When it comes to both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), we tend to think of entertainment: video games, interactive stories, and the like. But Cortney Harding, founder and CEO of Friends with Holograms, sees the future of training—a future in which AR and VR provide deeper, more meaningful, and more results-driving learning.

“When you compare VR training to traditional training methods, you get a 75% increase in learning quality and retention.”


Cortney Harding, Founder and CEO,  Friends with Holograms

The caveat: Dedication to high-end design and good VR best practices will be pivotal to allow for the possibility of widespread adoption in the near future. Cortney predicts that the next three to five years will see a spike in impactful AR and VR training design.

“Every company will have some sort of VR training. Whether that’s custom for them, whether that’s something that they’re licensing from a third party, everyone will be training in VR.”

Cortney Harding, Founder and CEO,  Friends with Holograms

Cortney Harding

Cortney Harding is the founder and CEO of  Friends with Holograms.

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Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript may contain some minor wording and formatting errors. Apologies in advance!

[Voiceover] Welcome to The Future of Content, a podcast exploring how we create, manage and distribute content. Brought to you by Four Kitchens: We make BIG websites.

[Todd] Welcome to The Future of Content. I’m your host, Todd Nienkerk. Every episode we invite a guest to explore an aspect of content and to make predictions about the future of that content. If you create, manage or publish content, welcome. This podcast is for you. Today we’re talking about virtual reality and augmented reality—VR and AR. Our guest is Cortney Harding, founder and CEO of Friends with Holograms. They are VR and AR content creators who specialize in immersive training experiences. Welcome to The Future of Content, Cortney.

[Cortney] Great, thanks so much for having me.

[Todd] Absolutely. So to establish some context, what exactly does VR and AR mean, and how are they different?

[Cortney] Right. So you think of it as a spectrum—that’s kind of the easiest way to think of it. So on one end of the spectrum, you have augmented reality. And augmented reality can basically be described as a “physical”—a digital layer on top of the physical world. So the examples of that are like Pokemon GO or those types of games or just anything— Newspapers have started doing things where you can take a candidate and put them in your living room and see how that— See how they answer questions in the living room space. We can talk about that specific example later. So that’s augmented reality. The other end—

[Todd] Okay, so augmented reality is just a layer on top of something that you’re already experiencing. It’s an addition.

[Cortney] Yes, it’s an addition. Virtual reality, which is on the other end of the spectrum, is fully immersive. It’s in a headset. You’re kind of in another world. With that being said, there’s a whole layer in between that is kind of gray area. So for example, VR headsets now have the ability to sort of become AR headsets. So you can toggle functions, where you can be in a VR headset, completely immersed, and then you switch the function on the headset, and now you can interact with the experience, but also see the real world, right? There are certain types of AR glasses that are more immersive than others, and there’s a lot in the middle. So generally, you’re looking at the two definitions, but there’s also a lot of, kind of, gray area in the middle. So it’s better to look at it as a spectrum with sort of two ends and then a lot— A lot in between.

[Todd] How did you get involved in the world of VR and AR?

[Cortney] So five years ago now, which is crazy to think about, I went to a concert at an art museum in New York City. And I knew— I didn’t know that it was going to involve VR. I just knew it was an artist that I liked. And when I got there, there was a VR headset, and this is a really old school, this is like the first— One of the first headsets out there. And that was part of the musical experience, and I went through this VR experience as part of the show. And I just remember how much it stuck with me, and it resonated. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. And I was like, “This is the future.” And at the time I was working— My background is mostly in the music business. I was a writer and editor at Billboard, and then I had a consultancy where I helped international music startups launch in the US. So I was doing that, and I was also still writing at the time. So I really was just trying to learn as much as I could about VR and write about it‚ think about it. I was on a panel at [South by Southwest] 2016, about music and VR. I met a guy there named Kevin Cornish, who was a VR director. He was starting a VR production company. I became friends with him. We hit it off. I joined his production company running bizdev and strategy for them, but it was a really small operation. And so I learned so much. And then I did that for about a year, and then I decided to kind of split off and start my own agency. And that’s the genesis of Friends with Holograms.

[Todd] So what kind of work goes into creating VR or AR content?

