Unlike in nature, ideas in enterprise don’t grow or perish by the laws of natural selection — survival of the fittest — but rather, which ideas are communicated and understood better at the early stages. But not every good idea is best expressed on a whiteboard. That’s why Gabe Paez developed The Wild — a digital collaborative space designed to help teams workshop designs and ideas in a VR environment.

Alan: My name’s Alan Smithson, the host of the XR for Business Podcast, where we interview industry leaders in making technologies in virtual, augmented and mixed reality. And today’s guest is Gabe Paez. Gabe works at the intersection of engineering, design, and business. He’s the founder and CEO of The Wild, and immersive collaboration platform for teams to experience their work together, from anywhere in augmented and virtual reality. The Wild enables spatial design teams to ideate, review, share, and present in cross-platform XR from the same room or across the world. Gabe has over a decade of experience leading experiential product teams and has designed immersive software products for a diverse roster of Fortune 100 companies including Google, Samsung, Nike, AT&T, and Verizon. To learn more about The Wild visit thewild.com.

Gabe, welcome to the show.

Gabe: Hi! It’s good to be here. Thank you.

Alan: Really amazing. Thank you so much for taking the time. I know you’re super busy. You just launched The Wild out into the wild. Tell us about The Wild. How did this idea come to be, and what is it?

Gabe: Well, to be honest, I feel like I’ve spent my whole career trying to explain ambitious ideas to people, and what I’ve realized in that process is that there are pools for sharing that idea — especially in the early stages of that idea — are so limited. And often the best, the most ambitious, the most interesting ideas get shut out early on, solely for the reason that they are misunderstood or not completely communicated to the other person. So I really wanted to break down that barrier; find a way for everyone on a team to experience an idea together, while it’s still in the ideas stage straight through to execution, and to find an efficiency in that process. Not just solely for cost savings, but ultimately, to find the best ideas and let those surface to the top of the stack.

Alan: Let’s break it down here. So this is a collaboration tool or a platform where people from around the world can go into a virtual space and experience design together.

Gabe: So The Wild really puts collaboration at the core of the offering, not as an add-on, but as the foundation of what we’re doing. We’re creating a collaboration hub for people that design spaces, environments to come together and experience those spaces from anywhere in the world. Architects, engineers, people that their profession is to take an idea and transform that into a physical place in the physical world somewhere. And so they have a unique challenge that the output of their process, their design process really isn’t realized until the very final stage. So what The Wild does is sort of says we now have a capability that we don’t have to wait until the very end to really understand that space and to experience it, not just as a simulation on your own, but to experience it together as a team, just as you would in the very final moments where you walk through that space physically with your teammates and look at what you’ve created together. We’re using not just virtual reality, but the whole XR spectrum to allow those team members to experience that idea as a concept in the very early stages, either in total virtual space, in virtual reality or augmented into a physical space. Whether you’re building out a full building on an empty lot, that you can physically walk through in augmented reality, while other people, other team members are in virtual reality, in a different location, actually live making changes to that space or whether everyone wants to be together in augmented reality on different devices experiencing that space connected to a physical space.

Alan: You’re able to put designs and lock them to the physical world?

Gabe: Yes. And it’s not just the designs. I mean, it’s not just taking something static and putting it there, but having it be fully connected all the time.

Alan: Wow. This is gonna decrease the amount of time that it takes to design things for sure, especially larger spaces.

Gabe: Absolutely. Because your ability to iterate on that idea is so, so amplified. If you have an idea in the moment of the walkthrough, you can sketch or mass out that idea in real time to evaluate it on its merit, rather than taking notes and then going back into another design iteration. By creating a fully immersive live space, your ability to design at the speed of thought is realized.

Alan: It’s pretty incredible. So where did– how did this– you’ve been designing different spaces for your career. You realize there’s a problem, where do you start? How did that come about, and when did you start working on it?

Gabe: Yeah. So it actually started way back in 2015 for me. I was doing a series of sort of R&D projects in virtual reality at the time. And these were mostly service contracts for large companies experimenting with different UX patterns, and that for me was a really just a process of trying to dig in and understand XR, understand really the magic of XR. Because I always had this feeling that it was more than just what I was seeing at the time. And it really took that process to key in for me on the insight that the real power of XR is not solely in the simulation itself. It is in the connected nature of it. The ability to bring multiple people together into a shared idea. And I knew– solely because also there’s really no other way to do that effectively, to really experience something from anywhere across the world on those experiential terms. This is a magical thing, of course, for the gaming industry, but for me, sort of trying to solve this core business problem. I felt like the value was just astronomical, because our tools right now for doing that are so limited.

