Makers of The Metaverse: Sandra Helou Of Zilliqa On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
“Understand the key aspects of strategy. You cannot enter it thinking you just have a great idea. You must have a strategy to back it up.
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 Sandra Helou.
Sandra Helou, the Head of Metaverse & NFTs at Zilliqa and Co-Founder at Metapolis, has in-depth knowledge and a multidisciplinary background spanning traditional and digital industries. Sandra leads Zilliqa’s NFT and Metaverse projects across growth, partnerships, strategy, marketing, and conceptualization and her global experience across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East enables her to deliver on both strategy and execution levels. A Futurist and action leader at heart, Sandra is committed to enriching and innovating the creator economy, Web3, and MetaFi / NFT space.
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?
“I was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia my parents had left Lebanon during the civil war which meant that culturally I had the advantage of belonging to both the East and the West being multilingual. My first degree is in International Business and Law however my true love for advertising took over and I moved on to my second degree in Advertising and Marketing with a sub-major in psychology & graphic design. I grew up using mIRC and being between that digital transformation that was taking over, I don’t know if anyone remembers the social platform Hi5 (haha) — I’m a self-taught coder. I developed an application because I couldn’t find one that did what I wanted on the app store. I am lucky to be multidisciplinary and have had a pretty interesting and exciting career with the companies & projects I’ve worked with and the clients I have had. I love the art world and connecting people together for collaborations, I have also worked as an artist agent and representative for emerging and recognized artists within the art world. Fun Fact — I don’t have the Aussie accent.”
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?
“I was obsessed with David Ogilvy and his approach to advertising and that was what led me towards my career. I would also say that Paul Ardens “Its not how good you are, its how good you want to be” was a great read aswell, The teachings of the Bauhaus and recently Mo Gawdats interview on “Diary of a CEO” presented by Steven Barttlet, The concept of minimalism and simplicity paired with the understanding of ikigai. I wouldn’t say anything in particular sticks out in specific as the journey of growth both personally and professionally should include multiple significant impacts from a variety of places.”
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the X Reality industry? We’d love to hear it.
“Being at the forefront of technology and technological advancements in my career it was a clear path towards this industry. Having worked with a number of clients who wanted to be innovators within their industry it meant pushing boundaries and conceptualising projects and campaigns for brands which included new and advanced ways to engage and grow the end user base and build communities around that. I would say the trigger point however was NFCs (the QR codes unsuccessful but extremely important cousin) & Beacons — Wanting to find solutions to mass consumer engagement and community building leading to loyalty. Aside from my own curiosity, I once presented a client who wanted to grow their brand engagement and refurbish their loyalty program with a pitch that included the activation of VR, AR, and QR codes and NFCs to grow the database and bring their brand history and strength to life. At the time, they said it was too early for this kind of technology — it’s interesting to see so many companies trying to implement that strategy now.
I would also say a bit of my own curiosity with the Nintendo Wii and general trajectory of digital knowledge and advancements.”
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
“Every day is interesting! Launching all the new products has to be the most exciting: Metapolis, the metaverse powered by Zilliqa, as well as Rialto, the NFT marketplace bridging the gap between artists and Web3 has been great.
Being at the forefront of building out the next internet is the most interesting aspect of my career. Each day, we are building out Metapolis and the role avatars will play in our digital identity has been an absolute joy.
Zilliqa in itself has seen great growth from when I first joined and its been great being involved in the growth and progress.”
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?
“Be careful when you click reply all! Always double-check who the recipients are and who’s on cc.”
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?
“At one point in my career, I was supporting a friend with a freelance project, and once I completed it, the person on the other end asked if I wanted to be wired money or Bitcoin. I had come across ‘Bitcoin’ maybe twice and If i see or hear something three times I need to look into deeper. I took a couple of days, downloaded the whitepaper, and then went back to him and responded with ‘Bitcoin’ and it was all changed from that moment.
At every point in your career, you meet people that nudge you in a new direction or offer a new perspective. They can be a small part of your life, but even the smallest of conversations often play a very important role in where you end up. In life, a lot of people impact your career, and while they might not be there for long, it’s the lessons that you learn in that moment of time that really make a difference. Ive been influenced alot by multiple people and that hasnt stopped day in day out.”
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
“We have just launched Metapolis, the first metaverse-as-a-service platform, powered by a leading L1 blockchain, Zilliqa. It provides a data-centric and fully customizable XR experience accessible through web/AR & VR. We have the vision of bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds through seamless integration and an always-on layer of engagement. Metapolis has its sights set on becoming ‘The Next Internet’ and building a future for interoperability with security and safety at heart.
The Metaverse will support across a multitude of industries and verticals, we can apply it across health and wellness, education, luxury, entertainment, gaming etc and it will be the foundation of engagement and borderless access. I have written some posts on my linkedin profile which dive into more information if you are interested in checking them out.”
