Work-from-home culture was already prevalent before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it’s quickly become a way of life, and many are never going back. But our home offices often leave much to be desired—if you’re even lucky enough to have a home office that isn’t also your bedroom.
And connecting with coworkers on Zoom can highlight the distance between us, rather than bring us together. As a software developer working with remote teams, Renji Bijoy felt these problems keenly. And when he set out to develop a solution using VR, he quickly discovered he wasn’t alone.
“Over the course of about a month, I had a list of 3000 people who wanted to buy this product,” Renji says, “but the product didn’t exist.” Thankfully, it does exist today, and it’s called Immersed.
On this edition of UpTech Report, Renji discusses how Immersed allows people with VR headsets to enter a virtual office space for working alone or collaborating with others, and with features only possible in an artificial world—including working on a space station.
More information: https://immersed.com/
Renji, the founder of Immersed, a Techstars startup partnered with Facebook, HTC, & Microsoft to build VR Offices, who has raised $12M to date. Renji is part of 2021’s Forbes 30 Under 30, received a Master’s degree from Georgia Tech (#3 Computer Science graduate school in the US) in Computer Vision + Machine Learning, was a Techstars portfolio founder (top 10 of 10,000 candidates, top 0.1%), and was the lead software architect @ GreatBigStory.com (growth-hacked to 3M followers in 2 months)!
Video Transcription: Your Outer Space Workspace | Renji Bijoy from Immersed
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!
Renji Bijoy 0:00
Not everyone knows or even that has ever tried a VR headset and so, but the fact that there’s, you know, 60 million plus people on earth who own VR devices, it’s obviously encouraging.
Alexander Ferguson 0:16
Welcome to UpTech Report. This is our applied tech series UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power of video at teraleap.io. Today, I’m very excited to be joined by my guest Renji Bijoy, who’s based in Austin, Texas. He’s the founder and CEO at Immersed welcome Renji. Good to have you on man. Thanks for having me, man. Glad to be here. So your product Immersed is all around empowering folks to immerse themselves in a portable distraction free workplace. But it’s really around VR, or VR offices. And I heard recently you’re, you’re partnering with Microsoft, Facebook and ACC, to build these VR offices help me understand when you when you set out to start immerse what was what was the vision? What was the problem you’re trying to solve? And where are you see you’re headed?
Renji Bijoy 1:01
Yeah, so when I first had started immersed, we, I mean, really just every software development team I’ve ever been on or LED. Ultimately, it just wasn’t the same as being in person. Partly because only half of us was in person. The other half was remote. So we had people who were on Skype, or whatever software were used back then to collaborate and people who tried to screen share, but everyone who was in the office, so the other half of the team was in the office, we could scream, or we could have all of our screens up. We could whiteboard together. But yeah, I guess four years ago, when we started this, I was really trying to figure out a way to get the remote people on our team to be together with us. And so yeah, as I was looking at other products out there, there really wasn’t anything that solved that effectively. And so I remember even at that point, I’d never even tried VR, I just knew about it. And so I was thinking, you know, let’s just try building something for it built a prototype, I pitched it around. I was living in Chicago at the time, history, Chicago, and over the course of about a month, I had a list of 3000 people who wanted to buy this product, but the product didn’t exist. And so ultimately, it set out to start building it. Yeah, that’s already answered that question.
Alexander Ferguson 2:07
It doesn’t it doesn’t. It’s like you being an engineer yourself. You saw the desire to to could need to collaborate with folks all over the place. But doing it in VR just goes to next level, you create a prototype, and people are like, I want to buy it. And you’re like it’s not created yet. Now you were actually part of the tech stars. 2017, right. Yeah, in Chicago. Yep. Okay. And then from there over the last four years, it’s been developed, you’ve been working on developing this further and further, obviously, hardwares. Catching up, it’s getting there closer and closer. Where you have really honed in, I actually watched one of your other interviews, it sounds like he’s actually in the enterprise space, focusing on the engineers, the coders, those folks that are in those places to help them work better. Is that still the your your focus?