I knew at that point — so this was like coming into 2016 — that I definitely wanted to do something in the collaborative space. And then it was a process of sort of searching through my own career and just understanding, “OK. We have multiple people together in a space. It’s more than just creating a meeting in that space. What are we going to do in there? What are we going to talk about? What tools do I want to enable there? And how can we find a market for this idea that is ready and understands the need for it and can dive right in?” And that’s how I found environmental designers. Even in those early days, a lot of the large architectural companies were rabidly experimenting with this technology and it was a great affirmation that they understood that it was a clear part of the future. They were just trying to grasp on to “OK, how do I actually implement this as a software that we use every day?”

Alan: Incredible. And so now, let me ask you: do you guys eat your own dog food?

Gabe: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it’s been an amazing process to design The Wild in The Wild. And–

Alan: That’s wild!

Gabe: [laughs] Exactly!

Alan: [laughs]

Gabe: Because we are distributed as well. A lot of us are here in Portland, Oregon, but our product manager’s remote. Got a couple of developers remote. And so allowing us to all come together and experiment with different environments, different interface ideas. Pretty much every feature that we implement is realized in a space in The Wild before we start developing it.

Alan: So, OK, let’s get into– you talked about architectural designs. One of the things that I see is, there’s lots of these collaboration platforms coming on board. There’s Facebook Spaces, not really a collaboration platform where you can design, but they all have their features. What sets The Wild apart from meetingRoom.io or some of the other platforms where there’s collaboration — Glue — there’s a couple of them. But this seems to be different, because you’re actually designing in it. Whereas the other ones are sharing designs. Even Spatial seems to be a lot different than The Wild.

Gabe: Yeah, absolutely. There are a few core differences. Number one, we’re really designed for the business use case. We take security really seriously. We take sharing settings and administration– there’s all sorts of admin overhead that you really need to think about when designing a business tool, versus a consumer social tool. So The Wild is very much in that case of trying to provide this value for the professional use case. The second thing is we take the word collaboration, not just as a general word. We really have a very specific definition of that that we feel like is more effective than thinking of collaboration solely as file sharing or information sharing. Collaboration is the ability for multiple people from anywhere to come together and literally create together. Ideate and create, the ability for them not just to come in and experience it together, walk through it and look at something that is static, but if I have an idea that I can actually create that idea in real time with each other.

So we differentiate from a lot of the other platforms in sort of the nuts and bolts of how we do that. We have a UX tenant. Anything you can see, I can see which we take pretty seriously in the basically anything that I’m experiencing or seeing in the first person is visual to you as well. And it all happens in real time. So if I bring up a menu or different tools or you can see how much my trigger is held in on my controller, all the way down to the minute details. But what it does, is it creates an environment that just feels like it’s fundamentally shared by all the participants in an equal way. You can create together like literally two people can pull a mass together, similar to pulling a tape measure across the room. It’s that level of collaborating as if you were in a conference room together that we are really trying to replicate in The Wild in a powerful way. And that’s some complicated technology stock to really enable that.

Alan: Incredible. Do you have customers using this now or is this still in development?

Gabe: Yes, absolutely. We have customers using it and even pre-release. We’ve had customers in a pilot program since roughly the end of 2017 now. So this is definitely actively used. It’s no longer a beta software. It’s been really exciting to see that arc. This is my first product company. But seeing the arc of something going from this idea, to a rough prototype, to a matured software that can handle spaces in the complexity that our customers really demand has been a really interesting process and isn’t trivial. Your ability to support a 3D file format, just say, “Oh, we have support for FBX or SKP file, SketchUp files” is a lot different than your ability to have a high degree of confidence that any model that someone brings in is going to look good and be performative, and efficient streaming across our real time network. We take great pride in the process, not just that we have these features, but that the features we have implemented are very solid.

Alan: So you have customers, they’re using it. How are they using it in ways that you didn’t anticipate?

Gabe: [chuckles] There have been a lot of surprises along the way, to be honest. More and more people are using it even just as a meeting tool — like in the place of having a video conferencing call — for purposes other than designing together in the space, which we also always honestly anticipated. I mean, you can share more than just 3D content. You can bring in images and video and all sorts of other content into The Wild. It’s been interesting to see that sort of happen organically, rather than us forcing that use case. Also, just it’s been interesting to see what people can create, like the differences and sort of how someone designs in a 2D interface, versus in a collaborative setting. When multiple people can come together and literally design together in that real time format to see how the differences that emerge in terms of the type of ideas that come from that, versus when they’re designing in isolation and then bringing those ideas together in like a conference room in a 2D deck. You know what I mean?

