#44: Simon Solotko on Kickstarter marketing insights, crossing the marketing chasm from innovators & early adopters to the early majority, & the future of blending AR with VR in public spaces

Simon Solotko is a marketer and product manager who has been involved in a number of various VR-related Kickstarters including the Virtuix Omni & Sixense STEM. He first got into immersive gaming through his work at AMD, and eventually connected with Sixense Entertainment through the Razer Hydra and eventually got onto their board of directors.

Simon-SolotkoHe sees that in the long-term, the applications that solve real problems for consumers are going to blend augmented reality and virtual reality. He started All Future Parties to incubate and accelerate VR/AR projects, but also create his augmented reality project that involves broadcasting social data on wearable screens.

Simon talks about the changing market and audience for Virtual Reality as it moves from the innovators and early adopters and starts to cross the chasm into the early majority. He observes that VR is so exciting for people, and they’re really curious to try it out. But everyone who tries it, isn’t going to immediately go buy a VR HMD. He predicts that it’ll be seeded through gaming and education, and slowly expand into solving other problems from there.

Finally, he talks about future integrations of social data with AR and it’s finer-grained control over the identity that you’re broadcasting to others, as well as the future of using augmented and virtual reality technology in public spaces and the social awkwardness barrier that is there.

Reddit discussion here.


  • 0:00 – Intro. Runs All Future Parties. Helps out with Kickstarter campaigns. On board for Sixense. Helped the Virtuix Omni Kickstarter. Works on parties with similar DNA. Worked on computer vision and AR that recognizes visual markers so that people can have wearable screens to broadcast social data. Announced a VR project of Presence at SVVRCon.
  • 1:49 – What is Presence? Connecting technology to motion to your mind. Help you feel more in the moment. Cut teeth on motion control, and working on peripheral problems
  • 2:33 – How did you get involved with Sixense and VR? Worked with AMD. Developed processors in AMD line. Got interested in immersive gaming experiences. Use AMD booth to create a holodeck presentation at E3. Got interested in immersion, and control interfaces. Sought out Sixense team when found the Razer Hydra
  • 4:05 – How did Oculus Rift change what you were doing? Working on MakeVR and STEM controllers for years. When the Rift came to Kickstarter, things got hot and fire started. People got a lot more interested in Sixense technology and Razer Hydra sold like mad. Got into crowdsourcing, and came to incubate VR companies.
  • 5:40 – What is the value proposition and marketing messaging that is resonating with VR audience? Moving from innovators & early adopters to everyone. Can make a product play if you’re contributing to VR. There will be more of a fusion of AR and the cloud in the future. Gaming matters. Immersive content and great visual experiences. Solving real problems with VR has a lot of potential. How does it get broader and how will larger audience respond.
  • 7:30 – Cross the chasm from innovators and early adopters and into the early majority? You can try out VR from people who own a VR HMD. People are excited about trying it. Trying an experience is different than owning an experience. See it, and then make a decision. Lots of people will try, but not everyone will buy it. Gaming has been a leader in new immersive experiences.
  • 9:14 – All Future Parties – VR gives you the most sense of presence. How will you blend in AR? It’s a set of ideas. Delivering useful stuff to consumers means crossing a lot of boundaries from AR, VR to mobile. Forcing the breakdown, mobile devices will be great VR screens, but also have a camera that can provide an AR experience. Everything will have a camera and VR will be mixed with AR.
  • 11:17 – Social networking tying in social data? Foundational ideas is that we’ll have wearable devices and screens that we can use for social signaling, which is more secure than facial recognition because it’s a personal mapping. With All Future Parties, people can choose to broadcast a certain amount of information allocated by the cloud. Do the recognition at up to 20ft
  • 13:12 – VR potential is limitless. Walk around all day in VR where you see a video stream that you can overlay with AR, but that’s socially awkward. Starts with games and educational experiences. Eventually are going to be able to augment at any moment.
  • 14:10 – Causal AR/VR use in public spaces. It’s a little freaky. A mobile phone provides distance, but worn displays encompass your entire field of view. Mobile phones and AR isn’t as invasive as VR. People constantly looking at their phones, and it’s going to get worse. There’s sensory distance, and it’s a big step to go from there to putting it on our face and it’s going to start with gaming.

Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast.

[00:00:11.974] Simon Solotko: My name is Simon Salatko. I run a company called All Future Parties. I work to incubate small firms, and I'm known for my participation on some major Kickstarters. I'm also on the board of advisors of Sixth Sense Entertainment, have been for several years. Met a fella named Jan at the 3D User Interface Conference a couple years back, and helped him take the Virtuix Omni to Kickstarter. Since then I've helped a large set of Kickstarters, some in VR, some outside the space, but in general I like to work with projects that share some similar technical DNA. I've recently disclosed two projects. One is the social augmented reality beta. I've worked to develop technology for computer vision and augmented reality that involves recognizing objects and visual markers at a large distance. This is used so that people can use wearable screens as markers and anybody can broadcast social data publicly. This is a very forward-looking project. This is a 20-year project, not a two-year project, and it's just as important for its technology as it is for its social implications. I've also announced today a VR project. I did not expect to start a VR company, but the idea came to us, and it was too good, and it was too good for us. And so we announced Presence here at the SVVR conference, and We'll rapidly be able to say more, but it's very exciting to get the ball rolling and this will result in a crowdsourced project.

[00:01:48.946] Kent Bye: Great. So since we are at the Virtual Reality Conference, I'm curious, what is presence? If you were to kind of describe it, like, what is it?

[00:01:56.451] Simon Solotko: Sure. It's connecting technology to motion to your mind. And the problem is, it's really hard to do. And so I think that there are some simple things we can start doing that help us feel in the moment and make VR a better experience. And so it's really pursuing some of those ideas. Working with Sixth Sense, that's a really remarkable motion tracking technology. And so part of what I've done is cut my teeth on motion control and then begin to work on other problems in the periphery.

[00:02:32.419] Kent Bye: So since you have been involved with Sixth Sense for a while, what is it that really drew you to virtual reality as being an emerging technical space?

[00:02:40.704] Simon Solotko: So I worked at Advanced Micro Devices for many years, where I did a lot of work with enthusiast processors. I helped bring AMD 64 technology to market and create AMD 64-bit instruction set is now the de facto standard for 64-bit computing in the PC and server space. I then went on to develop a series of processors in the AMD FX line. And these were generally used for overclocking. It was really from that experience that I became interested in the most immersive gaming and computing experiences you could have. So at E3, many years back, I used about a quarter of the Advanced Micro Devices booth to create a prototype holodeck. And so it was a massive, immersive, wraparound display. And it was really then that I discovered the power of having an image and a gaming experience to the periphery of your vision. And that level of immersion was a really neat thing. As I built the solution, I was imagining what was the appropriate control interface that I could use specifically at E3. And there was a new controller that had just come out, really was just launching, called the Razer Hydra. And while there, I sought out the Sixth Sense team and saw their first demos of the Hydra. And shortly thereafter, the entire company was in the AMD booth, and that's where we all met.

[00:04:06.367] Kent Bye: I see. And so, maybe talk about the Oculus Rift coming into the picture. How did that change what you were doing with your career?

[00:04:13.171] Simon Solotko: Sure. So, we were really, at Sixth Sense, working on things like make VR, working on the wireless controllers for many years. Sixth Sense was really ahead of its time. And when the Oculus Rift came to Kickstarter, and really just shortly thereafter, there was a bit of a cycle, things got hot, and then fire started. And the Hydra, which had been a device that was really looking for a compelling use case, it was brilliant technically, but people didn't know how to use it, because VR hadn't happened, and it wasn't the perfect VR controller. And then all of a sudden, the Hydras sold like mad. And that really changed a lot. Also that led to my involvement in crowdsourcing and I already being a very nerdy and very social marketer, I had a natural predisposition for crowdsourcing. So the fact that I was kind of doing VR and already very much a marketer in the mode of entrepreneurial and social marketing, It caused this coalescence. And so I came to now do what I do, which is incubate these companies. Also, this whole time I had been working on my AR technology that became All Future Parties, I often say that All Future Parties and augmented reality was the long-term project, and I did VR to pass the time. But then VR struck fire.

