2018 SXSW Pitch Winner: ARwall
Some of the world’s most innovative startups are showcased at SXSW Pitch, formerly known as SXSW Accelerator.
If your startup wants to be involved in the 2019 competition, then click here for entry information. But don’t delay on getting involved, because the final entry deadline for SXSW Pitch is Thursday, November 15.
Entrepreneurs, founders, funders, investors and other related professionals will also want to attend these two tracks of programming at SXSW 2019: “Entrepreneurship & Startups” (scheduled March 8–12) and “Tech Industry & Enterprise” (scheduled March 8–13).
Eric Navarrette, the CMO of this Los Angeles-based startup answered questions for this interview. Photo above is Chief Product Officer Jocelyn Hsu, with an ARwall in the background displaying a futuristic city.
Also, click here to read ARwall’s pre-SXSW interview from last February.
You’ve created an augmented reality display that requires no headset, no goggles, no smart device. Are there any new / recent developments / changes / stories to share on how ARwall is being utilized?
Our first project will be debuting in December and we’re absolutely thrilled that we will finally be able to talk and post about our involvement! The use of ARFX, our AR film tool, is literally history-making, as this is the first time ever that augmented reality assets were used for the final production of a show.
In addition to that, there has been a lot of interest in our interactive AR product, AR3D. We’ve been in talks with agencies, networks, brands, and studios about interesting ways we can engage with fans at major festivals, conferences, and premieres over the coming months.
What have been some key developments for ARwall since March, when you won the AR/VR category at SXSW Pitch 2018?
I think the major change we have to announce is that we closed our first funding round! So, you can expect to see ARwall equipped soundstages to be built early next year here in the US, followed shortly by more installations internationally!
We’re also adding more people to the team every week right now, allowing us to build out all of the functionality that we pitched last year into tools that people will soon be able to use.
Which kinds of opportunities did winning your category at SXSW Pitch open up for ARWall?
Our SXSW win was a big one for us! I think it’s safe to say that it expedited our growth as a company. It’s often hard for people to wrap their minds around this marriage of augmented reality and filmmaking, let alone the other verticals we’re moving into. So successfully navigating through the rigor of the SXSW Pitch gave us the exposure and instant credibility that we needed to get introductions and meetings with the right people.
We also had the privilege of connecting with some of the biggest innovators in the AR/VR space, who have been huge resources over the past year. It’s been a real pleasure to continue the conversation with our fellow attendees and competitors to uncover new ways for us to collaborate.
Whether at SXSW Pitch (or someplace else during your time in Austin in March) was your most memorable moment from SXSW 2018?
I’ll never forget the absolute moment of shock I felt as our name was announced. It was a huge moment of validation for me and really signaled that this technology we dreamed up wasn’t just us tilting windmills, but was something that got people excited.
But on a personal level — the barbeque!!! I still wake up dreaming about some of the food I ate in Austin and can’t wait to have it again in March.
Could you name a favorite session or networking event SXSW 2018?
As both a podcast nerd and a first-time entrepreneur/person of color struggling to complete fundraising, one of my favorite events was being able to see a live taping of one of my favorite shows, The Pitch, and the opportunity to speak with Arlan Hamilton afterwards. I went in expecting to hear someone talk about how to best pitch investors, and instead had this totally moving and inspiring experience listening to Arlan, and learning how parts of her story paralleled my own and many of the team.
It is hard for people of color to get meetings, to be taken seriously, to secure capital period. And I often wondered how much of our struggle this past year was from our missteps, our failure to communicate our vision, and how much of it was from bias — whether conscious or unconscious. It was an inspiring experience and lit a new fire for us when I unpacked it to the team.
Do you have any advice for applicants to the 2019 SXSW Pitch contest?
You need to have a clear idea of your story, and the need that your product satisfies in that narrative. We built this exciting film tool that renewed us, as a motley team of filmmakers, and made us excited again to go out and make projects! That maybe isn’t a huge social issue that we’re solving here, but empowering artists to tell stories is still important and I think a lot of people who attended the pitch resonated with that — it’s hard not to when SXSW has so many storytellers present!