Renji Bijoy 2:54
Not necessarily like in the early days, we did, we definitely had to hyper focus on one particular use case, probably because, number one, our team was a team of engineers who our team was our most or like our lives to try to build the product ourselves first. And because we were that, I think it was a massive advantage that we had, because a lot of people who are building companies and products, they’re having to try to get into the mind of the customer. But for us, we were the customer. And so just way easier for us to build a product for ourselves. And we worked in VR together remotely. So but yeah, in the early days was mainly coders who whose use case we were trying to optimize for we didn’t really didn’t. And what that means is it designers came to our application. And they’re like, Oh, hey, like, the color is not perfect. And we’re like we’re coder. So that’s not that’s a matter to us. Or even gamers would say, Oh, this is not running at 120 frames per second. And I’m like, well, doesn’t matter if we’re coders. Like we’re just typing on our keyboard and writing code. And so, but I think by 20, the beginning of 2020, when COVID hit, that’s when we just had just this massive influx of users. Yeah, I mean, now we’re only 30% of our users are software engineers, 9% designers, but then you have everything like teachers who are teaching kids remotely in VR, you have day traders, legal teams, finance teams are just totally random people who are using our product in VR, and ultimately, it’s really just anyone who uses a computer for work that you could find using Immersed today. The
Alexander Ferguson 4:19
concept that your your core thesis that you can work better in VR, more distraction free. Why? Why do you say that? Why do you feel that truly VR can be better than just, hey, let me pull up my screen and look at it.
Renji Bijoy 4:32
Yeah, because you have everything else around it in the real world, right? The real world is stochastic, you know, you kids, not completely predictable as far as what’s going to interrupt you in your environment. Whereas in the virtual world, we get to control your environment, we created a hyper focused sort of environment so that, yeah, you’re just able to really kind of hone in on your work and on top of that, having multiple screens and he’s very, or it’s already been proven by a ton of studies online, look up that. Prove that you’re more more productive, you just have a couple more screens, or you don’t have to have 100 screens. But you, if you have two or three or four extra screens, it really does make you a lot more productive. And so for us, we ultimately spawn five screens as long as you pair your headset to your laptop, and you can take that private workstation to your couch or to your porch, or if you go on the road or whatever, if you’re living on a boat in the middle of the ocean, it doesn’t really matter, as long as you have internet connection. And you get spawn five screens, you don’t have to have five physical monitors with you. But instead just have your headset. So all that to say, our users have experienced that, you know, they, for example, they have other people working alongside them, even in the office, or if kids at home or whatever, if you had just Bose headphones and you had like you’re honing in on your one screen or two screens or whatever, it’s still very easy to get distracted just by looking around. But if you’re in immerse, you have your headset and you have your air pods or Bose headphones or whatever, you’re just in a whole other world. So
Alexander Ferguson 5:54
hence the name. It’s almost like in the name you you you focus on itself the your first principle of being truly focused on your work, but then you have collaboration, and then portability. It sounds like those are the other two, two main components. Obviously, there’s there’s still some some limitations to the hardware itself. Where do you feel is like the the the tipping point? are we are we at the tipping point now of like, we’re here now and everyone could be jumping into that? Or is it? Are you still working towards knowing it’s a year two way?
