XR for Business
Bundling the Best of AR with Ease of Use, with BundlAR’s John Martin
The world received a gift three years ago, in the form of AR technology from the likes of Google and Apple - ARKit and ARCore. But most businesses had no one on-staff at-hand to take advantage of this gift without some extensive upskilling to do. John Martin shares how BundlAR makes AR easy for everyone, and what is needed for wider adoption.
Alan: Hey, everyone, I'm Alan Smithson, and today we're speaking with John Martin, the CEO and co-founder of BUNDLR, an augmented reality platform company empowering training, learning, and development innovators with on-demand and mobile immersive experiences. John and I met at the VR/AR Association Chicago meetup, and would become amazing friends as we built the future of communications together. In this interview, we will discuss one of the largest barriers to the widespread adoption of AR and what organizations need to do in order to deploy AR experiences instantly and on a global scale. All that and more, coming up next on the XR for Business podcast.
John, it has been a pleasure to get to know you over these years, and I'm super excited to have you on the show. Welcome to the show.
John: Thank you, Alan. And I'm looking forward to a great conversation with you, as always.
Alan: It's been a couple of years since we got to know each other. I stayed at your house in Chicago. That was very lovely of you, I got to meet your family. And I've watched your platform go from kind of the infancy stages to being a global phenomenon, now. Let's-- I want you to have the stage to really tell people what BUNDLAR is all about and what you guys are doing.
John: Well, BUNDLAR, we had a pretty clear mission about a year and a half ago. We were very fortunate to be working with some of the world's great innovators on what I'd call augmented reality projects. It could have been a prospective student tour at Arizona State University. Google gave a grant to the DuSable Museum in Chicago, so they wanted to reboot the Mayor Harold Washington exhibit. Proctor & Gamble had projects at upcoming conventions and shows. Remember when we used to have those? And from all of these engagements--
Alan: In real shows, like IRL, in real life? Like in--?
John: Yeah, like in person, back in the good old days. Oh, do I miss that! But at any rate, what we realized was when Google and Apple gave this gift of AR to the world just three summers ago, saying they were all-in with AR, meaning that the hardware was going to work, it was like, wow. Most corporate IT or marketing teams really didn't have anybody on board their staffs that could take advantage of this amazing capability of the mobile device. So at any rate, for us, there's was like, well, what if we could take all of these engagements that we had created, and put them into a repeatable self-serve augmented reality content management system and platform? So it was a very big idea, but we thought one that was worth the journey. So we started to build out a team of 12 really focused AR professionals on the development side to build out this platform.
Alan: Well, I know your CTO, Matt [Wren]. I mean, his whole experience in life was creating content management systems for massive corporations, so--
John: Exactly. So it started with Matt and Gareth [Davies], who's on the product side, but really knows AR. We were so blessed to find literally the man that wrote the book on Unity [chuckles] Joe Hocking, to join the team. And Lewis Gardner on our CMS. So we were very fortunate to have a great team come together. And we shared a vision, which is, let's build out an augmented reality platform that would make it super easy and affordable for businesses and organizations to weave in augmented reality communications to how they communicated with their internal audiences, their employees and externally their customers. And we focused on training, learning and development, seeing that that was a true win for just about everybody, as people are looking to onboard people faster as we get a younger audience with Millennials and Gen Zs. They do not want to be in a classroom with a talking head looking at a PowerPoint. They want immersive tools. They want on-demand. They want videos. They want 3D. And so that's what we focused on. Happy to say, just a month ago, we launched the platform. And now it's time to take it to market.
Alan: Congratulations. That must be amazing. Is it one of those platforms that it will be a never ending increase of functionality, or have you kind of nailed the functionality down that your customers have been requesting? I know it's hard to tell the tech teams to take it easy on the functions.
John: Well, we all know that the roadmap will keep us busy for the next year and a half. It's almost like, "OK, which are we going to do first, second, third, fourth, fifth?" But that's why it's been good we've been so active in the market. We get guidance from clients. We get guidance from prospects.
Alan: There's nothing quite like a product roadmap driven by somebody willing to write a check for those products.
