James McNeal:

Hey everybody, welcome to The Q. Hopefully all of you people out there are staying healthy amidst the coronavirus outbreak, which everybody's freaking out about. But you know what? Forget all that stuff. We've got a huge, huge guest that joined the podcast today. Sam Decker is an entrepreneur. He's been in the business for over 25-30 years almost, came from Silicon Valley, has been a huge player within the Austin market for about 20 years now. Helped start Bazaarvoice, which is one of the bigger companies here in Austin, Texas. But what he's getting into now is augmented reality, virtual reality with his two companies Fair Worlds and Interplay Learning. It was just a fascinating conversation about where we're going with augmented reality, the virtual reality space, who's the winners in the market right now, who's kind of taking charge and how to be successful within the space. It's a little black mirror stuff heavy. There's some freaky moments there, but I think what he said really does resonate with the way the market's playing and where society is going with augmented reality. So, I hope you guys enjoy it. This is Sam Decker. He's in The Q.

James McNeal:

Thanks Sam for joining us here in The Q. Really appreciate you coming in. I know with different viruses going around people are not wanting to do face to face conversations, everything's gone virtual. Have you been experiencing any weird differences in the way business is done these past few weeks?

Sam Decker:

Well, absolutely because no one's going to any events. They're cutting back on travel and United, 20% in their flights. There's lots of considerations going on.

James McNeal:

What events were you going to? Had you had any that have been affected?

Sam Decker:

We're playing close attention to South by, not that I have a lot going on in South by. My partner does, but also we're planning travel. We have an office in Seattle and so we're debating that. I think we're not holding back on that necessarily, but we're just paying close attention to it. It's certainly a distraction.

James McNeal:

Yeah, it is. It's something that it's come up a few meetings, but it's something we kind of need to deal with, we know we're going to have to deal with, but why be afraid and live your life in fear, I guess.

Sam Decker:

Yeah, I think it's interesting because fear is a very powerful motivator in all things, even marketing related, and we're also in the political season where fear is rampant. So, we're in this really strange spot right now of fear to your left and to your right. I don't know anything about epidemics, and I don't know anything about what could come because the flu is obviously more impactful than the coronavirus but yet ... Then why is everyone paying attention to this. So, there is a herd mentality, but CDC cares about it so that's something to point to. So we're cautious, but yeah, I hear you. Don't live in fear.

James McNeal:

Yeah, well when you run a business you have to be careful with the message you're putting across to your employees and all that.

Sam Decker:

Well what's interesting is that all of these companies that are canceling on events in South by, there is incredible downside if they go and something happens even if it's not as dangerous as a bunch of people catching the regular flu. So, what's driving a lot of this I think is the fact that it is heightened and they have to make a choice.

James McNeal:

That's interesting. It's a big event. I'm partaking. I know a lot of people are. We keep seeing cancellations which isn't a good thing ... how much money the city of Austin gets from that huge event and over 400,000 people that come. If we didn't have this in this town that would be a big hit.

Sam Decker:

Yeah. It's a rock and a hard place. There's talk about can South by ... What's the financial situation for South by itself. What are their commitments. Do they have enough money in the bank to fulfill on those. So, it's a strange time.

James McNeal:

Well, we're saying South by because if you're in Austin you say South by not South by Southwest. So, how long you been in Austin? You been in Austin for-

Sam Decker:

'99.

James McNeal:

'99, okay.

Sam Decker:

Yeah, came here from the bay area.

James McNeal:

Okay. Are you from the bay area?

Sam Decker:

Yeah.

James McNeal:

Okay, born and raised. Oh god, you've seen that place change.

Sam Decker:

Yeah. Yeah. The area I grew up in, it had orchards and trees. I went to college in southern California and was in Santa Cruz and then moved back to the east bay and it felt like Orange County. It felt very developed, no orchards left. Getting on BART, which was the subway system to San Francisco, was packed. The parking lot was packed. Fast forward and here we are in Austin where 37 skyscrapers are going up in downtown Austin.

James McNeal:

I saw that headline the other day. I think it's okay, but they are taking away a lot of the what made the city the city in certain blocks. You look at Rainey Street, which is a great bar district area, that is now just going to be nothing but condos which is just insane, but-

Sam Decker:

Yeah, it's changed a lot.

James McNeal:

Well, what was it like in the mid '90s in Silicon Valley? That's kind of where you got your start.

Sam Decker:

Yeah, yeah. Well what's interesting is I was working South Market in sort of the boom days, dotcom boom, and turn left and right and there's a startup everywhere you look. There was-

James McNeal:

What were some of the big ones back then that were-

Sam Decker:

Well, Excite. You remember that?

James McNeal:

Yeah, I actually do. Yeah, yeah.

