#530: Upload LA Opening Represents a Focus Shift From VR Tech to VR Content

freeman-masonUploadVR opened up their new 20,000 square foot Upload LA co-working space on April 13, 2017. I had a chance to catch up with co-founders Taylor Freeman and Will Mason as VRLA to get the inside scoop. Mason told me that opening up this huge co-working space in Los Angeles represents an energetic shift from the VR technology born out of Silicon Valley to focusing on content & storytelling in VR.


Upload VR’s first co-working space, The Upload Collective, was opened in San Francisco during GDC in 2016, and Mason said that they quickly outgrew the space. The Upload LA space will allow them to have a lot bigger educational and training initiatives without having to completely rearrange their space for every event. Upload LA is a vertically-integrated co-working space that has access to hardware, mixed reality studio, audio mixing studio, and immersive entrepreneurs that hopes to incubate many smaller start-ups and content studios. It’s proven to be a winning combination for UploadVR considering that all of their dedicated office space was accounted for just a couple days after launching, and they’ll have floating desk space available until it runs out.

UploadVR plans on continuing to grow and expand their physical spaces to new markets, but the space in Los Angeles will be sure to hold many events, talks, and parties for the years to come. You can get a sense of the space from this launch video as well as some photos of their space after their grand opening.

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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So on today's episode, I feature the co-founders of Upload VR. That's Will Mason and Taylor Freeman. And back in 2014, Upload started as a meetup in San Francisco, where they wanted to bring people together to connect them as well as to share VR experiences. So in November of 2014, they started the Upload website where they started to do a little bit more journalism to track all the latest VR experiences that were out there. And then in January 2014, they held their first big event where they rented out the Metreon and had well over a thousand people come together to experience VR. And since then, Upload has been having a lot of physical presence at a lot of the events by holding a party, usually in the evening, but also a lot of different educational gatherings in San Francisco over the last couple of years. At GDC in 2016, they opened up their Upload Collective. They had their grand opening there, and it was a co-working space that was inviting people from the community to come and have a a vertically integrated place for them to have resources of hardware as well as mixed reality studios and whatnot. And then on April 13th, 2017, just the day before VR LA this year, they had their grand opening of their brand new coworking space in LA called Upload LA, which is a huge space. It's got like 20,000 square feet. It's got dedicated offices, a mixed reality studio, and a lot of floating desks that can hold up to 250 to 300 people working there day in and day out on VR projects. as well as a whole educational classroom and hardware. It's just a very impressive space. And on today's episode, I talked to Will and Taylor about their vision to bring the VR community together and to help facilitate these connections and provide these physical spaces and events for the VR community. So that's what we'll be covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. But first, a quick word from our sponsor. Today's episode is brought to you by the Voices of VR Patreon campaign. The Voices of VR podcast started as a passion project, but now it's my livelihood. And so if you're enjoying the content on the Voices of VR podcast, then consider it a service to you in the wider community and send me a tip. Just a couple of dollars a month makes a huge difference, especially if everybody contributes. So donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So this interview with Will and Taylor happened at VRLA on Saturday, April 15th, 2017 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:58.222] Taylor Freeman: My name is Taylor Freeman, co-founder and CEO of Upload.

[00:03:01.664] Will Mason: And I'm Will Mason, the co-founder and president of Upload.

[00:03:05.120] Kent Bye: Great. So you just had a really big, epic unveiling of your new space here in Los Angeles. So maybe you could just tell me about the space and building off what you've already been creating in San Francisco and what's happening with your strategy at Upload.

