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Have you been disappointed by trade shows and conferences being canceled or postponed? Have you wondered how some of these events are going virtual? I speak with Glenn Sanford, chief strategy officer of VirBELA, about the company’s platform and its impact on events.
Dan Beaulieu: Glenn, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. Tell us about VirBELA.
Glenn Sanford: VirBELA is a 3D virtual platform for events, learning, meetings, and work. Users download a desktop application that gives them access to a virtual world where they can explore and interact with other users. After customizing an avatar, they navigate using their arrow keys or by “teleporting” to different spaces, such as an auditorium, expo hall, meeting room, or even the beach. Virtual reality is a natural medium for 3D world environments, and the platform supports VR headsets, which is an important point of differentiation from 2D event platforms that don’t. Visitors can also enjoy the environment via a browser on their computer.
Beaulieu: What need did you see that led you to produce VirBELA?
Sanford: Remote teams and groups often feel isolated. While meetings can be conducted on web conferencing platforms, remote individuals are often missing casual interactions with others. We were tired of the lack of a sense of togetherness, the lack of shared space, and the missing community elements that come with a bustling office or college campus. There are many benefits to working remotely, including decreased overhead costs, a positive impact on the environment, and the ability to hire and work with anyone regardless of physical location, so we built VirBELA to provide a collaborative space for groups of any size.
Beaulieu: How did you build this platform?
Sanford: It was developed in Unity, a powerful gaming platform. However, the spaces and features are all built for the world of remote work, education, and virtual events.
Beaulieu: What was the process for bringing it to the market?
Sanford: It was initially funded through a grant program at UCSD, and the platform was later acquired by our parent company eXp World Holdings (Nasdaq EXPI).
Beaulieu: What is your background?
Sanford: After being involved with a number of internet start-ups in the 1990s and early 2000s, including a stint at AOL, I started a real estate career in 2002. After the downturn of 2008, my team and I developed eXp Realty, the first cloud-based brokerage model-abandoning the bricks and mortar infrastructure normally associated with real estate brokerages. eXp Realty utilizes VirBELA as an online office to collaborate and communicate.
Beaulieu: What makes VirBELA different from other similar products?
Sanford: Unlike other remote collaboration platforms, VirBELA provides a 3D platform with a spatialized voice, meaning you can hear people who are closest to your avatar. This gives users a sense of togetherness and shared space. It also offers team building activities and games.
Beaulieu: Who are your customers?
Sanford: Our customers include remote teams that need private space to collaborate or companies that like private virtual campus offices. Our customers also include colleges and other learning organizations—such as Stanford Graduate School of Business—that need a space for students to learn, communicate, and work together, as well as event planners who want to develop and host virtual trade shows and expositions.
Beaulieu: How are you marketing VirBELA?
Sanford: The pandemic is causing a seismic shift away from the traditional office and the way we learn, putting a halt to events around the world and changing the way humans connect. VirBELA has been used in the first half of 2020 for hosting large-scale virtual events, business conferences, and online educational programs.
We market VirBELA as a builder of virtual worlds, complete with offices, auditoriums, meeting rooms, classrooms, event spaces, and more. We enable our customers to bring together remote groups of any size in a 3D environment to collaborate, work, play, and socialize. No matter who you are, what you’re interested in, or where you are in the world, you can meet with other people with similar interests. Our vision is to make the world even smaller and more connected, where distance becomes irrelevant, time is relative as offices and classrooms are safely open 24/7, and people from around the globe can come together to learn, create, inspire, and share.
Beaulieu: Where do you see the company in the next few years?
Sanford: We anticipate an increase in remote interactions for teams, learning institutions, and events. We will see prominent growth in the upcoming months and years by providing a solution to make these groups feel more connected. We work closely with our customers to anticipate what they need even before they know they need it. Our software engineers are already working on new functionalities and social features to heighten the immersive 3D experience. Stay tuned!
Beaulieu: How can our readers experience VirBELA?
Sanford: They can go to our website and visit our “open campus” for free at any time.
Beaulieu: Thanks for talking with me today.
Sanford: Thank you.
Glenn Sanford is the founder of eXp Realty, CEO of eXp World Holdings Inc., and chief strategy officer for VirBELA.