Sam Decker:

That was one big one. I'm trying to remember. At the time Netscape was booming. You know.

James McNeal:

God, Netscape. That's another one.

Sam Decker:

Yeah, yeah. I got started in the internet using Mosaic because I came out of college coming into Apple. I worked in a division of Apple that did word of mouth marketing through user groups. User groups are the geeks of the world. There's 2,000 Mac user groups and they were the first to get on and use Mosaic and the web as it was known back in the early '90s. I got involved, probably '94, so you sort of follow that and progress. That got me into sort of that dotcom world where Net Gain, you know, the book Net Gain was the bible, community content commerce. We're trying to do that playbook. What happened ... One of the startups I was with was called Third Age.com. It was a website for baby boomers, like a community for baby boomers. Here I was, what was I, like 27 or something creating the community for baby boomers. I was half the age of the target market.

James McNeal:

Was there an audience for it at that time?

Sam Decker:

Well, it was a growing audience. We say someone was turning 50 every seven seconds and also getting online. So there was, but the problem was ... Here's a lesson learned on business is most of the businesses I was a part of in those early days were 10 years too early. There's a lot of startups that have the right idea, it's just the timing is too early. What happened with like for example, Third Age.com, is it was an advertising sort of content model and we could not produce enough page views to pay for all the editorial costs. So it really was a magazine online mostly. I built the community tools and started getting user generated content back then and that was huge, but still I remember this town hall about a year in and I raised my hand and asked the president, I said, "Look, we're spending 500,000 a month. We're making 250 a month and we're selling out of our inventory. How are we going to make the other 250?" I was doing marketing too. I was spending about $30,000 a month on marketing.

James McNeal:

What was it mostly in?

Sam Decker:

Good question. I'll get back [crosstalk 00:08:20]-

Sam Decker:

But I said, "How are we going to close that gap?" He said, "Oh, we're going to leverage our brand." I was just thinking to myself, I was looking up in the air thinking, "What does leverage your brand mean in terms of making $250,000 a month? If our business model is selling out of inventory where else can we quote unquote leverage our brand to make money?" It just didn't make sense to me. That was the beginning of my end there because where could you spend money ... You could do ads. There was a beginning of in '97 kind of doing online ads, but there was no Google. There was no SEM. There was very limited targeting. I remember my boss once said when I started, he said, "Go find 5,000 email addresses of baby boomers to email." Okay, this is before spam was a word. I said, "Okay." I went back, here I am, young, and where am I going to get email addresses.

Sam Decker:

So, I come back to him and I said, "Look, you must of had something in mind when you told me to go do that. Can you give me some hints or tell me where you're thinking to go?" This is a lesson in dealing with ambiguity. He looked me in the eyes and said, "You know, if I had to answer that for you why do I need you?" I was like, "Oh, shit." I was like, "Okay. I'll go figure it out," and I figured it out. I somehow scraped together a bunch of email addresses off the web and tried to email. Not that it was effective, but I did the task. But anyway, it's a lesson learned in business model and timing-

James McNeal:

Should have started your own email data mining company at that point.

Sam Decker:

That would have been maybe five years too early, but that would have been a goldmine, yeah.

James McNeal:

Yeah. Oh, my gosh. So, yeah, I know a lot has changed since then, but I guess in the marketing world when you had to find things like that was there a typical route you would go or say, I guess, if you had $30,000 to spend was there, okay, you got to do this at that point?

Sam Decker:

Yeah, back then people were doing direct mail to get people online. It was still sort of focused there. So, online ads were banner ads. While clickthroughs were higher it's hard to target an audience. So yeah, who was out? Excite was out. It was the beginnings of it. It was the beginning of being able to target like you can on Google. Then Google AdWords AdSense came out and changed everything.

James McNeal:

Wow. I mean, it did. It's still changing everything too. They still change their algorithms all the time. We still have to keep up with it.

Sam Decker:

That's right.

James McNeal:

So then you moved to Austin in what? The late '90s.

Sam Decker:

Yes. '99. So, after three startups and didn't have much to show for that other than failures and experience, which is invaluable by the way, Dell called. We had been looking at Austin and it was like you're going to run Dell eCommerce. I'm like, "That sounds great." So, they recruited me. I put my resume out on Monster.com. That's how they found me.

James McNeal:

Great. That was a huge advertiser back in the day, huge company.

Sam Decker:

Yeah, exactly. That was another big one. So, they called me, moved me here, and took care of everything. I had an offer at Garden.com a year earlier so we were looking at Austin. It was like, "Here's $5,000 to move here." I'm like, "That'll cover airfare." It was not enough to get me over the hump, but Dell took care of everything. I said let's get some experience at a large company because these startups you will never have heard of. I have nothing on my resume to point to. I wrote a couple books by that time, but other than that I was like, "No one's ever going to hear of Third Age.com or User Group Connection or Telepost.

