Hi Cix, thanks so much for joining us! To get started, can you please give us an overview of your background?
Well, my father sold various different hardware to the government, so I grew up around technology, but I wasn’t really taught in any formal capacity. I built desktops in high school and worked with hardware. In fact, my initial entry point into entrepreneurship was selling computer hardware.
I started in India, and then I made it out to Silicon Valley. One of the things that brought me here was actually this crazy story that I read in TechCrunch about an application that raised over a million dollars, and the only thing the application did was send a push notification to someone saying, “Yo.”
What inspired you to get into immersive tech? Please tell us a bit about your journey getting into the VR industry.
When I came to San Francisco, I was trying to figure out who I was as a person. I was self-taught, but I didn’t have the background that would get me a job at companies like Google. I was living in a community house with 50 other people with very different values. What initially brought me into immersive technology, however, was my purchase of the Oculus Rift DK2.
After working as an I.T. engineer for some time, I understood the entrepreneur background and what it’s like to be in a company that’s VC backed. But I wanted to understand a vertical that was in an emerging space. I was eventually accepted into the Upload coworking space, which was an entry point for me into immersive technology as a career.
Everybody was a mobile developer, but no one really understood PC. I thought I was working in an antiquated space, but PC was needed to power virtual reality. I began building virtual reality computers.
Since then, I co-founded virtual reality companies LIV and YUR. YUR, one of my most recent projects, was created as a way to quantify VR fitness metrics for people who didn’t really understand fitness in general.
Can you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?
At this point, I’m working on something VR related, but I plan to keep it under wraps for a while.
What parts of the VR industry do you think need to be changed? Why?
It’s sad, but the reality is the ones who have the most money win.
As startups and founders in many of these consumer-driven VC backed startups, entrepreneurs are demonstrating that they can take on a significant amount of capital and build a monopoly. Facebook is doing exactly that; they’re trying to completely monopolize our space before any other large organization takes it seriously.
What were some of the largest challenges you’ve faced while working in the VR industry? How did you overcome them?
Working with Facebook was one of my biggest challenges.
After filing a patent and releasing the YUR application, we met with Facebook at the Oculus Connect 6 conference and exchanged emails in the interest of working together. We shared what we were working on, and after a while, they ghosted us. It turns out, Facebook had started copying our products. YUR was blocked from the Oculus store, had begun to break due to Facebook updates, and they even tried to poach my CTO. Now, keep in mind, this is also during 2020. We were already stressed out. Then, at Facebook Connect this year, Mark Zuckerberg announced Oculus Move, which does the exact same thing as YUR, and it looks exactly the same as well.
I almost gave up at that point. But as time went on, I began to recover and tried to keep the company stable. After this somewhat traumatic experience, I reached out to various developers, trying to understand what was going on in our space. It was reassuring to learn that there were so many others like me. Unfortunately, I had to step down as CEO to speak out against Facebook.
What are your thoughts on privacy and ethics?
I have two thoughts: the idea that people don’t care about privacy only goes so far, and people don’t understand when they’re being manipulated. Now because of how nuanced advertisements have become, we live in a world where we don’t even know when an ad is an ad.
So, the issue with privacy is not necessarily the privacy between you and me as an individual, but how we can be manipulated into believing things that are completely incorrect because we don’t even know what an ad is anymore. We need to have a conversation about how we moderate these platforms that, unfortunately, would involve some form of government or democratic oversight to try to understand how we can control the flow of misinformation to some degree.
What’s your vision for the future of VR?
At a certain point, we are going to put more value into our virtual embodiments than we do in our own physical selves. In fact, we’re already doing that. Do you care more about how many friends you have in your one-mile radius or how many Instagram followers you attain?
Advancements in augmented reality are more logical in the near future of VR because we’re still grounded to some degree.
Finally, virtual reality fitness is going to be one of the biggest use cases ever. Why? Because fitness is boring for the average person. If you could go into virtual reality and all of a sudden, movement is now an expression of self that is much more exciting and tantalizing, then you can get people to exercise who otherwise wouldn’t.
What advice do you have for people looking to enter the XR industry?
Build a game and a community around that game. And when competitors enter the space, which there eventually will be (there isn’t right now, at least on the consumer side), really support those competitors.
Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them?
The first person to take me seriously as an entrepreneur was a woman named Anna Barber, the former managing director of Techstars Los Angeles. She’s been one of the most prominent people in my life to support me from the early stages as an entrepreneur. She’s given me real talks several times, and she taught me when you’re going to pitch something or say something in an entrepreneurship capacity, to talk about the goal of what you’re accomplishing versus getting so caught up in the product and the technology.
Anything else you’d like to add?
One of the most difficult parts of startup life is not only knowing when to start something but also when to walk away. The truth is, in life, in the startup world, in relationships, and in places you live: oftentimes, it’s really easy to start. One of the hardest things in life is knowing when to let go.
Bonus: What’s your favorite inspirational quote? What about the quote inspires you?
Dylan Thomas, a famous poet, once wrote, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light;” it’s a line from his poem Do not go gentle into that good night.
I think it touches on how easy it is to give up and accept life the way it is. You’ll have opportunities in your life where you can be brave, and money will come in various different ways. But if you can’t be brave in those moments, you aren’t a brave person, and you don’t deserve success.
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