[Cortney] So it can be similar to other workflows, like other production and content workflows. But there’s a lot of changes and different things. So the first is always for me, defining the problem or defining the ideal outcome, right? So if I’m talking to someone on the training side of things, defining the problem is like, “Well, what exactly are we trying to fix? What behaviors are we trying to change? What are we trying to teach people? What is the learning? What is the action we need people to take?” Right? You can’t just put someone in a headset and then passively watch a thing, that’s just not going to work. That’s going to not be a good experience. So really [crosstalk]—

[Todd] And why is that? Why is it not a good experience to just sit back and experience stuff happening around you in VR?

[Cortney] Let me clarify that a little bit. So there are pieces that are passive, but they’re engineered to be passive. So my friend does a really cool meditation VR experience. But even though you are just sitting there watching, it is designed to be experienced on that level. But when you’re trying to teach someone something, they need to have some sort of interactivity. There needs to be something that they are doing to aid in their learning. I think the sort of worst VR pieces that I’ve seen have been the ones where somebody just puts a 360 camera in the middle of Paris, and you’re kind of like, “Well, what am I doing here?” Right? That’s just kind of not an interesting experience. So it’s understanding: What is the lesson? What is the outcome? On the AR side of things, it’s the same. It’s like, what are the metrics we’re trying to measure? Is this something that is going to be really socially shareable? Is it going to drive downloads? Is it going to— What are we trying to do here, right? So it’s understanding that, and that’s something that we really focus on, right? Because that’s going to drive everything else. And then from there, some of the production workflows then become similar. So for VR, if we’re doing 360 video: It’s cast. It’s writing a script, making a storyboard, casting, finding locations, hiring a director, production day, editing and making sure the footage looks good, and cleaning it up, and all that. Then—

[Todd] So video-based VR has a lot in common with video production?

[Cortney] In some instances— Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. There are other things you need to sort of take into account. So what makes it different than flat video production is you can’t cut— It’s harder to cut things together. So for example, we did a piece where you had four different people in a room, and basically it was like if one person flubbed their line, that was the end of the tape. So everyone had to nail everything because it was impossible in 360 to sort of cut things together as easily as it is in 2D.

[Todd] And this may be obvious, but why is it difficult to cut things together in 3D versus 2D? Is it that it takes you out of the experience if you see somebody’s hands suddenly move from one position to another.

[Cortney] Yeah, exactly. It’s too choppy.

[Todd] Okay. So it’s basically like a smash cut, but it’s happening all around you, and it’s very disorienting.

[Cortney] Yeah, there should never be smash cuts in VR, ever. I’ve seen people do them, and I’m just like, “No, don’t do that.” Right? And that’s the type of thing where— So if you’ve got a roomful of four people talking, but you’re only on one person at a time in 2D, then you can kind of switch from person to person to person, but in a 360 environment, right, people are looking around. You don’t know where people are looking at any given time.

[Todd] Right. So in that way, there’s a lot of similarities with theater.

[Cortney] Yeah. And we cast theater actors and actresses in most of our pieces because we find that they’re the ones who best understand the fact that we can’t be doing a zillion takes, and we can’t be changing things on the fly. And also they have that level of sort of emotiveness that works really well in VR.

[Todd] Yeah. So by emotiveness, do you mean that theater expression about “being big?”

[Cortney] Yeah, right. Because I think in VR it’s, especially if we’re doing— We did a piece about child welfare workers, and the actress, the main actress, is a mother who’s about to lose her children, so we needed a lot of emotion from her, and we needed it to feel very genuine. And so yeah, I just feel like, in our experience, theater actors tend to just be really well suited for VR.

[Todd] So that’s an aspect of what goes into creating VR content. What then goes into creating AR content?

[Cortney] So AR content also, you need a good understanding of 360 space. AR content, you need to fundamentally really understand what the relationship with the physical world is, and what the interactivity is. Because a lot of what I’m seeing coming out in AR is just kind of like, “Here’s a thing. Put it in a room.” So USA Today did something that I—I mean, I’m glad they’re experimenting, I just didn’t think it was well done—where they volumetrically captured Andrew Yang. And they just have him talking about universal basic income, and you can put him in your living room. But, like, why?

