Get Reworked Podcast Episode 29 Guest Derek Belch, CEO of Strivr

Get Reworked Podcast: Why VR Training Is Poised to Grow

February 15, 2022 Learning and Development
Siobhan Fagan
By Siobhan Fagan, Mike Prokopeak

Get Reworked Podcast Episode 29 Guest Derek Belch, CEO of Strivr
The future of the metaverse may be the topic of the day for many tech pundits, but the reality is that it's already here. The virtual reality, that is.

In this episode of Get Reworked, we talk to Derek Belch, CEO of virtual reality training firm Strivr, about how VR is being used to train employees right now and what potential it holds for the future. We've entered a new era of VR technology, he said, and the recent buzz around the metaverse is only going to accelerate its use in the enterprise.

Listen: Get Reworked Full Episode List

"The effect on the human brain is so real," Derek says. "If VR is done well, the brain can't tell the difference between a virtual simulation and real life. So, I think that's the difference is we're in that cheaper, lighter, faster era. And this technology that used to be very cumbersome, very expensive, very heavy ... that's all gone."

Highlights of the conversation include:

  • How an aspiring football coach turned into a VR training entrepreneur.
  • When VR training is a good option for companies.
  • The difference between VR and augmented reality.
  • Why organizations that don't invest in emerging technologies like VR and the metaverse will be left behind.
  • How Walmart used VR training to prepare employees for Black Friday and why he's bullish on its use for soft skills.
  • What companies need to get started in VR for employee training and development.

Co-hosts Siobhan Fagan and Mike Prokopeak also talk with Derek about his career as a college football player at Stanford, how the end of his coaching career was just the beginning he needed, and why he's both a tech optimist and realist. Plus, Siobhan's got jokes! Listen in for more.

Have a suggestion, comment or topic for a future episode? Drop us a line at [email protected].

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Show Notes

Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.

Derek Belch: Because VR is mental transportation, we see VR as one of the key components and the key pillars of bridging where we are today to what the metaverse is going to be over time.

Mike Prokopeak: It's hard to avoid the metaverse conversation in business today with Facebook, or Meta, the company really making that a primary factor behind its future growth, and Microsoft and others jumping in. But I think it's really important to remember that a lot of the fundamental principles of the metaverse really have been laid for decades now. And virtual reality, VR, is one of those areas where that has been happening.

That's why we're really excited to welcome on our guest today, Derek Belch, who is the founder and CEO of virtual reality company Strivr. A little bit about Strivr, they're a virtual reality company, they specialize in employee learning, and Derek is the CEO there, but he's actually partnered with Jeremy Bailenson, who is one of the foremost thinkers and researchers on the applications of VR for learning within companies and within work today.

A little bit about Derek: He's got an interesting background. He started as an assistant football coach at Stanford — he was actually a player on the Stanford football team in the early 2000s — and he kind of stumbled into this career, as he'll tell us a little bit about when we get into this conversation with him and talk about how VR is being used in athletic training, but now how it's being used in corporations.

Siobhan, are you ready?

Siobhan Fagan: I am, Mike.

Mike: Alright, let's Get Reworked.

From Football Coach to VR Entrepreneur

Siobhan: Welcome to the podcast, Derek.

Derek: Thanks Siobhan. Thanks for having me, Mike, appreciate it. Looking forward to it.

Siobhan: So Derek, I know this is a story that you have to share many times, but it is a really, really good story. So can you share a little bit about how you went from a Stanford coach pursuing an MBA to getting into learning through VR?

Derek: Yeah, so we do have an interesting background at Strivr. I played football as an undergrad at Stanford from '03 to '07. Those were what I like to call the dark ages of Stanford football. We were really bad when I was there, and a lot more fun since I left. But then I went and worked in consulting for a couple years, actually went to business school at USC. I like to tell people that I bleed Cardinal but I do not sweat gold, even though I have a little bit of Trojan blood in me. It was a good experience.

And while I'm in business school, I keep having this thought, "If I don't see coaching before I turn 30, I'm going to regret it forever." And it was nagging at me and I'm 27 years old. So I figured, you know, let's go do it. What's the worst that could happen, right?

So I end up going back to Stanford, and as you alluded to, I didn't get my MBA at Stanford, I did that at USC, but I had to be in a master's program again because that was the only way to get the job, to be a graduate assistant for the football team. And you're an officially recognized coach on the staff, albeit you're in graduate school and they pay for your school.

So I didn't need another degree at this point, as we can kind of tell I'm over-educated, but it was the only way to get the job. So long story short, because I'm also a student in addition to being a coach, I have to do a thesis. And my thesis is to come up with a way to train football players using virtual reality. And I partnered with Jeremy Bailenson, one of the world's leading experts in VR. He's a professor at Stanford. And we create this really cool prototype that the quarterbacks started using kind of in the back-end of the 2014 season.