James McNeal:

What books were you writing back then?

Sam Decker:

The first book was related to User Group marketing. I didn't the finish the story. I was at Apple. Months into it we spun out into a startup [inaudible 00:12:21] division of Apple. I, at the age of 23, became a vice president of a startup. Changed my trajectory. I mean, just changed my whole mindset about myself. In doing so we were consulting arm for large software companies on how to do word of mouth marketing through these user groups. So, I started writing a weekly newsletter much like you do on these podcasts creating content, creating content, and at the end of the year I was like, "There's a lot here. No one's an expert on user group marketing." So, I created How to Market with Computer User Groups as a book. It's more of a trade book. It's for marketers. It got in to Barnes & Noble I was proud to say. Got [crosstalk 00:12:58]-

James McNeal:

Wow. Yeah.

Sam Decker:

... at the age of maybe 27 I had that book.

James McNeal:

Still on Amazon or can you still-

Sam Decker:

Oh, no, no, no. You'd probably find a used copy somewhere but you don't need to. It's kind of moot at this point. User groups are basically the internet now. Then the second one, I was always in to guerrilla marketing so I started writing a bunch of guerrilla marketing tips and I sent it to Inc. Magazine and they said, "We love it. Would you do it in our format?" Because they had a series of 301 do it yourself management ideas, whatever. So, I did 301 do it yourself marketing ideas published by Inc. Magazine.

James McNeal:

That's great.

Sam Decker:

Yeah. So-

James McNeal:

So what was your number one tip?

Sam Decker:

Okay, I've got a great story that I always remembered. Part of it was going finding stories to map back to principles. I had some ideas and principles, but then I also had to go hunt stories and find new ones. I interviewed this furniture store. Usually furniture stores are in a furniture row, like there's a bunch of furniture stores-

James McNeal:

Yeah. Yeah, we still have one here right down the road.

Sam Decker:

Yeah, [Anderson 00:14:01]. So, you go shopping for furniture and you go from one to another, right. One furniture store, what they did is as people were leaving a store gave them a half gallon of ice cream. Why? Why do you think?

James McNeal:

In the heat ... I don't-

Sam Decker:

They had to stop shopping.

James McNeal:

Oh, okay.

Sam Decker:

They had to go home, take the ice cream home. They're not going to go to the competitors next door.

James McNeal:

Good point. It's going to melt.

Sam Decker:

I thought that was pretty clever. Yeah. I thought that was pretty clever.

James McNeal:

Yeah, it is. Interesting. I'm sure if they still put that off I don't know if they can ... Amazon, I don't know if they can pull that off either to keep people online all the time. So yeah, then what interested you then in the business space in the first place? What got you in to it?

Sam Decker:

Well, I had always been doing little entrepreneurial things growing up. I used to charge people to type papers. I was a fast typist because I got involved with computers at 10. So, I'd charge people to type papers in high school. I typed up notes for tests. I had people starting to copy my notes that I sold them so I then printed on red paper so they couldn't copy it.

James McNeal:

Oh, my gosh.

Sam Decker:

Yeah. Had a little scheme. Then college my dad and I invested in a triplex and I flipped cars and I had a carpet cleaning business. I had a desktop publishing business. I had a typing business. Had a treasure map business, which was basically we'd go sell ads and print them on 11 by 17 and then give away those 11 by 17s to college restaurants for place mats. I had all these ... Then I started a sign business, a big banner sign business. All this while in college. College was kind of like as long as I can get a B that's all that mattered to me. I was more interested in these kind of things. I guess I was always wired ... My dad was an entrepreneur. I don't know [crosstalk 00:15:47]-

James McNeal:

Yeah, did your dad kind of push you and help you in to that, I guess?

Sam Decker:

Definitely helped me seeing him, watching him. He was a film producer and director. I can definitely see that in myself, sort of that gene. If I wasn't an entrepreneur I'd probably want to be a film producer. It just fits left right brain kind of the way I think. But then saw him in '79 start a company. His story is he was pitching a documentary, the team that was going to invest in him rejected him because the way he presented was he was nervous. He had just done a documentary on public speaking and so he said, "I'm going to figure this out," using his experience with video cameras. He was one of the first to use video camera feedback to teach you how to do public speaking better. So, Decker Communications-

James McNeal:

And everybody does that now.

