Storytelling about Villa with Ofer Baharav
Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 108. This week we have storytelling about Villa with Ofer Baharav. During this episode, Ofer and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for purchasing Villa.
Ofer is an expert in all things virtual reality and product innovation and management. His passion for creating immersive team collaboration in virtual reality really comes through during the podcast.
Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.
Show length: 32 minutes
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Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you’re listening to the Use Case Podcast. [inaudible 00:00:29] from Villa, and we’re going to be talking about some really, really, really innovative stuff. So, I can’t wait. I want to use all the time to kind of get into his company and talk about what they’re doing. So, without any further ado, Ofer, do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Villa.
Great. Well, thank you so much, William. I’m so excited to be on your show. So, my name is Ofer. I am in Silicon Valley in Menlo park. The name of the company is actually realvr.ai. The name of the product is Villa. And, what we do is immersive team collaboration in virtual reality. You’ve just heard that. It’s true. It works. We always laugh and say, this is technology from the future that can provide … Sorry about that. I’ll repeat. We provide this, currently, it’s 2030 type of technology that we provide to doing 2021. The proxy that we have are IRL meetings. So, in real life meetings. And, we strive to give you even better meetings than IRL. The reality is that, currently, we have thousands of seats that have the license to use this for approximately three, four hours a week, on average. This is done instead of video conferencing, oftentimes.
This is for teams, much like a Zoom. You wouldn’t want to just pop in by yourself, even though you could, but it’s called Villa because we basically took an Airbnb. We gutted it, we made it so that it’s appropriated for the enterprise. So, what that means basically is, it still looks like home, but just like as a team, oftentimes teams like to do that. They’d go and they’d rent a Airbnb beach house. They’ll take their team. They’ll do road mapping. This is very similar. So, we’ve repurposed the rooms into conference rooms and we take the Villa around the world right now with guts for geographies. We put you in the Alps. We put you in the French Riviera, and on the beach. We have a snow scene. We’ve got lots and lots more geographies coming. And yeah, I’ll let you. Maybe you channel this conversation.
I did a VR conference. It was an HR, VR conference last year. And it was fantastic because we used Altspace. But what was fantastic because it was simulating a conference experience. And so there were sessions and keynotes and breakouts and vendor hall and the whole kind of conferences, traditional conference experience. But it was also great because you could meet as you do at a conference, you could pull people to a side, have a conversation, do this whole bit. And, I was wearing my Oculus and I was literally letting go. Well, we are all doing it from home because of COVID. But, I was literally doing it from my office and home and having a full on networking conference experience. And it was, I mean, fantastic, I would tell you. And that was the first time I’d seen it applied to NHR for HR folks, but it was a conference.
And, with real VR, one of the things that I think is important for folks to understand is, VR can be used in a lot of different ways. We can use it on the front end and talent acquisition to potentially do jobs simulations, and put people through kind of a mechanism of what the job looks like. If you were to actually go to apply, you obviously training development, learning skills development. There’s all kinds of applications there. One of the things that you’ve unlocked is collaboration and the way that potentially HR can use for the organization can use, real VR and Villa in particular, as a collaboration tool, a way to kind of get people. In fact, your distributed team from all over the world, here’s a way to get them together. That’s not necessarily a zoom call, flat zoom call or zoom or WebEx or something like that. Here’s a way to actually make it a deeper, richer, and more interesting experience.
Yeah. You’ve brought up several great points there. Let’s start from the last, and hopefully, I’ll remember to make my way back into the present. So, the [inaudible 00:05:22] to the previous points, but the last point that you made is the comparison to video conferencing and how different we are from that perspective. We’ve noticed that the differences is as follows. If you need to interview someone, you clearly should use video conferencing because you want to see the subtleties and people’s expressions. We haven’t yet gotten that great for that in VR. We use avatars. They’re almost as good as video, but not quite there. For example, they do lip syncing and we can do expressions, but they’re not quite there. However, for team collaboration, for teams that meet regularly, this is a great tool on various levels. First level is that, immersive means that we’re both together.
You know how, right now, you and I are conducting this through zoom. And there’s you there and me here or the other way for you. I occurred to you as far away. I think, you’re in Texas, I’m in Silicon valley. We’re probably 1600 miles away. It’s a dissonance that goes on in our minds and we can’t get over that. It’s, we’re far, we’re not at the same place, even though I might be sitting on your desk, on your laptop. I’m far away. And mentally, you’ll notice because I’ve invited you of course, to try the product out. You’ll notice that when we go in and over this weekend, or sometime next week, when we get a chance, you’ll notice that you and I are absolutely without any doubt in the same environment. And that’s critical here.
