It’s Okay to be Small, with Virtual Reality Marketing’s Terry Proto (2023)

Don’t let hisimpressive stature fool you; Virtual Reality Marketing CEO TerryProto knows that, in an industry where there’s a ton of use cases andmany roles to fill, it doesn’t hurt to be small. Heck, it usuallypays to be! Terry joins Alan in a chat about how companies can bestfind their niche in the XR realm.

Alan: Welcome to the XR forBusiness Podcast with your host, Alan Smithson. Today’s guest is theone and only: Terry Proto. He’s the CEO of Virtual Reality Marketing.Terry is an award winning digital imaging and digital games producer.He has over 15 years of production and sales experience in the US,Europe and Asia. And he’s been creating images since the very firstversion of 3D Studio back in the 90s, and has evolved over the yearsworking on myriad projects, including agency work and other productsand project endeavors. In a previous life, he struggled with gettingclients and visibility consistently for his own creative studio,despite the quality of his work. And after connecting with a lot ofCEOs in the XR space, he realized that his problem was a widespreadproblem. So for the past two years, Terry and his team have been on amission to help studios and brands better connect for everyone’sbenefit. To learn more about his company, Virtual, go to It is my absolutepleasure to welcome Terry to the show.

Welcome to the show, Terry.

Terry: Hey, Alan. Well, thankyou very much. I love the intro. It’s really an honor to be on yourpodcast today.

Alan: Thank you. It’s such anhonor to have you on the podcast. I know we finally got to meet inperson for the first time at AWE — Augmented World Expo — what,about three weeks ago now?

Terry: Yeah. We connect with somany people, and it’s all digital and it’s all remote. So it trulyfeels good to shake someone’s hand now. [chuckles]

Alan: I got a hug from you,which was awesome.

Terry: [laughs] Exactly.

Alan: You are a very strong man.I don’t know if you’re benchpressing Volkswagens in your spare time,but those of you who know Terry; he’s a very large, solid dude. Notjust in physical stature, but in mindfulness and everything. And hispassion shows through in the work that he does. I really want tostart digging into that. So tell us about Virtual Reality Marketing,and talk about how you got into this.

Terry: I think you nailed it inthe intro. It really started with my problem as a producer. And youknow, when you’re a producer, you’re in your own silo and you’reworking on those products and you’ve got your clients, your team,you’re flying around for business meetings and events. And youconnect with people, but it’s more superficial. And when I stoppedbeing a producer, I took a step back and I started talking to a lotof people. And that’s when I realized that my problem was — Iwouldn’t say everyone’s problem, but very common problem — and Ilooked around and I couldn’t find a solution for myself for years.And I figured it would be time to hack all this and solve this foreveryone.

Alan: So what is the solutionthat Virtual Reality Marketing is doing? You’re connecting agenciesand big brands with studios. Is that correct?

Terry: Yeah, exactly. Simplyput, Virtual Reality Marketing, we’re the most comprehensivedirectory of AR, VR, 360 studios. And we are also focusing onbuilding the largest XR case studies library. Right now we’re closeto 150 on the site, and we are on track to have 500 by next year. Theproblem that we try to tackle is that… I like to analogize, I liketo say that VR is an hydra, as in it as many heads, and you don’tknow what to do with this thing. And VR is still very much a unicorn,as in everybody talks about it, but few people have actually seen it.And that’s where we come in. So on one hand, we have brands andadvertisers and anyone who’s interested in XR, to get involved inimmersives. At this point, those guys realized they need to getinvolved, but they don’t know where to start. And it’s difficult forthem to find partners they can trust. And when you’re spending, Idon’t know, $50,000 on a budget for XR project, you want to make sureyou’re spending your money at the right place.

Alan: Agreed. That’s one of theproblems that we are trying to solve with this very podcast.

Terry: Exactly.

Alan: Let’s unpack that. Ifyou’re a brand that wants to start using virtual augmented realityfor marketing, what’s the first thing that you would recommend tothem?

