DJ Smith is the co-founder of The Glimpse Group, an XR technologies accelerator that’s doing startup incubating in a whole new way. Listen as Smith explains to Alan how Glimpse works, and some of the tech companies that are already beginning to grow under its umbrella.
Alan: We have an amazing guest today: DJ Smith is the co-founder and chief creative officer at The Glimpse Group. The Glimpse Group is a holding company for a portfolio of 10 startups, focused on virtual and augmented reality industries. At Glimpse, DJ’s responsibilities include overseeing the production of all the VR and AR content, as well as leading efforts to locate new subsidiary companies. In addition, DJ is the organizer of the New York virtual reality meetup. NYVR hosts monthly events focused on virtual reality technology and the premiere venue for the industry networking collaboration within New York City. NYVR is the second-largest virtual meetup in the world, with over 6,000 members. Prior to entering the VR/AR industry, DJ worked 20 years in the real estate and construction industries.
The Glimpse Group is a company designed with the specific purpose of cultivating entrepreneurs in VR, AR, and of course, XR. The business model simplifies many of the challenges faced by entrepreneurs, while simultaneously providing investors with an opportunity to invest directly into the VR/AR space. The Glimpse Group will fund, cultivate, and manage business operations while providing a strong network of professional relationships. Being part of The Glimpse Group allows entrepreneurs to maximize their time and resources in pursuit of their mission-critical endeavors. They’ve invested in 10 companies, which we’ll get into this show, but the 10 companies are Adept Reality, In It, D6 VR, Kobach, Immersive Health Group, KreatAR, Number9, Early Adopter, MotionZone, Foretell Studios, and I’m sure there’s gonna be a lot more on the show. To learn more about The Glimpse Group, visit TheGlimpseGroup.com.
Welcome to the show, DJ.
DJ: Thank you very much for the amazing introduction.
Alan: It’s my absolute pleasure. I’ve been waiting for this call for so long, I’m really excited to have you on the show. Tell us, how did you get into virtual/ augmented/mixed reality, or XR technologies?
DJ: Sure. It’s a life calling that I was seeking for many, many years. In 2012, I saw the Palmer Luckey Kickstarter video, and I was like, “it has finally arrived!” So from that point on — it’s kind of a pivotal moment in time for me and my life – I started buying all the toys; really, just absorbing as much tech as I possibly could.
The meet up was formed shortly after that. I think the meet up started with 10 people in a dusty old conference room, and it just has steadily grown and grown and grown, and as it grew, my involvement in the industry grew and grew and grew. So we’re now the, I believe, the second-largest VR meetup in the world. It basically put me in direct connection with many of the developers in the city. The big entities; the Googles, Microsofts, where we would hold our event, as well as the whole investment community.
Then, about four years ago, the Oculus Rift and the VIVE was coming out, and I saw that there was an opportunity to actually start making a living out of it. I put in my notice in my construction job, and a week later I met my current business partner, Lyron Bentovim, who saw the same timing and opportunity within the space. He came from the investment side of things; had his own tech startup, ran hedge funds, and was most recently involved in publicly-traded companies. He had the idea of the Glimpse business model, which was taking bits and pieces from his experience of hedging bets and the challenges with a typical VC angel startup scenario, but was looking for somebody like myself that was deep into the industry already, and had connections and knowledge about the tech. So I had recently had some — plenty — of time on my hands, because I just gave my notice, so we teamed up, and that’s when The Glimpse Group was formed.
Alan: So you basically jumped off the cliff and said, “I’m in.”
DJ: [Laughs] Yeah, that was the sell-or-die moment. Actually, I am very blessed to have a wonderful, supportive wife who knew that there was no way I was not going to do it, but also happened to have a good job with health benefits. So I said, “you know what, I got probably a year’s runway to see what we can make happen, and four years later, it’s still going strong.
DJ: Yeah, it’s been really great.
Alan: We met, I think was it three years ago, at… I want to say SVVR.
DJ: That’s right. That’s right. A very late night at a bar, explaining this crazy Glimpse Group business model. And at the time, we were a fresh start. I always like catching up with the folks that I’ve seen the whole rollercoaster ride, and how it’s panned out.