Sam Decker:

Yeah. Yeah. So, 1979 launched using Betamax or VHS or whatever and bring people in two day seminar to give a bunch of video tape feedback. So yeah, he [inaudible 00:16:48] and became a nationally known speaker, et cetera, et cetera. I watched that and I helped using my computer skills. I was in to computers and things. I worked for him and in his company doing computer graphics even back then on an Atari 800. Maybe that was a big part of it, but I think sometimes you're just wired for it. I think some people have gone through jobs and realized that the jobs that they've gone through they've initiated things and they've been change leaders and they've come up with ideas. They realize well all along they were an entrepreneur but inside a company. Others are just tweaking and optimizing and are not fixated that way.

James McNeal:

Yeah, you have to have a certain mind for it. I think you're right that some people don't ever get out of the big corporation. They stay in there, but there's something missing, there's a piece that they tend to have maybe a better goal outlook on the company as a whole to start.

Sam Decker:

It's an itch that is not scratched. I was at Dell for seven years and I almost quit seven times. But I always had something entrepreneurial. I was building Dell.com for four years of that and there's so much change and so much learning and so many projects, three redesigns. Just so much to do. Then I went on to change roles inside a big company. It was interesting and learned as much as I learned in the failures in the startups. It helped me so much on sort of my last third of my career which is startups in Austin.

James McNeal:

Yeah, wow. So yeah, let's get in to that because you've got a pretty hefty resume. I was looking through yesterday. But yeah, no, I guess what was your first project out of the big corporation?

Sam Decker:

Well, my last job at Dell was a good one. I was running marketing for a billion and half dollar division, which sounds big, but in Dell it's kind of small. It allowed me some freedom. But I knew that was my last ... Where else could I go that would excite me. So, during the last year and a half at Dell I started taking coffees. When you're at Dell you're on another island. My peers did not know that the rest of Austin existed. I made it a point to have two to three coffees a week.

James McNeal:

With who?

Sam Decker:

Just somehow make connections to people that were launching companies or are in organizations. I don't really remember how I ... I think that's how I met Keith way back then.

Speaker 4:

It is. [inaudible 00:19:16].

Sam Decker:

You just kind of bounced from one person and then it splinters off in to three. It's like this logarithmic path. Eventually I became on the board of Texchange. I got to know Austin Ventures. They introduced me to HomeAway. This is when Brian was inventing the name HomeAway. We sat for coffee. He's like, "What do you think of the name HomeAway?" I'm like, "Sounds good. Sounds good." Yeah, so almost worked for them. Then got introduced to Brett who was started Bazaarvoice. It was like word of mouth meets eCommerce. Okay, that's exactly what I've been doing my whole life. Digital-

James McNeal:

User generated content.

Sam Decker:

User generated content.

James McNeal:

My wife works for Bazaarvoice.

Sam Decker:

No kidding.

James McNeal:

She's on the Influenster brand that they're pushing. So it's kind of crazy.

Sam Decker:

Yeah. Here's a great example of perfect timing and just execution. There's nothing all that special about the technology, right. It's an [inaudible 00:20:07] submit, moderate, push it and have a really strong backend. If anything it was the reliability to handle Walmart's reviews was part of the power. But the lesson learned there is Amazon's been doing it for 12 years. We as consumer know it impacts us. We can then prove that it drives conversion and drives a P&L impact and there's this whole growth. Twitter came out in 2007, Facebook 2005. So, now we have this whole social topic. We branded it social commerce and created this whole aura around it and became this movement. I ran product and marketing for it. We launched seven products in the five years I was there, first four years. It made an impact and we expanded to verticals and regions and five years, 500 people, 50 million. It's easy because everything's five. We started in 2005. There's five of us and we grew to 500 by the time I left.

James McNeal:

Yeah I know. Then it went public, which I know that was probably after your time, right?

Sam Decker:

Yeah.

James McNeal:

They've kind of admitted ... They went back to private. They were like, "We shouldn't have gone public ever," because that was such a-

Sam Decker:

Well, here's the lesson learned there. Someone was on our board that was part of Google AdSense that he said, "You know, with Google they can just make one tweak and drastically change their earnings per share." Everything about business from Wall Street up or down, whichever way you want to go, is about predictability. When you go public you have to have five levers, arrows in your quiver, to be able to affect predictability. Sometimes it's hard to know that you can tell the Street what to expect and know with 110% confidence that you can hit it and feel really good about that. It's rare. It's hard.

James McNeal:

And with user generated content you have to rely on that so much, but I guess that space changed drastically over the time that you were. I know Google ... You were one of Google's bigger partners at that time. They pull in those reviews. Now there's what? 100 other companies that do similar things.

Sam Decker:

I don't know. I know the big ones. I know PowerReviews came back out. Yotpo launched. I don't know all the others-

James McNeal:

ReviewTrackers.

Sam Decker:

Okay. I've been out of it.