[00:05:38.705] Kent Bye: I see. And so I'm curious in terms of since you have been involved with a number of Kickstarters within the virtual reality space, what do you see as the ultimate value proposition or marketing messages that are really resonating with this audience?

[00:05:52.314] Simon Solotko: Well, sure. That's what we talked about today at SBBR and really asking the question, what's going to happen in the next 12 to 18 months as the audience moves from a very core, well-organized, technically savvy, experienced, demanding group, this group, the group, the kind of people who come here and listen to your show. What happens when it's everybody? What happens when Sony and Oculus have products at Newegg and on the shelf at an electronics retailer? How does that change the message? And it's going to get tricky. Right now it's easy. As long as you are making a very strong and technically important contribution to VR, you can make a product play. In the future, it's going to be different. I also believe that fusing AR, VR, and other technologies, the cloud, social, together is going to form these really compelling and strange software experiences. And it's unclear what those value propositions will be, but to get there, they're going to mix some really heady technology. But certainly, gaming matters. I'm also a big fan of immersive content. Great visual experiences matter. I also love solving real problems like solving people's problems with vision. That's an amazing thing that VR is going to do. So I'm excited by all these things. It's not going to be one, but the really big question is, how does it get broader? And how is a larger audience going to respond to the idea and the benefits of VR?

[00:07:30.499] Kent Bye: Yeah, it really reminds me as you're talking in terms of the innovators and the early adopters and then crossing the chasm into the early majority. It seems like there's not even a consumer-ready virtual reality kit on the consumer level for people to even go into the early adopter phase. I mean, it's the innovators that really are having the dev kits right now. How do you see that sort of evolution of going from those different phases then?

[00:07:56.399] Simon Solotko: What's interesting about VR is you can try it out. It's one of those products where if one person owns it, other people can go try it. It's like, let's imagine only a small number of people owned TVs. Well, you could go to someone's house who had a TV and go watch TV, and you could feel that experience. And I think a lot of it's the newness and novelty of immersive visualization that is getting people excited about trying it. And that's drawing people in. And I think a lot of people are increasingly trying it. Trying an experience is a little different than owning the experience. Just because you like to watch a big screen TV or have seen it or know what that experience is, doesn't mean you go out and buy a big screen TV. 3D TV is another great example. People want to see it to have the experience, but then they'll make a decision about it. So in this early mainstream, we're going to see a lot of this experimental consumer behavior where a lot of people are going to want to try it. Not everybody's going to want to own it. And certainly though, the gaming community has always been a leader in picking up new immersive experiences, but surprisingly did not really pick up 3D screens. Will VR fare better? Yes, because it's pretty cool. I mean, it's all there. I just saw the Batmobile in VR and I loved it.

[00:09:14.570] Kent Bye: Great. And maybe tell me a bit more about this all futures parties. I mean, a lot of the focus here at the Silicon Valley virtual reality conferences, of course, virtual reality, because in some respect, it gives you the most sense of presence of really taking you to another world. But in terms of augmented reality, how are you thinking about, you know, blending all those elements together?

[00:09:36.410] Simon Solotko: It's happening without us trying because it turns out that the idea of VR, they're just ideas, the idea of AR, they're just a set of ideas. And it turns out when you're delivering useful things for consumers, It requires piecing stuff together in ways that rapidly cross all boundaries. If I want to hold up my phone and point it at the table and see a Coke can on the table that I can interact with, or to see a game element, a game object on that table that I want to play with or manipulate, that's crossing a bunch of different things. It's taking synthetic stuff, it's mixing it with real world stuff, and it's making it playable. And there's no one paradigm for all that. It's mixing a bunch of ideas that we have over time glommed together as we are in AR. But some of the things that are going to happen that are going to force the breakdown is mobile devices are going to be great as VR screens. Turns out mobile devices have cameras on the back of them. So it's going to be natural that that same device, which is going to be able to provide a VR experience, is also going to be able to provide an AR experience. And there's no reason it won't be able to provide them both at the same time. They may not make great experiences, but they're doable experiences. And they're going to move from doable experiences to actually things that are good. People are going to be clever and then mix them together. It's really about the fact that the mobile phone and ultimately the Oculus Rift, these things are all going to have cameras on them. And it's going to be an inevitability that people begin to mix together these paradigms. It's just software. You just start mixing stuff up and people are going to do it. And at first these experiences, you know, will be relatively constrained and work well, but soon they'll become more generalized and work well.