[00:03:19.658] Taylor Freeman: Sure. Yeah. I mean, you know, the idea behind all this is really just inspired by, you know, Will and my passion to help enable this technology and get it into the world. And, you know, since we started, we were just asking ourselves and asking the community, what are the biggest problems facing adoption? What are the biggest challenges? And so, you know, that led us into where we are today, which is sort of thinking about these physical spaces and the need for shared resources, you know, whether it be all the hardware or studio space or workspace, the shared mindshare, so the mentor network, partner networks, and then also, you know, a major thing for us in this new facility is training and education and just realizing that right now, the rules kind of have yet to be written around design paradigms and you know we're working really hard with a lot of the top content creators to sort of put together curriculum designed to train that next generation of content creators and you know the idea is really connecting the talent with the professionals and creating this ecosystem where you can jump in and unlike traditional education where when you graduate you're sort of floundering in the real brutal world You know, with this, we hope that the students can actually really get hands-on work with the companies, the companies can meet amazing talent, and creating that sort of flywheel effect for the industry.

[00:04:31.572] Will Mason: Yeah, and that's really the best way to describe what we've been doing, is a flywheel. And I think illustrated best through some tangible stories, like this guy, Elliot Meyer, who joined our space last year. He was not a developer, ever, but had a lot of passion for what was happening in the VR space, He was a regular reader of our website and one day saw that we had introduction to Unity courses running out of our San Francisco space. So he takes the course, gets really inspired by the people that he's sitting next to, and decides to continue developing in his free time and learning in his free time over the next couple weeks. So about three weeks later he comes to us and he says, Guys, I just quit my job. I'm going to be a full-time VR developer. Can I get a desk here? And we're like, dude, of course. And so he sits down and gets to work. He takes one of the HoloLenses that's in the space, starts creating this AI character app. And about three months later, he's got his MVP already mocked up. And regularly, we will bring investors through the space to talk to the startups, give them advice, hopefully help them get funded, et cetera. And one of those investors sat down with him. and really take a liking to what he was doing and wrote him his seed check. And then a few weeks later, he ended up getting his first customer. So really what we're trying to do is create more Elliot's in this world, people that can go from zero to funded startup founder in less than six months. It's really like the magic of the thing of the space and It is driven by the passion of this incredible community, right? And it would not be possible if the VR community was not the kind of community that it is today.

[00:06:13.178] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think that there is an importance there to these physical spaces because we're talking about virtual reality but yet we still live in real reality and that there's constraints in, you know, being able to have access to the hardware as well as the people who are able to create and mentor and just be around the space. And so I think that the co-working model has been around since, you know, at least I know that I was actually living in San Francisco in 2007 with Citizen Space and that was one of the first real big co-working spaces that was there, but it seems to really have taken off now with these different co-working as a model of both selling office space, but also having a place where people can go to and focus and kind of be around and just learn ambiently from all that that's there. So maybe, you know, what was it that you were able to take the evidence or the revenue business model success of your first co-working space in San Francisco and then open up this giant space here in LA?

[00:07:08.370] Will Mason: I mean like for us it was really about sort of giving the community the space that it really needed and we kind of very quickly outgrew the space that we are in San Francisco. It's very packed in there at this point. And it's like, we don't have enough space to do the full-fledged Academy stuff that we really want to do. Like, we've got a smaller version of it in San Francisco. And us building the space this large in LA is really a testament to where the industry has gone in the last year, where when we first started, we were still kind of in that phase of the VR space where it was all about tech. But now it's all about content. And LA is the center capital of content. That's why we wanted to create a space that was much bigger, but also create a space where we could foster new developers into the space. And if you visit our LA space, there's a literal bridge between the co-working and the academy side, and it's very purposeful. In fact, we're thinking about doing, you know, this is not a pipe, right? Writing that along the side, like this is not a bridge. Because it's really meant to be symbolic of everything that we're building. This is a bridge from the learning and the interest into the actual creation and development of new worlds in this space.

[00:08:22.802] Kent Bye: Yeah, and it seems like within the process of doing experiential design is that it really requires holistic thinking, everything from sound design to a lot of the same types of functions and roles that are done within a 2D film, but yet kind of translating those same skill sets into VR, but yet there's kind of a lot of new rules. but also lessons to be learned, frankly, from the film community to be starting to apply to these immersive 3D environments. So I'm just curious to kind of hear how you've seen that already kind of play out in terms of like the diversity of insights and lessons to be kind of applied into VR.

