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One area that continues to represent a large opportunity gap in AR commerce is 3D asset creation. We’re talking 3D models for products that consumers visualize in their spaces prior to purchasing. This product-visualization use case is already showing signs of killer app status.
But exemplars in AR product visualization so far are big companies like IKEA and Wayfair, which have launched large-scale in-house initiatives to get the necessary 3D scans and digital twins of their product inventories. What the market needs is a way for everyone else to do this at scale.
This is where VNTANA hangs its hat. As CEO and co-founder Ashley Crowder discusses with Jason McDowall on the AR Show, the company has developed a 3D asset creation platform that handles most of the technical heavy lifting. The goal is to democratize AR commerce.
One of VNTANA’s key differentiators is its end-to-end or “one-stop-shop” orientation, says Crowder. 3D asset creation is challenging partly because it’s a multi-stage and technically-involved process including product scans, compression, and file conversions, to name a few things.
With an obsession for customer conversations and feedback, Crowder discovered that all these requirements were the biggest pain point. That’s especially true for non-technical pros like 3D artists and brand marketers… all of which could be AR’s biggest adopters in the coming years.
“Our software actually understands the shape of the object and then calculates what’s the minimum number of vertices we can do to maintain the same shape. And so we’ve written software to be able to do that […] We’re giving you one-stop-shop that can just take your design file and get to marketing what they need. Marketing doesn’t even know what needs to happen in between. They just want the file that works at the end of the day[…] It comes in a full cloud content management system if they need that. But we also offer an API just use our services on the back end if people already have a CMS that they’re comfortable with.”
But the path to get to this point was somewhat serendipitous. With an engineering background, Crowder found the dream job of designing light shows for DJs. Holograms then entered the picture, given the trend for DJs to cover more ground with virtual performances.
From that, VNTANA was born. But because DJs are often sponsored by consumer brands, they took note of the holograms. VNTANA began to create experiential-marketing holograms for them directly, including DJI drones at South by Southwest and Adidas high-profile shoe launches.
But with this sudden success came growing pains. As a high-touch service, there were often challenges in fulfilling these projects with quick turnarounds. So it built software to streamline its own processes simply out of necessity. By doing so, it unknowingly discovered its future business.
“It was really through that process of quick turnaround jobs, we ran into this new problem of how do we create and distribute these assets quickly because nobody had the proper 3d files. DJI for example, 10 days before South by Southwest, sent us an 800-megabyte manufacturing design file. You can’t just drop that in. And so that’s really when we started creating the software that we launched this year publicly for other people to use, which automatically optimizes, converts and distributes manufacturing files for web AR and VR.”
This sometimes happens when an internal need spawns a product. In fact, this was the case for one of the most successful tech products of the past decade: AWS. It’s also what Niantic is currently doing with its Real World Platform. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.
“We created the software initially for our own sanity and to be able to make our own project timelines with a small, bootstrapped team. Shah Jewelry was one of the first clients who we gave the software to use on their own. They’re a jewelry company with thousands of pieces… there’s no way it would fit in the budget to hire 3D artists to create that. So they were really the first ones who use our software[…] After we did that the light bulb went off […] Not only can it be used on holographic displays, but the web. Having a 3D version of your product and your website has proven to double conversion rates. And then augmented reality: being able to hold up your phone and see that ring on your finger.”
The other lesson here is VNTANA’s choice between being a high-touch professional services or a software company. The former can be opportune, but it’s hard to scale given the fulfillment cost. Software conversely has inherent scalability and potentially recurring revenues a la SaaS.
Of course, certain factors have to be right for software too. There has to be a large enough market to justify smaller per-unit revenues — as opposed to a services model that has 12 big-ticket clients. For Crowder, it was evident that the market size was there to compel the SaaS approach.
“Look at companies like Adidas, Under Armour, Nike… they launch 20-30 thousand products per year. You have to have a scalable solution. You can’t have 3D artists sitting there doing things manually.[…] Amazon adds 500,000 products per day to their website. If we help create a fraction of the 3D assets, this can be a billion-dollar company.”
If Crowder is right, scalable 3D asset creation could inflect the AR market by empowering every consumer brand to build AR experiential marketing. That sort of makes the current point in AR’s lifecycle analogous to the early web when production standards were relatively primitive.
That stage of the web was also before democratization tools like WordPress came along. After website builders gained modern standards about a decade ago, everyone could build glossy websites that were previously only within the reach and affordability of major brands.
“It’s akin to when the internet first started, and everyone needed a website and they just put a brochure up, and it was awful.[…] We’re at that stage where every company is realizing ‘we need a digital twin. We need to be in this new spatial computing environment.’ But not everyone has figured out what that means for their company. We’re still in that phase of brochure-on-the-internet for mixed reality […] And it’s not to say there aren’t great ones now, it’s just that there are few great experiences. Every company needs to be thinking about how they create their brand in this new spatial computing world.”
Disclosure: AR Insider has no financial stake in the companies mentioned in this post, nor received payment for its production. Disclosure and ethics policy can be seen here.