“Create solutions, not ideas,” says Francesco Furnari with a knowing smile.
As the founder of VRtuoso, the world’s first virtual reality enterprise product, he is certainly someone who has practised this business mantra. Quite rightly he brims over with confidence on the line discussing his innovative tech start-up that has already won awards and partnerships with some of the biggest companies in the world.
For Francesco, the key to success is understanding an industry, finding a problem and offering a simple solution – it is quickly apparent that this is what VRtuoso has delivered, unlocking the power of virtual reality for everyday business needs.
Standing out in the sea of technology start-ups (11,864 in the UK alone in 2018 according to Companies House) needs a strong angle, and it is clear that is what VRtuoso has uncovered.
“Enterprises love virtual reality, but one of the problems is that to create VR content and apps, it requires time, special skills, high-production costs and even then, it’s hard to update. A company that wants to create an app, they go to a digital agency, spend around £25k to create one app. If they want to create ten or 20 VR apps, you can do the numbers, it’s impossible. There’s isn’t any business case to spend that kind of budget. We allow them to create the virtual reality training and presentations by themselves without going back to a digital agency anymore,” explains Francesco.
While consumer VR has taken off, with the market expected to be worth a $16.3billion worldwide by 2020, the sheer complexity of VR creation means it is yet to be considered as a standard business tool. Francesco saw a huge potential in this area.
The birth of a new era for business VR
There has been a long journey to this point of solving businesses in problems with VR. Throughout 20 years of experience providing “innovation services and training” in places China, Israel and the States, Francesco became well versed in the issues businesses were facing.
He found a market for the VR services he was launching, receiving great feedback but found overall demand was low because of the complex nature of the technology.
“I was really frustrated and I asked, “if you love virtual reality and you got fantastic feedback and benefits, why don’t you do it on a daily basis?” he says.
This “daily basis” VR was what prompted him to invest his time and money into creating VRtuoso, so sure that this was a problem worth solving.
“It was a challenge for us. Over the first two years, we invested money ourselves into this as an R&D project, but we took the risk because we saw that there was a really big gap there. After we launched it, in just one year, we have been absolutely bombarded with orders, essentially,” he told me about the start of his project.
The result of an extensive research and development period is the “Powerpoint of VR”, a combined software and hardware solution that anyone, of any skill level, can use to create VR presentations.
Overcoming the challenges of VR
As with all tech that is easy to use, it’s development certainly was not.
“Virtual Reality is a very complex technology, both from content creation and content consumption. We always wanted to create a really easy-to-use product, which is why asked: “what is the easiest interface to use?” Powerpoint, which can be used by a ten-year-old kid up to my Grandfather. In fact, what we have looks like Powerpoint, the difference is the slides are not 2D they are 360-degree slides.”
Francesco explains what he has learned from other start-ups, and how failing to fully consider the end-user is a sure-fire way to fail. A large part of creating VRtuoso was uncovering reasons people might not want to make the switch and making those reasons disappear.
VRtuoso comes with an “import” function meaning that existing presentations can be magically transformed into VR experience and, with the product being stand-alone and not needing cloud connectivity they have side-stepped the complex data and compliance issues so many businesses face. Francesco claims that all this has created a usable and robust product that opens up the possibilities of VR but with peace of mind.
A virtual success story
This approach has paid off, with uptake being quick and impressive with prestige names such as PwC, Pfizer, EE and Yoox Net-a-Porter Group using VRtuoso for training and other presentations.
Telecommunications giant BT was so impressed with the product that they have included it in their Enterprise portfolio for customers, a feat almost unheard of for a brand-new startup.
“When BT decided to resell my product [was my best moment]. I challenge anyone to find a start-up that has got BT as a reseller. They told me that had been using the product in-house for their business and they thought it was so great that they wanted to introduce it to their enterprise clients. That is where I was almost crying. Finding clients can be relatively easy but finding a major company like BT that decides to put your product into their product portfolio and tell you that you are the only VR product, that is something that is simply a dream,” a proud Francesco tells me.
This unique accolade isn’t the only achievement. VRtuoso was also the winner of the ‘Corporates and Start-ups Challenge’ at the Mobile World Congress this year, another big win from such a new company.
The wisdom of solutions
Throughout our conversation Francesco keeps returning to the fact that providing a solution is “everything”, it is this mantra that has opened the door for his biggest clients, been central in them securing $650,000 early stages funding to grow their team, improve the product and expand into new regions and seen a head-turning soft-launch in the United States. Introducing the product at CES 2019 In Las Vegas and becoming the star of the show, a US team has been built and a full launch is pencilled in for 2020.
“At CES we were one of the stars, this little company from the UK. Thanks to that event we won a lot of big new clients like Fizer. We are in discussion with other big American companies like Salesforce, Exxon Mobil that is thanks to the initial CS exposure that we had in January,” he says.
With such a focus on “solutions” it only seems right to get Francesco to elaborate on this point for any budding tech entrepreneurs.
“One of the problems is that there are too many ideas right now. My advice is don’t have an idea and build a business around it. Try to understand the business first and then try and have an idea that solves problems for that business. Otherwise, you are going to struggle, it’s going to be really hard, nowadays, to build a business from simply “I have this idea.” Is there any real problem, are there any buyers, is there any real money behind it and what is the timeframe you are looking at? Today are you looking at solving tomorrow’s problems or are you trying to predict a problem that doesn’t exist today? Solutions are a different thing.”
Discover more about VRtuoso on their website: https://vrtuoso.io/