[Todd] Right. What do you think they were trying to get out of that? Was it just simply to make people think, “Oh, wow, USA Today is doing something really forward-thinking and cool.”?

[Cortney] Yeah.

[Todd] Or did they actually think at some level that this would be a step towards really identifying with a presidential candidate?

[Cortney] I think they were just— I mean, I think they were just experimenting, and that’s great. But to me, the experiment kind of fell a little bit flat. Yeah, I think they wanted— Like The New York Times is in a lot, and they are— Right? I think in VR and AR both because of the place where the technology’s at, a lot of the time you get people that are just like, “I want to do a thing in VR,” right? And that’s fine, but you have to be a little bit more intentional about it. So in AR, you really need to understand the space and the interaction, and then what are you driving people towards. So I’ll give you an example of the best AR piece that I’ve seen all year, and I’m super bummed that I didn’t get to build it, but whatever. It’s so amazing. So Burger King did a campaign in Brazil called “Burn That Ad.” And the idea was, Burger King wanted people in Brazil to be downloading the app so that they could order online and have all their information and their points, and Burger King could obviously access all their data. So they were trying to figure out, “How do we get people to download this app, so they can order burgers online?” Right? So they came up with this campaign where every— You downloaded the app, and then every time you were out and you saw like a McDonald’s ad or a Shake Shack ad or whatever, you could hold your phone up over the ad, and it would—that ad, competitor’s ad—would burst into flames, right? And that was part of their flame-grilled burger campaign.

[Todd] Oh, okay [laughter].

[Cortney] If you did that enough times you got a free burger. You got a free Whopper. And also if you socially shared it [crosstalk]—

[Todd] Wow. So there was a payoff.

[Cortney] Yeah, there was a payoff, and it got people using the app more. And people were sharing it, and it was just so well executed. And it was super viral, and it won like a ton of Cannes Lions, but it also drove a lot of downloads and social traffic.

[Todd] So what made that effective then, as opposed to Andrew Yang standing in your living room talking, kind of, in the middle distance at you, is that this app was playing up Burger King’s whole thing about being a little more confrontational with other fast-food chains and being— The kind of being like the bad girl, bad boy of the whole scene?

[Cortney] So, yeah.

[Todd] Okay. And so they were also then making use of things like image recognition, right?

[Cortney] Yeah.

[Todd] Oh, wow.

[Cortney] So that I mean, and it’s funny because a guy that I work with who’s a developer did a similar project a couple years ago, where this was— If you went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and you had the app, if you hold your phone up over certain paintings, it would show alternate art. So it was kind of this political message and— So it’s definitely doable. And I think with Burger King, yeah, it was a mix of getting people to download the app. And also, the thing that was great about it was, it did make really good use of the physical world, right? It wasn’t like you were just randomly lighting things on fire. That would be kind of fun, too [laughter]. It was like you’re lighting a McDonald’s add on fire, right? So that’s a very—

[Todd] Right. It was specific.

[Cortney] Yeah. So that I mean, that I loved. So I think that’s what goes into really good creative in AR is figuring out— Or like, here’s another example. So this was an interstitial ad in a casual game. So an Angry Birds type of game or Words with Friends, one of those types of things. And the ad was a portal, which is kind of a door that you can walk around, walk into, walk out of, in augmented reality, which is cool creative. And I love portals and building portals. The problem was when you were playing this type of a casual game, you are generally on the subway, on a bus, in a line at a bank—

[Todd] Right. Lying in bed, whatever.

[Cortney] Lying in bed—you’re not generally in a situation where you want to get up and walk around, either because you can’t, or because you just don’t want to. So it was interesting creative, but it was the wrong creative, right? And I think that’s another thing that you have to pay close attention to in AR, and it goes back to, what does the physical space look like? And if you can’t— Yeah, context, exactly.