Alan: It’s been pretty impressive. I mean, we started our companies almost the same time. We took a different approach; we went down the consulting and custom-built [road], as a company. And it served us very well. You guys took a different approach, and bet on 10 companies. Explain the business model, because I think it’s really unique.
DJ: Sure. I’ll just preface it with, nobody really does it like we do it. That has its pros and cons, and trailblazing is a difficult road sometimes. But in comparison to the typical startup path, we thought that it would have some advantages, and hindsight is 20/20, and we think that it really does help — especially in an early-stage industry like AR/VR. So the way that we work is, The Glimpse Group is a holding company. We basically raise money at the top level to seed out to our startups; our startups are acquired in stock in the parent company, and then our entrepreneurs that come on to lead each of the divisions are given a basic salary, health benefits, a ton of front office and back office support by the parent company, and then basically a 10 percent undiluted stake in their entity upon exit. In that way it’s analogous to running through the whole Series A, B, and C rounds, but our entrepreneurs can really focus on their technology. They don’t have to worry about a lot of the things that a typical startup entrepreneur has to worry about.
Alan: I think it’s wonderful. One of the things that we keep seeing over and over again is these amazing startups who have fantastic products, and they’re very passionate. But they don’t have the marketing prowess, or they’re missing the backend systems, or they’re just don’t have the business acumen to take their products to market. It’s actually one of the reasons we started XR Ignite; to help these startups foster their growth and introduce them to big companies. But you guys are doing that in a different way; instead of taking a small percentage, like an accelerator — like Techstars or Ycom — you’re acquiring the companies wholly, which is really interesting.
DJ: Yeah, I think that the first conversation with entrepreneurs is always a little bit unique, because they’re used to the B-C conversation of 25 percent and a bunch of money and six months runway. We just think, especially in the XR space, that’s a really, really challenging road.
Alan: It’s a really hard bet. There’s gonna be… well, there already is an entire graveyard of dead startups in this space.
DJ: That’s right. Here, it’s just different. But also, it may not be right for every entrepreneur. I think the glue that holds everything together here is everyone here sees the value in the entire organization, and it truly is a team environment. That’s one of the most striking things. You get out of the elevator, and come into our midtown office; we have 45 folks right now. And anybody that comes into the organization — into the office — just feels the excitement and the camaraderie. And the fact is, if one person succeeds, the whole organization succeeds. So it’s a really unique and wonderful place to come to work.
Alan: It sounds very exciting. Let’s unpack each of the startups that you’ve invested in, because I think that’s really exciting. Most of these are B2B startups, meaning that they sell their products and services. Some are in stealth. Some are actually selling. So maybe… do you want to start at the top, and walk us through the startups that you’ve invested in?
DJ: Sure. Sure. So, that’s right. We are completely enterprise-focused. No consumer things. We did have one consumer gaming entity out of the gate, but it became clear that consuming gaming was just going to take a while in the VR space. We were basically placing bets in all of the major verticals that we see big opportunities.
So I’ll just run through quickly, and then we can dive deeper into each one of them.
Adept Reality is an enterprise training platform, which I know you’re super excited about. Really, I think in the immediate, that one has a really great ROI conversation, and they’re having great traction. In It is all focused on marketing and branding applications. D6 is all focused on data visualization. They are working with big financial organizations, as well as universities on the education side. Kobach is one of the premiere augmented reality modeling companies, initially focused on the food industry. They’re super well-known, and their models are just, I think, second-to-none in the space. Immersive Health Group is focused on clinical training. So, another training division, but more focused on the health world. KreatAR, it’s basically founded on the principle of the user being able to create their own AR content. They have a new product called Post Reality, where user can upload a JPEG poster and then drag and drop augmented reality content on top.
Alan: What did you call it?
DJ: Post Reality.
DJ: Number9 has several products. It’s focused on broadcasting; so live, photographic capture into AR and VR experiences. They have a couple of products that blend multi-user VR space with 180 captured VR photographic content. That product is called Project Chimera, and that one, we’re focused on scholastic application. So, we’re doing a bunch of work with universities, and you can basically have a professor give a class or lecture to a real classroom, as well as a virtual classroom. I’ll send you the link to show what that looks like. Early Adopter is focused on education. Foretell is building a platform, almost like a white-label solution for Social VR experiences. The MotionZone is a platform for sports data visualization, and they basically have an engine that can be used for fan engagement, as well as the training of athletes.
