VirtualSpaces - Journey so far

Posted by Hemanth Velury at 2017-09-09 10:56:08

VirtualSpaces - Journey so far

Whew! Time flew and how! 

The two of us left our previous startup and had embarked on a journey that we knew nothing about. The discussion started with a drink and a realization that we were busting our cojones without any return and that we needed to do something else. 

This was in June of 2016 and earlier that year, Oculus had launched the first commercially viable Virtual Reality (VR) Head Mounted Device (HMD) called Rift that was tethered to a gaming desktop. In September/October of 2015, Samsung had also launched the Samsung Gear VR HMD for their mobile devices as well, so we were of the opinion that Virtual Reality was here to stay. Plus if you hear the pundits, they were screaming at the top if their voices that VR is the next computing platform and that it was the next BIG thing. 

We started researching on VR as a tech and we realized that if it had to become the next computing platform as everyone was saying, it had to come via the most omnipresent device that almost everyone has with them all the time: The MOBILE. 

We had decided on the Real Estate vertical for primarily: 

We were talking to a few Real Estate Developers and we heard them say that:

    1. Sales, primarily, happened during weekends. I mean, here in India, buying a home is mostly a once in a lifetime activity and that couples make the decision together and a lot of them in Urban India, are working couples. So the only time they have is weekends to visit sites and check out the location, the floor plans and finally negotiations (although this happens over weeks before a decision is made, but mostly during weekends!)
    2. Most Real Estate Developers build one type of floor plan as a Model/Show Apartment but have multiple floor plans and they only way to showcase these to the customer is through a slick video or 2D AutoCAD drawings.
    3. Since sales happens during the weekends, the Sales force of the Real Estate Developers were getting paid for 30 days a month, whereas primarily sales happens in 8 days! RoI was down the drain on salaries being paid for the Sales force. 

And so, we started developing the product. 

Then something happened here in India that literally shook up the country: Demonetization. Why was this important for us? As it was, the Real Estate industry had a reputation of not being completely above board and we were amply warned that getting payments from the Real Estate industry was very difficult. Demonetization made 85% of the currency available in the country useless, overnight. The Real Estate industry was reeling with existing inventory already and this did not help. While the number of projects was not going down, this did put a spanner in the works of a lot of small projects where the promoters would buy land using cash. 

Our first iteration, meanwhile was done and we started showing it to a few developers from who we got feedback that helped in the iterating the product. 

Meanwhile, Google had launched the DayDream in November of 2016 in the US and UK. So we procured the same from UK.

We continued developing the product, moved through a few more iterations (and boy were we embarrassed with our previous iterations, every time we iterated) and started meeting customers. We then hit a couple of technical roadblocks:

    1. Had to create a Login/Password system on Mobile VR using Gaze input. Remember we had ZERO experience with VR.
    2. Resolution & Clarity: Remember we chose the mobile route? Well, that came back to bite us in the backside! We were constrained with the Mobile GPU.

The problem was that when we spoke with other VR developers, we were getting feedback that   development on Mobile was difficult given the constraints and that they had given up and moved to the Tethered VR systems. So there was no help! It was extremely fortunate that one of us is a stalwart developer who is a mad genius.

Then the 2nd whammy: RERA - the Real Estate Regulation Act in India hit us below the belt. Every state had different rules and getting approvals for new Real Estate projects became an issue. Given this, we were a bit unsure on how to proceed next! Mumbai is now recovering from the RERA act and the approvals are just now coming through - each state is going through the same and every state in India has a different timeline of implementing the act and we have now realized that it takes almost 4-5 months after the implementation that the projects are getting back on track after approvals. Also, a few developers have already approached the Supreme Court to ensure that all the Real Estate Developers do not get painted with the same brush and we are awaiting the judgement on the same.

We soon realized that this regulation could become a shot in the arm for us. RERA in most states says that the end product will have to be identical to the Show/Model Apartment. I know of a few developers who physically locked up the Model/Show Apartment and stopped showing it to potential buyers. Virtual Reality could really change the game. And we know it will. This is the only way to give a sense of scale, size, height and width of the property to the property buyer.

Then the third whammy: GST implementation in India. GST is a path breaking regulation that will bring the entire country under a uniform Tax code which was a minefield earlier. However, this also raised prices in the Real Estate industry. So this also slowed down the industry.

We, meanwhile, hit AAA console level visual quality using blended lighting techniques on the mobile, sorted out the Gaze input issues. Our quality now reached a point where we were getting questions from Real Estate developers if the renders were photographs and boy, were we over the moon! 

On the flip side, we were also getting queries if the quality can be improved further which quickly punctured the balloon we were on!

We realized a couple of things, we were competing with:

  1. The actual physical built Model/Show apartment and therefore competing with Reality.
  2. Renders, both still and video that were made using V Ray or equivalent tools, that just took it to another level. While it is possible to have that quality on Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, which have a dedicated graphics card (at least a Nvidia 1060) connected to gaming rigs (which incidentally are very highly priced) - we were focused on Mobile and this made it difficult.

Given the triple whammy we are facing and that the Real Estate Industry here in India is in a bit of a rut, we have started meeting with Real Estate Developers to just show the product that we have developed and to get feedback and more importantly get to be known in the larger Real Estate Industry that a company out there is developing some path breaking stuff in Real Estate marketing. We have also started talking with international developers in Brazil that we are hoping to breakthrough there, apart from, India where the Real Estate Industry has started recovering from the triple whammy!

Here’s to seeing you on the other side!

About the Author

Leave a Reply