5 Steve Jobs Methods to Avoid VR’s Failure in 2017

I’ve moved my blog to founderknowledge.com. Founder Knowledge Fridays are when new posts are published.

Last week, I was inspired to find ways to make VR mainstream after reading Cody Brown’s article on Oculus’ failure to sell VR. The Best Buy poster made me reflect on which Oculus advertisements I remember best. There’s two:

  1. The fake-looking butterfly photo
  2. The woman in a headset staring at an Intel logo (photo is below)

Steve Jobs focused on ways to direct imagination while unlocking creativity. These are the tried-and-true tactics VR companies (like Oculus) must use or face extinction (e.g. Google Glass):

1) Sell Experiences, Not Products

Which would you spend for? Source: IMAX and Best Buy

I’ve never quite understood a creative director’s pains until I saw the poster above (to the right). Make me a Jedi Warrior or even a stormtrooper; I don’t care. Just as long as you don’t show me another picture of person staring at an Intel logo!

Today, people value experiences over possessions and would rather rent than own. Rather than ask people to change their mentalities, why not speak with words we listen to?

When consumers are willing to pay per ticket for VR experiences but unwilling to try a full demo at the local Best Buy for free, something’s got to change!

IMAX offers a once in a lifetime John Wick and Star Wars experience and The Void sparks my imagination by letting me a part of their Ghostbusters story ($29).

Now, compare this with the $15 to $25 a movie on the Oculus Store plus the device price ($800*) and cost of a new computer ($1,000). You’d need to see a lot of movies to break even! (And the quality of the movie wouldn’t be as good.)

2) Have a Clear Unique Selling Proposition

Consumers have limited income. Every purchase limits their option to get other items.

When marketing tries to appeal to everyone and announces that VR is a tool that can do anything, consumers are left unclear on the reason to buy it. A consumer’s unanswered question is simple:

“Why should I buy this instead of a TV?”

Note: replace TV with whatever you would spend $800* on (e.g. a computer or vacation).

With the introduction of every Apple product, Steve Jobs compared the products to household items so everyone could understand the tangible benefits.

Steve Jobs unveiling the MacBook Air. Source: Pinterest

In 2001, Steve Jobs announced that the iPod could hold your audio library (“1,000 songs in your pocket”) at a time when the CD player was struggling with 25 songs.

Likewise, when the “world’s thinnest notebook” (the MacBook Air) was announced in 2008, Jobs hid it in a Manila Envelop, something that every white-collar used in their office.

For me, I see clear advantages for VR in the enterprise space: VR allows you to make & save boatloads of money (yes, boatloads!).

Unfortunately, in the consumer space, that benefit isn’t being communicated effectively yet. Oculus and HTC are pushing consumer games and entertainment as the reason to buy a device, but if I role play as an unbiased consumer, this would be my first question:

Why should I pay $800+ for a device that is marginally better and has limited games that I can’t share with others?

3) Be the Hero of the Industry

Steve Jobs’ mentioned what’s wrong with current phones. Source: brunch.co.kr

When Steve introduced the iPhone for the first time, he outlined major pitfalls with current devices like plastic keys and a “yucky” stylus.

After Steve conveyed his frustrations the audience, they started to realize the compromises they’d been making at the time.

Then, once the current limitations were established, Steve swooped in to save the day with Apple’s “Revolutionary UI” and talked about the benefits of contextual UIs. Thus he made the then popular phone manufacturers the antagonists (sorry BlackBerry!).

Oculus and HTC can better outline the problems with current technology and outline improvements that VR will have on life (rather than using VR for better baby photos**).

4) Turn Customers Into Evangelists

Steve Jobs undeniably a master story teller and influencer.

Apple Store line up. Source: F169BBS.

His passion for every product he released was so contagious that it often extended to Apple’s customers. Customers believe in the brand so strongly that they pay hefty sums for products and even recommend Apple without being paid to do so! (i.e. Apple Fanboys)

In contrast, Oculus has been known to provide developers with little to no feedback especially for app submissions and have made it difficult for developers to share their apps freely. (Which are both unforgivable and two of the main reasons I created ConstructVR.io.)

5) Invoke Emotion in Sales Messages

That moment when Mark Zuckerberg tries to be Steve Jobs. Source: The Verge

I realize there’s a tendency for us (developers) to talk about features (like FOVs, 6DoF, FPS, etc) but these numbers mean very little to non-technical people.

One thing Oculus can do a better job on is to invoke emotion with the presentations they make. When I talk to Creative Directors and Artists, I immediate realize that they use a wide vocabulary of Sense Words to stimulate emotion e.g. Steve loved to use words like “phenomenal” and “beautiful”.


* I realize that Oculus recently lowered their price but at the time of writing/research it was $800 and the Vive is priced at $800 as well

** There are those of you that want higher quality/better baby photos and I apologize ahead of time!

Summary — 5 Ways to Prevent VR from Failing in 2017

  1. Sell Experiences, Not Products
  2. Have a Clear Unique Selling Proposition
  3. Be the Hero of the Industry
  4. Turn Customers Into Evangelists
  5. Invoke Emotion in Sales Messages


If you’re listening Oculus, please captivate my imagination by showing me alternate worlds. VR has to ability for me to be whomever I choose, a Jedi Master or even Princess Peach. Try partnering with companies that have established fan bases to propel VR into mainstream. (e.g. Star Wars, Star Trek, World of Warcraft, Overwatch, etc.)

Want to ask an investor?

If you’re interested in asking a VR investor questions or seeing their thoughts, please let me know through the Wufoo form below.


Note: When we get 100 signups, I’ll ask a VR Investor your questions on a public live stream!


I’d like to leave you a quote from Steve Jobs that motivates me to take risks and improve quickly:

Steve Jobs’ quote on innovating quickly. Source: IZ Quotes

Always be learning,


Chris Tan is the CEO and Co-founder of ConstructVR.io. He is a Y Combinator Alumni from Vancouver, Canada and now lives in San Francisco, CA where he spends his free time meeting other VR enthusiasts.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store