Alan: So it sounds like you guys are really broadly looking at… the only, I guess, thing that brings these technologies together is the fact that they’re using virtual/augmented/mixed realities, or XR technologies. Other than that, they’re in every different industry: it’s in marketing, training, data visualization, food industry, clinical… it’s crazy. How do you guys manage the fact that you’re in so many different verticals?
DJ: Yeah, it is a little bit of a trick, but the glue for that is that they are led by a general manager, and they’re their own startup, and they’re responsible for what they need to do. The parent organization, we have a couple of C-levels — myself included — and we meet with the general managers every two weeks in a strategic meeting. That keeps us informed and gives us the ability, as the executive team, to provide recommendations. But the general manager ultimately is in control of their entity, and the executive team at the end of day almost works like a company board. We have revenue coming in and we have whatever we’ve raised, and we just have to decide how the cash gets distributed, the resources get distributed.
We meet as a whole entity on a six-month basis. In that town hall, everyone presents what they’ve done and what their goals are for the next six months, so everyone is kind of aware, and the people that are getting a little bit more traction, perhaps, get a little bit more of the resources. And if a company is struggling, then we can step in and help them figure out a direction that maybe is a little bit better-suited. I think that that’s a big advantage of our organization, is the flexibility in the business model.
Alan: I really love it. I think it’s amazing, because one of the things that I keep seeing over and over again is that VCs will write huge checks, and these startups are just kind of like, “here’s a million dollars. Good luck!”
Alan: And a lot of times, there are younger people, and they’ve never run a company before, and they’re just technology people. I love the idea that you guys are kind of wrapping professional management around them, as well. Also, that kind of community — if one of your startups is in, they don’t compete — which is really interesting, because if one of your startups says, “hey, we’re having a problem with this type of technology, does anybody else know how to fix this?” Do you find that they’re sharing technology between the companies? Or… how does that work?
DJ: So… the workplace really is very collaborative, even down to when we’re finding new startups. We have specific verticals that we’re excited about, but we also know that it’s great to have all different skill sets within the organization. So when an entrepreneur comes on, and — little examples; we have one entity that are masters of photogrammetry; we have another entity that’s focusing on WebAR and WebVR; we have another entity that’s focusing on AI; or social. What ends up happening is, when you have 45 people under one roof, with their own expertise, it makes a very, very powerful organization. And many, many, many of our projects are collaborative efforts between organizations.
For example, our social VR white label solution is currently partnered with our data visualization company, our health organization, our training organization, and basically giving their social solution to them, which is a way to bring revenue into multiple units of the organization from any one given client.
Alan: I really love that. It’s amazing. So basically you have one client, you say, “hey! Guess what? We have this amazing solution for you, and by the way, we’ve got six other ones.”
DJ: That’s right. That’s right. And it’s very common that we’ll go into an organization based on an expected interest in one entity, and then through conversation, they bring in entity 2, 3, and 4 for other things. So it’s really been a wonderful, collaborative, and great ability that — frankly — our competitors just don’t have, because they don’t have the scale.
Alan: Yeah, it’s amazing. You’ve done what we’re attempting with XR Ignite, to just bring the community together. Because there’s so much amazing talent, but it’s been, as you know a very small, one-, two-, three-, four-person teams. I love it.
DJ: That’s right.
Alan: So let’s dig into each one of these and maybe we’ll do a one-minute you know intro of each of the companies, because we got… yeah, let’s do it. Adept Reality, training platform. Tell me all about it.
DJ: Sure. So it — and actually, for anybody listening: if you go to TheGlimpseGroup.com, there’ll be a link to each one of our entities, and each one of the entities are in a different stage of their life – so, Adept actually is one of the newer organizations, and they’re building a training platform. They have several existing customers that are prototyping, and we do a lot of engagements. The first one is a first proof of concept, and then it graduates from there. We would try to get a success with a small engagement, and then that is the building block for the round two and round three, which, fortunately, we’ve been successful with, with several of our clients. The training platform is highly customizable, and it is designed to basically do anything from photographic type of content to computer graphic type of content, and it’s hardware-agnostic. So we tend to pick the right hardware for the job.
