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In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights video, Amanda Razani speaks with David Whelan, Founder and CEO of Engage XR about the evolution of jobs within the metaverse.



Amanda Razani: Hello, I’m Amanda Razani with Digital CxO and I’m excited to be here today with David Whelan. He is the founder and CEO of Engage XR. How are you doing today?

David Whelan: I’m good. I’m delighted to be here.

Amanda Razani: Can you tell me a little bit about your business and what you do?

David Whelan: Yeah, so we are a metaverse company and we’re building – well, we have a platform that enables customers to build their own metaverses. So we hear a lot about the metaverse today; when people talk about metaverse they think it’s all about Facebook. But in reality, what we’re talking about is the evolution of the internet. So the internet today is a very solo experience where you go online, you look at webpages and, by yourself, you look at photographs and text pages. Whereas the internet of tomorrow, the metaverse, is a very social experience where you’re in these virtual locations with other users walking around as virtual people. And that’s exactly what we’re enabling; and we’re enabling this for professional clients, enterprise clients and education clients.

And that’s the area that we specialize in, whereas there’s going to be lots of different platforms for different areas. Like Facebook is very much in the social aspect; you’re going to have metaverses for dating, metaverses for sports, so it’s pretty much an evolution of how we communicate online.

Amanda Razani: Okay, and you recently said that Microsoft’s work trend index for this year stated that several of the respondents, the Gen Z respondents, I think 51 percent, believe they’re going to have a job or be working partially through the metaverse. So can you share a little bit about that, and what do you think the future of the workforce looks like as far as factoring in the metaverse?

David Whelan: Okay, so if we were maybe speaking back and imagining it’s 1993 again and the internet is just starting off. This is, in fact, a fairly similar time period now for this for the metaverse. Whereas back in 1993 if you asked somebody about the internet and the types of jobs that were going to become available and the change that it was going to have on the world, you would get very similar responses to the responses that you’re getting now. So when the metaverse is being used more and more, you’re going to have people who are going to be working from home remotely as they – a lot of people do today. But instead of ever going into a physical office, they’ll go into a virtual office.

And you can see your work colleagues there, you can do your training, your onboarding, and you can make those social connections that you would do in a physical office. Make friends with co-workers, maybe go out for virtual beers or go to concerts in an immersive environment; the same kind of things you would do in a physical office. So I do think that the days of physical offices are certainly going to be numbered. But there’s also going to be other jobs as well where – we do a lot of events, inside Engage corporate events, and it’s fairly similar to a physical event business where we have event greeters who would bring people in. We train people on how to present properly, we have set designers for setting up the stages. So everything you do in the physical world you can do in the virtual metaverse world as well, depending on the devices that you’re using.

You’re also going to have a meta force; so the internet today is fairly free and open. And it really is the wild west and it’s great in some ways, but in other ways, there’s places in the internet that I would not dare go to because there’s a lot of trolling, hate speech, and there can be a lot of crazy people out there. Because they pretty much can post whatever they like and it’s anonymous, so there’s no ramifications. Where in the metaverse when you’re standing in these virtual locations that look and feel real and you’re standing in front of other people, you don’t want people in your face trolling you and screaming abuse at you. So you’re going to need a level of security and some of the professional locations where you might have people logged in, as I said like the meta force, who can mute people’s audio or kick people out if they’re messing. Because there’s going to be loads of different jobs in that; a lot of stuff that we haven’t even thought of today will become very, very popular and places to generate revenue and to generate income for a person.

Amanda Razani: Right, and that brings up a lot of points, first of all, yes, level of security is just going to increase the need for security. And I think right now there’s not really a lot of policy or regulation surrounding the metaverse. So what are your thoughts on that, and how quickly are we going to see some regulations or policies surrounding the metaverse?

David Whelan: So I don’t know about policies or regulation, that’s very much on a government level. But I do think that there should be responsibility, social responsibility for the people who own these meta worlds. So what we’re enabling, and we’re working with companies like Unilever and 3M, they have their own meta worlds. And they’re using them for internal employee training and events. But we have our own metaverse platform called Engage link where these meta worlds can actually be explorable by the general public. And we’re putting in features that allow each metaverse owner to put in their own laws.