[00:08:56.747] Taylor Freeman: Sure, yeah, I mean, we actually found it super interesting when we were developing this curriculum. We basically looked at Steam, and we looked at Oculus, and we were thinking, OK, what are the most downloaded apps, most engaged apps? And we went to those developers and asked them for their support on curriculum. And we said, send us the design principles, send us your thoughts on how you approach projects. And every single one gave us a different answer. And so that was just a really interesting moment for us, saying, right now, there is no real common thinking. But yeah, there's a huge opportunity to take these insights and apply it. And so also to your point of having the resources, you know, the idea behind having a verticalized co-working space around one industry is that co-working spaces sort of become commoditized. Nobody wants to go take a three-year lease on an office right when they're a little startup, right? the idea now that you can actually have a space that's dedicated to something because co-working is such a large component where if you're working in VR, you know you need demo rooms, you need a mixed reality studio, you need a 360 mixing audio studio, you need room to show all the different types of hardware and you need access to that hardware. So the idea was really sort of just bringing all of that stuff under one roof, collecting all the mind share from all the people that are just honestly very thankfully willing to help right now to really stimulate content creation and sort of the startup ecosystem and trying to just force that into one area so that you know you can just come there and you can get everything that you really need.

[00:10:20.327] Will Mason: Yeah, it's really, really about centralizing all of those pieces together. I think that, you know, when you come in as a developer and have access to a mixed reality room, have access to like a Dolby Atmos sound mixing booth, have access to, you know, a incredible avatar capture rig, right? These are things that are inaccessible to the majority of developers out there. And it limits the type of content that's able to be created in the ecosystem by smaller teams. You and I know just as well that this is being driven by those tiny indie studios of two, three people that are just unbelievably passionate. And honestly, it ends up being a capital issue for a lot of them to grow beyond where they want to. That's a problem that we want to help solve. We want to help democratize access to all of this equipment, all of this resource and bring the knowledge base together because you look at the university system and frankly it moves too slow to match a curriculum pace for VR and AR at the speed that it's moving. The way we've set it up We can change our curriculum course to course based on some amazing advancement that's happened in the last three months since we started the course, right? That's the speed at which we want to move with this because that's the speed we have to move with this.

[00:11:42.581] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think that, you know, covering the academic side of things, I think there's still a lot of value of looking at the slow pace of the questions that they're asking in terms of five years in the future, technologically, but yet, from the terms of content, that it is moving so quickly that when you think about experiential design, I really do find this split between, you know, looking at the programmer art that is being generated in academia and looking at the presence research they're doing, and I'm just kind of thinking, oh my god, like, you know, the consumer world is going to eclipse what's happening in some dimensions of that research. There's other dimensions when it comes to like, you know, social interactions and education that, you know, has funding from the military and from big institutions. But it seems like, you know, in terms of content ecosystems and verticals, being centered here in LA, you're going to have a lot of gaming, a lot of entertainment. but also medical and other things as well. I'm just curious to hear, like, if you foresee, you know, just focusing on entertainment or kind of really encompassing all the dimensions?

[00:12:40.678] Will Mason: 50 million percent focused on the entire spectrum. You know, I think Hollywood, obviously, we're going to have a lot of people coming in from the entertainment sphere, a lot of people that are VFX artists that are now looking to learn kind of a real-time workflow, right? But I think at the same time, and we've seen this in our space in San Francisco, there's copious amounts of people from all different areas of the world that want to be involved in VR and AR. I mean, like, you know, our space and SF, we have, you know, people working on hardware, we have people working on solutions for medical, for phobia treatment, we have games, obviously, too, and entertainment stuff, but it's the full kaleidoscope, right? And we're really seeing that with the member base that's forming in LA as well. We both anticipated it being very entertainment and gaming-centric here, very content-driven. But what we're seeing is it's becoming even more of a balance than we were expecting. And I think that that's going to be continually driven by the people that are coming through our education programs. You know, we want to create that synergy where they work with companies, but we also want to manufacture entrepreneurs that are creating new ideas on their own. Because frankly, I think that it's the people that actually figure this shit out are not going to be, you know, us. It's going to be some kid who's been playing Minecraft for the last five years that just has an aha moment and figures out, oh yeah, guess what? We can manipulate time by cutting film and editing it, right? Like, that moment is going to happen. And I hope that we can provide the ecosystem to allow that person to grow that idea to the next level and spread it through the community. Because this is a space where it's equal opportunity for knowledge, equal opportunity for opportunity.

