Ilian Raykov – VR Express

VR Express


ABOUT: My journey to VR was on side unexpected and on the other side long overdue. Since my early teen years I have been fascinated with the idea of starting a business. Despite this fact and the many ideas I have had over the years I was not really any close to starting an actual business up until the establishment of our company VR Express. As far as academia goes, I have studied BA in Austria and shortly afterward I changed my study to ICM in The Netherlands. The latter experience I deem very useful since it had few subjects where basically the “lean startup” methodology was implemented and one could actually witness the process of creating a customer-focused ready to sell product. After a few years of living abroad, I was reluctant to start a career there since my aspirations were related to going back to my home country in Bulgaria and undertake an endeavor on my own. Probably the most influential circumstance which lead me to start a company up was me beginning to do martial arts, in particular, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The systematic approach of this martial art towards skill acquisition and personal development has allowed me to gain self-confidence, believe in the presented opportunity and take the risk to start a company despite all associated risks like the fact that we were underfinanced, we were entering a non-existent at that time market and I had no actual experience with running a company, etc.


How did you guys get into VR?

– In 2014 I was told about VR from my best friend and now co-founder Georgi when he sent me a few reaction videos of people trying the Rift for the first time. Immediately, I was deeply
impressed and together with Georgi, we decided to order one Rift, test it for ourselves and go from there. Needless to say, once I put on the headset and tried one Gondola experience I was hooked.
After feeling the immersion and trying out a few more experiences I was convinced that the potential use of this technology is basically borderless – medicine, military, education,
entertainment, heavy industry, etc. After testing the headset with a dozen friends and getting positive feedback from their experiences, we decided to open a virtual reality club –at that time there was only one such in Moscow and a VR café in Vienna, Austria – and this is how VR Express was born.


What is it like working with you guys?

– We are truly passionate about VR and immersive storytelling altogether. It is a cliché but we do leave parts of ourselves in every project we work on. Our customers can expect always prompt and thorough communication, deadlines upkeep and most importantly they can expect always a flawless end product/ service of the highest quality. We believe in transparency when communicating with our clients, thus project briefings are held on a few occasions throughout the working process to make sure the client has a clear idea of how the project is coming along. We are proud to have the opportunity to work with this disruptive technology and push the creative boundaries of this immersive medium. This is another reason why we put great value on collaborations with different artists and developers who are involved with traditional as well as immersive arts, VR/AR/MR, project mapping, motion capturing and others.

How would you describe your company culture?

– Our company culture is easy going, everyone is dedicated to doing their best and helping each other along the way. We are indeed a learning organization and put great value on always expanding our knowledge and skills, both individually and collectively. Everyone at VR Express believes in the power of immersive technologies to better the way our society and we as individuals work.
Another important aspect of our company’s culture is each member’s willingness to help out a colleague. We put as well great value on having fun and quite often spend time
together outside the company as well.


What is your company’s core expertise?

– Our company’s core expertise stems from the days of our VR arcade and the transitional period between then and the time we pivoted to a b2b business model. As pioneers in the field we were able to witness the evolution of the VR experience as a whole -from the very first interactions of users with the DK2 til the current state of affairs with wireless HMDs. We have a fine sense of the peculiarities of the technology and what makes a VR experience stand out. We have built upon those insights with the production of 360 videos, interactive 3D experiences and especially in utilizing the workflow of creating interactive animated experiences, the environment in which has been drawn completely in VR. Finally, provide strategic consultations to businesses who want to incorporate XR in their business operations whether that is marketing, corporate training, engineering or anything else.


Do you offer any type of satisfaction guarantee or revisions of completed work? 

– We believe that customer satisfaction is the natural byproduct of a job well done. Nevertheless, what we strive for are loyal clients and long-term partnerships, thus customer satisfaction is a
must for us. We do not offer a satisfaction guarantee since clients in our region tend to abuse this practice. We do trust our working process which is completely designed with this goal in mind. We do give a friendly “Reality Delivered” certificate to clients upon project completion. Depending on the nature and complexity of our clients’ requests (360 videos, interactive
experience, AR content, etc.) we offer between 1 and 3 revision opportunities free of charge BEFORE the final submission of the project. (if the client approved all briefings and all of a sudden wanted a change which has not been previously discussed, this revision WOULD be charged). Since we believe in the exceptional quality of our working service we feel that we can meet any
customer’s expectations.


Can you explain to me why I should invest in a VR marketing campaign?

– Virtual Reality can be explained as entering a cave, one you put on the VR headset you forget the outside world, much like after entering a cave when exploring it, you are
present in the moment, hyper-sensitive to information cues and the spatial surroundings. Using Virtual Reality in your marketing campaign gives you the possibility to tap your customer´s deepest emotions and senses. Engaging your potential customer in an experience like that simply cannot be compared to traditional marketing tools- such as Videos, Promotions and various on-site engagement activities. Until recently we as marketing experts have always thought in a linear or in a two-communication model – we have a message, we get it across to the receiver and then
get feedback from him before the process begins. With Virtual Reality, you encode your message into the experience itself -since the viewer is no longer simply observing a
story but an active participant, the viewer is in fact always in the role of the main character. This gives marketing specialists an opportunity like never before to convey emotions to
their potential clients on a deeply personal level. There has never been such a shortcut to the customer’s hearts and brains like currently there is with the implementation of VR
into the marketing mix of any campaign.


