Super-Interview with Jan Goetgeluk, the CEO of Virtuix, about the story of his company, the Omni One, and the future of VR
Today Im very proud to publish an interview with Jan Goetgeluk, the CEO of Virtuix. Virtuix is one of the first VR startups I got to hear about when I started with VR. I was doing full-body VR with Kinects at Immotionar, when Virtuix started its Kickstarter campaign and generated a lot of hype. I still remember their first trailer with Palmer Luckey trying their device. They were a competitor for my startup at that time and they were doing something very cool.
Now, after many years, many difficulties, and many battles we both fought, Ive finally had the pleasure to speak with the head of that company, and compliment him for the long road hes been through. Because its remarkable that notwithstanding all the problems, Virtuix is still here, and has just started shipping the first units of Omni One, the first Virtuix device that aims at the consumer market.
You can find my interview with Jan (whom I thank for his availability) in the video here below. We talked about the long story of Virtuix, its new product, the Omni One, and the future of VR. Im also reporting a (slightly edited) transcript with the video timestamps for those who prefer reading to watching. Enjoy!
Im very excited to be here today with you Jan Goetgeluk, the CEO of Virtuix. Its a bit emotional for me because we started more or less the same years in working in VR and we both worked on full body and natural movements in the virtual worlds. Its a bit like weve always been a bit connected, because Virtuix was one of the first cool VR projects I discovered. (0:00)
Thank you. Yeah, its been a long road. That was ten years ago. We were early.
We were young and happy, before going into 23 winters of VR like now. So those were the good times. Since you have this long history, can you tell us the story of Virtuix. How has it started? (0:57)
Yeah, I always joke about this with our team. Our biggest accomplishment to date is that we survived. A lot of companies did not survive among the ones that started with us in those early days, so 2013. We started with a Kickstarter campaign way back in the day when we did a $1,000,000 Kickstarter campaign in 2013. It was one of the biggest campaigns at that time, there was a lot of excitement.
VR was supposed to be, you know, the next big thing by 2015, with millions of headsets shipped in the field. And of course, it took a long time. It took much longer than most people anticipated. We actually had to pivot to the commercial market just to survive. We refunded all our Kickstarter backers and pre-orders with interest and pivoted to the commercial market where we did quite well. We brought out two products in the commercial space, the Omni Pro and then Omni Arena, which is our e-sports attraction for commercial entertainment, for big entertainment venues like Dave and Busters. We have an offering for that market and now weve come full circle. Now weve just started shipping our third product, which is the Omni One, which is our first Omni designed for the home, for consumers. So were back to the original vision we had from the start, an Omni system for the home, and thats what we just started shipping this year in in beta for now to our investors. But its here, it exists and were very excited about it.
I remember when your product came out on Kickstarter, everyone was dreaming about having this at home. But then, at a certain point, people started being disappointed because everyone realized it was not possible. Why did you have to pivot? What was the problem? (2:53)
You know, the demand from the consumer space wasnt that high in those early days. The consumer market for VR just wasnt there yet. Technology was an issue. We couldnt bundle our system as a complete system because you always needed a PC to try VR, there were a lot of cables involved and so on. Now the Omni One is a complete system where we can bundle the treadmill with a standalone VR headset. Thats definitely been a big breakthrough in VR for all of us also because we can bundle the treadmill with the standalone VR headset and offer the complete system to the end customer. This wasnt possible back then.
Also when we started developing the product, it turned out to be more of a commercial product. Costs were higher than we anticipated. It was very robust, hard to ship and back then with Kickstarteryou know you said we were young and happy, and also young and nave Kickstarter just offered your product to everybody around the world. Back then you couldnt filter out different countries. So yes, here it is, everybody in the world can have this, this massive product for the home. Well, we were naive, just wasnt possible to start shipping products like that all over the world and supporting them as a small company. So there was a lot of things that just werent doable. It just wasnt realistic to deliver a product to homes around the world at that time for many reasons.
And then we had to make the difficult decision. Unfortunately, we had to refund our backers and some of them were very upset still to this day.
Many of our backers are really upset, even calling us a scam. But wait, this is not true. We refunded people with interest, so we tried what we could to be correct. But its disappointing, was disappointing for me as well because we had a very vibrant and strong community. I really loved our community and then having to say look, sorry, cant deliver right now. We have to focus commercially first, just to survive. That was a hard decision, but its a decision we needed to make and here we are today.
