In part one of my conversation with Gabe Paez, the founder and CEO of The Wild, he discussed how his company has created a virtual reality platform that allows anyone with a VR headset to collaborate on architectural models with anyone else in the world. It’s a remarkable and fun enterprise.
In this second part of our conversation, Gabe opens up about the painful beginnings of his startup—how he struggled initially to get his company off the ground—and how he eventually found the funding he needed and landed those key first clients.
More information: https://thewild.com/
Gabe Paez works at the intersection of engineering, design, and business. He is the founder and CEO of The Wild, an immersive collaboration platform for teams to work together, from anywhere, in augmented and virtual reality. The Wild enables architecture and environmental design teams to ideate, review, share, and present in cross-platform XR from the same room or across the world.
Gabe has about 15 years of experience leading experiential product teams and has designed immersive software products for a diverse roster of companies, including Google, Samsung, Nike, AT&T, and Verizon.
DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!
Gabe Paez 0:00
I think that it’s very easy to get into this feeling that there’s like, Oh, this is the playbook for how you how you create and grow team and nourish cus culture over time. And I see it practice almost like a meditation practice.
Alexander Ferguson 0:19
In part one of my conversation with Gabe Paez, the founder and CEO of TheWild, he discussed how his company has created a virtual reality platform that allows anyone with a VR headset to collaborate on architectural models with anyone else in the world. It’s a remarkable and fun enterprise. In the second part of our conversation, Gabe opens up about the painful beginnings of a startup, how he struggled initially to get his company off the ground, and how he eventually found the funding he needed and landed those key first clients. Gave him I’m excited to continue our conversation now to hear the journey that you’ve been on in the past several years now to grow this, this tech company. From the the inception, I’m sure there was a few difficulties that you had to overcome. I mean, right from the beginning, sharing the concept and getting it rolling, maybe funding, what was that process like anything that you can share of how you’re able to overcome that initial problems that another entrepreneur can learn from?
Unknown Speaker 1:16
Well, for me, the timing, I was trying to raise money, my initial angel money to found this company back in 26, late 2016, coming into 2017, and then it actually happened in 2017. And that was an interesting time for virtual reality where we had actually 2015 and 14 were really the hype years where they were throwing out money, honestly, for for these new companies. And we were just coming to the second side of that, where a little bit of the disillusionment was was starting to creep in, especially amongst investors. And adding to that, that I live in Portland, Oregon, and I really had a vision of raising my angel money here to support my community, and because I want to support not just my community, but the entrepreneurial side of the community. And it was really hard, and it’s a more conservative environment, of course, so they want to, they’re more customed to businesses, not just at a later stage, but with selling into a market with more of a more of a history, then then utilizing something totally new technology, like virtual reality. And, and so it was, it was a real challenge. It was frustrating, it was scary at times, you know, I of course have the story of that I have kids and you know, a family and I didn’t pay myself for a very long time. And it was it was hard. And I feel fortunate that I was able to do that. And this is even where privilege comes in. Not everyone is able to do what I did. Um, you know, I just, that’s that’s the nuts and bolts of it, honestly, and I but I doored through that time. And luckily my my wife is very she believes in what I’m doing and encouraged me through it was very supportive. And then we really were able to get some initial funding, and it was it then it was a race to how do we take this core, this loose idea and really make it something ideas are very cheap, especially in t you know, new businesses. And execution is very, very hard. And high quality execution is even harder
Alexander Ferguson 3:45
three and a half years ago, you started is that when you didn’t have any funding yet? And you were just working on it yourself? And then what point did you get that initial funding? And then what point did you deliver your first like, initial MVP?
Unknown Speaker 3:58
Well, I’ll be honest, I really started the idea. You know, back in 2015, I had been working on it for a period and even coming into 2017 There was already a prototype for the wild that I had built with Eric, my CTO. And so it was it was there was something there, but it was super rough. It’s and so then the we weren’t we got our first angel funding in 2017. Right at the beginning of 2017. We spent that whole year building into 2018. We had an initial pilot of like for customers that started into 2018 it right like right in the beginning of 2018. And they were paying but a small amount. You know, and we could just get initial product validation from that. It was at the end of 2018. So almost a full two years or just under two years. Since the founding of the company that we deployed of our closed beta, and announced the company, you know, launched a website. And it was also right around the same time that we, we closed a seed round. And so that seed round afforded me to build up, you know, my go to market team, iron marketing and customer support, I was still, you know, selling at the time, but we deployed out and tried to, we’ve always had a focus on trying to, you know, at this point, we still have not opened up a free tier or, you know, we have a pretty strict one week trial, that we keep only qualified customers come through and do that trial. So we’re not really playing a huge numbers game, we’re trying to make sure that we can have unit metrics that makes sense, what we are selling people want to buy, and will pay us money for, and, and then we will grow and really invest in growth based on based on that is the the foundation of that. So, so yeah, 2018. And then coming into 2019. It was right around mid 2019, that I would say we really started to open it up and, and push harder. We right at the end of 2019. I hired my VP of sales, and then we hired a couple of AES. So trying to scale sales beyond myself. And Nick, who, oh, who was like our customer success, and like hybrid sales. And then coming into and then 2020, you know, the world change right in the beginning of it. So, yeah, it’s been a crazy journey to think through even sequentially like that.
