Interview with Stephan Schindler, one of our Judges at Tech Rally 2017, CEO of Wonderlamp and founder of Virtual Reality e.V. Berlin Brandenburg – organizing VR NOW CON – about the Industry and the opportunities of VR.
1. You joined Wonderlamp Industries in 2014 as CEO. What achievements are you most proud of thus far in your Tenure? What are you currently leading the charge for at Wonderlamp?
My most challenging part so far was our management buy-out in 2015 that made us a stat-up again. I am most proud of the team that stayed with us and works so hard on making our vision come true. I am a general manager amongst general managers – that’s the environment you need in a start-up. Everybody is an entrepreneur. It is my job to make sure everybody knows to use her/his best judgement in everything they do. I am currently busy finding strategic investors to allow us to speed up.
2. You founded Virtual Reality e.V. Berlin-Brandenburg, an initiative which takes on the massive task of organizing VR NOW CON. What motivated you to dedicate yourself to this cause?
When I came to the region in 2014 and settled in the office on the Studio Babelsberg lot, the place felt like missing an opportunity. The history and all the film- and MediaTech achievements that happened here and all the players in the vicinity (Potsdam-Babelsberg but also the greater Berlin, or Capital Region) was not reflected in the life I saw there. But I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. And so eventually we gathered a group of activists with the support of state politics and the Film and Media funding board to establish a cross-institutional association focusing on VR (AR, MR, 360°…) to bring new perspectives to the media business in the region. We believe VR is more than just a new Medium. It is a new computing platform and the impact can be as significant as the digital revolution that we are currently experiencing. We want to make sure however, that this time we won’t let the US West Coast dominate the entire ecosystem again. By building a virtual conglomerate of all the players in the region or even Germany or Europe, we can match the US or China in this industry. And at the same time, VR offers our media industry to expand their market significantly beyond entertainment and this way becoming less dependant on public funding.
3. After a sucsessful career, working and living abroad, how do you see Berlin positioned in context of the global VR industry? What makes Berlin excel as a home to those in the VR field? And what drawbacks / hurtles are there in being based in Berlin in the VR field?
First of all I am looking at Berlin as a greater region then just the city. We call it the “capital region” and do include hot-spots like Potsdam. The world looks at this place with admiration and envy. Politically stable and liberal, financially attractive and culturally diverse and vibrant, this part of the western world is one of the top locations for building the future. And VR fits right in here. The combination of a dynamic high-tech start-up scene in the city, combined with MediaTech and Content experts surrounding it, makes this area especially fertile for the many aspects of VR. The only draw-back I see, is the tendency of European venture capitalists to be risk averse rather than the opposite as their label suggests. This, and the lack of a “failure culture” are the biggest disadvantages we have compared to the US. We need to compensate it with creativity and network-thinking!
4. With VR products emerging tools and companies at a head spinning speed, how do you stay abreast of the latest innovations? How do you incorporate innovations which come at such a fast rate into a companies structure? A process that traditionally takes time.
We are seeing a possibly overheated level of excitement around the various VR topics. The speed of innovation is only one aspect to cope with. It is not primarily a problem of following new developments but more one of how to filter out relevant information. It starts with becoming clear about what aspect of VR you are dealing with. We are using the term VR very inappropriately for anything you can watch in a head mounted display or a dome or cave. It will take some time before we have agreed on a common nomenclature and before the majority of people know what they are talking about. So to answer your question, yes you have to be agile and stay at the top of developments but you also have to be rigid in filtering relevant news from the hype noise.
5. Wonderlamp holds a strong potential including the process and technology of its DJINNI tool, what is DJINNI currently used to do and what potential do you see for it in the future?
We believe the production tools in VR (especially around animation production, game engines, motion capture and so on) are still monopolistic in a sense that they are too difficult to operate or too expensive. 20 years ago, cameras and editing tools were limited to organizations with lots of money and technical experts (Film Studios and Broadcasting Companies). The digital revolution has democratized the entire value chain of Film- and Video production. Cameras are cheap and easy to use. Post production tools are cheap and easy to use. Anyone can produce and even be a broadcaster today. Not in 3D Animation, – and therefore not in VR.
We want to democratize this area as well and allow the story teller to be able to tell her/his story in VR without year-long training of sw tools that he can hardly afford.
We also believe that VR and especially social platforms to publish VR will not succeed without user generated content. For that to happen users need tools that they can use to produce VR content – other then just 360° photos and videos. DJINNI is exactly that tool and is being used in Pilot environments for comedy VR webisodes and VR messenger cases as well as producing language training classes.
6. What do you see at the role of private VR companies in creating a digital future? And what do you see as the role of open source VR communities in creating a digital virtual future?
It will be predominantly medium to small companies that will drive innovation in VR. This is why the association, VRBB (Virtual Reality Berlin-Brandenburg), focuses on giving those players a larger platform and to allow them to use the capacity, capabilities and marketing power of the larger group of members to stick out from the noise. The innovations in VR will affect almost all industries, the early ones in my opinion will be training&eduction as well as location based entertainment. Open Source plays an increasingly important role in most environments. VR is no different. The ecosystem of VR will be based to a large extend on open source initiatives. We have to build businesses based on open source components not despite of them.
7. You are a judge of the Tech Rally 2017 – VR NOW CON EDITION . In one word – What are you looking for in selections?
CONTENT. I hope to see more content than technology. We seem to be investing more time and money in technology and less in content. But we need compelling content, both in entertainment and in all other industries, to keep the momentum and to generate a demand that will fund future tech development.