We talked to Jim Colvin, president, and CEO at Serious Labs, about virtual reality training, and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jim Colvin: We are doing as well as could be expected. I have a daughter in university who is attending classes remotely and a 13-year-old who can’t visit her friends and has had to cut down on social interactions. It’s been challenging for them as it has for so many, but everyone’s in the same boat, and hopefully, we will see the end of it soon.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Serious Labs.
Jim Colvin: My background includes a combined 35 years as a businessman and technology lawyer. I discovered Serious Labs in 2011 and found them doing amazing things in simulation using and video game technology. My partners and I subsequently invested in the company, with myself taking on the CEO role, and we haven’t looked back!
How does Serious Labs innovate?
Jim Colvin: We build virtual reality (VR) simulators for heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, and forklifts. These products help to assess and train operators, all in a safe, repeatable VR environment. VR is a powerful training tool, and studies show that the skills you build in VR are highly transferable to real life. To create our simulators, we use real machine parts and add motion for an ultra-realistic experience. Then we develop interactive training scenarios that provide skills needed for the workforce. The result is that when you step into the simulator, it’s like being on an actual job site. You can practice scenarios from beginner to advanced, you can learn and fail safely, and you can build your skills without tying up a real machine. Some of our customers include general contractors, sub-trades, airlines, and training centers, and we’re proud to be helping them operate more safely and efficiently with our simulators.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Jim Colvin: Unfortunately, the impact has been dramatic across the entire industry. Most of our customers’ capital budgets froze throughout 2020, which affected us significantly. It’s been a challenging time for everyone, but particularly so for many of our customer segments. Saying that the adoption of new modalities for communicating and delivering training has accelerated by several years as the world has had to adapt and adopt, so there is a very large silver-lining from that perspective.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Jim Colvin: We did have to make some very hard choices. Like many companies, we were in survival mode and had to make certain sacrifices. While difficult, it will ultimately make us stronger as we get through the pandemic and come out stronger on the other side, which we are already witnessing.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Jim Colvin: Our customer relationship management has evolved dramatically as we’ve moved to remote connection with our customers. Remote meetings, socially distanced deliveries and setup, and guidelines for sanitizing our simulators have all become the new norm. It has worked very well—we have a very adaptable team here, and they’ve been very creative in making sure that everything works and that our customers continue to receive excellent support.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Jim Colvin: Yes, we did. We were able to leverage many of the federal and provincial government programs here in Canada, and they have been a godsend to us.
Your final thoughts?
Jim Colvin: COVID-19 has been a once-in-a-century challenge and has brought so much loss to so many. My wish is that as we all build back from the pandemic, we don’t just try to get back to normal—I’d like to see us try to get “back to better.” If there’s been one upside to COVID, it’s that it’s led us to question our assumptions and help us realize that some things that previously seemed impossible are actually achievable. I hope our industries take this as an opportunity to launch forward and do things in new and better ways. I know that’s what we’ll be doing at Serious Labs, and I hope many other companies and governments will do the same and find a “better normal” on the other side. We know that VR can help do that and train people to a higher standard, and we’re excited to be part of what’s ahead.
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