Taylor Freeman of Axon Park tells us about Medical VR Training and the future of business.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Taylor Freeman: I am grateful to report that my family is healthy. My heart goes out to the families who have suffered tragic losses during this time. I can’t even imagine how painful and unfair that must feel.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Axon Park
Taylor Freeman: I have been working in the VR and AR (XR) industry since May 2014. My passion is using immersive technology and AI to enhance learning and human cognition. I have been fully focused on the VR education space for a number of years, during which time I had the opportunity to lead the first in-VR class conducted at the MIT media lab, as well as work with companies like Google, NASA JPL, and others on VR training and education. In 2017 my co-founder and I were awarded Forbes 30 under 30 for our work building UploadVR.com, currently the XR industry’s largest news and media platform reaching millions of people per month. I started this new company, Axon Park, with the mission to build a virtual campus where people from all backgrounds could teleport in to learn new skills that enable them to further their careers and live more fulfilling lives. Our core focus right now is around medical VR training for healthcare professionals.
How does Axon Park innovate?
Taylor Freeman: Innovation is essential at this stage of the immersive technology industry. It seems that new interaction techniques and design paradigms are being discovered by the industry on almost a daily basis. Our team is focused on staying on top of the leading innovations and using a first principals approach to identify new methods of interaction that can improve the immersive learning process. By partnering with some of the industry’s leading medical and academic institutions, we are constantly aiming to stay one step ahead while iterating on our products and services.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Taylor Freeman: I feel very fortunate to be working in an industry like VR during the pandemic. By virtualizing space, people can still feel like they’re together, even though in reality they might be thousands of miles apart (not to mention six feet). The combination of the Oculus Quest 2 release in October last year and the lockdowns has caused VR usage to skyrocket over the last few months. One of our biggest challenges is maintaining a high level of service as try to cope with the demand.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Taylor Freeman: I used to run two coworking spaces in Los Angeles and San Francisco up through 2018, and let me just say, I am so grateful to have transitioned out of that business prior to the pandemic. I really feel for business owners who had to maintain their physical spaces during all of this. It must have felt incredibly trapping. It’s really disappointing to see how everything unfolded and how many companies have gone under. I think a key lesson is to avoid large fixed costs, especially as a startup. Office leases can be brutal given that you’re signing on for multiple years (for example our lease in LA was 7 years). As a startup, 7 years can feel like an eternity. It’s just not smart to lock yourself into something like that and it should be avoided at all costs (sorry commercial real estate brokers and office building owners).
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Taylor Freeman: We live in a spectacular time where a huge percentage of business can be conducted from anywhere that you have Wi-Fi and a computer (or phone for that matter). Of course, some businesses that are physical asset-heavy don’t have this luxury, which to reiterate above, if you are starting a company it’s really worth considering how you can adopt your business model to avoid having physical products or space requirements.
Our team uses a mix of platforms and tools to communicate and collaborate. A lot of the usual suspects like Zoom, Trello, Asana, the Google suite, WhatsApp, and email. On top of this, social VR has been an amazing tool for building culture and hosting team meetings. We’ll jump into AltSpace, Rec Room, VRChat or one of the other social platforms and treat it as though we were having an in-person company event (although with VR we can meet on the moon or ocean floor if we’re feeling like it).
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Taylor Freeman: There are a number of VR training companies out there who are doing great work. The playing field is enormous right now and I look at these companies as allies and partners more than competitors. Eventually, as things get saturated over the next decade, I’m sure there will be more competition, but I also believe that the companies who can sustain from now through the end of this decade could all be in a pretty good position.
Your final thoughts?
Taylor Freeman: I really send my best to everyone who has been struggling through this time and I encourage you to find the silver lining in all of this. The world is forever changed and the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital in so many ways. Opportunities will be abundant if you maintain a positive and open mind.
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