Terry: Well, the first thing is,get informed. It’s knowing about the studios. And that’s the focus wehave on the case studies right now. It’s all about this. It’s like,say, I’m a brand or a company because it works for… say I’m atraining company, and I’m working in medical. And I want to buildthis project. I don’t know if it’s possible. I had the case literallylast week. Clients are coming, they’re like, “Hey, we’ve gotthis idea. We don’t know if it’s possible. Is it realistic? Is itunrealistic?” So, first step: looking for the case studies ofwhat are people doing around us. And right now, it’s not like twoyears ago. We’re in this world where we have the case studies. Wehave the experience. We can demonstrate the ROI. We can demonstratethe benefits. And we’re collecting all of this information to shareit easily. So short answer to your question: first step, see therelevant case studies in your industry, it’s going to inspire you,and answer tons of questions. Start from there.

Alan: I just noticed — I wasscrolling through the site as you were talking — and one of thecompanies that we invested in, 3D Food And Drink, is on there.

Terry: Yeah, so… [laughs] It’sone of the cool things of what we do. It’s like I said, we connectwith so many people and then we are like, I’m talking with you andyou’re like, “Hey, this is our product.” And I’m like, “Oh,wow, we didn’t even know about it, but great.” That’s the wholepoint. I love when I hear that. It means we’re doing a great job.

Alan: So how do you monetize?What is your business model?

Terry: In terms of businessmodel, we really do two things. On one hand, we have the contentcreators. We have them connect with studios. So we have them throughthe websites. We can give them more visibility through the websitewith several packages, share more content, be on top of the listbeyond the home page. We have also a consulting offer, where we candive deep with a studio. It’s not for everyone. It’s for selectstudios who are solving mission-critical problems for their clients.There, we can build an advanced lead-generation strategy, connectwith a large number of leads. It’s really basically taking all ofyour business developments and we’re handling this for you, startingfrom the strategy, all the way to the living leads to the studios.

For brands and advertisers, it’s reallyall about connecting with relevant companies they can trust. We’vegot brands, advertisers — again, anyone interested in using AR andVR — connecting with us and saying, “we’ve got this project. Wedon’t even know if it’s realistic or not. But tell us.” Andbased on what they share with us, we can make a recommendation of,those are the right studios that you want to work with, becausethey’ve got the track record; because they’ve got the expertise;because they’ve got the portfolio. And then we work on commission forthe recommendations.

Alan: Ok. That’s pretty awesome.What about companies that are just starting out? How do the smallerstudios and startups start to build that book of business and casestudy library?

Terry: That’s a good question.And you know what? It’s still a world of small VR companies. So thefirst thing I should say is, it’s OK to be small. I know we’ve beensmall for a long time and in France — so not in the US — and we’vekind of got that small company complex. It’s okay. It’s okay to besmall. There are so many things to do in this industry. Everyone isstarting, and you need to start somewhere. The most important [thing]is focus and relevance. You don’t want to be everything for everyone.“The jack of all trades, master of none?” That’s something yousee a lot in VR. You want to focus on one problem and become theexpert at solving this problem for your clients with AR, VR and othertech, you don’t need to restrict yourself to VR. Actually, the mostsuccessful companies are integrating VR into a larger vision.

Alan: What would an example ofthat be?

Terry: Location-basedentertainment. You have your VR experience, and it’s the center andthe core experience. But at the same time, you’re selling t-shirtsand you’re selling drinks, which is completely low-tech and hasnothing to do with VR. But it’s okay for your clients. If it’s Fridaynight and I want to go with my friends for some high-techentertainment, and I start to do a laser tag and then I’m going to doVR. And then it’s Friday, so we’re going to have drinks. And theexperience was cool, so I’m gonna get a t-shirt and gift it to myfriends. It’s a holistic experience. It’s not just about VR. It’sabout them, what they get from it.

Alan: I’ve seen a lot oflocation based entertainment facilities where they just set up somesmall square rooms with a VIVE in it. And that’s great. But whatreally blew me away was when I was in Dubai at VR Park, and theybuilt the whole experience around each activity. So it may be thesame VIVE as you would play in a small 10×10 room. But for example,the John Wick VR experience, and there’s like a bank vault and you’reactually going into a physical set. People don’t think about thatwhen they’re setting up these experiences. And I think it’s reallyimportant to just get everybody really excited about this technologybefore they put it on their heads. And it just adds to the wholeallure of it.