So they can have a dress code, for example, going into one of these locations. They can mute audio for any free users that come in if they’re not verified. They can set the rules themselves; the same as governments would set the rules in the real, physical world. And we definitely need that level of plain control in these places because, again, it’s not a solitary experience. And even the internet today as a solitary experience can actually hurt a lot of people. You often hear of online bullying, so imagine how much more visceral that could be if you’re actually standing next to people and they’re doing the same kind of targeted attacks on people just because they could be from a different race, or they might have a different viewpoint. So we definitely need to be very mindful of making these worlds very secure and safe for everybody.

Amanda Razani: So when it comes to business, are there – do you have some examples of any specific industries that are utilizing the metaverse currently? And are there any industries that are exempt or should all businesses be looking at harnessing the metaverse?

David Whelan: All businesses really should be looking at the metaverse, the same as all businesses look at an online strategy today. And, again, it is an evolution so the companies who are out there today trailblazing, making mistakes, learning; they’re learning quite a lot. Those are the companies that are going to succeed in this space in the future. So it should not, certainly not be ignored by any sector. And so many use cases that we’re seeing quite often on our platform are onboarding; so one of the companies I mentioned has been 3M. So they have an issue with remote work where a lot of work – they were hiring a lot of new employees during the pandemic. But these employees, then they had a lot of turnover, because these employees never felt connected to the organization because they never had those office connections as I was saying.

Whereas 3M created this onboarding experience where they go into a virtual cave, and they look around and they can see these two virtual people mining a mineral, and then it falls to dust and it’s glass dust. And they scratch their head and they’re going what are we going to do with this dust? They glue it on some paper and they invent sandpaper and that’s how 3M was born. And as they walk through the cave simulation, they’re being greeted then by these HR representatives and they’re meeting other employees and they’re making those connections. And that’s really helped them give people a sense of the company and the ethos of the company that they’re joining from the very beginning.

And then they hold daily stand ups and on-board sessions and the likes in there. So that’s one use case, and another is virtual events. Where a lot of businesses, again during the pandemic, used video platforms where they’d have  people logged in and they’d say, “Hey, we’re holding a virtual event remotely.” But all the participants were doing was watching PowerPoint presentations, and they weren’t really engaged and there was no interaction. The reason people go to physical events is those one-off conversations, or to bump into somebody and strike up a conversation. And that’s how you connect and do business.

That was missing, so in Engage, we had virtual events where you can stand up, get out of the audience, walk down a virtual corridor into an exhibition hall and have a one-on-one private conversation with maybe a sales representative or somebody you bump into. So that connection that was missing from the virtual world or the video streaming work, we were actually replicating then in the virtual world the same as you would in a physical location. And there are just two examples.

Amanda Razani: That’s awesome! So it felt like you’re really there in the room having that actual conversation in person.

David Whelan: Exactly, so if were inside Engage now, I would literally feel like I’m two feet away from you and I could shake your hand, and we wouldn’t even have the podcast in a normal room. We’d probably go to the surface of Mars, or we’d sit on top of a dragon, or we could – we’re only really limited by our imagination, which is really cool.

Amanda Razani: Yes, and I’ve heard a lot of retail stores are looking to use it for setting up shops just for that work. So it’s like you’re actually shopping in real life, trying on clothes, and looking through clothes.

David Whelan: Yeah, they are. I’ve seen a few but would I would say to some of these retailers is a bit of a word of caution. So if you’re setting up like a store the same as a physical store, people don’t even like going to physical stores and walking around and picking up items off a shelf. It’s a hassle. People, especially the younger generation, they like going on Amazon just typing in what they want, get it immediately, look at the reviews. Okay, I’m going to get that, that’s an easier thing than actually walking around a virtual shop. What you want to do is give them an experience, so it’s like going into the Apple shop as an example.

That’s an experience where you go in, it’s very ___, you’re looked after really well. Or walking into maybe a car showroom like a Ferrari showroom, as an example, where you can sit in the car, and you can maybe put in for a test drive. These are the types of store experiences that people want in the metaverse. They don’t want a replication of here’s 50 products on a shelf; pick up one and go to a virtual cash register. Because why would you do that, it’s easier just to go on a place like Amazon and type in what you want.