And no joke, Stanford's coach, David Shaw, literally sits me down in December of 2014, and is like, "Dude, you got to get out of here and go start a company. And I would love to give you a check to help you get off the ground, if you're willing to do it."

So I think I'm one of the only people to ever get fired with a non-severance check for $30,000, instead a seed round investment check. So that is how Strivr was born. That's the story.

Siobhan: It's interesting, though, because I didn't realize it's sort of a chicken-egg thing there where the desire to be a coach came before the VR thing. So how did you get interested in VR?

Derek: Yeah, so I actually took a couple of Jeremy's classes as an undergrad, six, seven years before. "Virtual People" was his really popular class at the time. I don't know what he's calling it today. And so my interest was kind of piqued early at 21, 22 years old. And then when I got back to Stanford as a graduate assistant, I had to do a thesis and Jeremy and I were just kind of kicking around ideas. And he's like, "Hey, I think this VR thing is actually going to happen."

And what he meant by that was the cheaper, lighter, faster era. VR had been around for 20 years, but it was a $50,000 helmet hanging from a ceiling, right? And now here we are, and this is right around the time that Facebook buys Oculus, and this is happening. And so we just said, "Hey, how about we give this a shot?"

You know, it was, honestly, it was kind of more fun, something fun and interesting, than anything and it just kept building and it kept getting cooler and cooler and better and better. And I'm like, "God, there might be something here." And then David Shaw pretty much made that decision for me.

Bringing an Entrepreneur's Mindset to Coaching 

Mike: So Derek, I think for folks who don't know the VR world, the name Jeremy Bailenson is actually a huge person in this field. The person you're working with has kind of been at the forefront of this, and Stanford in particular, has been kind of at the forefront of VR as well.

When you had the opportunity to look at it as a training tool as a way to help quarterbacks, did you really see the ultimate potential of it beyond that? Or was it really just like, oh, this would be fun to work on for a while?

Derek: Yeah, great question. Yes and no. No, in that I'm there to coach right. I'm working 100-hour weeks coaching in addition to academic stuff. I'm really giving coaching my all because I think this might be a career for me. So I was pretty heads down and focused on obviously doing well academically, but also 85% of my time and energy here is coaching. So that that's where I was like, no, not really thinking about it.

The yes, though, was let's also remember, and this is where David was just such a great mentor and friend for me, I came in with a very different background than most football coaches. I'm a Stanford-educated undergrad. I've got my MBA. I've worked in consulting. I've kind of got this entrepreneurial mindset, too. So in that sense, I always kept in the back of my mind from the minute Jeremy and I decided to do the project, hey, take this seriously. Because you never know what could happen.

And funny story, when I told my parents I was going to go back to Stanford and coach, this is the first semester of my second year of business school. They're like, wait, what? No, you're not, you're not doing that. You know, we didn't help you with your MBA for you to go be a football coach. And I had to reassure them, hey, worst case scenario here I don't like it, that this project I'm going to do, it's going to be pretty cool. So who knows, maybe something could come from that, right?

So it was always in the back of my mind. And then we build the prototype, and it looks legit. And the players say, hey, this is the real deal. And now all of a sudden, I'm like, would I be stupid to not pursue this? That's kind of how it all panned out.

Mike: Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, the timeframe that you were doing this is kind of like when the Moneyball era happened in baseball. There was an openness and a way to sort of start thinking of things in a much less traditional fashion when it came to coaching, to really kind of apply new techniques to it. So it's interesting that this was kind of the timeframe for that.

Derek: That's a great point. Because don't forget, you know, Stanford's like really good at the time. And we've got NFL GMs and coaches and scouts coming through the office every day. So they're seeing this prototype. I'm showing it to them to get feedback. And they're all saying the same thing. I don't know what I what I would pay for this because this could be invaluable.

And I wish that's actually how it played out and we got a blank check. That isn't what ended up happening from team to team. But the feedback was so good. The momentum kept building throughout that 2014 season.

Siobhan: I think if there's any user testers in our audience right now, they're like what I would get to have that kind of control audience.

Derek: Yeah, yeah.

Using Video to Create Realistic Experiences

Mike: We obviously want to get into the broader applications, which is really where this is ultimately going. But what did that early prototype look like? You know, how did it come together?

Derek: I think that's a great question for the foundation here as we talk about enterprise VR learning. Remember, Jeremy's academic research was all about the effect of VR on your brain. So one of the things we did very early on, we were not using CG. We were not using gaming graphics.

We were using 360 video, and that was very important because Jeremy was like even the best Madden graphics, unless we have a Pixar budget, and we don't, the avatars, they're not going to move like people on the screen. They're going to be like hopping and translating across the screen. And we're asking quarterbacks to make a decision in like a fraction of a second. And I don't want to be training these guys on something that's unrealistic from a timing perspective. I don't want to make them worse.