Alan: Interesting. What type of industries, or… who would use it?
DJ: We’re working with some pharmaceuticals. It’s actually really pretty varied. I think the good thing about training is that it can be done for any organization. So right now, it’s varied.
Alan: Got it. So if people are interested in enterprise training: Adept Reality.
DJ: That’s right.
Alan: So, “Inuit…”
DJ: Actually, it’s “In It.”
Alan: Oh, “In It.” How do you spell it?
DJ: Just “In It.”
Alan: Oh, got it, okay.
Alan: Perfect. In It:
DJ: So they are basically producing brand activations, and it ranges from AR stuff to VR stuff, to WebAR stuff. Really, any agency or brand needs an activation. We can come in and create it for them.
Alan: So what are some of the activations you’ve done with that company?
DJ: They’ve done some wine labels, AR work, some retail work, some VR activations for trade shows; again, very varied.
Alan: Very cool. I love it. So, let’s move on to the next one: we’ve got D6 VR data visualization.
DJ: Yep. So, D6 has been building a platform for data visualization for some time. It’s really, really cool. Started for tethered solutions, and we’re now moving towards more of the mobile solutions. They have done work with a bunch of the big financials; I would say more on the proof of concept/experimental side of things. I think it’s going to take some time before analysts are in a VR headset for a significant amount of time during the day. But what we found a bunch of success with is using it for storytelling. So, for these organizations, to be able to tell their story in a much more profound way. And then most recently, we’ve been working with universities who love the tool in order to bring data visualization — or immersive data visualization — to their students.
Alan: It’s amazing, I’ve noticed a lot of universities are now jumping on the VR bandwagon. They saw some early successes and wins, with things like YouVisit, where you can see a 360 tour of the campus, and I think that — having those early wins — really unlocked the potential to use virtual and augmented reality for universities; it seems to be their voracious appetite for this right now.
DJ: Yeah, that’s right. We’re in active conversations with a bunch of universities, which has really been great. And their interest is across several of our entities, data visualization just being one of them.
Alan: Incredible… which leads us to Kobach. The first time I saw the Kobach guys, they showed me a hamburger in augmented reality, that looked as real as a real hamburger. I couldn’t tell. I was like, “what the heck?” I had to look behind the phone to see, is it real?” So, it was awesome.
DJ: [laughs] They are masters, and now they’re actually moving into other verticals outside of the food industry, just because they’ve gotten so much traction. They’re amazing artists, and optimization is a key component of that. So, being able to do photogrammetry skin is… it’s pretty straightforward, but getting it to a size that can actually be distributed easily? There’s a little bit of special sauce in that.
Alan: People don’t realize that it’s easy to take a thousand pictures of a product and turn out a beautiful 3D model. It’s another thing to get it into a reasonable form factor or size that will run on a mobile phone, because you end up with this 200-300 megabyte file, which is beautiful, but kind of useless.
DJ: That’s right. That’s right. And to do it quickly.
Alan: Yeah, that’s the key.
DJ: A lot of their focus now is creating that pipeline, to be able to pump them out quickly.
Alan: Amazing. What about…what’re we on now… Immersive Health Group?
DJ: So the Immersive Health Group is really seeing wonderful traction within the healthcare space. They’re focused on clinical training. Right now, there’s a disconnect between how many nurses and clinicians there are available, versus how many patients there are. We have a population that’s getting older. So the problem is going to get worse, and VR is just a clear better [option] – economically, scalability-wise, and effectiveness — in training clinicians. So we’re really excited about that entity. And they’re currently working with several organizations on building that platform.
Alan: It’s incredible. I think that one there is… I mean, I’ve seen some really cool things; Precision OS is virtual reality training for operations, for knee surgeries and stuff. And I got to try it at AWE this year. It was amazing. I’m not a surgeon, so I don’t know how accurate it was, but it felt like… the way they did the haptic feedback in the controllers. And the thing is, with Oculus Quest now, they didn’t have a computer. They just literally pulled a headset out of their backpacks and said, “here, try this.” I got to try it and I was in a surgical suite, drilling into a knee. It was amazing.
