Entrypoint, a New York based virtual reality company, provides a solution to the distribution bottleneck facing virtual reality videos. Currently, there are only two ways to distribute VR videos, apps or passive web players. Apps are expensive to produce, cumbersome to download and use, and only work on specific hardware. Current web players, meanwhile, do not allow for the interactivity which is part of what makes VR such an exciting new medium.
Entrypoint’s platform allows creative agencies, publishers, and brands to add interactive elements to their 360 videos, animations, and live-streams and then publish them via a URL, accessible on all hardware, from the iPhone to the HTC Vive. We then provide detailed analytics to help the creators asses the efficacy of their content and iterate on their work. W-series spoke to Carissa Flocken, the Founder and CEO.
1) How did you develop the idea for Entrypoint?
At first I wanted to make VR films. I was really excited by the interactive, immersive potential of the medium. We put together an interactive video, but then when it came time to put it out the only option was through an app, which we would have had to pay an outrageous price to make. This didn’t make any sense to me or my co-founder, Ben Doyle. There had to be a way to distribute this content over the web, but it turned out there wasn’t. So we decided to solve that problem. We envisioned a future where people interacted with videos and this needed to be cracked.
2) How did you make the decision to take the plunge and start your own company?
Honestly, I didn’t have much of a choice. I had recently left my job at Bridgewater Associates when I started playing with VR. I was really captured by the creative possibilities and I figured there was going to be some pretty incredible changes to the VR/AR industry and I wanted to be a part of it. So I floated a vague idea to Ben about getting involved in the industry. I had known Ben from Bridgewater and knew we worked together well. A few days later, he told me had quit his job! The die was cast. We headed out to California without much of a plan. In retrospect it seems mildly insane, but honestly I wasn’t that worried at the time. We had confidence in each other, passion for the medium, and not much to lose. What was the worst that could happen?
3) Of your prior work experience, what was most helpful to you as a founder?
My time at Bridgewater was really formative, especially my boss, Karen Karniol-Tambour, (who was the first investor in Entrypoint!). She gave me space to work independently and own projects and encouraged me to be assertive and confident in what can be a challenging industry for women.
Bridgewater itself was also helpful. They have a culture of honest, sometimes harsh feedback that can be tough to handle, but has prepared me well for running my own company. It teaches you to be honest with yourself, acknowledge your flaws and failings, and work around them, critical skills for an entrepreneur. The meetings I’ve had since then have been a comparative breeze.
4) How did you fund the business? What do you spend most of your funds on? Knowing what you know now about how to raise and spend funds, what would you have done differently?
We started by funding it with our own savings. We were both frugal Midwesterners so we had some saved up. Since then we’ve been securing investments with angels and VC’s. Look out for more information on that soon. Most of our costs right now have been on new hires. They’re going to be with you for the long haul, so it is important to make smart investments. As for what I would have done differently, I probably would have been a bit more selective with the meetings I took when raising money. There is always a tension between raising and doing the actual work of the business and there are always more people you can meet. At a certain point you need to pause for a while, focus on developing the relationships you already have, and make the product as great as possible.
5) What has been your greatest WFIO (we’re f*****, it’s over) moment so far?
Honestly, we’ve been very lucky so far. I know that they are coming, but we’ve yet to encounter a doomsday scenario. That said, it has been frustratingly difficult to get traction in certain communities, I think especially because I’m a woman. Early on, I was told by a consultant that I “wouldn’t make it in Silicon Valley” and that maybe he “could help [me], but [I’d] have a long way to go,” because I was coming from the East Coast and was a first time entrepreneur. It really shook me up. But then I realized he made money consulting for first time entrepreneurs — his goal is to break you down and then make you pay him for salvation. It’s much easier to say than do, but you can’t let other people’s doubts cloud your thinking.
6) What has been the most exciting moment so far?
I’ve found the connections Entrypoint has allowed me to make incredibly exciting. I’ve had meetings with executives and C-suite members of massive advertising agencies, media corporations, and sports leagues. I’ve been able to ask questions of and be heard by people with deep experience in their fields; it’s a powerful learning opportunity. If someone is facing a problem and you have a credible solution, they’re surprisingly generous with their time.
7) What resources have been most helpful to you in starting up?
By far the most important thing has been the mentorship we’ve had access to. Starting with Karen, we’ve had the opportunity to learn from incredible businesspeople, investors, and inventors. They’ve been much more helpful than any book or website I’ve looked at. They get invested in the team and our vision and we are so thankful for their support.
8) Tell us about some of the unique opportunities and challenges in VR?
Virtual reality is an incredibly powerful medium with a lot of nascent potential for creatives, ad agencies, publishers, everyone. It puts you inside of the narrative in a totally unique way, so the experience is much more immersive and emotion driven. If you haven’t already, I’d really encourage you to try a VR experience. Google Cardboard cost around $15 and the New York Times has done some great work.Beyond the distribution problem we’re addressing, there are other things that need to be worked out. Maybe the biggest space for growth is the creative knowledge. People are still figuring out how best to harness the unique potential of VR. How do you tell a story in VR differently than you would in a normal video? How do you harness the interactivity? I think that the live theater community is going to be especially important in this, as they have a lot of experience with the idea of responding to the audience and subtly directing attention. That’s part of the reason we came to New York. We feel the artistic community and potential client base of publishers and advertisers are well suited to pioneering new ideas and applications in VR.
9) Tell us about how you’ve learned about your customer base?
We’re focusing right now on creative agencies, publishers, and brands. I’ve been surprised by how creative they are in thinking about the medium. They don’t want to just create ads, they want to create branded universes. They see potential applications way beyond their normal expertise, in finance and healthcare and design, and they want to be a part of it. These massive, sometimes cumbersome, organizations are very excited and want to help shape this future.
10) If you could give an aspiring entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would keep in mind the importance of diversity. Having diverse perspectives has been very helpful to us and it’s something I’ve focused as I have built out the team. If you don’t make it a priority, it is very easy to wake up one day with a company of overwhelmingly straight, white men. And while they may all be fantastic, the team as a whole is weaker without the variety of viewpoints and life perspectives that come with a more diverse workforce. It is important to cultivate, especially in VR, where there are so many potential applications. You don’t want to miss a massive opportunity because none of your engineers thought people might like to be able to try on clothes or walk through interior decorating layouts in VR.