Since were talking about the Omni one, do you want to tell us some of its features? What are the new things that people can find on this device? (5:52)
The Omni One offers an unmatched freedom of movement. So you no longer held up by the support ring like in the Omni Pro. You can fully kneel, and do crouch jumps. It offers full freedom of movement, which is really neat. Its also optimized for consumers. So its very easy to put together, no tools are needed to assemble it or disassemble it. It rolls around. Its designed for the living rooms. It looks like it fits into an interior. So its optimized for home use.
What is the headset that it works with? (6:40)
Were shipping with a Pico headset, because Pico is our headset partner. Right now, were shipping with the Pico Neo 3 Pro. Pico 4 is not available yet in the US and PICO has been a terrific partner of ours. The headset is customized for us. So when you turn on the headset, it shows Virtuix. So it has our software on it, our game store, and we work hand in hand with PICO to customize their headset for our application.
Does it work with other headsets? Can I connect it with another device? (7:13)
Yes you can. The Omni One is a complete system, but its not a closed system, so you can still connect it to a PC and play PC-based VR games with your own headset if youd like to.
And what about Quest 2 or Pico 4?
Quest 2 is a closed system, so we cant make our treadmill work with it.
The Pico 4 its a good question. You know well likely ship with a Pico 4 for ourselves at a certain point, but again, a version customized and optimized for our system. But Im not sure at this point if you can connect it to a regular Pico 4. We are sure it is compatible with PC, but with other standalone headsets its not plug and play typically. So weve got to look at that.
I would like to know what games are available, because maybe someone is watching this video and would like to play Half Life Alyx or Gorilla Tag with it (8:26)
Were working on that right now. We havent announced our launch titles yet, but you can think that all the popular VR games or any good VR game that has a locomotion aspect or a movement aspect would be a great fit to play with the Omni. So were actively working with those developers to bring their games to our store, to our platform, which is not a lot of work. We have an SDK software development kit, which is fairly easy to implement, so its not that much work for developers to.
Ok, so if some developer is reading this interview, maybe could consider porting his/her own game to the Omni. But please, tell me, usually what is the type of content that people like the most? Is it FPS games or fitness or what? (9:20)
Its a little bit of everything. I mean, certainly first person shooters are a blast with the Omni because theyre hard to play without the Omni. Its hard to play a shooter game by standing still using a thumbstick it gets people sick It just is not what you envisioned to do. So thats historically been a great fit for us, but really any game or even beyond games, every entertainment application that uses movement where youre walking around is just an incredible experience on our device so all of the above.
And how much space does it occupy at home? And how much does it weight? Is it something I can bring on my shoulders from the supermarket or would I need some kind of help? (10:27)
It ships in a big box. Its certainly not something you carry on your shoulder. Its like a treadmill for your home, that kind of product. But you can move it around. You can see that its not massive, it fits in a home. Its about lets say 4 feet diameter. So in meters about 1 meter, 20 centimeters diameter. Maybe you need about 1 and a half meters all around to have enough space to play, but the device itself is about 1.2 meters in diameter.
What is the feature of this device you are most proud of? (11:15)
Its a good question. When I set out to make an omnidirectional treadmill back in 2012, I had three criteria for myself.
One was that it had to fit in a living room. Two was that it had to be affordable, somewhat affordable to consumers, and three was that it had to work well, it had to give you the impression, at least to your brain, that youre walking around inside VR.
And thats what Im most proud about: it is that with the Omni, youre walking around inside that virtual world. And I find it incredible. I want you start using the Omni. Its very hard to go back to VR without it because youre so used to just walking around in VR, then suddenly having to push a button on a joystick is like Forget about it So yeah, its cool.
You just went for the crowfunding route. Why you went this way and not through VCs or Kickstarter again? (12:16)
Actually weve done all of the above. You know, we have venture investors as well. Mark Cuban is a big investor and we raised over $35 million to date from investors, including VCs, including big investors.
But also equity crowdfunding its always been a great fit for us. We love doing it. We love having our community as investors in our company. We love having our customers be investors so that theyre not just customers. Theyre really evangelists that believe what we do as a company and are part of our journey, part of our story. So we love doing it and its a great fit for us because a lot of our fans and players want to invest in our company.
And so thats why we do equity crowdfunding. Its a great way for us to raise money as a hardware company. You need a lot of capital. Its very capital intensive. So thats why we raised a lot of money over the years, including with equity crowdfunding. In fact, were doing a campaign right now. For any of your viewers who want to perhaps invest in Virtuix or are interested in learning more, you can go to invest.virtuix.com, and were currently doing our series B round.
And one thing were doing is that our investors get a discount on the Omni One if they want to buy the product and they are their first in line to get the product as well. So if you invest $1000 you get a 30% discount worth $780 on Omni One. Its a nice perk for our investors who become part of our community and our journey ahead.
And how much do you ask people in the crowdfunding campaign?