James McNeal:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). No, no I get it. I get it. There's too much to keep up with. It's weird ... Yeah, the DOJ came down on Bazaarvoice at one point-

Sam Decker:

Yes. I was out of that and totally hands free. I was-

James McNeal:

You walked away.

Sam Decker:

I was not ... I had no affidavit. I had no calls. I was already out of the company.

James McNeal:

Well, then you got in to the incubator space. Obviously Capital Factory is-

Sam Decker:

Yeah, I've co-founded Capital Factory ... I think it's been about 11 years. I was at Bazaarvoice when we started that. I was getting that itch again. Josh and Brian, I think we met at a Texchange and we talked about the lack of consumer startups in Austin. We saw Y Combinator and so it was like, "Well, we should have that here and get things going." So, really it was a desire to increase the consumer startup space, digital consumer-

James McNeal:

How do you do that? You obviously have some money to invest in companies, but-

Sam Decker:

Yeah, you find 20 mentors willing to put in 5K each and you distribute that between five startups and then you take applications and you choose five. Then you take them through a summer meeting with them both weekly and ongoing to the point of a demo day in I think September, October so that they can go get more money. That was the model back then. It's changed a lot. I was heavily involved the first three years and then Mass Relevance, starting that and getting busy in that I couldn't be a managing director anymore. So, I was just a mentor and even that it was limited because when you're running a company you're in a vortex. That's your priority. It's hard-

James McNeal:

You have to be.

Sam Decker:

Yeah, yeah.

James McNeal:

All the time.

Sam Decker:

Yeah, so that became harder. Then Capital Factory, to Josh's credit, really expanded in to workspace and events and a lot of things. There's a lot of elements when you look at an ecosystem like Austin that make it vibrant. When I came to Austin in '99 it was Dell and a very small number of startups. It was hard to say if Dell doesn't work out where do you go. So there's a big risk. Here with 150 people coming to Austin everyday they can see I can go to a startup, but I can then go to Google, Facebook, Bazaarvoice or Dell or whatever or they can start at a large company. There's directions to go because we now have the whole ecosystem. Capital Factory and a bunch of other things create that ecosystem that makes that viable, that brings in talent, that allows you to scale, that brings in funding that makes Austin the place that people from the outside want to fund. So, it's been amazing watching it over the last 10 years compared to Silicon Valley where it had it for 20 years from the beginnings of HP.

James McNeal:

Yeah. I guess if you had to give some piece for that entrepreneur out there ... I mean, you could move to Austin and like you said, go in to an ecosystem and get your chops similar to what you did, but what would you recommend to them if they're looking to start a business or a company?

Sam Decker:

Well, there's so much I could say. What advice would I give? Well, the good thing if you're considering Austin, Austin is far more giving in terms of time from people than any other region I've seen. So, lot of help for good and bad. You can get-

James McNeal:

From the state? From people, company?

Sam Decker:

No, from people.

James McNeal:

Yeah, okay.

Sam Decker:

Yeah, from just people. You look at the number of mentors when we started at 20 at Capital Factory. There's now 100s and Techstars and ... There's a bunch of incubators and workspaces now. There's something like 40 or 50 coworking spaces. There was nothing 10 years ago. So, with that interaction and availability of people starting things here there's a collaboration that can happen. That's a good thing. But that does not create what I call exit velocity. Going through Capital Factory, getting $100,000, winning a demo day, has nothing to do with true scalable exit velocity for a company because it's harder to get a series A fund. It's harder to get past that and grow. Competition is more fierce. I was in marketing technology for a while, and competition is way more fierce now and way harder to get attention of a VP of marketing than it was when I was running marketing at Bazaarvoice in 2005 to '10. So, what I'd say is you have to have a disproportionate advantage to win: some knowledge, some distribution, some amazing product, ideally all three, and an incredible team. Experience matters. If you don't have experience co-found with someone that does.

James McNeal:

Yeah, you just listed off seven things that you kind of really do need in order to succeed and be successful-

Sam Decker:

That's right, [crosstalk 00:27:23]-

James McNeal:

No, it's true. You can't have one of the five. You have to have all [inaudible 00:27:30] kind of pieced together. Well, that's good. Then you move kind of out of that space. You go to Mass Relevance, but now you're working in some very cool tech, augmented reality, which is something I really wanted to dive in to because I want to know more about the space. A lot of people are out there realizing that this is the future. What pieces of nuggets can you give the rest of the world about where the future's going?

Sam Decker:

Well, here's the thing is that most of my career's been like looking at waves and figuring out the right timing and the right product market fit within that wave. The good thing about waves, whether it's user generated content or social curation, which I was doing at Mass Relevance, or online communities at Third Age, et cetera, is that people want to talk about them. It's a topic. You can lean in to that or what I say, put up the sail, in to that wind and sail it. Then you have to find within that conversation the right place to start, the right sequencing and phasing of something to bring to market.