[00:14:26.608] Kent Bye: Do you have a vision of where Upload wants to be in, say, two to five years? Maybe, let's say, two years.

[00:14:35.111] Taylor Freeman: Yeah, I mean, two years, the goal is, you know, staying in line with the ecosystem, right? Again, our goal has always been to support the ecosystem. And if we're guessing based on the trajectory of the past three years and where it will continue to go, continuing to expand to new markets where there are these communities that don't have a centralized space or resource and you know on the digital side as well we're very passionate about thinking about the next generation of media the next generation of communication interaction and what it means to consume and so we always talk about this moment where our digital world through the media and online and our physical world of these spaces and communities will merge eventually into a mixed reality, if you will, and that moment is incredibly exciting for us. But, you know, again, we've just continued to keep our ear to the market, listening to what the community needs and wants, and we're going to do whatever we can to serve those needs.

[00:15:25.965] Will Mason: Yeah, and kind of looking even further into the future, where we really would love to be in five years or so. is building these micro cities, micro communities of the future, right? Where you have this sort of co-living space, you have the co-working and innovation space, you have sustainable grocery, you have entertainment available around you, you have everything you need within a walkable distance, right? And it's meant to congregate innovative minds together. and allow them the freedom to be innovative, right? That's our vision, really, is what we want to sort of eventually grow some of these spaces into in key cities. But obviously, there's steps to take to get to that vision.

[00:16:11.190] Kent Bye: And I'm curious just to get a sense of the scale, if you could give me some numbers in terms of how many companies that have offices within the San Francisco, as well as desks, and kind of your projected capacity of what the LA office is going to have.

[00:16:25.068] Taylor Freeman: Sure, yeah. So in San Francisco, we have over 45 VR and AR companies. And then the space here in Los Angeles is about four times larger. So it's always hard to guess the number of companies. It's really just a capacity of people. Sometimes it's one person armies. Sometimes it's a large company that has a couple of folks from an innovation team. But we're expecting to have close to 250, 300 people in that space, you know, daily working, learning, experiencing and pushing everything forward.

[00:16:52.465] Will Mason: Between the Academy and the co-working, for sure. I mean, like, right now we're, I think Chelsea was just telling me, we're full now on all the dedicated space pre-launch in LA. So all the private offices and private desks are sold out and with a waiting list. And, you know, we still have a few floating spaces left, right? But, you know, it's incredible to see how fast the community jumped on this opportunity.

[00:17:15.566] Kent Bye: Oh, wow. So you already are at a capacity of 250 people.

[00:17:18.323] Taylor Freeman: Well, I mean, dedicated space, you know, the floating desk. Yeah. Floating desk is, it's kind of variable. Some people show up every day, some people show up once a week. So it's kind of, we're going to continue allowing more and more folks access until there's no more seats left on a daily basis. But the goal is how do we get the prices as low as we possibly can, right? We say standing on the shoulders of giants, you know, we're looking for large corporations that want to support this, that have the capital to sort of lower that entry for, Like our two amazing partners, NVIDIA and HP, and Technicolor, that have really stepped up and helped out a lot.