Amanda Razani: Right, that’s very true, good point. So are there any roles you think will become obsolete with the introduction of the metaverse down the road?

David Whelan: Not obsolete, but I do think that especially with the green agenda now, we can certainly see a lot of physical buildings being replaced. So imagine virtual banking as an example, so instead of going to a bank in your high street, walking in to meet representative there in the physical building; you could do that virtually. Where you go into the virtual branch, you go in, we talk about your meeting, and you could actually probably go in virtual reality and go see the house with the meeting broker and walk around it internally. So it opens up a lot of options. And I do think it could certainly reduce carbon footprint where you have less people traveling in and out of work.

So the term digital nomad I know has been around quite a while, but I do think that will become more and more popular. Where you can work from anywhere, you can attend your daily standups from anywhere in the world in a virtual setting and still feel like you’re part of the organization. You don’t need to travel two, three hours a day being stuck in traffic or live in a really expensive city. So, hopefully, it will reduce living costs for people because they can live anywhere.

Amanda Razani: Well that’s so interesting, real quick, what do you think the timeline is for honestly mass adoption where everybody is using the metaverse, it’s very normalized, and we all know what it is and use it?

David Whelan: Yeah, so we’re kind of living in a proto-metaverse right now. So we have people remote working, and a lot of work is done through the internet. So again, the metaverse is just an evolution of the internet. The metaverse is not VR headsets, it’s not cryptocurrency, it’s not NFTs. These are tools that could be used within the metaverse or to consume the metaverse in some way. But they’re not actually the metaverse; the metaverse is the next generation of the internet. And if you’re asking about VR headset adoption, currently right now the headsets are very, very heavy, front heavy. So I have an Oculus Quest, for example, a fantastic device, really powerful, good experience, but it is a little bit heavy on your face if you’re wearing it for over an hour.

There are devices coming which are more and more like glasses; they’re going to become lighter. I’ve already seen prototypes of contact lenses that can give you a virtual reality experience. So we are very far along in the technology, it’s just making it less expensive for people to get these products. So I think in the next three to five years you’re going to see, start seeing mass adoption. But even as things stand right now, there’s – I think Oculus, even though they haven’t stated official numbers, they’ve sold seven, between 17 and 25 million Quest 2’s. The very first iPhone sold about 20 million units. So how long did it take the iPhone to go from where it is to mass adoption? I think it was about three iterations, so if we follow that development path along, we are looking somewhere in the region of three to five years before there’s truly mass adoption of wearable and consumable devices for VR entertainment and AR entertainment.

Amanda Razani: And honestly, that’s pretty quick; that’s right around the corner. And when you mentioned contact lenses, that is amazing to me that that is possible; that is really cool.

David Whelan: Well, I’ll make a prediction actually, I’m sorry for butting in there. So Elon Musk is trying to get someone to walk on Mars in the next three to five years. So let’s say it’s five years away, so I’m going to make two predictions. So my first prediction is that, and again if you look back to 1969 when the Apollo moon landing happened, I’m a massive space fanatic. Not a lot of people owned a TV before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. It was a luxury item. But then when the moon landing happened, a billion people on the earth, I think was like a quarter of the population of the earth actually watched the moon landing live. And then mass adoption of TV happened.

So when that first person takes their first footsteps on Mars, you’re going to have the option to either watch it on a nice plasma 8K screen if you want, or you can put on a VR wearable device and actually stand on the surface of Mars, because there’ll be 360 cameras streaming it, and see that person walk off and feel like you’re standing right next to them. That will be the option. And when that happens, you’re going to see a mass adoption I think of wearable devices. And then the second prediction is that person is going to be a woman.

Amanda Razani: Wow, okay. Well, we have your predictions and I look forward to seeing how those play out. And I really enjoyed speaking with you today. Thank you so much for coming on, David.

David Whelan: No problem, thank you, Amanda, good talking to you.

Amanda Razani: Thank you.