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Makers of The Metaverse: Art Lee Of Rove Concepts On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Attention to detail is everything.

Don’t be afraid to take risks and experiment.

Challenge where the technology can take us.

Be patient.

Work with people that share your vision.

The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so exciting. What is coming around the corner? How will these improve our lives? What are the concerns we should keep an eye out for? Aside from entertainment, how can VR or AR help work or other parts of life? To address this, we had the pleasure of interviewing Art Lee.

Art Lee is an ecommerce entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of Rove Concepts. Art has been active in leading edge ecommerce platform technologies from early days of web SEO optimization, proprietary IT development, ongoing evolution of SEM, to the beginnings of a meta realities economy via VR, AR, and XR industries.

In 2011, Art Lee set out to fill a gap he recognized in the online furniture space at the time. Noticing that companies like Amazon had started with books and CDs yet stayed away from furniture, he saw an opportunity to create a brand that elevated the online furniture buying experience. Thus, he came up with Rove Concepts — a DTC furniture company that would change the industry while maintaining the integrity of his grandfather’s business using a contemporary, global business model.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?

From a young age, I have always been intrigued by business, science, and technology — there is something about learning how our world works that is deeply engaging for my personal curiosity.

I realized that to effect change, building a business was the best platform for me. Despite attaining a Finance degree from university, entrepreneurship was always the only path for me right after graduation. I sold my secondhand car, my only possession that was worth anything at the time, and used the proceeds to fund my first business venture in ecommerce.

In 2011 from my small studio in South Granville, Vancouver, I founded Rove Concepts, a high-growth online-based furniture company that aimed to deliver quality, handcrafted stylish furniture to the masses.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The 1997 film Gattaca. This story made me question the future we are all working towards as a society — if a better future is the goal. The story’s social dialog and the protagonist’s ambitions of going to space resonated with me metaphorically, if not literally.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the X Reality industry? We’d love to hear it.

When I started Rove, it was obvious to me ecommerce was the way to unlock the accessible luxury trend for the home furnishings space. Standing here today, it is also clear that the next evolution in digital retail will be more groundbreaking than the current ‘tech-enabled D2C’ model as we know it. As a brand that is thinking a generation ahead in digital retail technology, we are here to pioneer the way a brand should engage their customers through meta reality. I believe the key for a meta reality economy is decentralization in ownership, content, and experience. For example, the Oculus Headset is just one platform through which people can engage with virtual reality environments created by Rove. Once consumers can experience an immersive web, they will not go back to the old web.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?

One of Rove’s sectional sofas was spotted in the post-apocalyptic video game The Last of Us. Our products are designed in-house so it was easy to spot. To this day, we wonder how it got there.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As the hilarious epitome of a startup hands-on owner-operator — very early on I found myself on a given day writing ad copy, talking to developers, destuffing a container without a loading bay, driving out in a minivan to deliver a customer’s table, and taking customer calls while in the minivan. What I quickly learned was that I cannot do it all and started hiring people who specialized in different areas. I also learned that by doing it first myself, I could now fully relate to work done by team members, no matter how far I reach down into the organization.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

While there are many people who I have met along the way that have helped me achieve success, I would like to particularly thank my grandfather for inspiring me. Growing up, I had always admired his passion for creating beautifully crafted furniture and I was inspired by his work of art. No matter what you do, you need to love what you do in order to keep yourself grounded, and my grandfather did just that. Even after his furniture company grew with many people working under him, he never stopped creating and designing furniture because that is what he loved to do. Whenever I feel that I am drifting off course, I always remind myself of the core reason I am in this business — creating beautiful modern furniture that is both accessible and affordable to the masses.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

This summer we are launching a carefully designed and curated new furniture collection that can be viewed as functional art. The interesting thing about the collection is that the pieces will be tied to its virtual counterpart via NFTs. A feature of the future metaverse will be portability across platforms. What’s unique here for Rove’s collection is that you will get to own a functional piece of art both physically and virtually with a link between the two.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The VR, AR and MR industries seem so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? Can you explain or give an example?

The ability to bring the entire Rove showroom into the customer’s home is exciting. The customer can design, create, and preview in photorealistic AR the full set of products in the live environment. For example, in our 3D planner one can pair a sectional with a coffee table, side table, rug, floor lamp, and media console, then drop the entire configuration into their living room to take pictures and videos and share.