When I reach out to you and your controller buzzes for a handshake, which is the only place where we can touch in our world right now, and probably in the future, we might allow you to touch objects that you spawned such as the desk or a laptop. And right now it’s only in the hands. And also, it’s good because it keeps you clean. There’s no ability to make mistakes here as well, from a sexual harassment perspective. Just as an example, each Villa does have a couple of jacuzzis. And it’s funny because I recently invited one of our investors into the jacuzzi as part of the happy hour. And she said, “I don’t feel comfortable doing that.” So I said, “Okay, no problem. Why don’t you go in there by yourself first?” She did. And I said, “Now, look under the water.” And she said, “I don’t see anything.” I said, “Exactly.”
That’s the point.
That’s the point. We don’t even give you a way to take this to levels that might be perceived as inappropriate, which is really cool because it’s very safe. But, just the handshake alone, you’ll notice when you and I go into Villa together, just that buzz in the controller, when you do a handshake in our minds, right there, that is perceived like you and I are sharing that space. Now, the best part here is that, we take Villa, as I mentioned before, to places around the world who we might find ourselves in the dolomite to Alps in Northern Italy. And, we give you a whole expanse to work out of. So, you can think of this almost as a creativity platform. What does that mean? We could carry on our meetings stand-ups or one-on-ones even. We have this whole concept of the breakup rooms where you open a door to a conference room, and once you close the door, we’re in a private channel. So, only you and I are there.
If you’re my boss, we can have a one-on-one. It’s safe. The rest of the team, we might see them through the windows, but they can’t hear us even if they were to blurt in, into the room. So, that’s amazing. As you know, on zoom to draw a breakout is, it’s kind of a painful experience, takes about five minutes. Somebody has to be the manager of that experience. And, it’s very painful. So for us, it’s as easy as you go into a room, you open the door and then you go to the next room, and so on. That said, most people absolutely love the outdoors. And very early on, when people said, “Hey, listen. If you could give me stuffy offices in VR or give you the outdoors, just give me the outdoors.”
I want to take my presentations. I want to take. So we started off with a Google-y looking office, and then we quickly noticed that even that is sort of like too old for people and nobody wants that anymore. And then we started giving you super hero experiences. It’s like, why would you have to actually walk in the Alps if I can let you fly? Why fly if I can let you supersonic fly? And so on. So, it’s a lot of fun. And, just intrusive comparison, I’m going back to the original example you gave. So, yes, Altspace and there’s various, what’s called social VR experiences that are great. One of them is Altspace and another one is Bigscreen. Bigscreen is more for videos. There’s another one by Facebook called Horizons. All of these are social VR experiences.
You might bump into people that you wouldn’t normally socialize with, necessarily. Whether it’s a group of people yapping about politics or a group of kids talking about something. It could be a little bit bizarre kind of going into these environments, but it’s great. That’s what you would expect, kind of like you would expect it on, let’s say, Facebook or Instagram. But, what we compare ourselves to within the world of VR, which is a whole world, just like you have web and you have mobile. You have a whole vertical here for immersive tech and we are sort of the Slack within that. So, if Horizons in Altspace are the Facebook of that world, we are the Slack of that world. What does that mean? It means that, we give you an environment that’s very safe for your enterprise, for your organization.
We’re good for companies of all sizes, although we have clients that are startups, and we have clients with thousands of seats in them. We’re good for everything in between, like your experience there. We are currently, actually, about to release a way to connect all the Villas. So, the name of the product is Villa. V-I-L-L-A. And then, for your org, if you’re an admin, actually, even if you’re a member, you can create as many villas as you have teams in your org. So, think about this. In Slack, you have channels. So, we’re kind of like, Villa is akin to a channel. You’d have a Villa for marketing and a Villa for finance and a Villa for HR and a Villa for product management and so on.