Alexander Ferguson 6:49
You said for it for pilots, people doing how did you get those first initial for when you’re testing it that year?
Unknown Speaker 6:56
Well, they were people who? Well, okay, so the first one, I guess I can say, so the even the first one we brought in was Adidas. And I think they were our first paid customer. And they were great, because I hadn’t, I had built stuff for Adidas in the past. And so I had an in already, which I think is critical, honestly, because you don’t really have anything in the beginning. And so you need some some trust that can be established between you and any partner that’s going to take you through those initial pilots. Um, networking is just key to success. In in forming a new company, especially I would say a b2b company, I mean, growing that network, and however you can, finding the right network for your company. For me, in those early days, you needed some personal connections, just from my previous career to help seed it. But from there, they ended up recommending a couple of agencies that they work with who also work on different projects. And so we started to form like the itch, the customer base could trickle out from there. And of course, those referrals now even that’s a primary driver of our growth,
Alexander Ferguson 8:17
that when you open it up to the the beta, that was was it just referral base at that point? Or how did you then that first initial tactics to get some growth?
Unknown Speaker 8:25
No, we started experimenting with marketing. So I think right in the beginning, it was mostly content, marketing, and press, because what we’re doing is notable enough that we got some good articles written about us. And so press content marketing events, was, has always been a big channel for us. Then paid, we started experimenting with paid right in the end of 2019. So Google AdWords, some social paid, and
Alexander Ferguson 8:59
you’ll get better, or the same as the referrals.
Unknown Speaker 9:04
Well, referrals are the best 100% I mean, if someone’s gonna vouch for you, and says, they like what you’re doing, you have, it’s not just a matter of getting a qualified lead from that, because in general, those communities like they’ll be referring you to people like them, that do the same work as them. Same same job title, and even because there are there communities around that. But it’s also just the ability to sell to that person is so much easier, because you don’t have to go through that grind of absolutely proving in the in the evaluation phase of the sales cycle. You don’t have to, someone already says that it does what we say it does, I think, you know, and so you don’t have to prove it. And usually that’s the point of a trial or a pilot, is that you have to prove that what you say you do that you do it, you know. That’s all they want to see. Because clearly They are attracted to you for some reason, they just want to, they want to say show me. And, and so that’s why referrals are a top tier, you know, inbound source. That being said, you can’t it’s difficult to drive growth on referrals really scale on that it’s an unquantifiable. Yeah, well, there are methods for doing it, but it’s not trivial. And I mean, I would say, like paid is probably the dumbest marketing money. Well, I don’t know, that’s a terrible way to put it. But it paid is something that you can quantify easily, there’s so much infrastructure built around tracking and quantifying it and driving and then driving money into it. And that’s why we wanted to understand it. But of course, organic search and SEO is super important. And it’s, it’s not free, I think that a lot of you know, it’s easy to look at as a free marketing channel, because it pays dividends, but But you and you have to invest in it. And then it will pay those dividends over time. Because you have to you have to put that content out there create that content that will then attract those future.
Alexander Ferguson 11:17
So are you still doing like a balance between just you keep asking for referrals, and then content marketing, and then outbound just,
Unknown Speaker 11:25
we, my marketing director is amazing, like, just so great. And we are constantly re tooling and, you know, all of the channels, I think we foundationally we believe in a really broad, multi channel approach. Because, and even now, I’ve seen different channels performed differently at different times, you know, not just in like times of complete crisis, like right now. But but even cyclically across the year, people pay attention in different different areas at different times of the year. So it’s
Alexander Ferguson 12:06
a constant testing, and just seeing where it can go.
Unknown Speaker 12:09
Constant testing, constantly readjusting and reallocation of but any
Alexander Ferguson 12:13
insight you can share on to another entrepreneur, what is it like to grow a good team and make it happen?