Renji Bijoy 6:26
Yeah. So as far as there being an inflection point in the adoption curve, as far as they’re just like, more people are adopting it than not, that’s going to be sort of like an apple glasses or Facebook glasses, triggering event, right? As opposed to today. Yeah, I mean, not everyone knows, or even that has ever tried a VR headset. And so, but the fact that there’s, you know, 60 million plus people on earth who own VR devices, it’s obviously encouraging. And I think this past Christmas, the Oculus quest two was one of the hottest tech items for as a Christmas present. And so it was just really cool to kind of see the the the 5x number of users increase on the Oculus store. Obviously, we from a revenue standpoint, I have benefited from that. But yeah, I mean, we do realize that the iPhone moment for VR hasn’t happened yet. However, it’s come a very, very long way. A lot of users who used to use immerse back in 2018 2019, and some people who try to immerse but decided not to use it back then, because of the lack of pixel density. They now try the Oculus quest two today. And they’re like, yeah, there is no screen door effect. Like they can see high resolution screens in VR. And so we’ve gotten to the point where now the resolution is the issue. The quality of the headsets, not the issue. Now it’s a matter of Okay, so how can we go from this current form factor to a pair of glasses on my face? So that’s not like this block on my head, right. And so yeah,
Alexander Ferguson 7:44
it’s the way it’s it comes, it comes down to the way I actually shared it to my brother in law, I got one of the HTC vibes. And he was so excited to be able to use a realtor and be able to show all the different screens and you can look at it, when he put it on. It was like, ah, just the resolution wasn’t wasn’t there. But now that the use case, and I actually usually have a quest right behind me, funny story, my mother asked to borrow it. So by my even my mother’s wanting to jump on on quest devices. Now, the future where you guys are headed next, as far as integrations, your cross platform, right, you’re both so
Renji Bijoy 8:21
well, so we are actually partnered with them as of like, the last couple of months, we’re actually in the process of porting over to a lot of their headsets. Now,
Alexander Ferguson 8:29
God, so your future is to be cross platform that that’s where you’re headed.
Renji Bijoy 8:33
Yeah. So we’re cross platform on the computer side, meaning we work on Mac, PC and Linux. But we’re not cross platform on the headset side yet, partly because we want to stay focused initially on the most commonly used headset, and it was the Oculus quest. And so because of that, like and on top of that, it just like the user who benefits the most is the user who has a portable headset, people who are using plugged in wired headsets, they lose the value proposition of being able to leave their desk and mix it on their couch or on their bed or whatever.
Alexander Ferguson 9:04
Right. One of the big hot topics, of course, is around last year with with the pandemic of everyone working remote now, they’re not at the office. We’ll just go back to Okay, this was nice. But now we’re going all the way back to office. I think everyone’s landed on it’s some sort of hybrid moment. Hybrid. Yeah, you were you were talking to me earlier, though about because you’re pretty connected with Facebook of building after the integration there about how they had reference to 20% of their employees are are focused on archivists because of the just the the energy and and realizing where this is headed. I get that right.
Renji Bijoy 9:40
Yeah, like I think yeah, I think that because COVID was somewhat of a catalyst to get a lot more people to experiment with VR. Because you know, people knew about VR for the past like five years plus, but they just didn’t really have a reason to dive into it. People will sit at home during COVID they’re like, Alright, is there some sort of way I can spend my time but also what creative ways can I adopts newer technologies in order to help my work from home situation. And so yeah, I think because of that it like it was, it was a nice catalyst for Oculus, pretty much the whole VR world at large. And so, yeah, that’s I think that’s probably why Mark Zuckerberg had decided to move a fifth of their workforce over to the Oculus side, you know, they’re 50,000 employees, that means 10,000 people are working on the Oculus side. So that’s a huge investment. I read an article I think was yesterday or they before they were spending before something like five to 7 billion a year on Oculus previously, and now that’s been increased to like, 50 to 70 billion. It’s like their skin room. That’s all I gotta say. It’s getting very real.
Alexander Ferguson 10:40
You’re definitely paying attention to that, that that trend of Okay, if if that much investments going in, obviously, the devices will get there. It’s just a question of time. And then the adoption will come along with it and the use of they even offer their own employees, they can continue to work remote if they want to. So obviously, exactly, probably Facebook employees to be one of the first to be working first.