And then the villas are going to interconnect soon. We hope, approximately by mid-July, to have a capability of interconnecting all the villas for a simultaneous meeting. So, if you have an all hands for a company with tens of thousands of employees, that’s where you’ll be able to do it. Also, today, Villa is great for teams, especially if they want to do an offsite. But what if the whole company wants to do a conference, as you mentioned? So, we’re going to enable that very soon. Right now, it’s basically propagates as many villas as you need. So, we have up to 15 people per Villa. And if you have more than that, then people will be separated by 15s. So, let’s just say, you have a HR department with a hundred people. So, each person will go into the HR umbrella and it’ll propagate as many villas as there are people, maybe seven plus villas in this case.
And then, we interconnect them. In the future, we’re going to also enable video conferencing for those few that don’t have VR headsets. Or, if you wanted to share screen. For now, you do have to have the headsets. The headsets are ridiculously cheap. You can buy them. We’re agnostic from a heads-up perspective. So, we work on Quest today in all PC VR. That said, Quest is our go-to just because it’s really inexpensive today to try and buy them in the range of $300 to $850, depends on what type of device you want. On the low end is the consumer device, which civil companies like to buy as a gift for their employees, because a lot of people do value the fact that you can play games, you can meditate, you can exercise in these as consumer. And then, you can also conduct a team meetings with us.
And then, other companies don’t want to buy it like that. They prefer to buy the enterprise version, which costs 800 bucks. And that’s more geared for companies that wants you to use it on premises. On location, a list of a consumer or a pro-sumer device, more of a strict enterprise only sort of like, and again, it changes from company to company, kind of you look at your smartphone, whether it’s an iPhone or an Android. Some companies will get you a company Android device or iPhone and other companies that say, “Hey, use your smartphone by doing work over your smartphone, as well.
One of the things that HR has really got interested in, in the last, probably 18 months, and it really happened before COVID, but during COVID, and even now, is a concept called the employee experience. And, it’s essentially kind of like the consumer experience or customer experience, and in recruiting, it was a candid experience. But, the idea that employees have outside-of-the-job job, they have an experience with the company and with their managers, with peers and subordinates, all the other stuff. And one of the things that’s really important to them is to maximize and make sure that they have a really great experience. Again, they won’t. All HR folks want their employees to be happy, and satisfied, but they want them to be productive. And so, creating a great experience. One of the things that I think the villas do as a concept, but real VR does for you as a company for them is, it can provide a different way to think about employee experiences.
We have SIGs, special entry groups, ERG, employee resource groups, that are all over the world, that inside of, let’s say, Siemens or GE or whatever. These are people that, again, it could be something personal or something like the LGBTQ+ community in Siemens. That’s a community that’s all over the world. We’ll now giving them a way to meet and collaborate. That’s different. That creates a superior experience. That’s very enticing to HR. And one of the reasons for that, outside of just being interested in making sure that the employees have a great experience is, HR is ultimately responsible for the retention of talent. So, if you create great experiences, then you’re on that pathway of helping your company create great talent. That’s why, I really wanted you to be on the podcast because I look at what you’re doing at real VR and Villa, in particular, as a way of looking at the employee experience [crosstalk 00:17:51].
Yeah. So, I’d love to respond to that because you’ve touched on probably the most important part of this whole thing. And it looks like this. And I can tell you this, after spending thousands of hours in this, I can tell you that after a while, what happens is, you start thinking of real life meetings as a handicap because these meetings are just so much better on so many levels. Now, it’s true that we’re human and we have a body and we should meet in the physical world. But for business, I’m not that convinced that that’s the case right now. Business is very social, though, people will say. And then, you can bridge that gap with video conferencing, but we sort of are the glue in between. And what does that mean? It means that we can give you, at your fingertips, capabilities that you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise in the real world. And we can.
For example, we can all meet in the Alps. We can all take a presentation that would have been boring. People would have been falling asleep or they would have been not focused. They would have been distracted with their smartphones in a real office, or they would have been distracted when on zoom. A lot of people get distracted. They put themselves off of video and boom. You don’t know what they’re doing. Here, it’s very easy because if somebody is distracted, you can just see that they took their headset off because you can see those things in VR [crosstalk 00:19:28].
To that point real quick so that the audience gets this. When I was talking about the conference sale, one of the things I found fascinating, both as a speaker and as an attendee is, you can show your emotions and do different things that you wouldn’t be able to kind of get in a regular traditional meeting. We’re all sitting around a conference room. I can clap. I can raise my hand. I can heart. I can emoticon. I can do all kinds of stuff that in a real meeting, you might get some of that body language. But when someone’s sending up a bunch of hearts, when you’re talking about a particular topic, you know the sentiment, you know what they’re feeling about what you’re saying. And the opposite is also true. But, it’s a completely different experience or, I shouldn’t say completely. It’s a modified experience.