So from day one, we were laser focused on the effect of VR on the brain. And while 360 video definitely has some drawbacks, it had so many positives in the early days, from sports, to Walmart and beyond, and even to today, because a lot of our customers and prospective customers said, yeah, I've seen VR before, that it kind of felt like a cheesy video game. And what you just showed me with 360 video, I want that. They're like, I want that. And it was very, very powerful.

And I share that because that was the foundation that we laid. And from day one, we were really maniacally focused and adamant that we do not do VR for VR sake. And we're going to create experiences, and we're going to build software, and we're going to collect data that is actually going to have an impact on your employees, whether it's a quarterback or a Walmart associate or a CEO, and everything in between. And so I think that's a great foundation as we kind of shift to talk about the enterprise.

The Difference Between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

Mike: So Derek, before we dive into some other topics here, and we're going to start throwing some other terms around like metaverse, and things like that. I think there probably is a basic definition we need to get right to and would love to get your perspective on it as well, which is the difference between VR, virtual reality, and AR, augmented reality. Where do you see VR playing a role that you know AR can't and vice versa?

Derek: So virtual reality is what I like to call complete mental transportation: body in one place, brain thinking it's somewhere else. Usually, you're putting a headset on, there's no light that comes in so you really kind of zone out and you think you're in that virtual world. And there's other ways to do it with cave systems and projectors on walls and other things. But nine times out of 10, it's putting a headset on. So that's virtual reality, again, mental transportation body in one place brain somewhere else.

Augmented reality is exactly like it sounds. Augmenting the real world around you. And, pilots have had AR for years, heads-up displays in cars, and on windshields and cockpits and all that. The Holy Grail of AR, if you guys have seen the movie Minority Report, where this is like your eyeballs, and Tom Cruise is walking down the street, and literally like some digital overlay appears every time he turns his head. That's a very scary world. So I hope we don't go there.

Mike: And advertisers like that world too because [it's] personalized to wherever you happen to be in the physical world.

Derek: Yep. So that's the difference. And tying this back to the learning and the theme of the discussion today, we feel that VR is a very appropriate technology for learning — kind of before you go do the job, again, learning by doing, flight simulator. And then AR when it becomes more hands free, right now the best AR is on a tablet or a phone, so it's not really hands free. When AR becomes more hands free. It will be the in-the-flow-of-work performance improvement tool.

So imagine a personal example, maybe you get a flat tire and you don't know how to change it and boom, you pull over on the side of the road, your glasses can tell you exactly what to do. And so that's where this is all going, eventually. VR for training and learning, AR for in the flow of work. That's our thesis.

What VR Brings to Learning

Siobhan: Whoever is out there with those glasses, sign me up because I cannot change a flat tire. So Derek, when we look at VR, and we look at its application specifically in training, what does it bring that more traditional approaches miss out on? You're talking about this 360 view. Just share a little bit with our audience there.

Derek: Yeah, so the metaphor I love to use is a pilot going into a flight simulator, right? We all know what pilots do in flight simulators. We're all very thankful that they use them to train because flight simulators are basically identical to actually flying the plane. And they're so good nowadays. And they've been around for 50 years, and they've been good.

So now that we're in the cheaper, lighter, faster era of VR, VR is a flight simulator for blank — insert job here. And you know, Siobhan, you alluded to this, I don't want to say traditional methods are bad or wrong because they serve a purpose, and some of them work. But I think we can all agree that we've all been in those moments where we're just mindlessly clicking through that PowerPoint deck, or we're multitasking when that compliance video is playing in the background, or we're falling asleep in the lecture, right? A lot of the traditional methods pre-technology, enabling learning to be better, the information goes in one ear and out the other.

And VR is again, that flight simulator-like experience where an employee can learn by doing, from the most mundane things to the really complicated and interesting or dangerous. And so that is the premise in a nutshell, right there.

Mike: The example that I really came to see, Derek, from your company Strivr, was the Walmart example. Because I think what it brought in is what you're doing. It's like it's giving employees a chance to really see and do something in a real environment. But it also brings in an element of emotion, because the case study that I was seeing around its use at Walmart really had to do with training people to be prepared for Black Friday, which there is no training for if you're in retail. There is no way you can really prepare for it until you go through it. Can you walk us through a little bit about why that particular one hooked people?

Derek:  Yeah, so let me start again, I talked about the flight simulator. That's one memorable thing I'd love the listeners to take with them. The other is an acronym we often use with our customers, and that's ride, RIDE. If something is rare in the real world, it's a great fit to do in VR again and again and again. Mike, you just said it Black Friday, that happens once a year, right? That's rare. If something is impossible in the real world. Black Friday is also a great example. You're not going to shut your store down and say alright, now let's simulate Black Friday training.