DJ: I think the Oculus Quest is such an enabler for our entire organization. We had done many, many proof of concept types of VR activations, but dealing with tethered solutions, and PCs, and lighthouses, and Steam.
Alan: Oh my God.
DJ: Organizations, they don’t want to mess with that.
Alan: I don’t want to mess around with it! The other night, we set up the whole VIVE and we’re like, “yeah we’re gonna get into VR!” And an hour later, I’m still doing Steam updates and messing around with it, trying to get it to work. And it was just ridiculous. So yeah, I agree: we need to be able to pick it up, do what we need to do, put it down, get back to work.
DJ: Yeah, yeah. We’re really excited about the Quest. I mean, the optimization required to do it is a little bit of a trick.
Alan: [scoffs] It sure is.
DJ: And it’s early days of the Quest. We’re working through those things, but it’s clear that that is an amazing device, and really allows any enterprise application to really scale. And I’m a big fan of all of the untethered solutions that have gotten us here, but having true six degree of freedom — head and hand — is a game changer in my mind. We’re really excited about it.
Alan: Incredible. That leads us to KreatAR.
DJ: Yeah. So again, they have a new product called Post Reality, definitely check it out. It’s really easy and effective to create your own augmented reality posters. They have, also, more traction with the universities. One of the use cases is for PhD student research poster events. So, pretty common; you walk down a hallway and you’re surrounded by these flat posters that don’t have any engagement. We have several contracts with universities that have licenses, and their students are able to make their own augmented reality research posters.
Alan: That’s incredible, is it app-based?
DJ: That’s right. It’s a web app. You upload your JPEG. You can bring any of your digital assets – slideshows, videos — just drag and drop them onto it, and then download the app to your mobile device. At that event, just pop it open and you get to see all of this additional engagement. We’ve even built in a link for emailing, so there’s also a level of communication that you didn’t have before.
Alan: Incredible. So, Number9.
DJ: Sure. So, Number9 is still a little bit in stealth mode here, but Number9 is really focused on broadcasting, video capture, and then being able to combine that with virtual spaces. So like I said, I’ll send you a quick video showing their current product that — again — they’re working with some universities on. It’s basically a virtual classroom.
Alan: Very exciting; I’m actually really excited about that. I just so everybody who’s listening knows, we’ll put all of these links into the show notes at XrforBusiness.io.
So, talk to me about Early Adopter.
DJ: Sure. Early Adopter is focused on education. They actually have a great partnership with Montefiore, and they’re working with the kids’ hospitals. They’re building a social world for kids with cancer, for when they’re getting infusion. That’s a partnership with our social entity Foretell, which is amazing. They have an augmented reality timeline that goes into a classroom, and they’re partnered with another entity called VR Quest. That’s a great platform, where kids can basically build virtual worlds — almost like Minecraft — on a standard PC, and then it gets exported to a headset. It’s a way of basically dealing with the fact that schools nowadays wouldn’t have 30 headsets lying around. But they can afford to get one headset, and still have the kids creating the world, and the assets are all aligned with core curriculum. They build their world, and then they can export it, and then walk around in that world. It’s a really, really wonderful concept.
Alan: Incredible, oh man. Anything that can make kids’ stay at a hospital better, or make their lives better in general, I’m all in.
DJ: Then Foretell is our white label social solution. They partnered with a bunch of our internal entities. They’re kicking off a new project, which is basically support groups in VR, which I also think is wonderful.
Alan: Oh my God, what a great idea.
DJ: Yeah. So you have basically – again — either kids with cancer, or perhaps it’s folks that are afraid to leave their home. You can almost cherrypick the use cases, but still get a ton of value of being around other people, and being able to share their emotions. And this one, I really like this concept, because in many of our social VR use case discussions the avatar is a huge problem right. You’re talking to an enterprise business, and they want to do productivity in VR, but they don’t want to look like a character, or…
Alan: [laughs] You want to be doing business with a robot and a Minecraft character; you want to do business with your colleague.