James McNeal:

When do you think the augmented reality wave kind of started to kick up?

Sam Decker:

Well, it picked up with Snapchat and ARKit. The ability to put it on the iPhone and Snapchat making it clear what it's all about. Those are two things that come to mind. Then things like IKEA setting the standard for all furniture companies to want to have augmented reality placement of furniture in their house and now Amazon doing it. Then Google puts it on the web. So, I can put a tiger right in front of you right now on my iPhone. All of these things start to come together: technology, content, and so you see this wave happening. We're just talking about augmented reality, not to mention where we've come from, 360 video to VR to augmented reality. So, there's kind of this continuum and a lot of the work ... Let's push away 360 video for a second because people say it's virtual reality, it's not. But augment and digital reality, the tools and assets between them are shared. One is immersive and one is a sort of duality of real and digital. So all of that creation and technology and effort and people we hire for our firm do both. That feeds both things. There's reasons to do augmented reality or virtual reality.

Sam Decker:

But where is it going? I started an agency called Fair Worlds almost three years ago because I didn't know. I knew it was going somewhere and I knew Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, HTC, et cetera, et cetera were all battling on hardware. Huge investments made, coming down in price-

James McNeal:

Who do you thinks winning that battle right now?

Sam Decker:

Facebook. Yeah, the Oculus Go and Quest are winners. But we'll see what comes out with Apple with the glasses they're coming out with. We'll see [crosstalk 00:30:30]-

James McNeal:

Wait. I don't know about that. What's-

Sam Decker:

Well, okay, so to my point of some things are 10 years too early. 10 years ago Google Glass was launched, okay. People post things about it and everyone's like, "I'd never wear those. It's geeky," or whatever. Okay, now fast forward 10 years later, there's 20 firms making the equivalent of a Google Glass. There's going to be a wave of the glasses you're wearing right now to connect to your phone to display things through. In fact, there's a viable contact lens for that.

James McNeal:

Will it be stylish? Because that Google Glass was kind of a big fail.

Sam Decker:

Absolutely. I think they [inaudible 00:31:02] lessons learned there. So yeah, I think the idea is make it stylish, make it much more fast. You got 5G coming and computing power on the cloud or on the glass or on the phone. So, lot of things had to come together to make it awesome. It has to be awesome to really cross over the early adopters phase. So, where is all that going? What's interesting about augmented reality when you have it in your glasses is that those glasses can recognize things around you and then do computing and then display something on top of it to give you information. Here's my vision is that when you go into a grocery store and you say you were on a keto diet and that's programmed in to your preferences. You're going to walk through and everything's going to light up that matches that desire. You can discover new products and find things that-

James McNeal:

That's black mirror stuff right there.

Sam Decker:

Yeah, yeah. For sure. So, that's where it's all going but it has to come down in price and accessibility and content and speed, but all that's coming. You can see it coming. Every company has to go through evolution. If I learned one thing at Dell it was it is hard to accept big change. It is hard to just go all the way to 10 and for a company just invest in immersive reality. There's a place to start and I understand where to get started to make an impact with a company where the CFO even cares about it to then invest more, to invest a little more, to invest little more. So certain companies are making those investments, IKEA as an example, et cetera. They continue down the path. They can't go backwards. So, all of these early companies are making these investments, going down an evolutionary path while all the other things in the industry are happening with hardware, with speed, et cetera. So, what's going to happen is those that are not early adopters, they're going to see what the early adopters have done and the industry's ready and it's going to cost less for them to get in it and it's already been proven just like Amazon already proved Bazaarvoice and then they'll invest. So, there will be a wave. We don't know how fast and we don't know-

James McNeal:

You kind of want to be a part of the second wave? Is that what you're saying or you want to be a part of the-

Sam Decker:

No, I want to minimally invest in the first and have staying power. When you look at stories like Pinterest they were around for many years before they became big. So, some companies are two years too early. They have staying power and all of a sudden they learned a lot ... Interplay Learning, I'm on the board, they've been in business eight years. Just now they got quote unquote series A and are taking off because now 3D and simulation and VR and training and skilled labor force, all of those elements are coming to play. They happen to be at the front seat when that happened.

James McNeal:

Yeah. So I guess there's the tech side, there's the hardware side. You're saying Apple's maybe going to change the game a little bit with their product that's coming out. Do they know when that's coming out?

Sam Decker:

I actually don't know the date. It might be out there, but yeah-

James McNeal:

I'm going to put a note. Everybody will be in line for it, I imagine. Well, what do you think that does society wise? I know you have to think business side. I know every Black Mirror episode ends with this is not good in some ways. There's always that pitfall. But I guess like you said, if we go into grocery stores, we see this ... Is there research around what that does to society or anything?

