Pixvana’s Pivot to Voodle

April 2, 2020

Pixvana's Pivot to Voodle

After nearly four years of intense focus, unabating dedication and relentless passion on the virtual reality (VR) market opportunity, an opportunity that seemed to be bursting with possibilities back in 2015, my incredible colleagues and I made the very hard decision to sunset our product and abandon our efforts to help advance the XR market. It was just not happening. We built a sensational product. In fact, it was the best v1 product I’ve ever seen taken to market in all of my 30+ years building software.

SPIN Studio, our end-to-end VR video platform, was elastic. It was cloud based. And, it had incredible VR native interfaces that enabled creators to build the highest quality and most compelling immersive content on the market. We had the Quest headset (if only that had been a consumer’s first experience into the world of VR!) that enabled immersive experience built in SPIN Studio to stream *great* looking 360 and 180 stereo videos. Whenever I put on the Quest and immersed myself in a few hours of in-headset video editing, I came away with a big fat grin: This was really, really fun to use, and really, really immersive and engaging to consume.

fisheye lens portrait
The VR video fisheye lens distorted everything i saw in the world of XR from 2015-2019–we were *all in* on the future XR market. That changed in the fall of 2019, on a fateful trip to China and Germany where i took inspiration to make our hard-pivot and try a very different business…

SPIN Studio, our end-to-end VR video platform, was elastic. It was cloud based. And, it had incredible VR native interfaces that enabled creators to build the highest quality and most compelling immersive content on the market. We had the Quest headset (if only that had been a consumer’s first experience into the world of VR!) that enabled immersive experience built in SPIN Studio to stream *great* looking 360 and 180 stereo videos. Whenever I put on the Quest and immersed myself in a few hours of in-headset video editing, I came away with a big fat grin: This was really, really fun to use, and really, really immersive and engaging to consume.

But (and here it comes…) we were three or maybe even ten years ahead of the market, and it’s hard to sustain a company based purely on the potential of possibilities. We watched a slew of interesting VR products and innovations from the likes of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and HTC/Valve come and go. By 2019, an already niche market became nichier with only Facebook Oculus left standing. 

My Visit to Chongqing, China

In the fall of 2019, I took a fateful business trip to China and Germany. While in China, I met with VR camera manufacturers and learned the development of VR cameras had ceased. There was no more there ‘there’. In Germany I attended the AWE conference and discovered headsets were no longer an interesting ‘thing’. It seemed all XR activity had moved to mobile screens, screens at arms-length, and usually involving the selfie-camera. The VR world was quickly being left behind for what seemed like the more accessible realm of AR. And, even AR is still perhaps 3-5 years away from any real critical mass: When will Apple drop a compelling AR headset? The industry has been hoping that date was coming “this year” for at least 2 years. We will now need to wait 3 more?

In the fall of 2019, I took a fateful business trip to China and Germany. While in China, I met with VR camera manufacturers and learned the development of VR cameras had ceased. There was no more there ‘there’. In Germany I attended the AWE conference and discovered headsets were no longer an interesting ‘thing’. It seemed all XR activity had moved to mobile screens, screens at arms-length, and usually involving the selfie-camera. The VR world was quickly being left behind for what seemed like the more accessible realm of AR. And, even AR is still perhaps 3-5 years away from any real critical mass: When will Apple drop a compelling AR headset? The industry has been hoping that date was coming “this year” for at least 2 years. We will now need to wait 3 more?

At AWE both Snap and Facebook shared user data: “Over one billion people today are doing AR with their selfie-cameras.” But, I couldn’t help thinking a move into the phone-based-AR app space using Pixvana’s IP and brain-trust would be like signing up for another several years of equal or even greater disappointment then we’d experienced with the VR market.

A VR Camera
VR Cameras like the Kandao R pictured, were very low quality in 2016, and extremely high-quality and very viable, in 2019. But like VR headsets, they didn’t reach critical mass and the ecosystem for VR video failed to catalyze.

A death-blow had been delivered to Pixvana’s VR dreams but along with it came the inspiration to start something new from the ashes. 

Selfie-Cameras

On my trip to both China and Germany, I was struck by how many people I saw all around me glued to their selfie-cameras, either taking pictures and videos of themselves, or watching short videos on Tiktok. As a ~50 year old I sometimes struggle to relate to the attraction of the selfie-camera. But, the appeal is broad and global. By some estimates more than two billion people a day use their selfie-cameras!  People love it. Taking pictures and videos of themselves to share with loved ones–all day and everyday–is how communication happens nowadays. Phone calls, emails and even text messaging seem like they are on an accelerating decline.  

How I talk to my friends and family: Images and video and memes!

Over the next several months, I started to pay much more attention to how the selfie-camera was being used by my family and friends — from the topics covered to the ways we responded to the cultural shift that seemed to be happening. As I watched with amazement at how we communicated across our private networks in Whatsapp and iMessage groups, a kernel of an idea began to grow.  Why is it that among my family and friends, almost all of our communications are image, video and emoji or meme based; yet, when I am at work my communications are 99% text-based?

How I talk to my co-workers: Text and docs

Long TL;DR text in email applications like Gmail. Back and forth short messages including an occasional URL or small jpeg thumbnail in Slack or Microsoft Teams. Sometimes sharing documents in places like Highspot, Microsoft Onedrive or Google Drive. This schism is plainly evident when I look at my phone screen: If it is text-based, I’m working;  If it’s video or image-based I am talking with friends and family. Is this because what I have to say at work inherently should be text, or, that the tools i use at work only allow text?

What if?

What if our work-related communications looked a lot more like the way I communicate with my friends and family? If we built a tool that was work-first, image/video-first, would that enable communication and exchange of information in a more compelling way? That’s the kernel of an idea that led us to create Voodle.

How I might talk to my co-workers: Short videos

A “voodle” is a short “video-doodle” that can be posted and shared among work colleagues. These Voodles may be insights into customers, competitors, operations, morale or culture insights…we’re figuring this out together with our beta testers. But, what we already know from our early tests, is that Voodle is *transformational*. It’s aligning communication with work colleagues to a manner more similar to the way we ‘talk’ with friends and family already. Two billion consumers on their mobile phones can’t be wrong!

We are busy working on voodle now! And,  I will write more about voodle soon. In the meantime you can check our blog for a little more information. And, you can rest assured that the team and I are bursting with excitement to share voodle and voodles and voodle pools with you…