[Todd] Well, related to effective and ineffective use cases for AR and VR, I want to come back to that. But there’s— You and I first met at AWE in 2018. That’s the Augmented World Expo. It’s an AR and VR event. It’s very tech-heavy. And I attended your session, and in your session, you were, I guess, frustrated about the state of things. And it was, I think, towards the end of the last day, and I had gone from session to session. I’d walked around the floor, and we were experimenting with a lot of AR and VR stuff at our organization, Four Kitchens. And I was— I’d very much connected with what you were saying because I was also very frustrated about, just, a lot of hype. And it was so refreshing to hear you speak plainly and candidly about like, “This is where things actually are with VR and AR, and these are the things we need to be doing and the things we need to stop doing.” And I’m curious to hear more about how you were feeling about that industry at that point in 2008? And then what has changed for you since then?

[Cortney] Well, so in 2018, a couple of things had happened. I mean, the first and foremost was, I had left Moth+Flame, which was the VR production company I worked at earlier that year, or the year before, and I was— My former co-founder at the time and I were getting Friends with Holograms off the ground. And things were kind of slow. It was not as big a market back then as it is now. And then my co-founder left very suddenly and in kind of a not great way. And at that point at AWE, I was just really fed up, and I was kind of— Honestly, had one foot out the door. And what I talked about at AWE was my frustration with that event and with many events in the VR space—I don’t think it’s just that event—where it becomes very self-congratulatory, and like, “Look at how great we are. Look at how cool we are.” But the problem is it’s happening in this echo chamber and the wider world is not seeing it. And so I think I was really in a frustrated place in my sort of day-to-day life, and I was really just sort of saying like, “Hey, if we’re going to make this successful, we need to get out of this little bubble.” And these events are fun, and they’re great, and it’s so nice to see your friends and chat and then congratulate each other. But realistically, we can’t just stay in this bubble. We need to get out. And I think what has happened in the sort of intervening year-and-a-half, two years, is we have seen a much greater mainstream adoption in VR, right? So you’re seeing a lot more training applications, you’re seeing a lot more commercial applications, gaming applications. The space is really growing. And I think the headsets are changing. And I think that 2020 already, just in terms of our deal flow and the stuff that we’ve done, is going to be— even if I did no other work this year, it would probably still be one of our biggest years, and obviously, it’s January [laughter], so I’m going to keep working. But yeah, I mean, it’s just like, the market is now starting to really, really heat up, which is incredibly exciting.

[Todd] And is it heating up because the devices are better, or that it’s more mainstream, or they’re finally figuring out where it’s effective? Do you think that this is a, like— We’re at a new curve in the hype diagram, and that’s why it’s actually viable at this point?

[Cortney] Yeah, I think absolutely. I mean, I think the headsets have gotten better. So the Oculus Go, which came out not even two years ago, was revolutionary. So the Oculus Go is an all-in-one headset. You don’t need to put your phone in it. You don’t need anything else. And so that fixed a huge point of friction, which a lot of people have been dealing with before. And the Oculus Quest came out last year, and that’s a six degrees of freedom headset, so you can move around in it. Great price point, and you don’t need the big computer because that was a huge point of contention for a lot of people who wanted to do much more immersive VR.

[Todd] Yeah, you need to get a super deluxe gaming PC that will run you $2,500.

[Cortney] Yeah. I mean, I have one, right? I’ve bought an Oculus Rift, and it’s a work expense. But like, yeah.

[Todd] Sure. With a new headset, and you mentioned six degrees of freedom, and I’d like to just explain that, yeah, real quickly. So I believe it goes from three to six degrees of freedom, right?

[Cortney] Yes.

[Todd] Okay, so three degrees of freedom means you’re standing there and you can look up, down left, right, and you see a 3D space, right?

[Cortney] Right.

[Todd] Six degrees of freedom is you can actually move within that space. You can move forward, backward, up, down, left, right, and the world moves with you as if you’re in it.

[Cortney] Yeah, that’s correct.

[Todd] Okay, okay. And this new— You said this was an Oculus headset that does six degrees of freedom. Do you need—I forget what they’re called, but, like—markers that sit in the room and know your position in space and feed it back to the unit?

[Cortney] You do not need that.

[Todd] Wow.