Terry: Exactly, exactly. It’snot just about VR. It’s about the overall experience and the overallservice for your clients. And it works everywhere. You’ve got this LBexample, but you have your training example on the other side of thespectrum, where you’re training people. And what matters is that theyget the best experience, so some of the information you will want tohave on iPhone and iPad. Some of the reporting you will want to haveon the Web and some of the most expensive, most complicated, mostdangerous experiences you will want to do in VR. But again, it’s awhole. And it’s not just VR. It’s also everything else.

Alan: Yeah, absolutely. So inthe last month, what’s the best virtual reality or augmented realitymarketing experience that you’ve seen?

Terry: Ok. So, you know, in ourcase, our job is to pretty much see all of them, at least as much aspossible. So it’s really a difficult question for me to answerbecause I have to pick one.

Alan: That’s why I picked thequestion!

Terry: [laughs] But if I have topick one, I’ll give you… for instance, I tend to prefer the onesthat are smart, and fun, and really solve a problem. So in the lastfew weeks, we got this experience from a Brazilian studio, VZ Lab,and it’s the VR vaccine experience. And I love it because it’s cleverand funny and it’s solving a real problem. It’s the problem ofvaccination with children. Huge problem for the parents; they’refighting with the children. And the children, some of them areliterally traumatized by the things, they’re crying. Problem with thenurses, because you have to deal with conflict day in and day out.

Long story short, the studio createdthis experience, which is synced with what the nurse is doing in realtime. So for the children, they are plunged into this immersiveadventure all in 3D, it’s beautiful. And they’re going to be given ashield. The children is being warned that he’s gonna be bitten bysomething and it’s gonna be okay. And in real time, the nurse isdoing the injection. It works like a charm. It’s beautiful. And youask the children, they’re like, “oh, my God, that was amazing. Iloved it.” No cries. No screams. No nothing. And it’s 180degrees of something that is a huge problem for everyone. And it’sbeen turned into a fun, cool experience. It’s incredible.

Alan: My daughter, she’s 11, andshe is literally terrified of needles.

Terry: Like I said; smart, fun,really solving a problem. It’s great. But just to give you anotherone, on the other end of the spectrum. Children again. So this onenot as glamorous, but super useful. This time we’re talking about atherapeutic training tool and it’s about understanding the changes inthe brain of a child who was suffered childhood trauma. And I thinkthis one is built by UK studio, Ignition. And basically you’re livingthe experience through the eyes of the child, and you see yourparents fighting, and the isolation, and the tears and everything.And in the meantime, it’s superimposed with the brain activity andyou see how the brain is being restructured in real time, based onthe experiences the child has lived.

Alan: Wow.

Terry: And you get a differentbrain. So it’s really understanding and showing you how every littledetail in your family life is impacting your children and how tochange those behaviors, because especially when you’re young, thebrain is plastic. And those are very strong connections that arereally difficult. Or nearly impossible, I should say. So, anothergreat one.

Alan: They’re on such widespectrums of the technology. One of the things that I think is it isan issue with our industry in general — and I think maybe you canaddress this — is these are great experiences, but how are companiesmeasuring the success of these? Are they doing it through earnedmedia captures? Are they doing it through number of people thatthey’ve put through the experience? What are you seeing as far as theanalytics and metrics around this?

Terry: It’s a good question. AndI think the best answer I can give you is there’s noone-size-fits-all answer. I think in training, one of the bestmetrics you can get is… I’ll give you one of my favorite points. Ithink it’s PIXO VR, they are doing some of the best of the safetytraining, like first responders training, firefighters training. Andit’s something that’s simply really difficult and dangerous toexperience in real life. So success here is just having theexperience, they’re building this amazing cinematic experience, whichis exciting. It’s really literally like being in a movie. But it’suseful. It’s saving lives, because you’ve got a better team. They arebetter trained. You can’t train those people like this in real lifebecause you would be putting their lives in danger. And becausethey’re better trained, they’re saving more lives. So that’s one ofthe best ROI use case I can give you. Quite literally, because youwere able to be trained in a simulated dangerous environment,realistically, you know how to handle those situations. You get allof the experience that you would build a lifetime of being in danger.And that’s allowing you to save lives. That’s all the ROI you canget.