It’s a modified. Exactly. It’s exactly. Another example is, if everybody is equipped with lasers coming like beams, coming out of their fingers, but the other people don’t see your lasers. Only you can see your lasers. When you point a laser at somebody’s avatar, you can immediately see their name. So, they don’t even know that you’re looking to attract their name. [crosstalk 00:20:49].
[crosstalk 00:20:49] at a conference room, it’s 12 people in it and you know 10 of them, but there’s this one guy or gal that you don’t know, and you’re not going to ask. You’re not going to. I mean, you don’t want to look foolish because you’ve met him several times. This is a simple way to just go, “Oh, it’s Janet. Got it.”
The other thing is, even if you’re one of those teams that is highly considering about coming back to the physical world or like many other companies, I think. I’m from Israel, originally. And I’ve been watching the canary in the coal mine, just because from the perspective of, they’ve been vaccinated. They’re already back in January and we’re talking 70% of the country, unlike most states here in the US which I believe is something to the tune of 40, 50%. So, slightly less than that. But we also got vaccinated, just a lot more recently. So, you look at Israel. I’m seeing, from colleagues, especially folks that have … So, they go through this phase where initially, there’s a ricochet, because after a long, long time of not being able to see people, everybody wants to come back to that.
It takes exactly one month where people are starting to say, “Wait a minute. I want to be with my spouse. I want to be with my kids. I want to have no commute.” It’s a no brainer. I don’t know if you remember, but with [Marissa Meyer 00:22:20], there was a big boom here over this. when she was basically-
return to the office [crosstalk 00:22:26].
At all costs return. And I think today’s, [crosstalk 00:22:29]. It was a horrible decision. It ultimately cost her job, people might say. But here’s the thing. Today especially, we all know that we’re never going back to 2019. So, how I think of it, at least I can share how I go about thinking about this is, we’re working. I don’t like to use the word remote, because for example, with technologies like us, there’s nothing remote about it.
You’re like, it’s full presence. And in fact, it’s a lot less remote. If your company has headquarters in multiple geographical locations, in different countries, for example, this is this is your clue. This is how you bring everybody together. But, I don’t like to call it remote at all. But I do like to call it work from wifi. And I think, increasingly, you need to give people the option. And it’s true that some people, by the way, we’ve done a lot of research on this and it doesn’t really have anything to do with being introvert or extrovert. It’s just some people have a preference to have people around them. [inaudible 00:23:31] the introverts or extroverts and some people don’t.
We change moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day. I think, again, getting back to the employee experience. And also, if we don’t even say the word employee and we think of talent, and we think of talent differently, subcontractors, and in-house, and outsourcing, et cetera. We start looking at a distributed workforce that’s global. And so, you might have an office in Silicon valley, or you might have an office in Dallas, Texas, and all that’s great. And those that want to and can go to that office, fantastic. But thinking broader to how you service in talent, we won’t even say employees, talent that’s all over the world and yet create a great experience, I think we have to think way on top of what 2019, where it’s not going to go back to that. We all know that.
Hybrid is going to be an experiment that everyone’s going to try different things, which they should and make it fit for their company. But, even with the best hybrid environment, you’re still going to have employees now. Knowing what we know, you’re going to have employees all over the world and talent all over the world. So, you’re going to need to create experiences for that talent that’s all over the world, that distributed workforce.
Yeah. And what kind of bring it because you just mentioned together from an economical perspective, here’s the truth that you won’t hear. It’s very blunt, but this is the truth. After corona happens, every single company’s CEO turns to their CFO and says, “High five. We just got rid of CapEx and OpEx for our company. There’s research out there that shows that $30 billion per day is saved by not essentially buying employees’ toilet paper. I mean, that’s how ridiculous this is. What does that mean? It means that it’s a new world order that benefits everyone. Employees don’t have to sit in commutes. If they have, they still need to create privacy. So, in some situations, again, as you mentioned, it changes from household to household, and situation to situation. But, I can totally understand how some companies want to, at the very least, provide rooms, conference rooms with wifi in cities, so that if some employees want to have a private meeting, they can do that if they don’t have that already in their household.