[Cortney] So basically, you can just sort of define your space. So basically, what you do is you create what’s called a perimeter. So let’s say you’re doing it in your living room. You either have a giant living room, or you move your furniture out of the way, but you don’t want to just be walking into stuff, right? So what you do is when you set up the headset, you just use the controllers, and you create a space around it. And that’s just kind of the space that you create. And then you just kind of have to stay in that space. And there’s— messages will come up that show you, okay, you’re stepping outside the space.

[Todd] Right. But it’s still— The unit itself is tracking you within that space accurately.

[Cortney] Yeah.

[Todd] Oh, that’s fascinating. That’s really cool. Well, let’s take a quick break, and when we come back, we will continue talking with Cortney about training applications in AR and VR.

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[Todd] Welcome back to The Future of Content. Our guest today is Cortney Harding, founder and CEO of Friends with Holograms. I’d like to talk a little bit about training which, my understanding is, is one of the most effective use cases for AR and VR content. Is that accurate?

[Cortney] Absolutely.

[Todd] So what are some— How do we know that VR training is effective? Are there some statistics or case studies that you can reference that demonstrate that this is more than anecdotal?

[Cortney] Yes, and that’s a perfect setup. So I just opened up a deck that we use that has all of our stats, so I’ll just kind of read these out to you because they’re pretty fantastic. So when you compare VR training to traditional training methods, you get a 75% increase in learning quality and retention. Facebook— So that’s from Accenture. So again, you’re seeing much better outcomes when it comes to learning. Facebook did some research, and they found 40% reductions in training time and 70% performance improvement. So again, that’s compared against other forms of training.

[Todd] And those other forms of training could be things like, you have a trainer come in, and everybody sits in a classroom-style environment, or you watch some videos online or read a book or something like that.

[Cortney] Yeah, exactly. So the case study that I love highlighting because the numbers are so incredible— So last year, Imperial Medical College in London did a pilot where they took two groups of med students. The first group trained in VR to perform a simple procedure. The second group trained the way they’d always trained. And then they put both groups of students in a lab setting and said, “Okay, now perform this procedure.” 83% of the VR group were able to do it with minimal guidance, okay? Guess how many of the non-VR group were able to do it.

[Todd] 50%?

[Cortney] No, zero. None.

[Todd] What?

[Cortney] So this is kind of the result that you get, right, with VR. It is, and we’ve seen this in our work. The amount of people who’ve been moved by the work or been sort of like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve never thought of this before.” And the people who do our child welfare piece, who do it, and they cry, or they get really into it, or they say, “Oh, my God, is that kid okay?” And I have to say like, “Well, she’s an actress. She’s fabulous.” So just the sort of emotional, visceral response that we get from this work, I think really speaks how powerful it can be. And then one thing that I’ve been doing is writing quite a bit about what is the return on investment for VR, right? Because VR can cost money to create. It’s not cheap. You have to buy headsets and— But if you look at these numbers that I just mentioned, right, that is cost savings, right? You train people— What used to take people 10 weeks to learn, now takes them six. Huge, right? If people are doing their jobs better, then you’re going to get better outcomes and results. And a lot of the stuff that we do has been focused on diversity and inclusion. Looking at like, who’s going to sue you last, right? Or are you going to retain more talent, right? I talked to a client recently, and the problems that she brought to us was in her large organization, all of their senior leadership, who are women and people of color, were just leaving because it was so toxic. And figuring out how do you solve that, because those people are going to your competitors, and you’re losing that talent that you’ve worked to develop. And it costs money when you have to hire new people. So really thinking like, what are the outcomes and what’s the return on investment? And once you start kind of thinking that way, VR becomes a very, very good deal.

[Todd] And it scales.

[Cortney] And it scales, yeah.

[Todd] Wow. So going back quickly to this example that— This med school example where this— I forget the name of the school. What was it again?

[Cortney] Imperial Medical College in London.

[Todd] Imperial Medical College, okay. So these medical students were being trained on a certain procedure, and 83% of those who did it in VR were able to do so again with minimal instruction. And then those who didn’t, everybody needed instruction, additional instruction. So that sounds like the kind of training that involves something that’s very physical, right? You’re performing a procedure, which means “you put this here, you do that there, you make a suture here,” that kind of thing, right?