John: [chuckles] Well, that helps, too. But one thing, if you see enough people, you start seeing some things repeat certain needs. And the one thing that always struck out for me -- dating back to some of the first times we were at the training magazine conferences with TechLearn and then DevLearn -- when people would come by our booth and see what they did, they just kept repeating, "Oh my gosh, mobile! On-demand! Just in time! You're solving many of the problems I have!" It could be somebody at Lowe's or Home Depot and they'd go, "Hey, we got a situation. We need job aides for performance support." So we've been very focused on performance support. Another area that has kind of jumped out for us, too: take some of the quick service restaurants -- the QSRs -- look at the turnover they might have. And why shouldn't it be the same subject matter expert teaching that sandwich artist how to make the most perfect sandwich? There's many things that are repeatable, and so why not use the best content for that purpose? And one that's really jumped out at us-- and I'm not being shy of calling the CEOs at AstraZeneca or Pfizer or the other leaders with our vaccine solutions. They should be including our very simple to use point-touch-learn solutions in the packages. So you probably know the terms, PI, Package Inserts, and--
Alan: Of course.
John: --also IFU, Instructions For Use. What we've created is beautiful for that purpose, and so easy and fast for a team to add AR to those types of instructions.
Alan: But would an example of that be? What would the need for AR over just delivering it on a 2D device?
John: Well, in the case of, let's say, what's going on with the detection kits, would that be a good one? COVID-19 detection kits.
Alan: Perfect one. Actually very, very timely and apt. Nobody knows how to use those damn things.
John: Well, especially the ones that you got to stick this nine inch thing up your nostril. I mean, it's scary as all get out.
Alan: We got the test this week and we-- the whole family came back negative. So think positive, test negative, everyone.
John: Exactly. But some of these package inserts, as you've probably seen over the years, could be in font size six, six languages, and nobody looks at it. Now imagine if you actually had user-friendly, relevant, current information. Point your camera. Next thing you know, you have a subject matter expert video. You have step-by-steps. You have FAQs. You have a link to purchase more things. You have a call-to-action button in case you had to call an 800 number to get some communication that way. So, the immediate--
Alan: Now with things like Synthesia and stuff, where you can have it all in different languages too, with the click of an AI button.
Alan: Imagine that, power of that.
John: And depending upon the complexity of the situation, you can use 3D product explosions, put labels as you explode that engine, explode that body part, explode that COVID-19 cell. You can now go deep on it with 3D tools that are baked into the platform. So it's as simple as somebody uploading an FBX file into the platform. We accept it. And next thing you know, it's pushed out to the world in 3D in a matter of minutes.
Alan: It's something I saw post today from the CEO of Sketchfab, Alban [Denoyel]. And he, with the new phones -- the iPhone 12, and the iPad, and the Samsung Galaxy S20 and up -- they all have infrared scanners on them now. So creating 3D assets is actually about to be a lot easier as well. It's interesting how you can create an asset and then share with the world instantly. What are some of the challenges around organizations deploying this, or even just getting started when you go to meet with a new customer? What is the-- I guess what is the value proposition you lead with and how do you solve their problems?
John: I think for many of the people we talked to, it could be lowering their costs. It could be speed to market. It could be surprise and delight your audience. Almost everybody wants to do that, right? They want their audience to have a wonderful experience. I swear, Alan, every time we show the outcome of our platform, almost the first response is, "Oh wow! Oh man! That's cool!" You know? So I don't underestimate the power of surprise and delight and the importance of it. But going back to more the training side, the engagement, the reducing of the training time, the immediacy of the job aid to solve the problem. Today, I was on with a dental platform company that does 3D and 3D printing and they literally -- their technicians and others, or the dentists themselves -- needed to talk about just-in-time, on-demand, in-context solutions while the patient was in the chair. They needed the answer *now*. [chuckles] So when we think of just-in-time, when we think of on-demand, almost all of our clients get that.
