What is the XpertVR Startup, problem it’s solving?
XpertVR is a SaaS startup that enables researchers across industries to conduct experiential and cost-effective studies, ultimately to gain understanding of human behavior. We do this through our flagship product, The Research Access Portal (RAP).
We created RAP as an all in one solution for researchers and businesses to create virtual environments, curate the data they would like to know about those environments and then have a certified list of participants to go through the environments for data collection.
We are seeing our solution being applied in many different industries from environmental research to workplace ergonomics/safety to academic training and more. With that being said the main problem we are solving is in the consumer behaviour industry.
This past week marketing managers and CMO’s across top organizations were surveyed and the results showed only 3% of marketers believe their organizations are exceptionally effective in turning data insights into actions.
Over the past 4 years we have seen this time and time again as marketers don’t know how to collect data, how to interpret data or how to implement their interpretations. We believe the main reason behind this comes down to how most researchers collect data and how it is visualized.
In today’s marketing world researchers build stores in warehouses and have consumers walk up and down the aisles pretending to shop as researchers take notes. Not only is this inefficient but the data collected is not at all visual and lacks insight.
Using tools like the Research Access Portal researchers are able to choose their demographic already giving much better insight into their specific consumers. Beyond this they are given their regular raw data plus a whole suite of data visualizations. This includes heatmaps, 3D replays of customer interactions, survey data that is tied to interactions and so much more. This allows researchers and those they report to to actually experience data and walk through it instead of passively consuming it.
Background of founders and there Journey
XpertVR was founded by Drew MacNeil and Evan Sitler, with the goal of bringing XR to the masses and giving businesses the ability to experience data. The two co-founders met through the entrepreneurship programs at Goodman Group Venture Development (formerly BioLinc), in St Catharines, ON, Canada and they credit the centre for helping them through their early-stage growth.
The two of them quickly bonded over their shared fascination with VR, related XR tech and the impact they saw it having in the near future. Over the past four years together this shared fascination has led to many ideas, from 360 video marketing with RedBull to VR entertainment booths for movie premieres to training simulations for Ontario based colleges, until finally settling on creating XR tools to help the research community.
Both being business students, Drew & Evan have always been interested in marketing and looking at ways not only to improve a customer’s satisfaction but to transform their entire brand interaction experience. With this interest XpertVR began consulting market research firms on how to be innovative back in 2018. Through this experience Drew & Evan realized how outdated the market research industry was and how many improvements could be made to benefit businesses and their customers.
From this realization XpertVR started creating retail environments for their clients to conduct market research. With this experience XpertVR signed a deal to consult and manage the Brock University R3CL facility (Augmented, Virtual & Physical Reality Consumer Lab). Through this lab XpertVR has been able to help many professors and local businesses conduct research in consumer behaviour and has seen the direct impact of their research.
Since then the team has been focused on creating better tools for the market research industry and has continued to see positive feedback from the businesses they have helped and consumers they have benefited.
What’s their USP (unique selling point)
Over the past two years, XpertVR has specialized in creating VR simulations for research and training. Over this time, working on custom projects they have built up quite the suite of in-house development tools allowing for faster development and more importantly improved analytics. Some of the analytic tools XpertVR have developed include in-depth eye, hand, and path-tracking, as well as, in-simulation and pre/post-simulation surveys.
Combining these tools in research creates a more seamless experience for participants while providing better data to researchers, overall leading to faster and more reliable research.
As an example, XpertVR recently ran a study with the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre at Brock University where participants interacted with a VR environment depicting either a utopian or dystopian future of what ocean life may look like in 2050.
Because of the speed at which participants were able to go through the experience while still grasping the message, the researchers behind the experiment were able to capture data from over double the required number of participants. Data collected included survey data, simulation interactions and non-VR comparisons. This has led to more concrete research findings and encouraged the researchers to present their findings to the United Nations.
In the training space, XpertVR has found VR combined with their analytic tools leads to a more repeatable, safer, educational, and data-driven approach. Firstly, VR offers exact and randomized repeatability.
Meaning a learner can go through the exact same scenario unlimited times to learn a specialized task or they can go through a simulation with slight randomizations if they need to learn how to handle multiple variations of the same task. Secondly, VR is safer as you are training in a fully virtual space and aren’t at risk of hurting yourself.
But beyond that, we can add analytic tools that not only allow a trainer to ensure a trainee is going through the right motions but by looking at indicators like pupil dilation we can understand if a trainee is confident, scared, excited, etc. Bringing all of this information together allows a trainer to point out mistakes that they wouldn’t have noticed traditionally and better understand when a trainee is ready for the real world. The amalgamation of Data Analytics combined with capabilities of Virtual Reality headsets is clearly one of our USP’s.
