things actually help alleviate these issues, where cities are a technology as well. And right now we’re building 20 New Yorks a year. That’s fine. But it’s hard to replicate London. It’s hard to replicate all these things working. And I think that what we can do is reclaim our rural with a lot of what XR is going to do. It’s not something everyone in XR would talk about so much. But in my world, where collaboration is king, I live in a country where everyone already wants to work in Ireland and it’s fantastic. We have some of the best countries in the world who are coming in, thanks to the likes of EI and the IDA — that’s Enterprise Ireland and the IDA. And it’s just a really simple case to go, people want to work here, and we want make sure it’s really easy to live here as well.
That’s where these things unlock — not just for Ireland, but for every location. Canada — by the way, “cross-province” has become part of my vernacular because we work with so many people in Canada now — and I think it’s also seeing how cultures align so well. You know, again, short answer: mobility gets changed by this. It gets flipped on its head. We’re seeing that with drones. We’re seeing that with air travel. We’re seeing all these things happening across the board, in terms of how people are moving differently and how people are taking the boat instead of taking a plane. I think that’s awesome to hear. That we’re looking at how we can actually not just push one type of technology, but the whole mix.
I do think that XR is a catalyst to help us rethink sitting in an airplane. Will I be in my Quest not just for a photo on Twitter, but actually handling one or two of my meetings that way, because it’s better use of my time? Or is it just somewhere I’m collecting my notes on a whiteboard for when I see the client the next time I see them? All these things come together that, again: mobility is about to change. I think it’s an exciting time to be part of something so interesting.
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.