And as we're dealing with a "Hey, let's look at our society today." The Internet, the mobile now accounts for more than half of the Internet traffic. 88 percent of the traffic on mobile devices is with apps. And it's almost like people demand an app, because web browsers are still pretty clunky and wonky. Not to say we're not focused on WebAR, because we are. That will serve a certain particular type of audience for certain. But until the world gets a little bit more stable in that arena, most people -- certainly on the corporate side -- are very comfortable to be having their audiences use secured apps that can have a wide variety of training solutions that are all secured, protected with amazing analytics. So that's all part of it, too. Many of the clients are super interested in the analytics that can almost feed into their machine learning. If they start looking at, "Hey, why did so many of our people look at this video so often? Did they like the messaging, or was it they just didn't know that subject matter and we didn't do a good job--"
Alan: That could be, too.
John: "--a very good job training--"
Alan: You watched it five times because it doesn't make any sense. [laughs]
John: And it's like, "Dammit, I forgot. I need to learn that one again."
Alan: So what are some of the metrics that you can provide back to customers?
John: Well, at the very standard level, if you will, right in the dashboard is all the interactions and the renderings. You can put in the date. You can find out are they on iPhones or are they on Android? You can look at each one of the experiences and see how active they were with that exact experience. And then with a JSON dump, my gosh, you can see every detail on every interaction if you wanted to go that deep. So I think every client has a different level of interest on that type of detail. But the good news is we have a range of solutions for them depending upon if they have an entire analytics team or not.
Alan: Are you finding that the meetings are coming from the C suite down, or is it-- are you meeting with the learning and training development people. Are you-- is this being brought in from the innovation side? Who's bringing this innovation into the companies?
John: That's a question you ask every day. It's something you're constantly saying, "Hey, why did that situation occur in one call?" And why did that situation-- it's still nine months later!
Alan: Yeah, this is kind of the gist of the question is what gets people to just go?
John: Well, there's no question, if we're dealing with an innovation company where it's part of their value discipline, that sure helps a lot. Versus dealing with a company that, you know, I'm not trying to be in any way offensive by saying they're laggers -- that's just their strategy. Hey, we'll get to that four or five years from now, right? So the good news is there's certain industries or certain... like, even in education, there's certain universities, they are behind innovation. It's what they do. Like Arizona State University, they're all about innovation and same with companies. And then there's technology companies that are all about innovation. There's gaming companies that are all about innovation. And they want to surprise and delight, right? And their audience expects modern tools to learn. So that contributes a lot. But also warm handoffs at the decision maker level with an innovative company. Man, that's like butter. I mean, that is so perfect.
So the other day with a medical-- big medical company, we just happen to have one of our sellers on the team, spent 22 years at Abbott, 12 years at Thermo Fisher, and he was a pro. And his friends were the GMs or presidents of divisions. Well, when somebody like that goes in with the credibility hr has, has a relationship, then that person teases up with marketing, maybe IT innovation, maybe even sales. And then you have a meeting and next thing you know, you hear them going, "Hey, we can use this here, let's use this for onboarding. Let's use this for the sales force so they can they train people." They see it and their mind just starts going fast. And then the innovators go, "Good, send me an agreement, let's get rolling, so we can do our proof of concepts right away. So as we plan for next year, we got some experiences behind us." And then there's others that, geez, it goes on and on and on. It sure didn't help that we're in a pandemic, so I'm not faulting anybody, but we're constantly trying to say, "Hey, what's the best way to move this along?" So, getting to key decision makers, as we all know, innovative companies. And if you can get the warm leads, that sure helps a lot.
Alan: So if you're speaking to, let's say, your ideal customers, where can people try things out?
John: Sure. If you go to our website, we're doing free trials right now. And that's just a wonderful way for people to get involved and better understand it. And we're having solid success with that. So go to our website, bundlar.com and you'll see there's an opportunity to communicate with us for a free trial and we'd love to work with you. So that's a great way. And the other thing we've done, Alan, is we now have four or five, six, seven different videos so people can see it and really understand it. And what's helped us a lot the last three or four months since we've been able to use the platform, we now can build out vertically relevant bundles fast. We've even done this for-- let's say we're meeting with an important prospect. And next thing you know, you can find some markers, you can find some videos. And before you even hop on the phone call, you have a custom relevant bundle of AR experiences waiting for the presentation. Like "How did you do that, how did you get that?" And so that's been very effective, because that way they can see it firsthand. So the more we can make it about their industry -- or even better yet, about their company -- then they want to move quickly. So you've got to make it relevant that there's no question our first year before we had the platform, we would show them and proudly show them what we did for Arizona State, what we did for Google's grant with DuSable Museum of African-American History, what we did for ASSA ABLOY, or Redbox, a variety of innovators. But man, it's way more effective if it can be a bundle for QSR prospect.