Another is the potential to change the meaning of a home page for the user. How interesting would it be to invite your friends living in other cities around the world into your virtual home that you have carefully decorated? Items you collect in your digital journeys can be displayed in your virtual home as you do with souvenirs. Your avatar will be the one navigating these virtual environments. Someday you may put as much or more effort into this virtual world as you do today with social media.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the VR, AR and MR industries? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?

New technologies are double-edged swords. Some argue our virtual connections are robbing us of real connections. There is of course a philosophical debate of which is necessarily more meaningful. I do think it is a function of information — as of today, an in-person face-to-face meeting will give you much more than a video call. The natural progression of VR, AR, and MR would get us closer and closer to mirroring what we consider to be a full information environment. It may be de facto teleportation someday, if all the senses are being engaged.

As an industry, we do need to be careful about what experiences we put in front of people, especially our youth. While the same can already be said of TV, movies, and video games, there are still reference points for your mind that what you see is not real. As we move into fully realistic environments, we will want to be more thoughtful on what we put into our consciousness. As with most things, I would say arming individuals with knowledge is the best way to address these concerns.

Lastly, not unlike social media today, we would not want to give people the wrong priorities within the X realities over pillar values like health, family, and accomplishment. If done well, we should promote these values rather than distract from them with virtual technologies.

I think the entertainment aspects of VR, AR and MR are apparent. Can you share with our readers how these industries can help us at work?

There will be an evolution of working from home and staying engaged with your colleagues. We all lived through the pandemic routine of back-to-back-to-back video meetings. This will change if companies expect to keep team members engaged and still maintain the flexibility of remote work. As a stepping-stone towards full immersion, there will be widespread use of individual avatars for people to go into virtual offices. Gamification has proven to be a strong path to engagement for individuals. I believe Rove can play a big part in creating these beautiful, immersive virtual environments in the future, from architectural skyscrapers to exquisite interiors.

Are there other ways that VR, AR and MR can improve our lives? Can you explain?

My hope is that the biggest impact for virtual technologies will be made to those lives, ironically, least touched by technology financially. For the vast majority of humanity, traveling around the world to experience new sights and sounds is simply not possible financially. With several more iterations in hardware and software, VR can be widely adopted like smart phones. Once that adoption has occurred, people around the world can connect with each other and with the world on a very different level. We will become more understanding of each other’s cultures, values, and dreams.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in your industry? Can you explain what you mean?

It may be common to think that virtual technology is what creates the content. In reality, it is absolutely the people behind the technology that create the vision. Virtual technology is like the paint and the brush for the artist or the camera and gear for the film director. It is a pure artistic pursuit that happens behind the scenes for an immersive virtual environment to be compelling.

What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The VR, AR or MR Industries?”

Attention to detail is everything.

Don’t be afraid to take risks and experiment.

Challenge where the technology can take us.

Be patient.

Work with people that share your vision.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

If I could start a movement or create change in people’s lives in some way it would be to push for personalized education. Personalized learning helps students take their strengths, and interests and build them towards a skillful set for further growth. Growing up, I knew that I wanted to create something that I could call my own but the paths that I was guided to seemed like a “one size fits all” approach. Through personalized learning, children can learn at their own pace, and create their own pathway for each individual’s personal and professional growth. In other words, learning to learn is the critical skill for our youth. Today, all knowledge is free and available at our fingertips. Like the legendary Ray Charles teaches, “life is notes underneath your fingers- you just have to play them baby!’’

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Elon Musk — I started following his work before Tesla and SpaceX became mainstream in the media. If you go back to his old interviews, he has been very consistent in his goals to build an exciting future for humanity, and his ideas have been consistently unique and simple yet rational. What he is building through his companies today are obviously far from simple in terms of technological innovations. The goal of each company, however, is dead simple.

I would ask questions and hopefully learn answers to fascinating topics, with the view to one day pay it forward. This for me, would be like Elon’s equivalent of a private lunch with Franklin or Edison. He would surely ask them interesting questions.

Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Fotis Georgiadis

Fotis Georgiadis

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market

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