Alan: When you put it that way.I mean, what’s the ROI on a life? The last podcast I did today waswith Dr. Walter Greenleaf, and Dr. Greenleaf has been in thisindustry for 33 years, talking about the medical use cases. He kindof broke it down into five key parts: training, assessment,intervention, health and wellness, and then the democratization ofcare. As we move to more precision medicine and proactive medicine,VR stands to create unlimited potential for people in underservedareas.

That’s medical; when you take it toeducation, it can unlock the full true democratisation of learning,globally.

Terry: Absolutely. You knowwhat? We did have a case — I have to pay attention to what I cantell you about it — but we did have a case two weeks ago of acompany in medical, working on this training for medical, and thatthey want to deploy in developing countries. So Latin America,Eastern Europe, Asia, and basically it’s about training medicalpersonnel, and they’ve got tons of problems to do so, because rightnow it’s a physical training. So it’s costing a fortune, and you needto physically move people all around the planet, literally. And thenyou also need to work with the local people. But they keep changing,so you don’t know of their standards. And sometimes you need to havethem rise to your own standards in order to deliver good training, asopposed to VR where you can get it right once and then make sureeveryone gets the right content. It’s infinitely cheaper to send toexperience once again, yeah, of course.

Alan: One of the things that Ikeep thinking; my kids are in grade school, and one’s in high schoolnow. And if you think about the teachers that are there — they’rewonderful people — but by no means are they the world’s expert inanything they’re teaching. And being able to harness the bestpossible trainer every time, that’s essential. And I think that’sreally what STRIVR’s doing well, as well. They’re a company based inSan Francisco that’s doing virtual reality training, and they’re ableto capture the best trainers and spread them across the entireenterprise. Whereas before the best trainer, maybe you could train20, 30 people at a time or maybe a couple of hundred throughout ayear. But when you’re talking thousand employees, it’s just notscalable. You can’t send somebody on a plane to visit every employee.But in VR, you’re just setting a headset.

Terry: Absolutely.

Alan: So what industries are youseeing that are using this the most?

Terry: Right now, I would saywe’re seeing obviously the most traction is coming from training.It’s coming from medical. It’s coming from marketing as well. Butmarketing is a different beast, because whereas in training and inmedical it’s really about – again — solving those mission criticalproblems. In marketing, often it’s more into nice-to-have coolexperiences, so you see trends. For instance, VR for trade shows wasa huge trend two years ago. And this winter we had like the big ARcraze; AR everything. But that’s a big one. That’s still a very bigone.

Not so big ones: travel, real estate–like, real estate, surprisingly, what we see is that the obvious casestudy — it’s selling your house; I want to see the house. I want tobe in the house. VR technology of presence being the house. Nobrainer, right? Well, actually, no. And people in real estate rightnow, they’re focused on interactive, meaning that the interactivepart of the VR is great. And so interactive presentation of condos,building developments, and on a large number of platforms. So youwant to show them in your big interactive screen, a table, in a salescenter or you want to have it on your iPhone or iPad, obviously, andyou want to do the VR.

But like, for instance, I talk withsome companies as it is. I’ve got the whole range of services, fromthe interactive screens to iPad to VR. And what they see in terms ofuse is that… for instance, the sales people on the move, on the go,will use more iPad or will use more Bigtable, because you can connectwith several people at the same time, convenience, conviviality,being able to have several– like, me and my wife looking at thescreen, at the same thing, at the same time. So VR is cool, but it’slike this one thing that you’re doing, but then you fall back to iPadbecause it’s more practical.

Alan: VR headsets are droppingin price. But it still comes down to the fact that every singleperson has a phone in their pocket.

Terry: Exactly.

Alan: Just from a scaleperspective, being able to use AR technology on a mobile device, andthe stat that I keep reading is there’ll be over two billionsmartphones that are AR enabled by the end of. This year. That’s realscale.

Terry: [chuckles] Yep.

Alan: If we’re looking at mobilephone-based things, what are some of the coolest things you’ve seenon mobile phone-based AR? I just saw one the other day that was, youcould put the Space Shuttle in your backyard in real size.