[Cortney] Yeah.

[Todd] Okay. The kind of training you focus on, I believe, is what on your website you refer to as “soft skills training.”

[Cortney] Yeah, that’s correct.

[Todd] Okay. And so that’s the stuff you’ve been talking about with child welfare, and diversity inclusion and issues like that. That touches on— I see there being two kinds of training so far that we talked about. There’s very application-focused, tactile training, performing certain physical actions in a certain order in a certain way. And then there’s more empathy-based training. What are your thoughts on the two of those, and how you create content or work with content for those very different kinds of training applications?

[Cortney] So the nice thing for us is we work with our clients to solve their biggest problems. And so for us, it’s really just understanding, “how do you best operate in a 360 space?” and then using that knowledge to solve the problems for our clients. So it’s a little bit easier and more straightforward to do some of the stuff where it’s like, put widget A and widget B, right? I mean, that stuff is interesting, and we like working on it and consulting on it, but that’s a little bit more straightforward, right? The soft skills stuff is a little bit more challenging because you have to simulate an environment that’s incredibly realistic, right? And if people start feeling in any way that it’s not real or—

[Todd] Cheesy.

[Cortney] It’s cheesy, then you lose them immediately. And so that’s where we really work to make it, again, as realistic as possible. And in terms of outcomes for soft skills training, I mean, I can just tell you a story for a piece that we did, the diversity and inclusion piece. So we were user testing this piece. We had just done a prototype of it. And we had a user tester come in, and he was the final user tester of the day. And it was Friday afternoon. We’ve been working all week. We’ve met with a client. So this guy comes in, and he’s the manager of his family’s steel mill, outside Pittsburgh. And he comes in, and he basically— His neighbor worked at this company, that was our client. And his neighborhood had said, “Oh, you should come by.” And he was really skeptical. He was just like, “Oh, I don’t know, but sure.” So he comes by, and he puts on the headset, and he does the experience. And he took off the headset, and then he said, “That wasn’t a conversation. That was an emotional experience.” And of course, I’m watching through the other side of the glass barrier, and I’m losing my mind. I’m so happy. And he spent the next hour unpacking privilege and the concept of privilege, and what it’s like to be excluded because he never felt like that before, right? He was a middle-aged white guy who worked at a family business. He was the boss’ kid. Everyone was nice to him. And he just never had that feeling before. And so he went back to this company, and he did two things. He, one, started calling on equal numbers of men and women in meetings. So he would just keep a little note and hatch mark. And the second thing he did is he stopped people from interrupting each other. And he said the women would come to him afterwards, of course, being thankful. But the men would come to him afterwards and say, “I never realized I was doing that.” It was so unconscious for them.

[Todd] Sure.

[Cortney] And that’s the type of stuff that again, we see— It’s one guy. It’s one company. But I think that’s the type of stuff that can really scale and lead to really incredible behavioral change with this stuff.

[Todd] Yeah the potential for that kind of experience to be deployed across the society, not just in a workplace is really kind of mind-bending.

[Cortney] Yeah, it’s pretty— It’s really exciting. I mean, it’s such incredibly fun stuff to work on. I have the best job on Earth, right? There are days when I get frustrated. There’s days when I get angry. There’s days when clients are not moving as fast as I want them to or whatever. But if I look broadly, I’m like, I am so happy to be doing this because this is incredibly interesting. It’s changing all the time. I’m learning new stuff every single day. And I’m solving new problems every single day. And the call I was on before this call was with a woman I know who’s a lawyer, and she works at a big firm, and she was like, “How can we use VR?” And brainstorming with her on anything from diversity and inclusion within the firm to practicing for depositions, practicing with hostile witnesses, and it’s those types of calls that I love because it’s that type of brainstorming exploration. And we have a thing that we do at Friends with Holograms, where every Friday afternoon—in fact, that’s what I’m going to do after I finish this—we sit around a whiteboard, and we have some drinks, have some snacks, and either we put a client problem up, or we make up a problem and put it up. And we just iterate for a couple hours. And it’s really fun just to see like, well, if someone came to us and said, “We want to do XYZ in VR,” how would we do it? And we just throw out a bunch of ideas and mock it up, and then sometimes those become paid projects, and sometimes those are just learnings for us, but it’s so fascinating because it’s so wide open, and it’s such uncharted territory. And to get to really explore it is incredible.