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?
- “Speed of innovation: People are creating amazing new things and we are constantly seeing incredible advancements with our technology.
- Avatars as digital identity within the Metaverse.
- Bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds and having IO between cities.”
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?
- “We need to be aware of the teams that are building the Metaverse and ensure there is the technology knowledge to back it up. That is why I’m comfortable calling Metapolis the next internet because I know the team comes from a very deep tech and strategic background. Being able to differentiate between a gamified world and the next internet is important.
- Safety and Security is another concern. Whether that is bullying or grooming within the metaverse, we must find ways to ensure it is a safe and secure place to interact especially if it intends to be more than a gamified world. We must have certain processes in place such as Know-your-customer (KYC) processes or verified authenticity linked to our avatars.
- Mental and cardio health. Some people can become very attached to their avatar or the world they become involved in. It can become their sole purpose which can cause a disassociation between who they are in the physical world and who they are in the metaverse. This can also be a positive as it can also impact positively on our health and association through engagement for example people with high levels of anxiety are more comfortable in doing tasks and engaging behind technology etc.”
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?
“Before we even enter the work field, the metaverse will improve our education systems. Online universities already exist, but the metaverse will be able to take this one step further. We will be able to open up borderless education which means students will be able to fulfill specific regional curriculum requirements anywhere in the world. Think of exchange students. If we add the layer of a metaverse, it enables more people to get international education and pick up different courses. Taking into consideration the style and approach to learning that varies from individual to individual we can start allowing a whole level of personalization and engagement. This is feasible within the metaverse.
Another way of looking at is as more people move towards remote work the metaverse can add that layer of engagement and incentive to keeping employees engaged and connected.”
Are there other ways that VR, AR and MR can improve our lives? Can you explain?
“VR, AR, and MR open up communication barriers for those that struggle in the physical world, such as individuals on the autism spectrum or managing any of the conditions that affect communication and cognition. The metaverse enables more people to learn and interact with others safely and comfortably using an avatar. If interactions and connections were being made in your ‘safe space’ through an avatar — a digital identity you choose to take on as your own — we could start to see improvement in mood, behavior, and interaction mimicking in the physical world.
The ability to connect our physical identity to our digital Identity through avatars will be the exciting point in entering the metaverse as we would have transitioned from emails, to @names, to avatars. Our avatars can represent us in the metaverse and become the new norm for “in-person” visits such as, government, businesses, application drop-offs etc. This would of course mean that these institutions need to strategize and build metaverse locations and representation. This will be highly beneficial for people with special mobility needs who might find it difficult to get around in the physical world. It’s only a matter of time.”
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in your industry? Can you explain what you mean?
- “The metaverse is going to replace the physical world.
- NFTs and Blockchain are bad for the environment and in general.
- KYC is bad for decentralision.
People are quick to make judgments about blockchain and crypto industries but in reality, this new technology is helping many different industries and cultures. Everyone has a different opinion and it is down to each individual to do their research and decide for themselves. It’s important for people to understand this because although these myths may have come from a few bad seeds, it shouldn’t be a blanket statement to reflect the entire industry. NFTs and crypto have opened the door for a new income stream to a group of individuals who werent able to access regular monetary income or make a solid living from their work — quick example digital artists who are now leading the charge within the creator economy, previously all they had was putting their work on behance or dribble and hoping to get picked up for a freelance project. Countries where paypal and banks are holding back communities, crypto has allowed them to have financial freedom and be control of their future. In regards to KYC, decentralization can exist with accountability — lets better understand what “doxxing” really is.”
What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The VR, AR or MR Industries?”
- “Understand the key aspects of strategy. You cannot enter it thinking you just have a great idea. You must have a strategy to back it up.
- Focus on community building. Community is the key driver to engagement and growth.
- Associate yourself with a blockchain layer that aligns with your needs and can support you. For example, Zilliqa is going carbon neutral and focused on the creator economy through NFTs and Metaverse, so it aligns perfectly with my goals and what’s important to me.
- Understand the core skills necessary for your field. If you are entering as a designer and want to create assets for the Metaverse learn Blender and Maya. From a developer perspective, understand Unity and Unreal’s role in the metaverse, webgl and all the applications that come with knowing the space and its future functionality.”
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. :-)
“I would definitely want to inspire people to look beyond the now and into the future of what the metaverse and NFTs can bring — Borderless education, health and wellness, etc.
Largely though, I would want to inspire those who are either looking at entering the space or still learning to just do it. Alot of people hold dear what they know and what they are used too because change can be difficult. But if you are questioning it, now is the perfect time to make that leap and explore your options. And definitely always do your own research!”
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world 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 :-)
“In all honesty, it would be my grandfather who passed away before he could see the journey I have been on. He really believed in me and we would have conversations about this future that is now being built. While I respect everyone prominent in their field, I would like to have one last lunch with Antoine H.”
Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!