Renji Bijoy 11:01
Yeah, yeah, I would, I would imagine, I would imagine. So like and whether it be like different versions or different applications of Facebook’s headset itself, or using Immersed or whatever competitors like for us like I think a lot of people today find very key features that only immerse could service today, again, specifically around spanning five screens on Mac, Linux or PC. And even just being able to do that without any sort of like hiccups or whatever in the technology being able to connect like it just if you download Merson, just sort of it just works. And so we intend to continue doing that, not just on the Oculus platform, but on htcs and Microsoft’s current headsets and whatever new headsets end up coming out this year, next year, whenever So, all that being said, like I think that it’s nice that it’s nice that Facebook is a very bullish manufacturer in this space. But what I do want to, I guess make clear is long term, they’re not going to be the only ones right, Apple, Google, Microsoft, even Lenovo, Samsung, Panasonic, all of them have shown their prototypes of their AR glasses. And so all these tech giants are pouring billions of dollars into this next generation of computing. So all that to be said, no matter what this is going to be the next iPhone. It’s just it’s not a question of if but definitely when. And a lot of people might think that that went is five or 10 years away. Honestly, it’s I think it’s going to be in 12 to 24 months,
Alexander Ferguson 12:29
well to 24 months that we’re going to get anything that well, you just give me more excited rendu for a murse. Just coming back to that for a second, I appreciate the point that you mentioned earlier that it needs to be just easy. And that’s the problem often when it comes technology for adoption is if you have to click over here and then go into bunch of settings and optimize this go over here got it. And it just takes forever to get started using. It’s difficult for non tech focused on people not like me who don’t love technology to get into it. It sounds like you really focused on that that area.
Renji Bijoy 13:03
Yeah, so we decided early on. Number one, we’re not going to start with PC. In the early days, we were just on Mac, partly because we had other competitors in the space who worked on PC. But mainly because PC was easy to develop or back then they had very specific open SDKs. Whereas Mac a very closed system. Whereas when we surveyed all these people, it turns out 60% of people use Mac’s specifically in the software engineering world at the time. And so because of that and more kind of the startup scene, right, which is we’re all sort of focused initially, people who don’t have to go through a bunch of corporate hoops in order to get anything approved to use it. And so for me, it was alright, so we know what the need is. Now let’s work our way back to what technology needs to be built in order to service that problem, as opposed to what most people do and our competitors did back then was what’s the easiest thing to build the fastest way to build it. And let’s just shove it into people’s faces and see if they’ll adopt it. I mean, for me, like I don’t want to use something having to be invented to be an excuse for not creating it. And so that means to ensure there, they’re less friction, are there ways to do things with less friction, but you do have to discern How do you sort of make a name for yourself in a unique way. For us, we had competitors at the time when I first started, who are four, even six years old. And for us being new in this space, the way that we differentiated was we worked on Mac and so we’re going to all the people who have rejected for those four to six years on the Mac platform, we’re like, hey, come to us, we’ll iterate with you, we’ll build the product for you. And it turns out, it really made immerse become a household name in the productivity space. And then we released for PC as well. And we started creating sort of a and we again, we want to be differentiated. So that was Hey, we’re gonna spawn five screens for you without you having to plug in extra hardware. In order to trick your computer into thinking it has five screens. Instead, we’re just going to create some virtual display drivers. And so not an easy task at all. But as long as we’re focusing on what does the user actually wants, and then we work our way back to technology and build that. I think that gets you to sort of a product that is an order of magnitude Better than what the current available options are. So I think that as we look back to the way that a lot of companies build there, they’re really just copies of each other. And I do realize there are other other players in the space who look at us. And they’re like, what is the first thing we have to do that to, in order to stay competitive, and I don’t really care that people copy our ideas, I just care that they don’t have their own.