Alan: Absolutely. First of all, nobody wants to be in a conference room ever.

Gabe: [laughs] Yes.

Alan: “I want to spend my day in a conference room,” said no one, ever.

Gabe: [laughs] Exactly.

Alan: It’s interesting. Some of these collaboration tools that I’ve seen, collaboration platforms, they keep recreating the conference room. I’m like, “Maybe we should just work out in the forest. I don’t know. Can we make a beach that we’re all standing on?”

Gabe: Yeah. The bottom line is, I mean, I feel like everyone sort of innately understands that the conference room is actually the least creative setting you can possibly put people into. And we really have an opportunity to do that completely differently, to inspire you with where we put you, to have these ideas. So that you’re not starting just in this sterile room with white walls and whiteboards and a TV and expected to have amazing ideas come from that.

Alan: Yeah, no kidding. It’s uninspiring, but I think one of the first things that– I guess the first complaints that people had about virtual reality was very isolating, and I’m alone. But when you the first time you realize that there’s other people in it with you in that social aspect, your brain just kind of lights up because, one, you’re not expecting it. And two, you realize, holy crap, it’s as if they were standing right in front of me. And that sense of presence can transcend continents and we can have conversations with people all over the world. And I think what you guys have here is really incredible. Now, does it go across devices? So, for example, via an iPad, could I pull up the people as well? Or is it just for kind of head worn displays?

Gabe: No. We are– AR is on the iPad and iPhone, so iOS devices. In terms of being cross-platform, you can join from virtual reality headsets like the VIVE, the Rift and so on. Or you can join from Windows or Mac — which is very also unique to us — you can come in in 2D mode on either platform.

Alan: OK.

Gabe: And then in augmented reality you can use iOS devices. And that’s just really the start. We’ve got a lot of things even beyond that in the road map. The idea is to provide really broad access to these cloud connected spaces from all of these different devices.

Alan: You said you’ve had a bunch of companies, you’re working on this platform. Are you finding that VR headsets got sold? Bunch of consumers bought them, but they weren’t using them. Are you finding now that enterprise, because it’s a different animal, are they using these and is the daily usage increasing?

Gabe: Absolutely. I mean, we have a lot of KPIs that we track, but the one core KPI that is most meaningful to us is space time. So space time is what we measure as not just logged into The Wild, but like active in a space, either creating or talking with somebody. So really engaged with content in the space. And every month it goes up, both from new users and our existing users incorporating The Wild into their workflow more and more. So it’s been a huge affirmation to what we’ve created to drive that metric up. And we intend to do that even more so, by providing more access, more capability, more speed, which is just key to creating ultimately the best possible experience they can have in this shared workspace.

Alan: So I’ve got a plan for you. We’re going to partner with the cell phone companies and we’re going to design the future 5G interfaces in 5G.

Gabe: [laughs] Please. Gosh. Real 5G, please.

Alan: No kidding. We’ve been talking about it for so long.

Gabe: It’s so important. I mean, what we have now is fantastic, I’m not going to lie. Like even The Wild, we’ve really worked hard to optimize The Wild to run well on a 4G connection. And that’s part of how we can prove out the use case of taking an iPad to a site where you don’t have Wi-Fi, you’re gonna be on a like a 4G connection. And then having someone in Europe or in France somewhere, like a designer in France, and sharing a space with somebody on a 4G connection in Oklahoma. I don’t know. [laughs] And those people, those participants in that space being connected as if they were in the same room together. But 5G really amplifies the capability for us to create even that much more rich a space that they can experience together by just improving the flow of data between those two participants.

Alan: Yeah, it’s just exciting, the stuff that can happen. So of the different companies that are working on this, what are the, I guess, industries that are most– you mentioned architecture. I would assume that’s a big one. What about, I guess, retail? I’ll let you talk to it, but what are some of the industries that are latching onto this?

Gabe: It’s interesting, retail actually is what started it for us. There’s tremendous value in retail. So when I talk about retail, I’m saying sort of specifically merchandising, retail space. A lot of companies and a lot of brands and also retailers have products that they’re trying to match into a variety of physical spaces. They create all different configurations of it. And a lot of that work traditionally was done in 2D. Even on whiteboards, they’re taking pictures of products and hanging them up in different configurations. And that’s how you see them in a store shelf. Whether you’re looking at cereal boxes or shirts or whatever. So our ability to take that to the next level and allow that to be a fully experiential, both designing experience where the designers can go in there and layout the store as if they were physically in it, but also in terms of the testing that they can do on that, like running people through it and getting feedback on those spaces. It’s amazing, the workflows that emerge from that in The Wild. And it’s really astonishing to see a full retail store, like a Walmart inside of The Wild and to walk through those aisles as if you are in there. It’s a bizarre and amazing experience.