Unknown Speaker 12:20
Um, I would say it is a practice. I say that meaning that I think that it’s very easy to get into this feeling that there’s like, Oh, this is the playbook for how you how you create and grow team and nourish cus culture over time. And I see a practice, almost like a meditation practice, it’s like, it’s something that is always changing, and always need something different from you. And you have to be devoted to it not as a destination, but as a journey. Especially the team of all things, because you don’t just build the team and the team exists, and they’re good, you know, you have to slowly pick hills to climb. And you have to see what hills are coming to you. And often walls are coming to you. And see those walls is very tall, very steep hills, you know. And especially I will say in the time, even early on in the time of COVID. And now with all of the all of the protests going on and so on. It’s made me realize that the emotional health of the team is just as possibly more important than all of the other metrics combined. Because when people feel scared, or frustrated, or not empowered or happy, even like, I don’t know, all of those emotions, just feed into the workplace, like there really is no barrier. We try to imagine that there’s a barrier that people go on, and they put on their workspace and they are professionals. But it’s always there. I mean, we are people coming together to work together. And that is just core to understanding how to nurture your team and grow your team. Because hiring is entirely based on understanding not just what skill I need to bring in, but what personality I need to bring in what background I need to bring in that’s going to complement and contrast and provide a different voice for all of these other voices I have
Alexander Ferguson 14:48
going forward from here. For continued growth. What do you see is kind of the biggest hurdle or challenge you’re going to need to overcome to reach that that next level of scale
Unknown Speaker 15:00
A lot of things, some things in our control and some things outside of our control. The things outside of our control is that we need to see the hardware ecosystem thrive and honest, even now, the supply chain is sort of just coming back. But if we have a resurgence of COVID, in the fall, this could hit us again, super hard, all the headsets going out of stock, and so on. So there’s the manufacturing system that has got to get not just resolved, but we need to find a more sustainable future going forward that learns from the lessons of this time on the supply chain. The second thing is I want to see more companies coming out creating a stronger ecosystem of hardware, so that consumers have more choices, there’s more competition, and we can drive growth that way. On the software side, I would say, we have got to as a team, we’ve got to drive toward better usability better, you know, all the way down to the details of optimization. So if I’m on variable internet connection drops out for one second, it goes throttles down that I still have a smooth, continuous experience inside of the wild. I think that we already lead we we definitely lead the, the, amongst our peers, we’re leading the way on this. But I want to do more, I want to do better, I’m gonna go push beyond what we think is possible right now. And so we have a major drive to, to really hone and optimize and, and polish out the wild. And along the way, we will be adding new capabilities to the wild strategic, that we understand our prospects and our customers are asking for, and they need to be able to do their their work better. And so being able to bite those down, and feed them out, along with our optimization is a big part of it. And then the last thing I would say is as as a society, we we need to find a way to get our economy back on its feet. And the I mean, I’ve already had customers churn because they go out of business, you know, like, there was a fair number of especially our small or smaller customers who have gone out of business, and they churn and it’s awful. It’s the worst way to turn a customer. The worst makes me feel terrible. And I want to do what we can to help solve this problem and get, get our society back on its feet, not just back on its feet, as we were a better understanding the lessons that we’ve seen, looking at the cracks that we’ve seen in that have played out across not just our society, but even just across industries. What what did we learn here? And how can we do it better moving forward and not just recreate exactly what we had?
Alexander Ferguson 18:05
Last question for you. Overall tech innovation, what do you think? What do you predict we will see in the near term in the next year and long term, next 510 years?
Unknown Speaker 18:17
Well, my belief is that the movement toward the virtualization of transportation is going to be game changing for Tech, I think we have had a hole. But there’s been an interesting set in this past few years around the sharing economy in tech, and summon a lot of these hybrid companies dealing between software and exchange between software and physical properties. So scooters and you know B, and B’s, and all all of these different the intersection of where software meets the physical world, Uber so on. I believe now the role of software is to a Well, I think this is going to be a large driver of the next. The next phase is is all of the aspects that we can virtualize the transportation process and create communities that can work and live locally. But who can be instantly connected to any person, any place any idea across the world that extends well beyond what we’re doing at the wild, there’s going to be a consumer side to that. There’s going to be you know, all of the various verticals around how we do work, how money is exchanged and so on. We need to rethink how we’re building out the future or in our future society so that we can tackle a lot of the problems around climate change and and not just incrementally improving our our impact on climate change, but revolutionising it, drastically improving it. And second of all, social inequality trying to create truly more access true social networks. Not only information on networks, but true social networks, where we are networked socially as people as humans, not just as snippets of text, but as real people who come together and like each other and can laugh together and understand each other and have fun and, and it’s not that that doesn’t happen on social networks, but there’s there’s just the way we’ve structured it creates this backbone of anger and inhumanity that has to be acknowledged and fixed.
Alexander Ferguson 20:32
That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech report.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you subscribe to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.