Mike: Let's put it with 1,000 people.

Derek: Yeah, exactly. Yep, 1,000 people pushing shoving each other. So if something's impossible in the real world, great fit for VR. If something is dangerous to simulate in the real world, it's a great fit for VR. And lastly, if something is expensive, either literally with dollars or maybe you know metaphorically with time, I think that's a great framing and backdrop here, and Black Friday as an example. You kind of already answered the question. They just had no way to train on this. I mean, they're watching YouTube videos and local news stories about people hitting each other. I mean, that's how the store managers were training for Black Friday. It's like their Super Bowl every year at Walmart.

And so, right away, they were like, there's something here and let's test it with Black Friday. It went really well, and then after that they had a list of 100 things that they thought would be a good fit for VR and and as great partners to them, we filter it. And using that acronym, these 50, these 60, probably not the best fit for VR, these 20, 30, 40, super high impact. Let's focus there. So that's how it got going with Walmart, and that's the thought process that we coach our customers to work through.

VR, Psychological Safety and Soft Skills

Siobhan: What I love when you're talking about this dangerous filter is that you're not only talking about danger in a physical sense, but it's also sort of emotional safety and psychological safety. So I was hoping you could talk a little bit more about that side of it, about how you're using it to train people on more emotionally sensitive areas.

Derek: Sure. So we like to say, Siobhan, that in VR mistakes are free. And so that's a great way to get those repetitions in a safe place, as you mentioned. Two examples, standout one. And this is gonna first sound a little more like physical safety, bu I'll tell you how it's not just physical safety.

The first example is, we did a VR training module a couple years ago with Verizon, and it was to prepare their associates for what would happen if a store got robbed. So obviously, there's the operational things you would do. There's the safety and emergency-oriented things you do. But for the most part, it was an emotional experience. It was Verizon saying, hey, again, it's impossible for us to recreate this in the real world, but if this happens to you, it's going to be really tough emotionally, and we want you to be able to keep it together. And we want you to feel like you've been there before. Not that many people know this, but you know, 50, 60, 70 Verizon stores get robbed every year. And we had some of their associates calling Strivr and saying, I felt like I had been in that robbery before, thank you. I feel like that might have saved my life. And so really, really powerful, and obviously more of a safety angle. That's example one.

The other example is a lot more basic, but just as emotionally powerful for employees, and that's soft skills, training, and you know, talking to an avatar and giving difficult feedback or practicing how to fire somebody are dealing with an unruly customer, right? Like, again, these simulations aren't perfect, relative to the real world, but they're way better than watching a video on a computer. And so when someone goes through that, they're in a psychologically safe place to make mistakes. Let's have you say the wrong thing to the avatar, not to the real employee when it's go time, so again, all things soft skills is also kind of the next level of this concept of psychological safety.

Siobhan: Can I ask, are you using it in instances to, for example, train managers with firing somebody, for example?

Derek: Shortest answer of the day. Yes.

Siobhan: Short and sweet. I love it.

Mike: Where do you think that this could be used that isn't currently being applied? So we know those sort of situations are there, as you look a little bit ahead and say, I think there's other areas we can maybe expand this to a little bit? What are some of those areas you think?

Derek: Yeah, Mike, do you mean at Strivr specifically, or just the world of VR at large.

Mike: The VR at large in the world, but more in the enterprise sense, in the company sense.

Derek: So as of today, if we look across the Fortune 1000, everyone's kind of doing a little of everything. You've got all the stuff that Walmart's doing. I mean, just a quick list, here of some of our customers, Walmart, Bank of America, FedEx, Verizon, Sprouts, MGM, so a lot of really big Fortune 100 organizations that kind of span a lot of different industries. So everyone's kind of doing a little of everything. Obviously, doctors and surgeons have been using virtual surgery machines for years. The military has been using VR for years. So again, we've kind of seen a little bit of everything. We're now just in that cheaper, lighter, faster era.

I think the biggest opportunity here moving forward is actually in that soft skills bucket. And what I mean by that is, we're still not quite there on visual fidelity, right? From a graphics and avatars perspective, yeah, those Pixar movies are amazing, those budgets aren't going into VR training in the enterprise right now. So having those avatars look really, really lifelike and kind of getting out of that uncanny valley effect. That's a big opportunity. So it just looks real, feels real, sounds real.

And then, as we think about some of these soft skills simulations where people are talking, natural language processing, and really making those simulations so smooth that you don't even have a quarter of a second lag that just breaks that reality for people. Like right now, they're still a little choppy, and they can get a little better. But just all things related to conversations and soft skills, I think that's where this industry can really, really take off in the next five-plus years.