The minimum is $1000, the minimum.
So everyone that is passionate about your product can become an investor, thats cool. Ive heard that now you started shipping some units already to investors (14:35)
Yeah, we are. We started shipping beta units to our investor community, because our investors are the first in line to get units. And so were first doing a beta program for our investors. Over a thousand of our investors have applied for a beta unit. And so we just started shipping what call beta units. Of course, it is hardware once the models are made, theres not much change you can make. So its not that the product is gonna change drastically from where it is today, but we call it beta. The software, the games are still in the beta phase.
So were shipping and were delivering Omni One to homes as we speak.
What if someone doesnt want to invest but just to buy a unit? (15:28)
It is not available yet for general sale, again because we give our investors the chance to get one first and we have thousands of investors that want one. So itll keep us busy for sure through the rest of the year. General release availability to the general public is coming sometimes next year.
First or second half of the year?
Depends on how many investors want a unit, it depends on them, because were gonna fulfill that demand first.
I would like to have the opportunity to try it one day. Getting back to the past, you grew a lot in location-based VR, organizing also tournaments with big prizes. I would like to talk a bit about location-based VR because its usually a sector we forget, especially after the COVID seemed to have killed it. How are things going for Virtuix on location-based VR and how is the market in general? (16:16)
Thats been our key market for the last few years with our flagship product Omni Arena, which is an e-sports attraction. It includes built-in e-sports contests with a $100,000 prize pool that we sponsor. Every time people play, they can win real money through weekly and monthly tournaments that are just built in the system. We sold that system to big entertainment venues and thats specifically for the US market. The US has thousands of those family entertainment centers and big chains, like Dave and Busters, Sky Zone, you name it, trampoline parks, bowling chains, you name it. Thats our core market and that market has done really well. 2020 with the pandemic was really hard. But then after 2020, it was one big party. So many venues had their best year ever in 2021 and in 2022. So its been a great market for us and that market is alive.
So is the market back to pre-pandemic levels? (18:09)
The bigger entertainment venues had their best year ever in 2021, after the pandemic, and 2022 was also very good, so they just had two incredible years. Its been great for that market here.
As an entrepreneur, as someone that creates a product, is it the same for your working on the consumers and the location based VR market? What satisfies you more, what excites you more? (18:39)
Im working on a consumer product. Id say it is the most exciting because it has the biggest scale. I mean, the Omni One can become a multibillion dollar business. We think we can bring Omni One to millions of homes around the world. Theres so much demand for, so much excitement about it. Thats exciting. Working on a consumer product is fun working on a commercial product is fun too.
But its different and certainly consumer VR and commercial VR are very different. The games, for example, are of course very different for LBE or consumer use. So theres a lot of differences, but its fun, a lot of working on products and building products. Its one of the most gratifying things you can do in your career.
What are the differences between a game made for the consumer market and one made for the location-based one? (19:56)
Just the length of it, to begin with. Omni Arena experiences or games are about 7 minutes each. For a commercial experience, weve found it to be the sweet spot. Its 7 minutes and you have to take out everything. Thats difficult, right? Everything has to be easy to play, hard to master because you have 5 minutes to give somebody a good time and that can be somebody whos barely played video games ever.
So you cant have any menu systems, cant have any difficult control systems, you have to simplify it all. But then you still have to build in the design enough depth so that an experienced player still finds it challenging and still wants to play it many times, like with Omni Arena.
For us, its all about repeatability. Some of our top teams have played over 300 times, so theres players that have played over 300 times, which is quite incredible. So that requires very smart game design to make a game appealing to play so many times while also appealing to somebody who plays it for the first time and doesnt know what hes doing. So its not easy to do. And I think we have a good system. We figured out how to do that.
Watching videos of people playing with a VR treadmill is cool and many of them have become viral. But whenever I tried one of them I had always the impression of sliding on ice, not of walking. Why is this? And will we ever solve this issue? (21:21)
No, its a good question. And we have to be very honest about that. We stressed this and everybody who wants to buy our product, we make sure they know that, we say them to go try it first. This is not like walking on the street. It feels different. Youre walking on a concave dish with our design. Weve tried to make it as easy as possible. Again, we are very successful in commercial entertainment. So we have 5 minutes to give somebody a good time. So within 5 minutes, somebody has to be able to walk on it and feel like theyre walking in VR. It cant take days to get a hang of it, so that the learning curve has to be pretty quick and I think we nailed that. Otherwise we wouldnt be successful in these big entertainment venues.