[00:17:51.919] Will Mason: And so yeah, we just, again, as many people as... Yeah, it's a group effort. We've seen the support, not just from the grassroots community level, but from up above as well. Everyone's coming together. in a central location to try and help bring this industry forward. And it's been so beautiful to see just how easy it's been to work with some of these folks and create a vision because they're as passionate as we are. And it's amazing to see that passion mirrored.

[00:18:23.289] Kent Bye: So what do each of you want to do in VR?

[00:18:26.747] Taylor Freeman: I want to learn significantly faster than I can learn without VR. That's really, I think, the thing that I believe is one of the most powerful use cases is the ability to sort of expose people to mental frameworks and concepts and things that would otherwise take a very long time to understand. I just think there's an incredible, incredible opportunity there.

[00:18:47.612] Will Mason: I want to reintroduce empathy into mass communication. I think that social media has really torn us apart and brought us together in a lot of strange ways, right? You know, I studied com in college and the whole reason I got into VR actually was, you know, I was in a lecture on Marshall McLuhan's media ecology theory and talking about the different epochs of technology. and literally stepped out of that lecture and saw a professor in the next room by himself in a VR headset. And it was the first time I tried VR, so I walked in there and they tried it and it snapped for me. I was like, this is what's going to fix the mores that social media has undone. We lost 92% of our communicative efforts and that subtlety of communication. You see it play out, not to get overly political, but you saw it play out over the last election period with how divided and black and white everything became is because You have these micro-communities that are consistently feeding into themselves and it's in a way that's just sort of very black and white, very tight terms, there's no subtlety, there's no empathy in that communication. And I think that we sacrifice those things because there's so much convenience and so much benefit to having communication without physical boundaries and borders. And VR allows us to have all of those benefits without losing the subtleties of face-to-face communication. And I think that that's the thing that's so powerful, right? When you look at what this could do for the world on a mass scale, it's going to bring us together. McLuhan famously called this idea of the global village, right? And a lot of people have correlated that idea to what the internet is today. I think what it really is is what the internet is tomorrow with VR and AR.

[00:20:29.205] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:20:37.340] Taylor Freeman: I mean, I think it's still very early to know, but I have a lot of faith in the technology for really unlocking parts of the mind, unlocking pieces of reality that we've had a lot of trouble seeing and experiencing. And, you know, sometimes I'll ask people, you know, imagine being, you know, born into a simulation, right? And growing up 16 years of your life, being able to teleport, being able to, you know, go invisible, being able to change your scale to either a giant or a molecular level and, you know, and then being 16 and taking that headset off in the middle of the forest, right? And, you know, you can't teleport, you can't go invisible, you can't do any of these things that before you could, but, you know, maybe reaching down and grabbing that soil and feeling that reality is actually, you know, the true meaning. So, you know, I think that there's a lot of very interesting sort of philosophical things that we're going to learn from this medium, as well as, you know, all the incredible things like medical education, communication that will just come as a byproduct.

[00:21:34.759] Will Mason: For me, I'm really excited about the confluence of all these technologies that are developing together alongside of VR and AR, like, you know, AI and deep learning. And I think the ultimate application of that is the expansion of how our brains work and our consciousness, right? You know, I totally view my phone as an extension of my own brain right now, but it's dumb. I have to input into it to get anything out of it, right? When you have a device that's constantly watching and constantly aware of where you are and what's going on around you, it can draw that information and contextualize it before you even know it and expand your own mental capacity. And so I'm really, really excited for how much smarter, as a society, we're all going to get when that technology is truly, truly where it has the potential to get to.

[00:22:23.715] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say?

[00:22:27.928] Taylor Freeman: I mean, one thing that just did come to mind that we didn't mention is, you know, Will and I and the team are really passionate about pushing forward the computing platforms, right? And immersive technology is an incredible platform. Some people say it's the final platform, but ultimately the goal is really, you know, direct communication with the computer, brain communication, right? And BCIs is ultimately where we want to take this. And yes, 10 years from now and VR and AR antiquated like cell phones kind of are today. And, you know, I'm sure there will be maybe even something after BCI, you know, that we don't know of yet. But ultimately, it's all about pushing this platform, all about working together as a community to make this a better planet.