Terry: You do have a lot of ARapps at the moment. Let me think. Well, I’m a big fan of the try-ons.

Alan: Yeah, I love it. I wrote awhole article on this.

Terry: Yeah, I saw it, and Ilike, for instance, at AWE, there was this company and the CEO wasbasically barefoot for the whole show — not kidding — because hewas doing a demo of their iPhone try-on and for some reason theyneeded to not have shoes. [laughs] And so you take your phone and yousee your sneakers. You can select the colors and everything. And Imust say, it’s a really compelling experience, because when you’rebuying shoes online, you never really know — especially the designs,the colors or whatever — seeing it on you like this, it’s much morethan gimmick; it’s really useful.

Alan: Yeah. No. You’reabsolutely right, and I think Google just rolled out this virtualtry-ons right in the Google Lens and everybody’s starting to work onit, which is pretty interesting. There’s a whole bunch. There’smakeup, watches, shoes, glasses, hats, beards — see what a beardlooks like on you.

Terry: I was talking to also —it’s funny; the same week of AWE, I was talking to a partner, and shewas getting engaged, and I told her about the try-ons. And so she wassuper excited about the jewellery try-ons. And she’s obviously awoman. And she was like, “oh, my God, you can try and you cansee on your iPhone. And, wow, I need your address. Send me youraddress like right now.” Once again, it all comes down to thecase study. She doesn’t care it’s AR or VR; she gets what she getsout of it.

Alan: Exactly. And it’sinteresting you pointed it out, because Snapchat uses AR all the timeand for everything, for face filters and real world filters and stufflike this. But nowhere do they mention the words “augmentedreality.”

Terry: Yeah. But, you know, Ithink it’s one of those things… I really liked an analogy of theworld of AR and VR right now. And it was like, you know what? I thinkwe’re kind of the Web, circa 2003 or something, when people werebuilding websites. And back in 2003, when you were asking someone,it’s like, “what are you doing?” “Well, I’m doing a dotcom.” “What is your website? What is it doing?” “We don’tcare so much. I have a website; it’s amazing!”

Alan: “What do you mean? Ido AR!”

Terry: Exactly! You see whereI’m going. And now it’s kind of the same like “hey, I’m doingVR!” “Yeah, but what are you doing?” “Yeah, I don’tcare so much, but I’m doing VR,” or “I’m doing AR!” And atthe end of the day now, yeah, of course you have a website. Amazing.Extraordinary. Everyone has a website. We don’t care about thewebsite. We care about what’s going on on the website.

Alan: Exactly. By the way, ifanybody is listening to this and wants to learn, we have a website!

Terry: Alan, we have twowebsites.

Alan: Oooohh! What are yourwebsites? You have; what’s the other one?

Terry: we have, and that’s the consulting for studios.So two fully-functional websites.

Alan: Holy moly! You are wayahead of the game! [laughs] We also have our pitch for XR Ignite,which is actually in VR and AR as well. Through a platform calledVRAVO.

Terry: And that’s somethingthat’s very interesting I’d like to pick on, is that I find that oneof the best ways to evangelize about AR and VR is actually usingit.

Alan: You think?

Terry: Yeah. But, you know, it’sso funny in what we do, it’s all about the simple things. But so manypeople overlook the simple. Everyone is like, “AR and VR, it’s soamazing and everything.” You know what? How about we actually useit? One of our clients, they are this Finland company called Glue andthey’ve got this amazing remote presence tech. And they really striveto do their meetings in Glue with their tech.

Alan: Yeah, yeah. Kallewas on our show.

Terry: Oh, OK. So, yeah, youknow them. Small world. But things are amazing. I think what’s outthere is beautiful. I had a blast playing with the tech at AWE. AWEwas the place to be this year.

Alan: It was amazing. There was,I think, 6,000 people they said this year?

Terry: I don’t know, but youfelt like everyone was there.

Alan: By far and away, it isprobably the most important VR/AR conference in the world. Mainlyfocused on augmented reality, but–

Terry: A lot of VR as well.

Alan: When I was there I said tosomebody, “if this building collapses, the entire VR industry isgone.”

Terry: Exactly.

