Christophe Mallet is the Co-Founder and CEO of BODYSWAPS, an innovative VR platform designed specifically for soft skills training. They have created an effective tool for training in the workplace, designed on adult learning design principles and behavioural science to generate sustained behavioural change. We spoke with Christophe to learn a little more about the impact and success of using VR successfully in this way.
Tell us a little bit about BodySwaps?
BODYSWAPS’ mission is to democratise transformative soft skills training. To do that we’re building a “soft skills simulator”: a platform powered by a unique combination of VR and AI that can be used by anyone, anytime, anywhere to learn and practise soft skills. BODYSWAPS scenarios are essentially realistic workplace simulations where learners can role-play with virtual characters, explore challenging situations and then ‘swap bodies’ with those characters to learn by observing their own behaviour.
What was the inspiration behind starting the product?
The idea that VR brings a second ROI in training: the Return on Impossible. In other words, we asked ourselves what new learning formats are afforded by VR. Then we dug into current research on embodied virtual reality and behavioural change. Discovering the work of Mel Slater around the possibility of inhabiting and swapping bodies in VR for self-counselling was a Eureka moment. We then decided to bring together our combined years of storytelling experience in VR with the principles of that behavioural research to create a new way to train for soft skills. We wanted it to do something that’s simply impossible in real-life: empower the learner to self-reflect by swapping perspectives and get hyper-relevant feedback through AI-enabled data.
What are your goals for the next year?
Our goal for next year is to change gears from innovation-motivated pilots to strategic programmes. We are looking to demonstrate that behaviour can be transformed at scale and durably. That’s why we’re partnering with organisations to deploy a Workplace Communications Essentials platform with off-the-shelf simulations. We’re hoping to be able to define best practices for large scale deployment and demonstrate sustained behavioural change via large datasets.
What has been the hardest thing about getting Bodyswaps off the ground?
The toughest but most rewarding thing was to trade our tech and creative hats for business ones. It is tempting to forever iterate and add more features, more realistic animations and so on. Instead, we had to start thinking more about learning performance and the realities of deployment. Thankfully, our first clients have been true partners in that respect and we’ve learned a lot.
Look back to the day you started, what would you have done differently? I would have been more outward-facing from the get-go. Not being afraid of displaying my own ignorance on some topics and instead candidly ask for more advice. Not being afraid to show unfinished products to get earlier feedback. The other thing would have been about looking at things like grants and accelerators earlier, not being afraid to look for support, especially in the UK ecosystem which is very favourable to innovation.
What piece of advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Don’t build a 5-year plan, don’t wait to have the perfect product for the perfect audience. The best thing you can do is find people who are better than you in specific domains, share your hypothesis and learn from them.
How has starting your company in the UK helped you? What do you think separates this ecosystem from others?
We wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for that ecosystem. For example, the eureka moment I mentioned earlier happened when meeting a mentor as part of Digital Catapult’s Augmentor accelerator. And we’re currently using a grant we obtained from InnovateUK to further our research. Those business-minded public sector initiatives are really setting the UK apart.
Finally, is there anything else you would like to share?
We strongly believe in collaboration. And multiple fields of expertise need to converge to create better ways to educate. So if anyone reading this is working in data, AI or behavioural sciences and wants to sink their teeth into immersive learning, let’s have a chat!
Christophe Mallet will be speaking at EdTechX 2020 on ‘Closing the Skills Gap with Immersive Technologies’. You can follow their story on twitter @BODYSWAPS_VR and Youtube.