Alan: Going to be really cool when things like Oculus Quest allow you to have free roaming, so you could stand in a big office and just walk up and down.

Gabe: Oh, absolutely, yeah. So the ability– even in a giant factory type setting where you have all this empty space, we haven’t really pushed it to that limit yet, but that’s definitely in the future for this technology.

Alan: Amazing. It’s very exciting.

Gabe: So retail is one really powerful vertical, of course architecture. But along with architecture, all of the– through the whole AEC stack, engineering and construction, they have all different ways and needs for not just design, but really communication and coordination across those different trades, that really make The Wild shine. So your ability to go into a space with a general contractor or the electrical team, all these different trades coming together and getting buy-off from inside the space, rather than looking at these 2D drawings is really powerful.

Alan: So it’s really quite a fantastic tool. How do people, I guess, measure their success within this? First of all, how much do you charge for it? Is there a fee, or are you just trying to onboard people now, or is there a trial or…?

Gabe: Yes. Well, we do offer a free trial, which you can go to our site, thewild.com to try. And then we’ve got a per user pricing scheme that comes out of that. It’s pretty simple and doable for any team that’s already paying for other 3D software in their stack. So basically, we’re trying to make it both. We’re not just trying to come out right and make people buy off on a huge plan, but really allowing them to grow into it. So they can start really simply with just a few seeds and then just organically grow into their team, as their need evolves and develops. And we really see them measuring their success in a number of ways. Number one, I would say just satisfied and excited, engaged clients. A lot of our customers are using The Wild for presentation, both with their client in the same room and also remotely, because it allows them to so much more effectively present their ideas across distance. That sort of satisfaction is huge.

And we get feedback all the time about jobs that have been won, or just that are going more smoothly than it would have otherwise. And then also just in the happiness of the team, of course. Any design team gets frustrated when miscommunication happens, when they’re not getting solid signoff or all of that stuff, that just creates friction in the work environment. We’re doing our best to eradicate. You can really measure sort of success in terms of just job satisfaction at the end of the day as well.

Alan: People don’t put much weight on this, but it also being cutting edge and using these tools can really attract younger employees.

Gabe: Sure. I mean, I think it’s not really just about youth versus…

Alan: Future thinking people. I don’t think we should put an age on things, but people that are used to using cutting edge tools.

Gabe: Yeah, exactly. So those sorts of team members that are really going to push you forward, rather than just sort of adhering to the status quo. I mean, those are the companies that are even just drawn to this technology, period. But also those are the companies that are really, really making a name for themselves, because they’re able to move with not just recklessness, but with strategic investment in solving these key business problems that helps them do their job, of course more efficiently, but fundamentally just create a better end product.

Alan: Yeah, I agree. It’s gonna be great for for everybody, engineers, aerospace. If you think about all the things that need to be designed in the world, being able to do it remotely because commuting in for people– I read a stat that the average commute time is two hours a day.

Gabe: Absolutely. Yeah. The sort of thing I like to come back to it that it’s like, what are you getting from commuting in? What value are we creating in terms of the work? And there are a lot of arguments to be made about that. But what most people come back to when you ask them that question is it’s the sense of the team really feeling like they’re there, face to face, coming together to solve this problem and having that sort of camaraderie that’s created through like people in a space together. And honestly, not just The Wild, but XR — and especially social XR — holds the promise of being able to unlock that in a way that is just so much more powerful than we can even do in a physical space. Like one of our metrics that we really strive toward is we want all of our customers to be able to say not just that meetings in The Wild are more effective than what they can do in other digital realms. But we want people to say that meeting in The Wild is more effective than what they can do in any other way. So more effective than meeting in a conference room or meeting on site, I don’t know. However they might do it, we want it to be the superpowers that you’re able to unlock in terms of working in The Wild from anywhere is really the cream of the crop. You would prefer that over all other forms of interaction with your team.

Alan: That’s a bold statement. And I think on that note, we should wrap this up because what else needs to be said? You’re literally building the future of collaboration and the future is now.

Gabe: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me on, I really appreciate it.

Alan: Oh, it’s my absolute pleasure. Is there anything else you wanna leave listeners with? I know we can leave them with the website, thewild.com, but is there anything else you want to leave listeners with?

Gabe: Just check out more at thewild.com, of course. But also, if you have any ideas, any projects, don’t be afraid to get started today, whether it’s with The Wild or any other tool. I often say “The greatest step is sort of the first step into it” and be bold, introduce this technology into your company, and amazing things are going to come from it.

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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