Alan: This year I ran thestartup track, and I did a panel on supercharging your marketing,actually, with the head of XR for Nestle, Richard, and Mohammed fromMacy’s, and JasonYim from Trigger Global. And there was one more I can rememberoff my head. But yeah, it was really amazing. This year was just abeautiful experience, getting to meet you and seeing what you thinkof all my friends. It was really cool.

Terry: Yeah. Ours was the same.We’ve got clients everywhere. In the US, in Europe, as far back asFinland. And you’re on the floor, and you have everyone. And you–all those people that you connect on the phone away from everything,you can shake hands again. And just that was– And most importantly,the density of smart, talented, dedicated, passionate people. Thedensity of conversations that you have, really interestingconversations. You turn your back and, “Oh, yeah. So we aredoing this and that.” That was amazing.

Alan: Yeah. Every single personyou met was doing something revolutionary.

Terry: Exactly.

Alan: I got home and it took methree days to write my post report.

Terry: [laughs] I’m surprised.

Alan: Yeah, I met over 100people in this short amount of time. So anybody listening, go toAugmented World Expo. It’s definitely worth going to next year. And Ithink there’s another one in Europe, as well.

Terry: There is one in Europe, Ithink like Q3, like September or something.

Alan: And then there’s a VR Daysin Amsterdam as well, which is coming up, I think in October, I’ll bespeaking at that. And that one’s another great one.

So let’s get back to use cases for asecond, because one of the things that I’m starting to see — andmaybe you’re seeing it as well — is, like the virtual try-ons, we’restarting to move over to more utilitarian use cases of thistechnology. One of them that I thought was really cool was, I believeit’s Dulux, the paint company. They figured out how to segment yourwalls. You can put your phone on the wall and change the paint colorsand they look real depending even on the lighting that’s in yourroom. So you can see it in the daylight and see what it looks like,and then see it at night. Being able to do that, that’s an impressiveuse case.

Terry: You’re talking aboutsomething really important right there. Back when VR really startedin 2015-16, everybody was super focused on entertainment, games, andall the things you can do with it. And I’m not saying games areuninteresting. You can do plenty of things with games and everything.But the business side of things was, “it’s business; it’sboring.” Turns out, right now the most successful companies inVR tend to be solving mission-critical problems for their clients andbusiness, so a lot of those utilitarian cases. And what we like best— what I personally liked best — is that you can do smart and youcan do sexy, if you want to. Meaning that, you can be utilitarian,but especially with VR, you can do it in an exciting and engaging andjust cool way. And that’s great, because the cooler or the moreexciting your utilitarian app is going to be, the more people willwant to use it, the more it is going to solve problem for plenty ofpeople. We want more of that, and there’s money doing that.

Alan: Yeah, absolutely. TheTriple A gaming market is what people expect now. They expect thatlevel of quality. So we have to — everybody, the whole industry —has to step up their game to create experiences that not only solveproblems, but wow people.

What is the most important thingbusinesses can do right now to leveraging the power of XR? What wouldyou recommend as their first step?

Terry: Very simple. It’s thesame first step for everything: it’s get started now. It’salways about the simple next step you can do to get started and for alot of people — especially with XR — it’s very intimidating. We’vetalked about this many times. And no matter where the company is, nowwe live in this world where it’s not so much about “eh, XR. Isit a fad? This is going to go.” It’s here to stay. And no matterwhat you do, it’s going to probably help your business.

So now it’s all about, you know, getstarted. Get your hands dirty. Build a project, doesn’t have tobe big. And build your own understanding and experience, fullyunderstand the impact, the ROI, the benefits for your company.Because it’s not going to be the same as for this other company, thisother [garbled]. So it’s all about you. And become smarter, becomemore efficient through VR and then you repeat the process. And witheach new step, you get bigger and more ambitious, but it’s all aboutthe first step. Get started.

Alan: That’s some great advice.So, last question: What problem in the world do you want to seesolved using XR technologies?

Terry: We did talk a lot abouttraining and I’m going to talk again about training and education. Ithink VR is great at helping people understand the world better andunderstand others better. And I also think that, on the other hand,ignorance is often the root of fear. And knowledge and understandingis often helping to connect with people, and I think that right nowin this world we could use more of that.

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