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Wrestler's AR/VR World Tour, part 3: San Francisco

The Transamerica building in San Francisco

The co-founders of Wellington production company Wrestler recently travelled around the real world to look at the future of the virtual world. In part three of the series, Ben Forman recounts his time in San Francisco, revels in the love everyone seems to have for New Zealand and has an epiphany about the state of the industry. 

One of the best things about being a Kiwi is the all-access pass it gives you to the world. I don’t mean visas, I mean meetings with people in high places.

It’s this super weird thing where you ask, and people say, ‘yeah, sure, we’d love to chat’, then you turn up and all they want to do is help you and connect you and give you amazing advice.

My partner Kat and I learnt this a few years ago and definitely take full advantage of it. We think we’ve worked it out, and believe it’s because the world sees New Zealand and its people as a vision of the future. Even though you may not feel it living here, it’s definitely seen as one of the most forward thinking, well-balanced, innovative countries on Earth.

When people would go on about the Kiwi mindset I used to roll my eyes and think “shut up about this number 8 wire BS!” But now I’m totally sold on the idea, and harp on about it myself. We really do have something unique bubbling away in New Zealand (some of which we tried to capture in the video below for Kiwi Connect's Global Impact Visa), and that has real power and opportunity. 

A great example of this thinking and an embodiment of this personality is Tim Brown from Allbirds [read about – and watch – the long and winding Allbirds journey here]. We first met Tim when he wanted to launch a Kickstarter campaign to create the world’s first woolen shoe. We thought it was a novel idea and couldn’t refuse his enthusiasm, so jumped on board to help him share the story. The rest is history. Now, almost four years later, Allbirds is killing it in the USA and we’re helping them share their story, launch new products and document the journey.

Being the forward thinkers they are, they see the opportunity to tell their story in new mediums, and VR is a very exciting one. When a brand is based on authenticity, yet has a product chain that covers the globe, you need a clever way to show your customers the truth of what’s going on. So why not take them there and just show them? There’s nothing to hide. In fact, there’s heaps to celebrate. It’s an incredible production pipeline, and when you see it, your respect for the shoe and the brand increases immensely.

VR is a great way to share this experience with their customers. And San Fransisco is where we started the journey, at their new HQ, right below the iconic Transamerica building. You’ll just have to wait and see it in virtual life soon as describing it doesn’t really do it justice.

One of the New Zealand all-access passes was a visit with Scott Nolan of Founders Fund, which is run by someone who loves New Zealand so much he got citizenship: Peter Thiel. Scott also loves New Zealand. He regularly attends New Frontiers in Wellington and is on the board of virtual reality startup 8i. We met with him to ask him for advice on how we grow our business.

If you read my column last week I talked about a chicken and egg situation with funding and content creation. No one’s investing. Scott’s advice on this was pretty simple and rather frank: “If you want the industry to succeed, you need to prove that it can, with a sustainable business model. This means create potentially three experiences that are so awesome, that they make a good return, and prove your model works.”

That seems obvious, but it was the kind of slap of reality we needed. We can’t expect to have great ideas and then just get VCs or traditional content funders to just give us money. We’re the ones who think there’s a business opportunity here, so it’s up to us to make it one. We need to bootstrap the content, hustle it into existence and just work really hard to make it, like any great start-up.

There’s no easy ride. But if we can prove it, which we believe we can, then we’ll get to a point where we can easily get funding and scale fast. It’s a the same as any business. I think where it got blurry is when everyone started saying things like ‘The VR industry is worth $5 billion today and will be worth $60 billion next year etc etc’. Everyone thought, ‘rad, there is heaps of money floating around for VR, I’ll grab some of that and have a good time making my awesome ideas’. Well, that’s not the case. The billions will only be there if we make the content first to then get the billions coming in. We need to build the industry.

After meeting with Scott we caught up with Xero’s Rod Drury, who happened to be in town and just got back from F8, where all they talked about this year was VR/AR. He was very excited about our timing. Maybe it’s because he’s a surfer so he loves the riding waves analogy, but he certainly encouraged us to ride this one, which is a nice vote of confidence.

He also encouraged us to really claim the space, as no one is an expert in this field yet, which is why you’re reading this article. Space claimed! The good news is there’s so much room for so many people to play a vital role in growing this industry. It’s still so early.

Ben Forman is founder/director at Wrestler