[Todd] Well, speaking of uncharted territory, I’d like to close with exactly that question. Where do you see the future of training content heading, and where do you see the future of VR and AR content heading?

[Cortney] So, I think training in the next three to five years, it will just be something that everyone trains in, right? Every company will have some sort of VR training, whether that’s custom for them, whether that’s something that they’re licensing from a third party. Everyone will be training in VR.

[Todd] You say everybody. There are a few people I know who really can’t do VR because it makes them nauseous.

[Cortney] Ah, okay, so here’s the deal with that.

[Todd] Ah, can of worms [laughter].

[Cortney] No, I just get this question all the time, and here’s the answer. It’s a really simple answer. It’s not VR that makes you nauseous. It’s bad VR that makes you nauseous. Have you ever been in a car and reading a book or reading your phone and you start feeling—

[Todd] Oh, yeah, yeah, of course.

[Cortney] Okay. That’s because your body and your mind are moving at different speeds, basically, the easiest way to put it. And that sort of throws off the— That creates an imbalance. VR sickness comes from a similar thing, except it’s reversed, where if your eyes are moving, but your body is still, that’s going to mess you up. So we have demoed for thousands and thousands of people at this point, and we’ve never had anyone get sick.

[Todd] Really?

[Cortney] Yeah, because we pay attention to that. And I think that that’s going to be the type of thing where good VR design becomes— You see VR design best practices, and now it’s going to mitigate against that. There are people who can’t do VR because they have visual disabilities. And that’s something that we have thought about in terms of a solve, and we’ve come up with Braille cards that you could use, things of that nature. So there are solves for that. But the nausea thing, I think that’s bad design. And I think that’s going to get solved as you get better and better VR in the market.

[Todd] Got it. Okay, that’s helpful. Thank you. I interrupted you. You were talking about training content.

[Cortney] Yeah. So I think everyone’s going to be training in VR in the next couple of years. Headsets are getting more and more affordable. There are companies like us who do custom stuff, which is great for larger companies. There are companies that do sort of off-the-shelf stuff, which if you’re a smaller company, great option for you there. And I think it’s just going to become second nature for people to be doing this type of training. And I think that market’s going to expand, and then I think the education market is going to expand. So I’m sure Facebook is not listening, but if they are, I’ll just make a suggestion. So in the early ’80s, Apple Computer and Steve Jobs got an RFP from the State of, I want to say, Minnesota. And the State of Minnesota said, “Can you supply all of our computer labs with computers?” And Apple won the pitch. And so Apple put all their Apple IIes in every public school in the State of Minnesota. And Apple sales skyrocketed in Minnesota because kids would use Apple IIes at school and they’d say, “Mom, we need one of these at home, and I need to do my homework, and blah, blah, blah.” So then Steve Jobs is like, “Oh, okay, here we go.” So they figured out a way to basically write everything off on their taxes, put Apple IIes in every public school in the country. And that’s what you— I grew up in the ’80s, and I remember the computer lab and the Apple IIes and going home and begging my parents to buy a computer and saying, “I need this for my schoolwork, and I need this for learning,” and of—

[Todd] That’s why we wound up with an Apple IIGS.

[Cortney] And that’s how the real personal computer revolution got started. If Facebook really wanted to blow this up, they would put Oculus headsets in every single public school. They’d fund a ton of educational content, and then kids would go home and say, “We need this.” Now the difference is these headsets are a lot more affordable than an Apple computer was and still is. So I think the training market is going to be huge. The education market is going to be huge. And those two are going to lead to people then using it for entertainment, and obviously, people are using it for gaming. And so I think it’s— And also the devices will continue to evolve. Headsets have changed profoundly in the last five years, and they’ll change profoundly in the next five years. So the headset that I have today will be a relic fairly soon. The genie’s out of the bottle, and there’s no putting the lid back on, right? And I think that this technology, again, it’s going to keep growing. It’s a little bit of a matter of like, well, how quickly does it go?