But again, this is not necessarily the go-to solution, because as we mentioned before, a lot of people just like to work out of coffee shops. For example, they just love to have people around them. So, the wifi experience is all that you need. You need to have good broadband. You have good wifi. Once you solve for that, you’re good. And the reason a lot of people ask me, “Hey, what about AR?” And the answer is, “We love AR, but AR, unfortunately, in this day and age, is still extremely expensive.” $3,500 per employee for the headset for HoloLens. Magic leap, 1500 or I don’t know. I haven’t checked what the latest price is. Very expensive. Same with VR that is not core specific. The only winner right now, for bang for buck, is Quest. Now, the other nice thing is, and this is why I highly encourage any of the HR execs that have P and L and have an influence even.
You don’t have to have a P and L. You might have just influenced to highly consider this for your company. What I would suggest, and incentivize even is for, because we don’t make any money nor will we ever on the headsets. But, you do need to get, if you want to, just to be democratic, just get it for everyone. Gift it to all your employees. If you have a hard time with the procurement, we can help you. But we don’t want it to be a friction, we don’t want you to think, “Ah, I would’ve loved it, but you need this headset.” Don’t worry. That headset is a joke. It’s so cheap.
Compared to toilet paper.
Exactly. But also, compared to your smartphone or your laptop, this thing is so inexpensive and it’ll give you a lot of mileage. I can tell you that.
Well, just because we need to wrap one of the things and as a closing thing, how do you suggest? We’re talking about your company and I mean specifically, and even Villa. How do they get started? What do you suggest that they do?
There’s two avenues. If you have a large team, a large organization, let’s say above 10, 15 people. Then, reach out to me directly and we’ll set you up. You can look me up on LinkedIn. I’m sure you’ll provide all the links afterwards. Or you can email me. It’s my first name. O, F as in Frank, E-R at realvr.ai. Please provide that afterwards for simplicity. But, an even faster way to do this is, just get yourself a Quest. Quest Tube, basically, is the ones that are still in right now. You can get them on bestbuy.com. [inaudible 00:29:02] delivering most Metro areas in the US is five bucks. You can get free shipping. It’s literally $299. You don’t need the more expensive version with more storage. Don’t even bother. Just get the 299. It’s one size fits all. Get that, and you’ll be thrilled.
And then, you just search for Villa in the search box on the store. You find us, you install us. We’ll be providing a free trial shortly. Right now, it goes right into the paid version which is $30 per month. It’s a subscription, or you can buy it for longer terms with discounts. And then, again, the thing is, this is for the pro-sumer market. It’s for individuals to be able to buy it with your own credit card. So, it’s recommended for small startups or for teams that don’t have an HR department. But I think, for most of your listeners, we’re talking about larger teams, very likely.
And for them, you do need to reach out to us to get a license. We’ll be more than happy to put you on a pilot. We, by all means, don’t want to sell you something that you don’t find huge value in. And, I just want to encourage you that it’s extremely simple. There’s a mental dissonance in people’s heads where they go, “Oh, that headset.” Let me tell you something. First of all, people love it. It puts a smile on everyone’s face. I’ve yet to see one person said, “Nah, that wasn’t a good experience.” [crosstalk 00:30:28].
[crosstalk 00:30:28] a friend over and he works for GameStop. So, he’s relatively adept at technologies, especially gaming technologies but he had never played on Quest. And for our listeners, Quest is, as an application, or excuse me as a device, it’s like your smartphone. There’s an app store. You go in. You download it. You search. You find things that are interesting to you. You download them and then you open them up and then you’re off on to the races. And, literally, I picked out a couple of games for them and because I have the Oculus app on my phone, I could actually see what he was seeing and vice versa. When I got on it, he could see what I was saying.
And, I could just tell you, if I can use the Oculus, the Quest, and have fun, it’s a joy because it is different. But it also creates just a different experience and just kind of harping on the thing, the point for TA and for HR to think about how do you create deeper, richer, more meaningful experiences, differentiated experiences for your workforce, for everyone that works with you and for you? How do you do that? This is a really cool option offer. I absolutely appreciate your time today.
Thank you so much. Thanks for coming on the Use Case Podcast. And also, thanks to all of our listeners and thanks for listening.
Great. Thank you so much for having me.
A hundred percent.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.