With that being said it is XpertVR’s participant network that allows such data to be collected. Having a qualified participant network, currently across North America but quickly expanding, allows researchers to choose any demographic they want to test and launch studies quickly. XpertVR also ensures this is a win-win for participants as they get paid for participating, have the chance to win prizes and are part of an exciting community!
Early days struggle
Running a start-up there are always early day struggles whether it be partnering with the wrong people, losing large contracts or over paying for things you don’t need. With that being said there are 2 major struggles that we can say we have overcome.
Firstly, finding our focus. Many businesses struggle to find their focus or niche but being in an emerging market like VR presents it’s unique challenges. As we mentioned we did a little bit of everything in the VR space and this is because VR can really be applied to any industry and many different problems.
For us this meant we would create one custom solution after the other, always seeing the ‘next big idea’ but never staying on one for long. We overcame this by creating a tool that focused on data collection for the research industry. Not exactly because we thought data/research was the sexiest space to be in but because this was a space that was researching the future and pushing VR forward.
This has allowed us to stay on the cutting edge of the industry which has a lot of fun perks, like using hardware that most people won’t get to experience for 2-5 years. But working in this space has also opened our eyes to how as we build out these tools, they can obviously be used in the research space but their use cases will soon pour over into other industries VR is affecting. Basically, allowing us to continue to try ideas and everything we’re interested in but all based around building data experiences that better the VR industry.
Secondly, this past year we struggled as many businesses have when faced with the effects of COVID-19. In late March all of our contracts were put on hold or cancelled due to our simulations being used at events or at in-person meetings. This hit us hard as a startup with just a few months of runway but we quickly stepped back, talked to our team and decided this was a time where we could invest into R&D, planning a path forward.
As mentioned, this led us to create the Research Access portal which is now our flagship product which will allow our clients to experience data with the touch of a button while spreading VR to the masses. We are now almost grateful we had this time to step back and plan out our future.
Currently XpertVR is completely self-funded but we have begun looking for investment and are raising our seed round between now and January of 2021. We held off on this for multiple years so that we knew we had a product that really gave value to our clients and that we could be confident in taking on investment funds to scale. With the creation of the Research Access Portal we have found this product and are excited to really begin scaling in 2021.
User base they have achieved till now
Up until now we have worked with many businesses ranging from 3M and RedBull to Explorer Research and Central Group to Brock University and Conestoga College. All of these have given us unique looks into how each of these types of organizations use data and how we could build a product that suited their needs.
Beyond our clients we now have a participant base for the Research Access Portal that has spread across North America and is growing daily. We soon plan to begin expanding that participants outside of North America. But we are waiting to see which continent/country or region is most excited about our solution so that we can help them first.
New Areas for expanding
We are currently pushing to expand the use of the Research Access Portal in consumer behaviour research as this is where we have seen the most need for our product. But we are also excited to continue working with our academic clients on more custom projects that solve big world problems as well as push the XR industry forward.
Lastly, because of COVID we have been working with a lot of our academic clients on how to move their teachings online. This has been an exciting space as it allows students to get hands-on experience that can be even better than what was possible in the classroom. For these training courses we are also implementing our data analytics tools which allow trainers to understand where students need to improve and how to gauge students’ confidence levels.
In 5 years, we see XpertVR becoming one of North American’s leading experiential data companies. Our belief in reaching this status comes from our conviction of providing the highest quality experiences to everyone we touch. Whether it’s the simulations we create, the insight we provide or the individual participant experiences we strive for. Our team is passionate about every aspect of our business and in ensuring everyone has the best experience possible with us.
We also look to those who have come before us like Qualtrics and how they have revolutionized data analytics using traditional methods but on the platform of the internet. Seeing their and others’ growth we know we will grow as the XR industry continues to expand. We also know that the way we collect and allow our users to experience data is revolutionary and will lead to many innovations so following the exponential growth of XR, big data and related technologies we will be able to reach new heights as well.
How can Techiexpert help?
We are just grateful that Techiexpert can help us share our story and vision for the future. We picture a near future where XR technology quickly evolves to be more than a research tool in retail and into creating consumer experiences. We can already see this today with tools like the IKEA/Wayfair AR apps but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
XpertVR pictures a near future where consumers control their data and when they share it with their favourite brand’s magical things will be able to happen in XR. Picture experiences like a kid shopping for new toys and depending on the toy they hold their favourite movie characters come to life around them and are able to have genuine interactions with them.
On an even simpler note imagine choosing a paint brand and one comes with an Augmented Reality share feature. With this feature a son could call up his mom in 3D to get her opinion on paint colours and vice versa. Then when they both go to paint; they could see each other in 3D painting side by side even if they live on other sides of the world. These types of crazy unique experiences will be possible in just a few years and if a brand can create that for a customer the customer will be loyal forever.