Sam Decker:

There's starting to be research what it does to the brain and why it's effective and all of those things, because what really got me interested in the beginning was the fact that you remember more when you do VR than in real life. Being immersed and having that experience is more impactful to your neurons, to your brain than me sitting here right now because there's distractions. When you're immersed there's something that happens to the brain. That's not augmented reality, that's virtual reality.

James McNeal:

That's similar to if you're listening to a podcast and you have the new AirPods or something and you've got silence mode. You're seriously ... noise canceling. You're just canceling everything out. You are attentive to that even though you're doing other things.

Sam Decker:

I'm not qualified to answer what it'll do for society. What we started the company name Fair Worlds was let's make this for good. Let's make it a better world. There's a triple entendre on our name, but that's one of them. On of our ideal clients is Environmental Defense Fund. We created an immersive reality experience for senators and gas execs to go through to see how to stop methane leaks. It showed them how much money they could save and how much it would save the environment and they actually could go through and tighten things down and go across, use a flare camera to emulate it and figure out how to shut things down on an oil field and see how easy it was. These are executives who get to experience this for three minutes at different shows around the world and then take that back to their company, says, "Why aren't we doing this. Why do we have methane leaks? It's so easy to fix." That's great because we were able to ... VR's called the empathy machine. We're able to get them to empathize and persuade them to take this action more than if I just sat down and talked to them about it.

James McNeal:

How would that process work? Do you have to have somebody on the ground who's obviously there?

Sam Decker:

It's physical, yeah, yeah. But you put on a headset ... But the thing, you asked who's winning. Why Facebook is winning: the Go is 200 bucks and the Quest is 400 bucks and we can ship it anywhere and just put it on and play the experience.

James McNeal:

Yeah, that can change any business.

Sam Decker:

Or people eventually have them at their home and just load up that experience. But yeah, Quest is sold out right now. There's definitely demand. It's not as widespread as the Xbox or something like that, but you can see with more applications and more content just like ... Why did the Mac take off? Because of the software. We started off with Mac right and some ... Was it PageMaker or some desktop publishing? I had the Mac SE in '88 and it was like little things. Now look what we got. Everyone has a computer.

James McNeal:

Yeah, smartphone. Yeah, there's so many different ways you could do that mobiley, on the go. Execs getting on a plane and watching what's happening in real time.

Sam Decker:

Yeah, so when you see that. When you see, okay, hardware, platform, internet, but then all the things come together that make it truly useful and impactful you can see the wave coming. It's like, where do you want to be in it. That's why I started-

James McNeal:

Where do you see y'all fitting in?

Sam Decker:

For example, Interplay has a great fit in the skilled labor place where the average age is 58 and there's going to be a big turnover and there's no shortage of need to fix HVAC electric plumbing. Here's the new way rather than going onsite and doing sort of protegee training is people can at their home do 3D simulations on their laptop, their iPad or put it in VR. It'll be the new way of training physical process and this'll be the platform to do it.

Sam Decker:

Then Fair Worlds is, we're serving many different verticals, mostly for things product marketing and sales related because it's an empathy machine. Some training, but when we get in with a client is for example one of our clients Poolcorp, I was building our house and doing a pool in the backyard. The builder gives me a small pool tile and I say, "How can I see what this looks like? I don't know what this is going to look like in the pool, in the backyard." So, I email the CMO of this large pool tile company and say, "You should have an augmented reality configurator of pools so I can visualize this." She sent it to the team. They happened to have budget. Long story short, six months later we've launched an augmented reality pool configurator so you can place a pool in your backyard, choose tiles, see what it looks like, send it to your builder, send it to your spouse, streamline the process of what it would like to have a pool in your backyard. That's the beginning of their evolution. They announced to the analysts and everyone's excited so now we're continuing [crosstalk 00:39:43]-

James McNeal:

How lucky was that company that they did your pool?

Sam Decker:

Yeah, yeah.

James McNeal:

You kind of set them in the future right there. They hit a goal mine.

Sam Decker:

It's one way to do business development is to actually use the products.

James McNeal:

Hey, luck happens.

Sam Decker:

Yeah, right. For sure.

James McNeal:

Yeah, that's an interesting way to think ... Well, to apply all that you're talking about. I think the space is going to change. I think there's a lot of ways you can do business virtually now like you said in augmented realities or virtual reality in that case. Do you see that impacting the business side, like just the way it's done? I mean, the way things are changing right now I know ... Heck, we already talked about it, coronavirus is something that is causing people to go, "You know what? I don't want to travel or go on a plane for this meeting," or my wife who's in Columbus yesterday, they was a business there that wasn't accepting anybody out of state to come into their business. Okay, well this is the shift maybe.