Alan: Totally makes sense. That's the one good thing about doing all the work you guys have been doing is that you now have examples of every kind of which way.
John: It sure is helpful. And also it then gives-- it's given us the great experience on the platform and then from the amazing input we get from the clients and the prospects, that's where they use cases are coming from. I was so pleased today with this international London based company whose parent's in Germany and boy, did they understand 3D, because they're doing it for dental work, right? And for building this see-through braces that you'll put on and 3D printers. And so they totally got 3D and they wanted to use what you could call it digital-to-digital or screen-to-screen experience. And what's interesting, when I first met you, so much of what we were doing could have been, let's say, image recognition, but it might have been using a brochure. It might have been using a retractable banner, something physical like that. And because of COVID-19 and all of us working remotely, most of our presentations, obviously are-- could be Google Meet or Zoom or otherwise. And it's digital-to-digital, where I'm having them be on their computer, have their phone nearby. And they are now looking at the marker, if you will, from my presentation. And I say, cool, will you pull out your smartphone and let's do some AR together. So they pull out their phone and they pointed at the computer screen. Well, it works great. So we've had people in this virtual world saying, hey, we want to bring AR into this virtual world. How do we do that? And the term I've learned from all the training professionals is "blended learning solutions." And AR is ideal for that, as people are moving beyond an LMS that's just on a desktop.
Alan: Yeah, it's so true. They want on their phones, they want it to be available to them just in time, like you mentioned.
John: Yeah. Or on location. There's a lot of people that aren't sitting behind their computer at home all day. There's a lot of the workforce out there.
Alan: I'm sitting in front of my computer all day. I'm losing my mind.
Alan: We've covered a lot on this. And I don't want to take away from the gravity of the information in this great conversation. So is there anything else you want to leave anybody with before we-- before I ask my final question?
John: Well, I would just encourage the innovators of the world to explore. We'd like to do some demonstrations and free trials with people. So the words that put a smile on my face every day is when we show our solutions and we hear, "Oh wow!" So we want some "oh wow" moments coming up, and we hope is with your audience, Alan.
Alan: Well, that's fantastic, John. As you know, my commitment is to the greater good of humanity. And so what problem or challenge in the world would you like to see solved using XR technologies and why?
John: I'll share with you something that I know you can relate to with your focus. I presented this to the CEO of 1871, which is a solution for Chicago's high schools. As you know, we have our challenges in the inner city here in Chicago, as many cities do. And sadly, many of these schools don't get exposed to technology and opportunities. So we had some our interns from public schools create-- they created a whole new high school called Windy City High School. And we would like to have some big corporate sponsors, be it Microsoft or Aeon or Discover come in and sponsor us providing augmented reality to every high school in Chicago. Who would then that would force the students -- in a good way -- to work with the administrators, the faculty, and then bring home the experiences to their family with a refrigerator magnet on the refrigerator and say, Mom, dad, look what I helped create for my school. That would make me very happy, if we could get that done.
Alan: I think it's very possible to do it, for all the corporate people out there. Not only can you sign up to be a customer, but for a little bit more, you can contribute to the success of high school students in Chicago. And if the plan goes well right across America, so fantastic. That's really beautiful, John. Thank you for joining us today. I really appreciate it.
John: Thanks, Alan. Have a great day.
Alan: And thanks, everyone, for listening. This has been the XR for Business podcast. Don't forget to hit subscribe, hit the little notifications so you don't miss an episode. And you can follow us on all your podcast stations. So don't forget to hit subscribe. Thanks so much. Have a great day.
Brought to you by Alan Smithson from MetaVRse of XR for Business