While Meta and other companies are creating virtual and augmented realities online, Sandbox VR is bringing an immersive metaverse experience to a location near you. The Hong Kong and Silicon Valley-based company, founded by CEO Steve Zhao, created technology that makes you feel as if you are in a blockbuster action movie.
The experience is conducted in a retail environment, as opposed to the internet. Think of when you played laser tag with friends as a kid, then add in massive high-definition steroids with Hollywood flare and 3D action.
The idea is for friends and families to go to a local mall, get equipped with proper gear and experience an Avengers-type of adventure in virtual reality. The tech company combines sophisticated “motion capture in real time with virtual reality technology to create a new medium that is the closest thing to the Star Trek holodeck that exists.” Sandbox VR is delivering it to your neighborhood—coming soon.
The holodeck is derived from star trek, which used holograms—projected light and electromagnetic energy that create the illusion of solid objects—to create a realistic 3D simulation of anything you’d like to see. The participants in this experience interact with the environment, as well as objects and characters, follow along with a set storyline or go on their own journey. The Sandbox experience can be thought of as “better” reality, compared to other forms of virtual reality. It’s an experience where you can be what you want to be and go wherever you want to go.
The company started in a cramped office in a nondescript neighborhood, with a little money and a small team. Like many startups, there were challenges and setbacks. At one point, Zhao thought he might not be able to build his dream business. Apropos for a company building a big-screen, VR-action adventure, a serendipitous conversation changed his and Sandbox VR’s life.
Down on his luck, feeling that he’d never get his dream turned into virtual reality, he had a chance encounter with someone who changed his life. Zhao said he bumped into a guy who said, “I heard you make games. If you make VR games, I’ll invest in you. I can also get my friends to invest in you.” Writing on his blog, Zhao said about this fortuitous event, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality,” quoting a lyric from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Receiving some funding from the person, along with Zhao’s savings, money raised from family, friends and acquaintances, he thought this concept may actually come together. They started building retail space to showcase the enhanced VR-action experience.
Over time, Sandbox VR developed “real-time multiplayer inverse kinematics technology to capture, animate and render people with full-body motion capture in virtual reality.” It became a hit, as TripAdvisor’s No. 1 activity in Hong Kong. Now, at a Sandbox VR theater location, you can enjoy a 30-minute, full-body, free-roam, virtual-reality experience.
Once again, adversity struck. The VR theater seemed like it could be crushed by the Covid-19 outbreak. People had to socially distance, and coming together at places like Sandbox VR’s location-based virtual reality experiences just wasn’t going to happen. The company had to file for Chapter 11 protection.
Zhao’s story can relate to your career and job search. When asked about all of the difficulties he encountered in his journey, Zhao said, “Failure was not an option.” He knew that he had to do whatever it takes. Zhao shared his mindset on how to prevail, which you can model as well. He “works backward.” This means that Zhao looks into the future first, visualizing his long-term goal. Then, the tech CEO retraces the steps needed to get there. For instance, when the pandemic made his retail theater operations close down, he had to take action. When he asked landlords for breaks, they said they’re hurting too because of the virus outbreak and were considering filing for bankruptcy protection. While this wasn’t in the plans, Zhao pursued this route too.
Zhao and the team hunkered down, as people were sheltering at home and not venturing out, especially to a place where you couldn’t socially distance and needed to wear headgear. They were mindful of each step they were taking to conserve cash, stay afloat and thinking of how to rebuild. Fortunately, they booked events in advance. Around 90% of customers already paid for tickets, which offered a cushion and some time to wait out the pandemic.
Perseverance, not giving up in the face of adversity, envisioning your future and reverse engineering all of the steps needed to get you where you want to go can apply to your job search or advancing in your career.
This mindset helped Zhao reemerge his company from bankruptcy proceedings, leading to the reopening of all of its locations, including a high-profile space in Las Vegas. Venture capitalists and investors stepped in with a “significant Series A round of financing led by Andrew Chen from Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from Mike Maples and Floodgate, Stanford University, TriplePoint Capital, CRCM and Alibaba.” The funding will enable Sandbox VR plans to expand to locations worldwide.