If you were to speculate freely. What sort of VR experiences do you think we will see in the future, in terms of marketing? 

– I do believe that, in a way, we already live in the future. I can easily imagine looking 10-20 years into the future are VR technologies that are so ingrained into our daily lives that they are as
common as bread. How marketers will use all this is another question. I will be really surprised if by that time Coca Cola, for example, does not offer a trip to their “Happy Factory” where you put on the headset and step into a virtual world, which is almost indistinguishable from the real world -hyperrealistic graphics, full-body presence, sense of smell and haptic feedback systems which allow us to physically feel the environment and interact with it and with other people as well. The future of VR marketing is in filling the gap between our imagination and what is actually
possible to do in VR. The trend is obvious and sooner or later VR experiences will become indistinguishable from real-life experiences. As time passes by and technology evolves, marketers will be able to instantly deliver a virtual world tailored to the customers' specific personality and character- this world would evoke their deepest emotions, desires, and needs.

What are the risks and pitfalls of VR marketing? Describe what you would advise against doing.

– As it is with any powerful tool, incorporating VR into your marketing presents some unique challenges. It is common knowledge now within the industry that a boring and uncomfortable experience would result in a bad experience for the user. Thus, specific interdisciplinary expertise is required and the lack of which presents a problem when clients want an advanced and more interactive experience. Currently, a serious issue when using VR is the limited content distribution opportunities- although any 360 video content can be uploaded in popular platforms such as YouTube and Facebook, watching 360 content through your desktop or mobile is far from a true VR experience. This is why, when marketers use VR content it is a good idea to organize and hold content promotion events where the public or potential clients could experience the content through a high-end VR headset. Last, but not least, the significant financial resources required to produce high-quality 3D interactive content such as an experience, a game or a training simulator proof to be an issue for potential clients, more so because of their general lack of understanding of how VR should be used in marketing than any other reason. I would advise any marketer who has intends to use VR, first to invest the time and research the technology’s background and its current best applications so one could get an understanding of the technology’s possibilities before making any further steps. I would definitely advise against making uninformed decisions such as picking the first studio you find to do your project and would advise keeping in mind you want to use VR to its fullest potential you should think of your VR more in a long-term rather than using
it as one-time-fixer kind of a tool.


Pick a brand and product that you like and tell me what sort of campaign you would create, given total freedom and an unlimited budget.

– One particular engaging campaign would be the combination of using a treadmill together with an HMD. This would be a perfect thing for Jonnie Walker and their popular “keep on walking”
theme used in a lot of their commercials. I would even build upon the themes used in the previous year’s ads such as the robots theme and “the man who walked around the
world”. The viewer will walk on a path through an ever-changing environment that enriches communicates the “keep on walking” slogan. The ingenuity of this campaign lies in its ingenuity and ease of installation – you need some standalone headsets and few treadmills to make an awesome event. Moreover, if this campaign proved a success you can always make spin-off experiences similar to the original but with different themes. Moreover, this experience would not be age- restricted so it has the potential to enhance the brand’s awareness furthermore once the
experience is published on different VR platforms.


How big can VR marketing get and what will it take for it to get there?

– I believe strongly that currently, we are experiencing the very beginning of VR marketing- the general public has a vague idea what VR is and marketing professionals
are just dipping their toes in the field. Marketing alone has come a long way in explaining the buyer’s decision, especially considering all late discoveries in neuroscience. It is now a question of putting this understanding together with the understanding of VR’s possibilities in order for VR to become an integral part of any marketing campaign. Virtual Reality will be a fundamental pillar of any marketing campaign in the future and it is our understanding of the VR experience alone- what makes it intriguing, to what information cues do we respond the most, which circumstances make for the best memory retention as so forth and so on. In summary, I believe that our ability to understand the human mind will be the driving force behind utilizing VR marketing in the most effective way possible. At the same time, this represents our limits in doing so as well.


How would you define a successful VR marketing experience?

– A successful VR marketing experience is an equivalent of experiencing something awesome, rather unique and rare, something which as soon as it happens it is part of your memory, and of
you, for the rest of time. Just like when we experience something out of the ordinary and we are so fascinated by the experience that we are eager to share it with all our friends and family, the same characteristics can describe a successful VR marketing experience. There are secondary means to measure the effectiveness of a VR experience such as attention heatmaps, but seeing the pure joy of people never lies.


What is it about VR that gets you excited?

– There are now numerous studies across medicine and many different implementations of the technology in various industries like manufacturing, construction, logistics etc. Thus, I am most excited about the possibility of VR to change the world for the better. It is obvious that VR can radically enhance our learning capabilities, it can help us in reducing our irrational biases concerning issues like racism, poverty, minority rights, and others and it provides infinite creative possibilities. As with any other powerful tool, it is vital that we as a society use it for good. For the same reason, I feel some anxiety as well when thinking about the future and VR.


What VR experience do you fantasize about experiencing in your lifetime?

– For me, the ultimate VR experience would be one where I have a full-body presence and I am able to physically interact with people. What I would absolutely love to experience one day is
training Brazilian jiu-jitsu and doing parkour in VR.

December 20, 2019 by Rick