DJ: That’s right. That’s right. And the avatars are improving quickly, but we’re not quite there yet. But for a support group, that level of being a little anonymous, I think it’s actually a really good pro for the use case. Again, now that Quest is here, it makes it much more viable. Right? It’s can fit in a shoe box and get mailed to each person, and they’re gonna be comfortable, because it’s full six degrees of freedom.
Alan: I love it. Things like AA, you have to go to a meeting and this. It’s disruptive in people’s lives, and I think we’re moving more towards being able to have these experiences at home. So, I think it’s wonderful.
DJ: Yeah, I think it is the eventual path of telehealth. We’re just the next level in it. And there’s this sense of presence that you get in VR, and I talk about this a bunch. It’s just way more impactful than Skyping; being able to feel as if you’re with somebody is way more powerful than just seeing their picture on your screen.
Alan: I agree, I can’t wait for when the next generation of Quest comes out, when it has eye tracking, and you can actually really look at somebody. When the avatars are… they don’t need to be photo-real, but they need to represent you and who you are, and then being able to look at somebody, see their body movements… I think we’re still early days with all of this stuff, but social VR is so powerful, and people don’t realize it. Everybody was all, “VR is an isolating experience,” but it really isn’t. When you’re in a space with other people, it’s magical, actually.
DJ: That’s right. The times that I’ve been in VR the longest is always when I’m in a social setting; time goes away and you’re living your life, and you’re just in a virtual world. It truly is the killer app.
Alan: Amazing. So let’s talk about MotionZone.
DJ: Sure. MotionZone, they’re basically building their platform on WebAR and WebVR, which I think will be huge. It’s tough these days, because it is so early. But using machine vision to track players on a court, grabbing that data, and then putting it into an AR and VR experience so that, either for fan engagement or for training purposes, people can understand what’s happening on a court. So, that one is a little bit more in the early stages. But we haven’t actually even decided whether to go with the fan engagement or the training. We’ve gotten a little bit more traction on the training side, but we’re exploring where that’ll go once the full platform is built.
Alan: Very exciting. Well that’s…man. There’s a lot to unpack there. You guys have raised capital, purchased — or, I guess acquired — 10 companies in 10 different verticals, doing 10 different things, put them in a room and said, “we’re all going to work together and be successful.”
DJ: That’s the idea. Our goal eventually is to expand geographically. We think that the model works really great, and there’s a ton of value having all of those folks in New York, but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t five or ten great startups in Boston or wherever. And we’ll probably expand geographically-close so that we can stay involved and keep a close eye on it as it grows. But in the long range, there might be Glimpse hubs all over the space, because we just think it’s a great mechanism for startups to grow and, eventually, succeed.
Alan: I love it. I think it’s a really wonderful business model, and I can’t wait to learn more about it. What’s your long-term plan? Is the plan to acquire as many startups as possible, and then go do an IPO? Or…?
DJ: We always said that we wanted to get to 10 in New York. We recently did that. Right now, we’re not looking to expand geographically; we want to basically stay focused on the 10 that we have in New York, and get to be cashflow-positive. And definitely, an IPO is a potential. But we want to do it when it’s the right time.
Alan: Oh, absolutely right. My guess is it’s going to be 24 months from now. I’ll put my… between 24 to 36 months — there’s my bet.
DJ: I don’t want to bet against you, because I would put it probably at that point, too.
Alan: I think it’s interesting, because people don’t realize that it took 10 years for our industry to get to 10 billion dollars. 10 years! And it’s going to be three to get to 100.
Alan: So the timing is now, and I think you guys you’ve got a good head start on the industry, so congratulations.
DJ: Yeah. Thank you, thank you. We’re just really excited, and we’re appreciative to the big organizations. AR is just becoming more and more accessible with Quickview and ARKit. It’s just, all of the hurdles from consuming this content are just pulling away. And then on the VR side too, with products like the Quest. It’s really exciting to see, and we think like you: in the next two years, it’s gonna be a big, big jump.
Alan: I agree. Well, again, thank you so much for joining me, DJ. It’s been it’s always a pleasure hanging out with you, and you know getting to learn this. And now, we can share our conversations with the world. I’ve been really looking forward to this podcast. Thank you so much.
DJ: Absolutely! It’s a pleasure being on board for this. I’m sure that we’ll stay in touch.
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