First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Luke Lu: We are doing great. How are you and your family doing?
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Unusly
Luke Lu: The idea of Unusly started long before COVID-19. We always have this firm belief that in the future world, the interaction between human beings, business to consumer, and business to business can be connected closer than today. So we are building software and services for business cases where the sense of presence is most needed, allowing people to be anywhere anytime, even across oceans and nations.
Before funding Unusly, I was in the virtual reality industry with big corporations like Google, Sony, and a successful startup. I was building the first few eye-tracking VR systems with HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Daydream.
I was born in Taiwan and became an immigrant for my Ph.D. degree at Princeton University. There, I designed a pioneer quantum imaging system using entangled photons and won the Emil Wolf best paper award.
I like volunteering, which drove me to take a presidency in a non-profit organization of a minority group. We have raised over $30k to support over 1k immigrants (TsingHua alumni ) in the San Francisco Bay Area, providing diverse services from social networking to career development.
How does Unusly innovate?
Luke Lu: In Unusly, we build software applications running on top of robotic hardware to help foreigners connect and control their robots as tour guides over the cloud. Deliver and receive timely information as presented physically.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Luke Lu: The COVID-19 makes the team difficult to collect data in-person onsite; it pushes us to integrate robotic and high-speed-low-latency network technologies as soon as possible to overcome the crisis. Also, it results in the team working remotely, so we have to be more dedicated to team building, over-communicate, and consistently motivate each other.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Luke Lu: There are some lessons about social psychology. We realized people invest us based on two major human behaviors:
- Trust: in this case, our product or service doesn’t matter to them. They just believe the team is going to make something big at some moments. Concerns are must on if the team can keep the promise — won’t give up.
- Fear: in this case, our product or service doesn’t really matter to them as well. They care about the growth of the company, reflecting on users, revenue, or raised funding. They are afraid of missing and feeling regret.
Accepting someone’s investment is intrinsically the same as recruiting a new member into the company. The difficult choices are whether to take someone’s trust, fear, and the responsibility of making her/him better or not.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Unusly in the future?
Luke Lu: When stress and anxiety comes, it’s definitely feeling bad. But I always think two questions and one action item, which make me optimistic and happy:
- How do I want to invest my most precious energy and body in my limited lifetime?
- What is the worst scenario if I make this decision (or mess things up)? In this case, how bad is it compared to being at the end of life and asking, ‘what if I did?
- Enjoy my favorites, such as stand-up comedy and volunteering works!
Unusly vision is: Getting a tour guide, including real-and-virtual combined interactions and presence, should be as simple as getting a video conference by Zoom or getting food by DoorDash.
Another Unusly mission is to eliminate biases and discriminations on robots. We respect robots as much as our collaborators because they are really improving our life together. Robots are immune from covid-19, and humans are immune to computer viruses, so we could help each other to achieve a win-win situation.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Luke Lu: Airbnb is very likely keen to do the same thing as a service directly for their users.
Double Robot sells telepresence robots, focusing on robotic video conferences for corporations. Video conference technology prioritizes voice signal over visual signal, which is not optimized for tour services.
Matterport provides an end-to-end solution on virtual tours, including hardware and software. It gives a dominating service of 3D tours, but it focuses on still photography.
Our service is to complement existing products, not to compete with them; we focus on below two niches:
Time information: Most existing online tour services are made by static photos or are incomplete by pre-recorded video clips. It left behind key information such as timeline and blind spots, which can hold back paying customers’ purchase intents.
- We complement traditional online tour services. With our service “Unusly Alice”, future tenants, renters, or potential buyers and property agents are connected with listing properties over the cloud. Showcasing the space to people across countries and oceans is just as easy as how we usually do in person. Users can control Alice to navigate in the space for their own exploration. It also provides users an omni-view with live navigator support with a real-time map. Alice even takes users on time travel (with time-lapse) for a more holistic experience.
- Data ownership: This is a surprising lesson we learned from our potential customers. Most existing products host users’ data and claim data ownership, which raises data privacy and security concerns. For example, the complete information of a single house hosted by a third-party may be leaked and then cause security concerns. For another example, users want to have the flexibility to repurpose their data for follow-up applications such as Airbnb leasing, home renovation, or interior design.
Your final thoughts
Luke Lu: In the post COVID era, we are more grateful to workers on the frontline fighting for our public health, and we are more patient and supportive to people who might be suffering from the abnormality.
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