JanusVR: Reddit and Yahoo reincarnate for the 3D web

Partner Eric Hippeau discusses LHV’s latest investment

In your own words, how you would describe JanusVR?

It’s a free, open-format, three-dimensional web browser with 360° navigational capabilities, and it doesn’t require a headset to use it. When you dig in, you see it’s basically the first browser that gives users a virtual reality (VR) environment where they can interact with both 2D and 3D content seamlessly.

How did you hear about it to begin with?

One of our colleagues, Julian Moncada, is really passionate about VR, and we encouraged him to do some digging and figure out the most interesting opportunity. He definitely found it!

How was the company created?

I love that it was built by real techies. Founder Karan Singh is a computer science professor at the University of Toronto, and Co-Founder/CEO James McCrae was his student. They teamed up together and were like kids in a candy store. For them, creating JanusVR is like discovering Mars — it’s building a totally new universe.

Why is it so different?

If you think about it, current internet browsers are still built on the same conceptual model people were using 20 years ago. That’s essentially the start of the internet, and nothing’s changed! This is taking things in a totally new direction. JanusVR is a way to discover and navigate the new web that’s being created by virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). It’s a market that’s really about to take off, and while they’re already working with all the headset providers like Oculus Rift, HTC, Google Cardboard, Sony, and Samsung, they’re also reaching out to smart, interesting developers and encouraging them to create new content on the JanusVR platform.

Why are you so bullish on the VR market?

It’s got a lot of momentum behind it, and it’s not just limited to one area of content. It’s like artificial intelligence — it’s been promised now for so many years, but the products are finally capable enough and affordable enough that we can actually develop and use them.

Of course, gaming is probably going to be the first sector to take off; that’s usually the first vertical to explode whenever there’s a new way of enjoying or creating content. But with JanusVR, you also have opportunities for all kinds of professional applications. Let’s take architecture, which is extremely well-suited for VR. You can visit virtual buildings and create travelogues or virtual worlds. You can reposition partitions and move things around without ever spending a dime. You can instantly visualize anything. It’s a tool that appeals to everyone across every sector.

Keeping with the architecture example, can you give us an idea of how it might look and feel on JanusVR?

JanusVR is creating virtual rooms that are like websites, so instead of visiting an architecture site, you’ll just go to the architecture room via the JanusVR portal. Once you’re there, you can see all the content in a three-dimensional, 360° room. And not everything has to be in 3D. There’s also an opportunity to display and manipulate 2D content — it’s represented as clickable posters — so there’s still room for more traditional media in the VR/AR experience. You have versatility there, which makes it easier for it to become a part of people’s daily use patterns.

A 2D depiction of a JanusVR experience

What kind of potential does JanusVR have?

You know, they remind me of the early days of Yahoo. I was an early investor back when Yahoo was pre-search, and at that time, it was really the directory for the entire web. We all forget this, but it was the main way to navigate the web back in 1994; people would submit thousands of sites to Yahoo every day to be listed. It hit me that there’s a similar phenomenon going on here. The whole world of VR is going to be really vast, and it’s not going to work through a traditional web browser — you just won’t be able to understand and experience what people are creating. You need an environment like JanusVR. Just like Yahoo in the early ’90s, people are going to say, “I’ve got this great product that’s made in VR, I just don’t know how to bring it to market because it won’t work like a standard website, and I need to be part of a bigger community who are interested in discovering new services and products.” JanusVR is that community. Plus, it’s amazingly easy to be a part of, and it’s getting bigger and bigger every day.

How can someone join the community?

If I’m a VR developer, it’s an easy platform — it’s open, and it’s free. I don’t need to buy a license from anyone, and I can put my content and services up in a relatively short period of time. The few competitors out there are closed; they control and curate everything and, as a result, the amount of content and services available on their portals is very small. On the other hand, JanusVR is completely open. We want to have hundreds of thousands if not eventually millions of different experiences on JanusVR.

Sort of like Reddit for the 3D/VR space.

Exactly! It’s very exciting to me, and I really believe that we’re going to see an explosion of interest. With JanusVR, it’s like being the first to discover new planet, and it brings a certain sense of wonder and exploration and fun. I think a lot of people are going to be really pleased with what they discover.

Read more about Eric Hippeau and the rest of the LHV team, and check out other Lerer Hippeau investments.