[00:11:17.035] Kent Bye: And so do you imagine with the social networking component that, you know, something like Twitter where people are expressing ideas or part of their identity in some way and even in Facebook, are you imagining with the social component of all future parties that you're going to be tying in a lot of this information and data into something that's going to be attached to someone's identity?

[00:11:38.022] Simon Solotko: Sure. So with all future parties, the foundational ideas in the future, we're all going to have wearable screens that we wear and that those devices, when we're not using them as computing screens can serve the function of visually signaling. And that's interesting because a visual signal actually can provide a more secure way to communicate identity than say facial recognition, which is scary. If I see someone across the room and I'm able to see their face, and map that facial data to their identity, that's a permanent mapping. Facial data doesn't change much. Identity doesn't change ever. And so that's dangerous. So with All Future Parties, I imagined a slightly different scenario. I imagined that a girl or a guy walks into a club or walks into a trade show, and they choose only to broadcast some information about themselves. And that information, they then say, I would like a visual signal, they receive a visual signal on their Warren device, and then it is broadcast, which means someone else holds up their mobile device, points it at them, it recognizes the visual signal, which is arbitrary, allocated by the cloud, and then only the information that that person wanted to broadcast is broadcast. And in fact, in the All Future Parties implementation, There is no login. You simply say, I have social data, please give me a signal. It goes up to the cloud and it happens. So all this is implemented right now in the current All Future Parties alpha. And it's exciting for people to play with it. I'm able to do this kind of visual recognition almost trivially at 20 feet, and sometimes more on relatively small signals.

[00:13:12.246] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you see as the ultimate potential when it comes to virtual reality?

[00:13:19.542] Simon Solotko: Wow, we're hitting all the bases. You know, it's kind of limitless. One can imagine walking around all day with an Oculus Rift on, with cameras, and living this life where you're seeing a video stream. And that video stream, over time, is going to look really good. And the ability to overlay and augment is going to be straightforward. The problem is, this is all very socially awkward. And it's not going to go down like that. The way it, at first, is going to go down is people playing really, really cool games or having really, really cool educational or training or entertainment experiences. And that's how it's going to start. But certainly, the far-reaching edge is the ability to augment any moment. Socially, I think it's going to be awkward. So people are going to use it much as they use entertainment devices today. I think that's going to be the principal use case. It's also going to be the area in which there's the most innovation in providing a really cool experience.

[00:14:10.279] Kent Bye: Yeah, it makes me think of, you know, you're standing in line, you whip out your phone to kind of like distract yourself or pay attention to something. So do you imagine something along those lines when you say that in terms of at any moment you sort of just decide to plop into the augmented or virtual reality?

[00:14:25.722] Simon Solotko: Well, again, it's a little freaky, right? And so certainly that ability exists. My belief, and the reason I did all future parties the way I did, is that a mobile phone still provides this distance, right? It's always optional to have it out. As a Warren display, it's not encompassing your field of view. So I think that for a long time, just using your mobile device as something that you can slot in to a head-mounted display frame, or using it just standalone, much as we use our mobile phone, that use case has long legs. It's going to be around for a long, long time because it isn't as invasive in our everyday life, and I think that's a good thing. So, it's nice that you can put the phone away. I do think that the diffusion and adoption of mobile technology is moving very quickly, and I think that it is a little dangerous just now how our culture is being transformed by mobile use cases and the fact that The stories are that people are constantly looking at their phone. They're not interacting in real life. What's happening? Well, that problem is going to get worse fast. Because these mobile phones, they're not a stair-step innovation. They're going to keep being able to do more and more. There is this sensory distance, though. That screen only has so much real estate. It only occupies so much of our brain space. It is a big step between when we have it there and when we put it on our face. It is going to start playing out in gaming.

[00:15:42.450] Kent Bye: Great. Well, thanks so much.

[00:15:44.251] Simon Solotko: Awesome. Thanks a lot. Good to talk, Kent.

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