VR and the Remote, Distributed Workforce

Mike: So we got some more questions for you. But I want to stay on that point for a second, because I'm kind of curious in this moment that we're in where we've all been kind of pushed at a distance from each other. Do you feel like that has opened up people's view a little bit to use these different ways, to actually immerse themselves, or is it actually maybe a little bit of a hindrance in trying to do this, like we want to be back in person, we don't want to be in these in this fantastical environment.

Derek: Yeah, great question. Well, we're reading about the metaverse every day right now.

Mike: We're gonna get into that with you. Don't you worry.

Derek: Yep, that's happening. So we'll hold that.

Big picture, all of this stuff over the last two years is really good macro economically for VR. Consumer device sales have shot up, people are playing games in their basements when they've been kind of stuck indoors with the pandemic. Enterprises are more eager than ever to explore the technology when they're talking about a remote workforce, when they're talking about massive unemployment and hiring back frontline workers in mass, when they're talking about new physical layouts in offices and hospitals and grocery stores. And I don't do shoulder-to-shoulder, in-person training anymore for safety. So VR is a great fit.

So overall, Mike, it's really good and the tailwinds are very real. Now, I'm a realist, too, right. And I'm also not going to BS you guys, there are some challenges. And specifically, think about your own life personally and professionally. We're all dealing with a lot of crazy stuff right now. And where does bringing the new technology into the workforce, where does that rank on their list of top 10 things?

And large organizations typically are very slow to innovate, and they have a lot of stuff to work through. And right now, they're still trying to figure out Omicron and PPE and legal ramifications and vaccines. And VR is on their radar in a big way. Some companies are going all in. Others are saying, yeah, that's on my roadmap for one to two years out. So it's a mixed bag as far as who's actually getting off their butt and doing something. But big picture-wise, it's very, very good over the medium- to long-term.

Mike: But I'd say in the long term, too, you've got generational shifts happening in the workforce, I have a 10-year-old son, and one of his friends had a birthday party at a VR lounge, where they would go and they play VR games. And I watched him actually, play VR, and they're all into it, obviously. And it has become so real, that he actually was doing like a VR baseball simulation, and had a hit, decided to leg out the single and just slammed right into the wall. Because it's just like, that's just how a lot of these kids are growing up with this now as just part of their reality. So I think there's that long-term thing.

Derek: That's our biggest sales pitch. I mean, really forget the details. I'm 36 years old and when I came out of school, the iPhone just came out, right? So I show up to my first job and we're still using Blackberries, and my office mates that are in their 50s, you know, no disrespect to that age group at the time, they barely knew how to use email and laptops. And so like, my expectation of my employer was iPhone and Facebook and all this stuff, and it wasn't there at the time.

So Mike, you're spot on. Here we are, and who's the workforce over the next five to 10 to 15 years, it's your kids playing VR games for fun. And so if you don't have these tools and toys in the organization, you're behind and that's been a very powerful message for companies.

What's Required from Companies to Get into VR Training?

Siobhan: So I want to jump on to Mike's example of his son running into the wall, just to get into some of the specifics of how this VR training works. And I'm wondering, on the employee side, what kind of space is required? And then on the employer side, how do they go about creating these simulations, and how much sort of personalization to their own circumstances can you do that?

Derek: Yeah, so we probably need like three hours for me to really answer this question really well. But in a nutshell, there are two types of VR experiences: three-degree-of-freedom experiences, and six-degree-of-freedom experiences. And Siobhan, you are nailing one of the biggest challenges for organizations, which is if I've got a six-degree-of-freedom experience, which is I can move my hands and body, I can walk around. I'm in that virtual world.

Three-degree of freedom is just kind of looking around and pivoting right, left, right, up, down. Six degree of freedom is Mike's son trying to run to first base after hitting the ball. And companies don't really have space laying around for six degree of freedom.

And so we have kind of built a bridge with our customers of starting with three-degree-of-freedom experiences. You can put three headsets in the break room at a Walmart store and one headset in the back of a Bank of America bank, and it's going to be no different than a computer or a tablet or a phone or whatever. And all they have to do is sit in a chair and look around left, right or stand and kind of look around. They don't need to walk across the room.

Okay, so then they get comfortable with three degree of freedom, and then they start learning more about VR, they start reading the news. Now I want something six degree of freedom, cool. We've exercised those change management muscles with three degree of freedom, and now they're more ready for six degree of freedom. And we're starting to see that with our customers. And honestly, guys, if you just throw six degree of freedom at the enterprise and say good luck, it's gonna fail. It doesn't scale, and so you really got to kind of build that bridge.

And then to the second part of your question about content, unfortunately for Strivr, fortunately for other vendors out there, fortunately for the customers, we're not yet in the age of VR learning where there's thousands of off-the-shelf modules right now. We're just not. And so, 98% of the content out there is very bespoke. It's very customized to the customer. It meets the exact needs and demands of what they're trying to do with that job code or that building or that task. That means it's a little more expensive, it takes longer to make, and it's not as scalable for companies like us and others.