[00:23:07.740] Will Mason: And I think that ties in nicely with where Uploads and AIM really originated from. It's us identifying the idea of uploading into a greater consciousness. And that's where this whole slew of different technologies are all congregating in the middle to meet, right? An uploaded consciousness with everybody else around the world. And hopefully we can share that together. And it'll end up being as positive as I hope it will be.

[00:23:36.141] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.

[00:23:37.422] Taylor Freeman: Thank you. Cheers.

[00:23:38.523] Kent Bye: Thank you very much. So that was Will Mason and Taylor Freeman of Upload VR. And they had just opened up their co-working space in LA called Upload LA. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, I think that the role that Upload VR has been playing in the community over the last couple of years has been a really significant one. First of all, they've just been doing a lot of really solid and intrepid reporting about what's been happening in the VR space, both on their UploadVR website. And I think they've got probably the biggest staff and the deepest coverage in terms of all the stuff that's happening out there. They're just really on top of all the news that's happening. Also, they've just been having a lot of events at the last couple of years. I've been to well over 30 VR events over the last three years, and at pretty much all the big ones, Upload is having some sort of party or gathering in the evening. And that's just served the function of being able to have another outlet for people to connect to each other, to network, as well as to try out different VR experiences. And the role of having these different physical spaces, both in San Francisco and now in LA, and doing all these different events and panel discussions, I think has also just provided a huge opportunity for people to learn about VR as well as to have access to both these hardware resources as well as these mixed reality studios. So it seems like this is a winning formula for Upload VR, to be able to have these co-working spaces, to have all these mixed reality studios, all the hardware. And then more and more in this new Upload LA space, it has a huge training space, lots of opportunities for classrooms and teaching and mixed reality studios and all sorts of just amazing resources for their co-working space, which it sounds like all the dedicated space is already pretty much accounted for. And there's these floating desks that are going to be available for people to kind of drop in and out. So to me, energetically, metaphorically, this also represents a shift of where we're kind of at in the VR community, which is moving away from focusing on the technology innovations that are out there, which at this point, frankly, isn't a lot of stuff. There's still maybe some haptic stuff and audio innovations that are coming out, but more or less most of the news about VR these days is more along content and what is going to be the content that's going to be driving people to come back or to start to really have these deep storytelling experiences within VR. So the move from San Francisco to Los Angeles for Upload, I think is also a pretty big energetic shift for them. And so I think that you can probably expect to see them investing more and more in content development and teaching the next generation of storytellers within VR. And finally, just a thought about kind of the overall trajectory of virtual reality. You know, I just see a lot of enthusiasm and passion that's coming from the grassroots, both from VRLA as well as UploadVR. And to me, I just see that VR has got this slow and steady growth that's happening. On the front lines, what I'm seeing is just a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of passion, a lot of excitement around the potentials and possibilities of exploring the storytelling potentials of this new immersive medium and technology. And that is not slowing down at all, especially if you look at the data point, how quickly the different companies are flooding in to be able to fill up these co-working spaces that Upload is producing in Los Angeles. Now, in contrast to that, you may be hearing different analysts that made predictions about what they expected the VR market to look like, you know, six months ago. And some of those numbers may not be as high as some of those initial predictions. And so there's a little bit of this expectations that are put onto virtual reality where the growth isn't happening quite as fast as some people would like it to. But overall, what I see is that the biggest gap is the content. And there are different types of experiences that are going to drive people into virtual reality. And that's what UploadVR is really on the front lines of helping to facilitate both with their events and physical spaces and connections that they're helping to make, but also what I saw at VRLA, which was just a lot of just experimentation and enthusiasm for these new immersive technologies. So, that's all that I have for today. I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and become a donor. Just a few dollars a month makes a huge difference to allow me to continue to do this type of coverage on the Voices of VR. So, you can donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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