[Todd] Sure. I have one more related question. This is the encore because I’m so fascinated by this technology and also just technology adoption in general. So at an AWE event, I don’t remember if it was the same one where I attended your session, maybe it was the year before. But there was a keynote speaker who was talking about— Who was comparing AR and VR devices and experiences to the adoption of smartphones. And how everybody thought that the smartphone, it was going to revolutionize this thing and that thing and the other, and it’s a great gaming device, and all of these things. But if you look at the statistics, and how we actually use smartphones, we spend the overwhelming amount of our time on them doing things like texting and reading email. Boring, prosaic, everyday stuff. And the takeaway I took from that keynote was: For VR and AR to truly be something that is as indispensable as the phones in our pockets and bags and everything, that we need the email of VR. What is the thing for VR and AR that’s going to make it absolutely indispensable? Everybody’s doing it. Everybody’s got it. You can’t leave the home— You can’t leave your home without it. What is that thing? Do you think, have we found it yet? What’s going to happen?

[Cortney] I don’t think we found it yet. I think that we are still figuring that out. I think what’s— I think pure VR will never be like a smartphone, right? People will use VR, but it’s never going to be the type of thing that you have on your face 24/7 because you literally can’t function in the world. I think people— I think what’s going to happen is, you look at the augmented reality headsets. Apple’s supposedly working on one. There’s the North Focals, which are great. You’re going to see a lot more of these augmented reality headsets. And that’s going to really be where the sort of near-term hypergrowth is. And those are things where you can get your email. You can get your text. I mean, the North Focals, which I really like, you can email and text on that already, and it’s going to be much more voice-based. So it’s going to be common in a few years rather than tap, tap, tapping on your phone, you just walk around, and you’re like, “Reply to John. Hey, John, great to hear from you, blah, blah, blah. Okay, send.” Right? So I think that’s going to be really interesting to see how humans adapt to that. And how annoying that’s going to be when we just [crosstalk] [laughter], screaming into their headsets, but whatever. So yeah, I mean, if you think of the number of things that smartphone made possible, right? So I mean, I worked in the music business, and Spotify revolutionized music, and Spotify would not be what it is today without smartphones, right? Uber and Lyft, right? I was just in Chicago on a business trip, and I just took Uber everywhere because it’s easy. And I’ve traveled overseas. I’ve taken Uber in countries where I don’t speak the language at all, and it makes my trip so much more seamless. I don’t have to worry about, like, “Oh, my God, I have to translate this for this cab driver. And do I have enough rubles?” Or whatever. It’s just like— Think of all the businesses that are huge, huge public companies that would not exist without smartphones. And I think that is kind of the ecosystem that could potentially grow up around VR, is this ecosystem of like, “Here’s the social VR app. Here’s some gaming apps. Here’s an entertainment app. Here’s storytelling in VR.” And again, we are really, really, really on the ground floor here. And I’m so excited to be in this space, where it’s like, who knows where things are going to go. I see new, interesting stuff in VR every month. And I get so excited about it. And I think what’s really cool about this technology is like— When personal computers first came out, it was like, “Let’s do spreadsheets,” right? When smartphones first came out, it was like, “Oh, I can check my email on the same device I make a call from.” And then Uber comes up, or Lyft comes up, or Spotify, or any of these other apps. And so I think we’re at the sort of very, very early stage. And what’s going to be fascinating is in the next five, ten, however many years. What’s the Uber of VR? And I don’t mean using VR to call a car service. I mean, what is that killer app that no one is even thinking about yet?

[Todd] Right. Ah, fascinating. Well, this has been great. Thank you so much for your time. I’m very, very interested in the future of augmented and immersive content. Thank you, Cortney, once again. I hope we can talk again soon.

[Cortney] Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.

[Todd] Thank you. Well, until next time, everyone, enjoy your content.

[Voiceover] You’ve been listening to The Future of Content, a podcast from the Web Chefs at Four Kitchens. Hosted by Todd Nienkerk. Produced by PJ Hagerty. Theme song is PAFRATY by DJ Listo. Find us on Twitter at @FoCpodcast and get in touch by email future@fourkitchens.com.