Sam Decker:

Yeah, it's interesting because times like this ... I see all growth and you probably see this with traffic and I saw this with eCommerce is you get peaks, you get [inaudible 00:40:50] inflection points that create peaks. Let's say you do a big campaign, you see a big jump and then it normalizes, comes down a bit. Then another peak and another ... So, it's nothing linear. Here we're going through an inflection point where so many companies are figuring out how to do things remotely. The question is how will that change after the virus goes away. It's got to change behavior in some way, and obviously we got here where we're using Zoom and Lifesize and all these platforms already. So, there have been inflection points that got us here and now here's another one. So-

James McNeal:

The need is higher right now.

Sam Decker:

Yeah. The need is higher so people get used to it and say, "Oh, this is not so bad." They'll try different technologies. They'll get training on how to do web presentations better, et cetera, et cetera. All that activity is going to lead to decisions coming up next. Those activities will lead to something next. Then when technology, when VR, putting on a headset and getting in a conference room like this and looking at either your fake avatars or your real personas or you want to make yourself look better, there's a lot of things you could do. That will become more normalized. Ultimately the way I look at trends is to think about how does it get to that path of normalized and where are we now. It's pretty normal to do Webex who's been around a long time. Actually, one of the companies where we launched three products and they were all 10 years too early, one of them was web meetings back in 1998. It was too early. It was 10 years too early. Then 10 years later Webex comes out and gets bought by Cisco. It was like, "That was one of our products. That could have been us if we were 10 years later." Webex and now Zoom and now other ... It's just exploded. Now we're on the next inflection point.

James McNeal:

That's interesting. Well, I guess what is the next step for your companies? Is it partnering with the Facebook's of the world? I know you already use their products but yeah, how do you monetize so that you could be ... I know that's the magic question, but how you could be the next big [crosstalk 00:42:59]-

Sam Decker:

Well, with the agency ... It's typical agency service. We build experiences, custom content, and then we continue to build software and continue on with the client in different directions it can go. Part of what's next is just working with more large brand like this to be their partner on this evolution. Along the way we may find software. Building experience is also building software that could be spun off. That was part of the assumption, we don't know. But it's got to get to the point where oh, here is something I think a lot of people will buy. That this timing of this software, immersive reality will sell. Then we'll decide on that. Interplay is that spot. Interplay, after eight years of doing it, and they went through several things and then they got a CTO that came from Pixar and they built a backend to create training in a faster way on top of Unity and the skilled labor markets going through this major ... All of that came together to this moment where they now can get series A and five VC's behind them and off to the races. At that point it's just execution: sell, market you've got a product, just keep growing it and then expand from there and go in to other regions and other verticals much like we did at Bazaarvoice.

James McNeal:

Yeah. Well, you never sleep, right. You have so many things going on right now there's probably not time to take a break.

Sam Decker:

I definitely try to sleep. That's important too.

James McNeal:

Yes, you need to keep your health. Are y'all partaking in South by Southwest? Are y'all doing any of the-

Sam Decker:

If it happens, yeah. There's an immersive reality event that Josh [Rubins 00:44:37] putting on for MEDIA ATX. So, I think we might show off some of our stuff there. But nothing too-

James McNeal:

Good. Yeah, I'll definitely find it. Is there any, I guess, place that people could find more information about y'all?

Sam Decker:

Google MEDIA ATX and there'll probably be something about their South by event.

James McNeal:

Great. Yeah, I hope to see you there. I'm hoping to go. I don't have a mask purchased right now. I don't think that's a need, but apparently they're sold out on Amazon anyway so I can't get one.

Sam Decker:

Sure. No, you don't need that. You just need to wash your hands every time you can.

James McNeal:

20 seconds is what I've been told.

Sam Decker:

Yes. Yeah.

James McNeal:

If there's long lines at the restroom it's because people are washing their hands.

Sam Decker:

Yeah, for sure.

James McNeal:

Well Sam, this has been a pleasure. I really appreciate you coming on The Q and really informing us and somewhat creeping us out. But this is exciting stuff about the future and I think a lot of people are going to enjoy listening to it.

Sam Decker:

Good. Well thanks for having me.

James McNeal:

Yeah, appreciate it.

Sam Decker:

Yep.

James McNeal:

This episode of the podcast is brought to you by Q1Media. Q1Media partners with agencies and brands all across the nation for all their digital marketing needs whether it's CTV, OTT, location based mobile device ID targeting, search engine marketing, targeted display, any research and data that you need, whatever it is Q1Media can help with your marketing efforts. Please check out Q1Media's website at Q1media.com. That's Q, the number one, media.com. You can view case studies, examples of our work or just check out more episodes of the podcast The Q: Conversations in Digital Media.

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