But at the same time, on a good note, it means the learning value is tremendously high. It's not check the box like a lot of off-the-shelf experiences are in the 2D world. I mean, it is legitimate learning impact from beginning to middle to end. And so we're very excited about the possibilities there from a data and real world performance perspective.

Underrated/Overrated with Derek Belch

Mike: Alright, so we like to take a little break every once in a while, Derek, when we do the podcast and do a little game we call underrated/overrated. We'll throw a few topics at you and you tell us kind of briefly if you think that topic is underrated/overrated, a little bit of explanation. Feel free to ignore rules, that's actually been some of the most useful ways that we've used this game. So you willing to play along?

Derek: Sure. Let's go.

Mike: Alright, I'm gonna throw out the first one. So that's VR as empathy machine. That was kind of really the origin story of VR, that it's a way for us to empathize, put ourselves in somebody else's shoes. Do you feel like that's still underrated, still overrated as a use for VR?

Derek: I think underrated. I still hear from people that I first met seven years ago. And they say, I still remember that quarterback simulation you showed me where the blitzer was running in my face. And it's like, wow, okay. So underrated, if done correctly underrated, VR as an empathy machine.

Siobhan: All right, next up for you, Derek, Web3. It's not the topic that we'll be moving into soon, the metaverse but it's adjacent. What do you think underrated overrated.

Derek: You guys are gonna love this. I'm not really a tech enthusiast in my day-to-day life. The great irony of my role here at Strivr. So my personal opinion is Web3 is probably a little overrated. You know, we're kind of already there in a lot of instances. And I see people just completely lost in social media and lots of other things. So I would tend to say it's overrated.

Siobhan: Well, I think Mike, as he said, the best answers are when you ignore the rules. A tech heretic on the show. I love it.

Mike: Alright, so we're recording this a little bit over a week before the Super Bowl is happening. And I know you've lived in the sports world so, so tell me Joe Burrow as a quarterback. Do you feel like he's underrated or overrated?

Derek: Absolutely underrated. He's in year two, and he missed three quarters of the season last year with an injury, and they're in the Super Bowl. Underrated for sure.

Mike: Yeah, that was a softball wasn't it for you?

Siobhan: Well, I've got the hard one for the last one, Derek. And that is VR for cows. I'm not sure if you saw this. There is a story going around, farmer in Turkey put VR for his cows, they were so happy and peaceful they gave great milk, underrated or overrated?

Derek: Okay, so 100% underrated, because ... because

Mike: That's what I was hoping you would say.

Derek: I mean, let's be honest, the cows can actually see in the goggles? I mean, that's insane. That's insane. Underrated.

Siobhan: I love it.

Mike: Yeah, I think that's what we all actually want. We just want a nice pastoral view, just you know kind of sit there, chill out a little bit, produce a little bit of milk, produce a little something every once in a while.

Derek: Exactly.

VR as Bridge to the Metaverse

Mike: Alright, so we've teased this a couple times. We want to talk to you about the metaverse because that has obviously become the thing that many people are talking about over the last couple months. And you know, VR has kind of tended to get lumped in there a little bit as this world that we're going to be operating in that isn't necessarily the physical world. It's this meta world that we're going to be doing commerce, and we're going to be interacting with one another. We're not just going to be playing games, but conducting business. So you've been working on technology that's going to be a fundamental pillar of that. So we want to talk about that. As you look at it, the metaverse, that the way the bigger companies and we're looking at Mark Zuckerberg and Meta and Microsoft and others, as they're defining it and looking at it. Do you think of it in the same way as them? Do you feel like it's got potential for the workplace?

Derek: I do. Interesting, that I shared my kind of anti tech personal life story before this year. I have a little different perspective on some of this stuff. So I think Mark Zuckerberg his vision actually is very close to the movie Minority Report, the movie Avatar. I think that's where he wants this all to go.

Personally, I hope we never get there. That's kind of scary, if you've seen any Black Mirror episode. That's a little scary, right? But that's where this could all go, you know, technology-wise, really, it's not crazy.

Here's how we think about the metaverse at Strivr, and obviously my personal opinion factors into this. So on the one hand, we're kind of already there. I mean, what's that difference? I mean, look around, like digitization is everywhere. People are practically living in social media, you've got these games like Fortnite and all this other stuff that people are buying digital land. And I mean, cryptocurrencies. I mean, it's kind of crazy.

So, on the one hand, if we look at the world today, like, what's that different? What's the metaverse that's that different relative to where we are today? And so it's like, okay, you know, no big deal.

On the other hand, however, this can be so much bigger and probably is going to be so much bigger. And the example that I like to give just to kind of speak English to people on this is Starbucks for 30 years has been marketing themselves as the third place: home, work, and Starbucks. Sometimes you go to Starbucks, and you do some work. Sometimes you eat, sometimes you go with friends, sometimes you go by yourself. So that third place kind of has a little bit of everything that you would do in those other places, but you just do it at Starbucks and it's a different type of experience.

