Entrypoint to Virtual Reality for All
Transcending the VR distribution bottleneck
Entrypoint’s Co-founders Carissa Flocken and Ben Doyle did not quit their day jobs to start a WebVR company. They flew to California to create an immersive live action film and found themselves stuck with a problem they realized they could fix: the cost and challenge of sharing immersive VR experiences for content creators.
Entrypoint will now make creating interactive 360 content as easy as dragging and dropping, and just as simply shared on social media. We spoke with co-founder Ben Doyle to learn more about the birth of Entrypoint and what’s next for the startup.
How did you develop the idea for Entrypoint?
We originally set out to create an interactive film — working with directors, video editors and actors to create live action interactive 360 content. We shot a great piece but when it came time to get it into people’s hands, we realized it was a terrible mess of a process. First, we had to pay a lot of money out-of-pocket to a friend who is a Unity engineer to wrap it up into an application, which we then needed to submit to the Oculus store for review. It was a shock to us to realize how expensive it was, even with the deep discount from our friend, just to even get our project to a state ready for distribution. When we finally got to submitting the app to the Oculus store for review, we found that they weren’t taking non-gaming applications at the time.
Out of sheer need, I decided to create a web player that would be capable of handling the 360 content. It led us to provide an interactive 360 experience without the need of an application. So really, Entrypoint was born out of a need. We weren’t alone. A lot of others were faced with similar problems.
How did you make the decision to take the plunge and start your own company?
I actually got started working in both high-frequency trading and startup web development back when I was 19, while still in college. I got a job as a quantitative trader at a hedge fund — something straight out of Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys with a lot of big data. It got me into finance using my background in computer science, which I studied at the University of Michigan. Then I was recruited by a bigger hedge fund — Bridgewater — and that’s where I met Carissa. At hedge funds, you’re trying to make tiny incremental advances in a hyper-competitive space. You never make something that would get used by a lot of people. So while the work was a great challenge, it was also deeply unsatisfying.
And Carissa had this idea to make something in VR, which offered the polar opposite challenge: nobody really knew what they were doing, there was a wide open space with no entrenched players, and we could build something that a ton of people would use and have a much bigger say in how the industry would move forward.
I took the plunge — to move out to California and experiment in the VR space. Our first attempt at VR was the interactive 360 video I mentioned, which led to a bunch of problems, which then inspired us to develop a web solution. We found a problem that we could solve.
When we first started, we were shrugged off by a lot of the major VR players saying that apps were the only way to play VR. “It just can’t be done on the web,” people would say, “because it’s new and frame rates are so important.” Nowadays people are realizing more and more that not everyone will download an app to view VR content. WebVR is becoming more of a hot topic. It really makes sense that this would be how people access content — that you type in a URL, which takes you to an immersive experience, not just the website. That’s simply what it means when we say WebVR: our definition refers to something that would load in any vanilla internet browser with no plugins — that takes you to an immersive 360 experience.
Our goal was not about getting the VR experience to work on the headsets of today, but really focused on bringing immersive experiences to more people — which is why we call ourselves Entrypoint.
So we were able to focus solely on the web without worrying about whether an experience would work on the latest devkit. Hardware for headsets will continue to evolve, but we wanted to make that experience available from the most accessible hardware.
How has the WebVR industry changed?
In VR meetups and communities, WebVR has been a hot topic, so it’s really nice validation to see that. Just a couple years ago, we were considered to be making a risky bet. Now people are seeing its benefits.
What’s unique about Entrypoint’s solution?
We provide an embedded player, which lets you take these interactive 360 experiences and put them anywhere on the web — on your website, on your Facebook feed, on your Twitter feed, mobile phone, anywhere you can load a URL, as long as it can support WebGL, which any modern browser does nowadays. What that allows us to do is that we can aggregate and track a lot of the behavior data on how they are engaging with these experiences and what they’re looking at — it’s a lot more data that what you get from typical video players. We’re not only giving the viewers the power to expand their perspective, but also the power to completely change the camera angle and really engage with the experience.
Right now, we want people to experience this and find out what WebVR is all about. Down the line, we’ll be in a great position to gather insights from a vast amount of engagement data. The viewers have so much control over the video — it’s not about content that is pre-edited and dictated by the director — a lot more of it is in the user’s control. We’ll see more user-generated content.
What resources have been most helpful to you in starting up?
We have a great group of investors that supported us from early on, providing their knowledge and networks. Samsung NEXT has great people, hands down. They shared a lot of insight into the VR industry, especially from Samsung Gear VR perspective. We got to get ahead of a lot of trends.
The key is to talk to people and ask them what problems you can solve. Then you’ll discover they have all these other problems. You can incorporate feedback and iterate on it. That process of customer-led discovery was so important to what we did and what startups do. After talking with us, we would hear complete strangers recite our pitch back to us. “Wouldn’t it be great if I didn’t have to build my own app or do so much video editing, and be able to share this experience without heavy coding or production?” or “Wouldn’t it also be cool if it was easily shareable on Facebook feeds?” Then we’d show them that we can do that and more. I get to see how excited people get about our solution.
What’s next for Entrypoint?
We want to partner with great content creators. We’re working with people who are filming events in 360, whether it’s a concert or a sporting event, press briefing, rally or a protest. We want to give the viewers the power to look at that event through their own lens. We want to help people who want to create 360 experiences make it better. We’re also trying to polish up our tool so that it’s easy for content creators to publish and share it elsewhere on the web — whether it’s on their website or social media.
There’s so much that’s undefined in WebVR — there’s a big opportunity to make a mark and shape the industry.