Alexander Ferguson 15:25
I like the way we approach it, like you’re finding me find good, but you’re gonna focus on keep innovating. Now it’s a it’s a free, it’s a free base, right, that you can just download and use, but it’s once they it’s a freemium model. So so once you want to get some of the features that works,
Renji Bijoy 15:42
yeah, so we actually automatically enroll everyone into a two week free trial without any sort of obligation, like you don’t enter credit card information, or whatever, we just like, hey, experienced the premium version of our product for two weeks, if you don’t like it, go to the free version, which still has a value proposition over all of the competitors, you get one additional virtual display. Again, we’re still the only product today that does that. Whereas if you do decide to actually move to the premium version, or standard premium version, rather, enter your information, or whatever, and want to help support the company, and obviously how this grow, as well, you do get five screens, you get to collaborate with a small group of people. So I think up to four people, you get to have a lot of the premium kind of focus mode type environments. But yeah, on the free version, you can still do things like virtual co working, so you can go to a virtual coffee shop, but and you’re in a space with a bunch of strangers, kind of just like a real coffee shop, right, you just you’re not collaborating with them, you’re just working side by side, so you don’t feel alone. And you kind of have some energy around you. But you’re kind of just focused on your own personal work. But there are definitely small teams who do want to use immerse as well. And they’ll just pay the 15 bucks per month for that we do have a team’s here as well, that does enable larger groups to enter into kind of a virtual office. And so that’s something that we’re really iterating on a lot this year, because we do realize that the much larger revenue will be coming from enterprise and things like that. So all that to be said, we have historically focused on the individual consumer use case, but they have been our biggest champion in the enterprise space. So because these people work at places, and so they’re the ones pitching Immersed in pushing it to their manager, getting a manager swipe a credit card, and now we have their team on board as well. So
Alexander Ferguson 17:20
I love it. Now there’s a couple of new features that are coming on board, one of them being your phone, you can actually be able to see your your your phone in a virtual environment, can you can you share a bit about that?
Renji Bijoy 17:33
Yeah, so users have been telling us that whenever they would work in VR, it would be amazing, but they always had to whenever their phone went off, they have to like lift up their headset and be like, Alright, whatever is on my phone, and then put the headset back down. And so for us, we want people to just be able to stay focused, right? We don’t want them to have to get distracted from having to kind of go in between the real and virtual world. And so it helps just it helps our users have much more smooth experience. So like I always bring the phone into VR. And so yeah, I mean that a simple thing ever happened? No. What I will say is, we built it very quickly. We it’s somewhat of a beta that’s that’s come out, we did want to be one of the first ones to do it. Partly because we love kind of just pushing them love man. Like I think that we operate very, very different from Apple, for example, like Apple is like, will it Samsung and Android devices kind of experiment while the iPhone will just be, hey, we do all the standard stuff. But we do very, very well. And so for us we do, I’m an iPhone user, don’t get me wrong, like I and I’m a Mac person have air pods. And
Alexander Ferguson 18:32
so your your you want to be first to the punch?
Renji Bijoy 18:36
Yeah, yeah, I think that for us that when it comes from a software development, or technology innovation sort of standpoint, or just really building a product that people want, we don’t want to just build the stuff that’s safe, right? We’re not at scale, right now, we are still searching for a certain level of product market fit. So we’re gonna have to continually experiment a lot. And so because of that, we just need to kind of work on things that users are requesting. So building phone, and VR wasn’t easy. It was somewhat risky. And it is still it’s still somewhat risky, in the fact that people have the arguments like oh, that can also make me more distracted in VR. And my arguments like well done, don’t turn it on, right. And so like you could you don’t have to have your point of view, or that’s up to you. It’s
Alexander Ferguson 19:19
a balance of the sake of being you want people to be focused, but people do want features. So it’s like both building the options there. But also so that people have the control, but it’s still up to them if they want to be focused or not.
Renji Bijoy 19:32
Exactly. Yeah. And I think that I mean, if you if you want to use it, you don’t want to don’t you don’t want to don’t use it. So like for us, it’s more let’s experiment and see what it does. It’s better than just sort of making up some sort of conjecture that like oh, like, using reason too much. Right? It’s more, let’s see how fast we can build it and throw it out there. So it wasn’t easy to build. I will I mean, just to be candid, we do have some of the world’s strongest engineers working here at Amherst. And so it’s not just something that another competitor can just quickly, quickly and easily. Build, I think a lot of just to be real, a lot of people who are in the VR productivity space, kind of go a very conventional standard route in regards to who’s on their team who’s building what. And so for us, it’s like, if we’re trying to build the future of work where you teleport to the pier to teleport to the office by putting on a pair of glasses, then you’re gonna have to find some of the world’s best hackers, like just crazy coders. And so when it comes to phone a VR, that is, it didn’t take a long time, it took us maybe like the prototype was built in a day. It just we have some crazy engineers on our team. But we kind of worked out the kinks over the coming two weeks. And it was the perfect second wave of traffic to our we under campaign, which took us from 3 million bucks raise in the first day to it made us hit about 4.5 million bucks in the next day or two. And then we had a couple of other things that we released that helped us essentially have more more ways to get to the $8 million mark.
