For years now, the hype surrounding virtual and augmented reality has been omnipresent. Friends of friends might be able to speak to its magical properties, but for the most part, people are waiting for VR to finally come their way.
For Van Nuys-based VNTANA, however, it wasn't the buzz from the VR/AR industry that drew them in, it was an email from a world-famous DJ.
“I saw friends watching live-streams on their laptops and I thought that was horrible. I thought that we could find a way to live-stream high quality audio to multiple venues and sell cheaper tickets to a similar experience,” said CEO and Co-Founder Ashley Crowder. “When [musician] Steve Aoki expressed interest, I emailed Ben [Conway, co-founder of VNTANA] and told him he needed to come back here and help start this company.”
Now four years in, the company — which moved from Santa Monica in December — bills itself as the only hologram company with interactive technology. What started out as a way for musicians to augment their brand, and for fans to experience their favorite artists from pretty much anywhere, has developed an innovative way to blur the lines between augmented reality and advertising technology.
“Imagine going to the stadium and pitching a ball to [former New York Yankees’ shortstop] Derek Jeter, and then toasting him with a Bud Lite. That would be Bud Lite’s sponsorship,” said Crowder. “From a brand’s perspective: of course, people are going to share a video with a celebrity, so the brand is getting all that viral, user-generated content.”
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Essentially, VNTANA is creating fun, interactive ways for brands to reach potential consumers. The company's development team works with a content team to create a way for a brand to interact with a consumer, while keeping the experience relative to the venue, whether that be a movie theater, a sporting event or tourist destination. After an interaction takes place, the advertiser receives the person's contact and demographic information, providing the company with actionable data.
"We started four years ago and VR was not a buzzword; no one was talking about VR or AR,” said Crowder. “Then Facebook bought Oculus and VR exploded, which was great for us because a lot of the the public didn’t know the difference between VR and AR and holograms, and so we started getting more phone calls with people telling us they wanted VR, and we would explain to them what we did and they seemed more excited about that."
While fundings from venture capitalist firms often keep the lights on for many tech startups, VNTANA's profitability meant they didn't have to rely on outside help to continue developing the company.
"We've raised from VCs and angel investors, but because we've been profitable from early in the process, we've been able to reinvest that into the business," said Crowder. "We didn't have to raise as much as most tech startups have to."
Moving forward, VNTANA is focused on creating a way for advertisers to create their own content, using a VNTANA-built cloud to access models, and using VNTANA's hardware wherever they deem appropriate.
"There’s almost too many applications for holograms, and as a startup you really have to pick what to focus on because you have limited resources," said Crowder. "We have always been somewhat focused on advertising, and finding a way to solve a problem that our clients have and fill that gap.”
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