And so I kind of see the metaverse is that, over the long haul, that third place, the further blending of the physical world and the digital world. And we're kind of popping in and out of each. And the metaverse is kind of that mythical third place where people spend time socially, where organizations engage their workforce and consumers. I heard someone the other day say that the metaverse is going to be the internet of places. It's super interesting.

So that's kind of how I think about it. And I think, fortunately or unfortunately, that the sky's kind of the limit for where this could go as technology continues to improve.

Siobhan: So I love this idea of the third place, and this idea of that being the community foundation. I'm wondering if we're to follow that through and we're using the metaverse in the workplace, could you see this being helpful in circumstances like we're currently in where many of us are working remotely, many of us are far removed, where it's actually more of a workplace networking event? Is that a potential?

Derek: So yes, Siobhan. Short answer, yes. Right now we're remote, we're doing Zoom, we're doing phone, we're doing this podcast. But that basic human connection element is just not there because we're still in our homes, and we're behind the computers, even though we feel connected.

So can the metaverse make us feel more connected than today, based on again, technology further blending the digital and the physical worlds where, when I put a headset on to go into a virtual meeting, I feel like I'm right there. I don't feel like I'm sitting in my kitchen in San Diego. I feel like I'm in that conference room with Siobhan and Mike. That's where it's gonna go.

From an enterprise perspective, think about how restaurants engage with consumers today. Even Mom and Pop companies have an app, right? Even Mom and Pop restaurants and grocery stores have an app that you engage with and you use it to pay an order food, etc. And so I think in this metaverse world, every organization is going to have some sort of metaverse-related app, some sort of third place-related app, where meetings and product design happen, where interviews happen for job applicants, where people go explore what it's like to work there, on and on and on.

And they that's why I kind of like that third place analogy, because I'll physically sit in my living room. Maybe I'll go online and fill out my LinkedIn profile. But when it comes time to like really engage with that company, interview with that company, learn more about that company, I might jump into this third place of the metaverse. And I think it's gonna be very interesting.

And tying this all back to what we've been talking about for 30 minutes. Because VR is mental transportation, we see VR as the bridge to all of this right, as one of the key components and the key pillars of bridging where we are today to what the metaverse is going to be over time.

What Are the Limits of VR in the Workplace?

Siobhan: So Derek, if I can bring this back to some of the research that you're founding all this, because your original point of contact was Jeremy Bailenson and his work with the psychological impacts of VR on people and how that affects people's brains. Is there a limit to how much time people should be spending in VR?

Derek: So as of today, we recommend 15 to 20 minutes, from an L&D perspective. We recommend no more than 20 minutes, that there's a little bit of headset fatigue. But you've got gamers in there for 30, 60, 90, 120 minutes, and they're just fine. So eventually, and as the headsets turn more into swim goggles versus kind of like bricks on your face, it's only going to get easier, and people are going to stay in there for longer.

Siobhan: I have to say that my only experience of VR is from about six or seven years ago and it definitely was the brick on the face and also the sense that I was on a boat that would not quite stop rocking. So I'm sure that it's come miles away from there.

Derek: Yep, exactly. Exactly.

Mike: Derek, you brought up that you just kind of see VR as the bridge to the metaverse. So my thought is, is it helpful or is it harmful that it's kind of getting lumped in with this whole metaverse conversation. I think what you're saying is that it's actually kind of helpful that it's actually it's all related, that the hype that is being created around the metaverse can be fulfilled a little bit through VR.

Derek: Absolutely. Yeah. No, I mean, listen, rising tides raise all ships. So this is a good thing. This metaverse narrative definitely now is bringing more questions and answers for a lot of people for sure. But VR is right in the middle of the whole thing. VR is more ready than AR right now. VR is actually being used. Outside of Pokemon Go, there isn't a ton of AR, maybe for shopping. But that's even kind of hit or miss. So certainly there aren't glasses on faces right now. It's again, it's more tablet and phone based.

So VR is ready to go. It's happening right now, we've obviously been talking about a lot of this from a learning and development perspective today. But it's very real. And that's why we like to talk about it as the bridge.

Mike: Now, if a company is looking at kind of getting into this, how should they approach it? So large companies who have budgets, who have been able to kind of put bricks on people's faces so that they can actually do this, they've been able to do this at this point. Is it being democratized? If so, how can those companies who are small and medium-sized businesses who may just have that app, but are looking to try to use this in a way with their employees, start to get there? How do you recommend they do that?

Derek: Yeah. So I think it kind of depends on what your goals are. If a company just wants to test and dabble, they could do some stuff themselves with their product and engineering teams, they could just tinker for fun, they can probably get something for free from a small vendor that just wants to get a logo on their website.

