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It’s a point of irony, and a telling lesson, that one of the most successful companies in spatial computing is led by a self-professed non-tech guy. It’s that ability to detach from the technology that keeps Strivr CEO and co-founder Derek Belch grounded and customer-focused.
That plus natural leadership abilities from a background in sports has launched STRIVR into a leading position in VR training. In the competitive field of enterprise VR players, Strivr has accomplished the biggest feat in bringing the technology to a non-tech whale: Walmart.
As Belch discusses with Jason McDowall on the latest AR Show episode (listen) this involves training store associates for better situational awareness and incident readiness. VR’s immersion lets them retain information in minutes that would otherwise take hours in a traditional lecture.
Strivr’s path to this retail use case required intuition to see the opportunity and to pivot from its primary use case of quarterback training, where it still operates to a lesser degree. It now faces a much larger addressable market considering a finite number of quarterbacks on the planet.
“Luck is a combination of preparedness and opportunity, and we were prepared for these things that came along,” said Belch. “I always knew that what we were doing could be bigger than sports, I just didn’t know when or how necessarily. And as I’m sitting in the room, demoing our quarterback training stuff to Walmart, and asking them questions and understanding their business. I’m like… this is identical to the problems that football teams face. The only difference is what’s going to show up in the headset… a Walmart store, or an angry customer, and not a linebacker blitzing you… I picked up on it within 20 minutes into the meeting…. three weeks after that meeting, we had a signed contract. And then we were off and running.”
Another success factor according to Belch is expectation-setting. He’s big on honesty with clients and prospects to not overpromise and underdeliver. That’s been a refreshing divergence from the “fake it till you make it,” culture of Silicon Valley which is especially prevalent in software sales.
“Set the right expectations upfront,” he said. “You just have to be open and honest with where you are and where you aren’t in your product lifecycle, your company’s lifecycle, etc… everyone’s trying to show how great their tech is relative to everything else… From day one at Strivr, we’ve been very honest, very objective, very collaborative… and that’s been very refreshing for folks that get sold technology every day.”
Part of that goes back to Belch’s non-tech orientation, which makes him stand out in the enterprise software market. This gives him a good BS-detector as well as perspective to keep the product simple and purpose-built, rather than the feature-rich and tech-first common approach.
“I interact with certain pieces of technology, but I’m not your average tech Kool-Aid drinker,” said Belch. “So it just came naturally to me to want to tell it like it is on this stuff. And then the deeper we’ve gotten into what we do, I’ve seen [that] the more bells and whistles you put on something, the less likely they are to adopt it and use it. So we actually have a thesis at Strivr called implementation first, technology second. Unfortunately, a lot of companies go the other way around… We’ve taken a very scary, very potentially complex piece of technology, and kind of dumbed it down to be honest, and just implemented what we know is going to work.”
So what’s the result? Strivr is seeing tangible ROI gains in metrics like time or dollars saved. This can be seen across its Fortune 500 clients in its top VR training use cases, which work backward from business objectives like operational efficiencies and employee situational awareness.
“It’s been really cool to see the possibilities of real dollars and cents ROI, in addition to a better way to learn and retain information,” said Belch. “We’re seeing for example, 10 minutes in virtual reality is an identical learning outcome to three hours in a lecture… It’s just as good as the current operating procedure, which takes a certain amount of time and therefore a certain amount of money… We’re going to save some of our customers that are big multinational companies a couple hundred million dollars a year just in that time difference.”
The rest of the episode (listen below) covers AR’s fate in the enterprise, as well as the importance of self-awareness in leadership. With the help of his leadership coach, Belch has refined his definition of personal evolution, which isn’t “change” but rather deliberate and controlled growth.
It’s also worth noting that since this episode aired, the tragic Walmart mass shooting in El Paso happened. Though it’s not a moment to boast technology ROI, it is worth noting that Walmart CEO Doug McMillan attributed readiness and additional lives saved to Strivr’s employee training.
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