To be honest, I remember our very first draft of the pitch — I felt like it was aligned with our vision, our culture as a company, and told the story we were trying to tell. Some of the coaching we received in the weeks leading up to the event was about how we should throw that out the window, here are the talking points the judges are expecting to hear, by slide X, you should have made these points already, etc., etc. It stopped feeling like our voice in the presentation, but we were told this is what they would expect.
And then, the day before the official pitch, we did that presentation for the rehearsal, and every single one of the guest judges for the rehearsal ripped it to shreds. In fact, the judges did that to pretty much every team in our category.
So, we were in a pretty vulnerable spot. We felt devastated, we were less than 24 hours away from presenting, and we basically were told that the pitch we’d spent the last 6+ weeks developing was unusable, and that the judges didn’t understand who we were, what we did, or why anyone would care. Rene and I were eating dinner, wondering what we should do, and that’s when I pulled out my computer and banged out a two page script at the table. I threw everything away, and wrote a new pitch. Reading it over, I realized it was in essence the same pitch we started with. It sounded like our voice again, and I could feel the passion from Rene as he rehearsed it. That, ultimately, was the pitch that won the event.
My overall advice is listen to your gut. Respect the input and criticisms that people and coaches give you as you work on your pitch, but if you feel it falling drastically out of line with your voice, your brand, and the story behind your company and product, you might need to ignore advice given with best intentions and come ready to pitch from the heart.
How about suggestions for SXSW Pitch finalists on how to best to showcase their startup?
We ran a continuous loop of videos: Proof of concept shots, explainer videos, footage from a production that used us — anything interesting that featured ARFX. That content was enough to draw people’s attention, and then it’s simply a matter of having a real conversation with people as they ask you questions. If you have a product you love, there’s nothing you like better than explaining what it is, why it’s amazing, and how it’s fixing a problem.
During SXSW, we were barely a year old and hadn’t yet come to market, but we knew that we had a revolutionary piece of technology. We believed in that vision and I think that resonated with everyone we spoke with!
Do you have tips to share for making the most of SXSW 2019?
Look at the schedule, use the app, and sign up for the events that interest you! You’re not at SXSW every day, so attack each day with energy and a sense of adventure. Learn something cool, try something fun, and be willing to change your plans when a new opportunity comes up! We were introduced to a lot of interesting brands, and were walked from meeting to meeting as people said, “You know who you need to talk to…?” and there’s no way to plan for that, you just need to go where a good conversation takes you.
Also, bring lots of business cards!
Aside from the technology that you are working on at ARwall, what excites you most about the augmented and virtual reality space as we enter the fourth quarter for 2018?
There is still a lot of uncharted territory here! The space is so new, that there aren’t really any established experts or old adages that everyone feels compelled to follow. Plus, the market is obsessed looking for the next Pokémon Go, so any company doing something different is inherently working on something exciting and novel.
I think people are realizing that there are applications for AR/ VR outside of entertainment and gaming. We’re beginning to see this technology in medicine, education, retail, real estate, etc.
What new tech industry trend / development in technology are you most excited about?
For us, the ways that mixed reality keeps moving forward and how there’s an overlap there between production and consumer experiences. That’s sort of the grey area that ARwall lives in too.
We’ve been extremely interested in interactive technology without the wearables, especially with the approaching launch of our second product, AR3D. This opens the door for a lot of really cool, frictionless experiences for consumers and attendees to have, depending on the deployment. ARwall is basically trying to make it possible for people to have a Holodeck-like experience, whether it’s at a SXSW installation, a movie premiere, or somewhere else. We’re really excited to take part in some of these never-before-seen mixed reality experiences.
What should we expect to see from ARwall over the rest of 2018 and in 2019?
Keep your eyes peeled this December! Our first project is debuting and we’re so excited for everyone to experience the capabilities of ARwall first hand.
We also have something completely out of this world planned for our return to SXSW, so I’m looking forward to give you more details about that when we can disclose more! It’s going to be a great experience and has a great message behind it.
Lastly, we’ll be opening at least three ARwall Studios in the US and UK. The first locations will be in Los Angeles and central Florida!
Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.