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The Austin-based company, Immersed, founded by Renji Bijoy, has enabled tens of thousands of users to be already enjoying working in virtual reality.

They are partnering with HTC, Microsoft, and Facebook (Meta) to develop virtual reality offices and take us one step forward towards the metaverse and a future that most of us would have never believed only a few years ago.

I caught up with Renji for a brief chat to learn more about their virtual reality space achievements.

Pre-Immersed

Renji was the child of immigrant parents who came to America from India with nothing.  They lived initially in a rough, gang-dominated area of New York before his parents relocated to a suburb in Georgia to obtain a better life for Renji and his sisters.

Renji loved gaming from an early age and competed in tournaments at Halo.  By 12, he was beating people twice his age.  But the career plan was to go into medicine.  When it came time to study and prep for his medical career as an undergraduate, Renji moved into the city.   As part of the pre-studies, he needed to take both a maths and an alternative science course, so he chose computer science.  Therefore, Renji was already 20 years old before he started to code, compared to Elon Musk, who started at 8.

But Renji loved it and applied for a job as a software engineer to support himself through college.  He told them that he might not have any experience, but they could fire him if he wasn’t beating everyone else there by the end of three months.  By that time, not only did he not get fired, but when the offers to study medicine started coming in from the grad schools, Renji threw them in the trash.  His parents were furious.

He did continue with his academic studies, achieving his Engineering degree with Udacity, his BS in Maths and Computer Science at Emory, and, deciding to challenge himself, his Masters in Computer Studies at the Georgia Institute of Tech.  He started a Ph.D. in Computer Vision and Machine Learning but found it too slow.

Meanwhile, Renji quickly worked his way up the ladder in his new career.  He moved jobs regularly as he would get bored way before annual reviews and possible promotions came around.  By 23, he was earning well and saving substantial amounts, especially since he was still sharing a house with ten other guys.  He also worked part-time as a mentor guiding engineering students and as an Apple teacher.

At that point, he was Lead Architect at GreatBigStory.com, which he liked but struggled to find the product impactful.  Renji had just married Sarah, and everyone was horrified when he left.  The savings he had made would be put to good use as it was at this point, he started Immersed and drew no salary in the first two years.

The need for Virtual Reality working

Renji believes that the future lies in us all living where we want in virtual reality, without any constraints from physical office spaces.  We will become more productive, efficient, and ultimately happier too.

In every software team that Renji had worked on, he had seen that when they were together in the office, the teams would work well and collaboratively, but this would fall apart when they were remote working using video calls. He could see the problem needed solving.

On leaving GreatBigStory.com, he started building Immersed and was accepted onto the Tech Stars 17 accelerator in Chicago.  Ten were chosen to join the TechStars founders’ portfolio, from over ten thousand applicants worldwide. It was the start of something big.

Renji had tried several Virtual Reality solutions at this point but found them unsatisfactory.  The Immersed team decided to build a product that they could use effectively for their own remote work.  Initially, they focussed on remote collaboration but found that solo experiences weren’t inspiring enough, so they have developed both.

Immersed and working in Virtual Reality

If you are wondering how soon you can work in virtual reality, the answer is now.   For five years, Immersed has explored the virtual prototype, building it and developing it further.  The impact and potential impact are mind-boggling and will change the way people work and live. 

People work faster in virtual reality than in real life. Distractions are eliminated, so focus and productivity increase.  Companies can use talent from anywhere on the planet, and those people can work together in a whole new collaborative way., from anywhere in the world, they can get connection. 

For groups working together, they are creating virtual reality worlds, boardrooms, offices, coffee shops.  Currently, you can share a room with fifteen people, have remote whiteboarding, and use multi-screen sharing, and those screens are massively clearer than they would be on a zoom meeting.  Users bring monitors into the virtual space they share using Oculus Quest/Quest 2 headsets, HTC Vive Focus headsets, and others.  They have up to five virtual display monitors and run the system from your existing PC or Mac with no additional software.  Renji found early on that over 60% of their prospective clients were Mac users.

 

Speeding up from COVID

The company initially raised $4.5m early on through a WeFunder campaign with an astounding $1m raised in one hour, the fastest crowdfunding ever.  It was also the first time in history the SEC had allowed a start-up to crowdfund more than $1m.   In total, they have raised $12 m to date

Once COVID hit, companies across the world had to convert to remote working. Suddenly, only around 30% of their users were software people, and they added teachers, finance teams, traders, a whole assortment of people.  They moved to focus on the enterprise space

Among those seeing the opportunity, Facebook was looking at the forty or so developers working in this space.  Immersed was the company that Facebook chose to partner with, finding them to provide a better user experience than the others.  At this point, Immersed was three and a half years into their journey but had a product that suddenly everyone needed. 

Where the Company is now

As with all product companies, their first few years have been spent continually improving it, getting it to the crest of the wave where the customers don’t just like it but cannot do without it.  “It hasn’t gone viral yet,” says Renji, but no one seems in doubt that this is where they are heading.

With growth on this scale, financing has had to be constant.  The company is currently pre-Series A, and Renji anticipates that they will need to make that up to $30m to provide the rocket fuel needed for their growth over the next twelve to eighteen months. 

I asked Renji if he had mentors along the way.  I had heard him describe Elon Musk as the ideal mentor.  He says he is lucky to be connected to many founders further along their journey than he is.  Renji says that he learns from the mistakes they have made and tries to avoid them.   He also recommends the YouTube series “How to Start a Start-Up.”

He is also very collaborative with the Immersed team.  He used the Stripe founders’ principle when hiring and always asking himself, “Could I see myself working for you one day?” which has helped him create an incredibly talented team.

They continue to develop new features all the time, for example, a phone that can be brought into the virtual world, so there is no distraction.

The Future

Renji has already been included in the Forbes 30 under 30 in 2021 for his achievements. Immersed is a software leader in Fortune 500 companies. While they are approached by others seeking to acquire them, Renji is more focused on developing the product to maximum impact.

Renji believes that their average user will spend more time in their virtual rooms than out of them within the next six months.  And, of course, that eventually so will we all.  Companies that don’t convert to virtual reality in the future will find themselves at a disadvantage.  People have become too fond of home working during COVID and want to continue to enjoy the benefits.  Tech giants such as Twitter have already committed to home working for good.  All this means that virtual reality is a very hot space indeed.

The short term is all about perfecting the product so that it ticks all the boxes putting Immersed at the very top of the virtual reality working space.  The tip will come when both Facebook and Apple bifocals come in. 

At this point, you will also be able to move your virtual keyboard around with you in the air without bothering to move your computer or laptop.  Yet you will still perceive yourself as touching something, in the same way, iPhone users adjusted to the lack of buttons on flatscreens.  Even now, when Renji works, he sees his hands moving in virtual reality because he is already using the Facebook bifocals and a virtual keyboard overlaid onto his regular keyboard and can feel both.

At this stage, it will be difficult to tell how different this virtual reality will be from the metaverse.  Facebook is keen to create itself as the metaverse company, but even for someone right as central to this space as Renji, he says, “it is hard to tell what that future will look like.”

Renji and Immersed will be undoubtedly playing a part in that future and it will be exciting.  

 

If you want to learn more about the metaverse, this is a great article on what it offers. Another Forbes 30 under 30 you might like to read about is Nick Donahue of Atmos who is bringing housebuilding and plot buying to a whole new level.

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