But if they're serious, hey, my peers are doing this at this organization. I know the ROI is there, 18 months from now I want to be at scale. I want to be Walmart. I want to be Bank of America, I want to be Verizon, I want a headset in every store as an example. Then they need to pick the right partner. We obviously think we're the right partner for a lot of these, but we don't have to be.

Don't do it alone. Build a plan with that partner, and understand what your business goals are, and what challenges you're trying to solve and what the ROI is you're looking for and partner with an expert. These big companies, they don't do everything in-house, right? I mean, they do a lot in-house. But Walmart is not a VR company, right? So they partner with us. Bank of America is not a virtual reality training company. So they're working with an expert. So that would be my biggest piece of advice is know what your business goals are, and pick the right partner for you to make sure that you're doing it right, you're not cutting corners.

What's Different About VR Worlds This Time Around

Mike: Alright, great. So as we close this out, Siobhan and I have a long running conversation about Second Life, and this idea that of Second Life. This was a company that was around in the late 1990s, early 2000s, really kind of came in and started to try to create this VR world and then just kind of faded away, but it's still there. The founder of Second Life, Philip Rosedale, popped back up recently as this Metaverse conversation has started to happen more. What do you feel is different now than that point when Second Life was really trying to pioneer these sort of virtual spaces?

Derek: Well, I think this goes back to kind of how we started. We are now in the cheaper, lighter, faster era of VR, eventually AR, and Second Life, what was it like 16-bit graphics on a flat desktop screen 20 years ago.

Mike: It certainly wasn't immersive.

Derek: It wasn't immersive and the graphics were whatever. So Second Life and 2D games and stuff, they're not going to go away. But here we are today and you can put something on your face and your brain ... you know, your son feels like he needs to run to first base. I mean, this stuff is so real. And that's where Jeremy's research comes back. It's so real, the effect on the human brain is so real.

If VR is done well the brain can't tell the difference between a virtual simulation and real life. So I think that's the difference is we're in that cheaper, lighter, faster era, and this technology that used to be very cumbersome, very expensive, very heavy, would make Siobhan sick when she would do it for a couple of minutes, that's all gone. It's a couple hundred bucks, and it doesn't make you sick. You can scale it out and the experiences are so real.

And so I think that's the biggest difference, is you're now seeing all this stuff that happened, you're going to see all these things that happened in 2D for years that were very powerful. You know, people live in Second Life. What's going to happen now with these real virtual worlds for the human brain? So I think that's the biggest difference, Mike.

Siobhan: Derek, this has been fantastic. And I'm happy to hear that there is hope for me in the VR future. I will definitely try some sort of lighter non-brick-like goggles at some point, especially when I can fix my tire. But if our audience wants to find out a little bit more about you and what you're doing, where can they find you online?

Derek: Yes, our website is Unsurprisingly to you two, I don't have any social media accounts, so you won't find anything about me. But we have a company Instagram and LinkedIn and all that. So you know, just go on our website. We've got a bunch of case studies there. We've got videos, and it's a one-stop shop for a lot of what we talked about today, like how do you get going, how do you think about this. And I would just say go to our website.

Siobhan: Thank you so much, Derek.

Derek: Awesome, thank you. Thanks for having me.

Wrap Up and Final Thoughts

Mike: There was a lot in that conversation, Siobhan, but I have to say that the thing that stood out to me was really your question in the under/overrated. When you asked Jeremy about the VR uses with cows, I mean, that really led me to believe that we're entering a new world when it comes to the virtual reality world.

Siobhan: We're entering the Mootrix, Mike.

Mike: The Mootrix. I'd like to see the other applications of VR in agriculture. I think there's probably countless applications. But also, I think what's really interesting is that there's so many more applications of it within employee training, and within enterprises, it really does appear to be a new world that we're entering, and I'm really kind of eager to see where it goes.

Lots of good stuff in this conversation. We're gonna link to all of that in our show notes. You can learn more about Derek, also Jeremy Bailenson and his research at Stanford around VR, but also most importantly, we're gonna link to that video that Siobhan mentioned about VR and cows.

Siobhan: We're gonna milk this one for all it's worth.

Mike: You're here all week, aren't you, Siobhan?

Siobhan: Yeah, thank you, Hoboken. Hey!

Mike: Talk to you soon, Siobhan.

Siobhan: Always good, Mike.

Mike: We encourage you to drop us a line at [email protected]. If you have a suggestion or a topic for a future conversation, we are all ears. Additionally, if you like what you hear, please post a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you may be listening. And be sure to share Get Reworked with anyone that you think might benefit from these types of conversations. And then finally, be sure to follow us at Get Reworked on Twitter as well.

Thank you again for exploring the revolution of work with us, and we'll see you next time.


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