But its a very good point, Tony. We have to be honest about that. Its not like natural walking. Its not for everyone much like skiing is not for everybody or, you know, some people. If youre completely uncoordinated its probably not for you because youre gonna be flailing on it. And I already know youre not going to have a good time, because its not like walking on the streets. It takes some time to getting used to and people that are highly coordinated are the ones that get the hang of it like that, and they have a blast. And people that are not coordinated maybe its not for you and we have to be honest about that.
But do you think that this problem can be solved over time? Have you done some R&D to make the walking sensation more realistic? (23:19)
Well, I think that our solution is pretty close. Id love for you to try it, Tony, and you can tell me what you think but the solution we have is the one where you walk on a concave low-friction base with low-friction shoes. So its never going to be like a real walking solution, because a real walking sensation would require something like the Infinadeck, with moving belts and motorized belts. And thats a $60,000 machine, right?
So unfortunately, if you wanna make something thats affordable for consumers and fits in a home, a passive device, and the passive design, I think is the best solution. Thats why I chose for that route. But youre walking on a concave, low-friction base and if you do it once or twice or three times, I think your brain thinks youre walking. It feels like walking and youre just walking in VR. But there is that that few minutes of learning curve that you need to get over.
What is the future of your product? I dont think you want to stop here (24:51)
Theres more we can add, haptics to the base, haptics to the vest I find haptics add a lot to the VR experience at an acceptable cost. In our case, it already can be built in as well. So I think thatll be the next addition to make it even more realistic and fun.
And then well see from there. We have a few ideas.
Do you think that this product will ever become, lets say, mainstream as the PC? So that most people having a VR headset at home in 10 years from now, theyll have a walking treadmill as well. (25:28)
Its my vision because I think it makes VR so much better. It makes VR so much more enjoyable to walk around in VR, nobody envisions teleporting in VR or pushing a thumbstick. People envision walking around in VR, and thats what our device lets you do. Again, its not for everybody. You need some space for it. Its $2600. Its not super cheap, so its not for everybody. Its probably not mainstream like a console.
I think theres a big market for it. I think many people will want to have it. I think its like in the movie Ready Player One. Not everybody has an only directional treadmill, but the cool kids have one, right?
Thats a great comparison. And in general, what is your your vision for VR, and the M-word? (26:33)
Well, I just read yesterday that the metaverse is dead
We will prepare a funeral later at AWE probably
As expected, the Metaverse is dead. Here it is. You know, I knew that last year that those articles would come out just around this time. Very predictable. But also irrelevant.
Ultimately, I think VR is a technology and a medium that will be widely used in society for entertainment, and other applications as well, but its just so good and its only getting better. I think its gonna get to a point where the color the visual Turing test your brain will no longer be able to discern whether youre watching something thats real or virtual. And then it becomes such a great experience.
I think VR will be widely used by many people on a daily basis. I believe that and then our device lets you walk around inside VR, which is I think even better.
Lets say if someone that is listening to you maybe wants to do your job or something similar, what are the lessons that would you tell this person? I mean, we all have a long history of, you know, hard battles(27:44)
[Laughing] The first advice is always dont. Dont do it. Dont dont, dont try this at home . Ive been working 80 hours, 80 hour-weeks for 10 years. Its very hard if you wanna start a business.
[Laughing] And I say maybe do software as opposed to hardware.
I do software and trust me, we work a lot as well. So dont work hard. Thats probably the lesson Im joking, of course
If you do hardware, you have to know its a long road. But look, I love what I do. I love our product. Our team has been with us for seven, 8, 10 years. You know many of our team has been with us since day one and we stay together because we believe in what we do and then we believe in our product. So at the end of the day its all worthwhile.
Yeah, but do you have some kind of life lesson to tell to people?
I have a book of life lessons
Oh its a good one. Work hard, work hard. I think the young generation seems not wanting to work hard or they think they can have shortcuts in life. I dont know. Theres no substitute for showing up and doing things.
You know, ideas are like buses. Theres one every 5 minutes. Everybody has ideas, but you have to execute them. Its all about the execution and pursuing them and working hard and achieving them.
I like the idea of comparison between ideas and buses. That was great.
So its time for my usual last question: if you have something else to add now its time to say it! (29:44)
This was a great conversation, Tony. I think we covered most of it. To the people that want more information. Id say go to invest.virtuix.com. It summarizes our story thus far, Omni One and the road ahead and Id love to welcome people as potential shareholders in Virtuix and become part of our community and part of our journey.
I underline again this invitation. I always like to meet with people that really fought a bit like me, for many years in this complex field. If you can do something for Virtuix and Jan, of course, please go to the website and lets try to build something together. Thats also what I say every day. Lets push virtual reality all together. So thanks again for your time. Its been fun. (30:22)
Thanks so much, Tony.