Alexander Ferguson 20:51
You’re you’re on the way there you’re you build the momentum. You’re you’re constantly innovating. But this what you just mentioned a second ago brought me back to our last column we were talking about, okay, what’s the future look like? What’s the future that you see, actually, that we’re all going to be in, in a in a year and two, three years from now, about this, this teleporting to a workplace speak to that, again, where we’re gonna be?
Renji Bijoy 21:15
We’re going to Yeah, so I think we’re going to be where people are just going to be I feel like there’s so there’s so many inefficiencies in life, that we just, we just do things because that’s just the way it’s been done. And I think that there’s so many mismatches in regards to alignment of incentives, right meaning, so people during COVID have really, really enjoyed working from home because it makes them really sort of have a good rhythm. They’re comfortable, they’re around their family, they don’t have a commute, they can stay focused. But the mismatch. Now on the flip side of everyone working from home is collaboration plummeted. And so whereas in the office before it was collaboration was at an all time high, everyone’s together, you know, whiteboarding, coding together, whatever, around the computers, whatever. But the mismatch was, okay, well not have to commute to get to the office. And now I have to say goodbye to my family, and all those types of things, right for the your consultant, you’re gone the entire week, right? Or maybe you’re gone 10 hours of the day, or whatever it is. So all that to say like, I think that if we can build a world where all of these incentives are aligned, where, you know, mommy and daddy don’t have to be gone for the entire week, because they’re having to be at the client’s site. But instead, they could just take off their pair glasses, and now they’re back home for the day. It’s like, it’s a much more aligned incentive world where you are building a use a product or have a workflow that works for the employee, but also works for the employer, because as soon as the employer needs that, put the glasses on, you’re there two glasses off, you’re you’re not there. And so if they’re, if that’s a world, where doesn’t matter where you live, and where you work, but ultimately, companies have access to global talent, and people have access to work at any company around the world, that they just love their technology or product or whatever, and aren’t limited because of where they live. I mean, now you’re just moving into a world where there’s heightened productivity and heightened alignment between what employees want and what employers want. So yeah, I mean, I think that as we move to a world where people can kind of live wherever they want, and work wherever they want, you’re no longer going to see people localized around major cities here instead of stagnancy, it kind of flattened out a little bit in regards to and even just real estate prices, right, like living in a city is not living in New York is not going to be ridiculous, right compared to living maybe an hour out from the city, right. And so you’re gonna see kind of maybe housing prices change a little bit, and then leveling the playing field. But also people living Just wherever they want, you know, I would love to live in New Zealand in the Shire, I say this all the time. It’s just such a chill, breezy, rolling hills, so relaxing. But as soon as I need to, you know, talk with Facebook on their next headset, or glasses or whatever, I could put on my Facebook glasses and just teleport to a round table with the Facebook team or whatever it is right. And so, but again, as soon as I want to be back home, take it off. And now I’m back at the Shire with my family or whatever. And so that’s the hope that we can build on the world that we can hopefully build.
Alexander Ferguson 24:10
I love the the future the future that you paint renji I’m 100% there. Thank you for that this time for those who want to hear more though about the story and the journey has been on stick around for far too We’re going to dig a bit more and hear how this has been forming over the last few years of how he got where he is today. So those that want to you should though go to Immersed.com. That’s IMMERSED.COM. Congrats on that I mentioned that was that was a journey so well. Able to try out there, this Immersed working environment yourself in VR. And so but stick around for part two of our discussion. We’ll see you guys on the next episode of UpTech Report. 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 Uptechreport.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you subscribe to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.