Remember a few years ago when consumer VR was all the rage?

In 2014, when Oculus was acquired by Facebook for over $2B, we were all gearing up for the Ready Player One world looming over the horizon. So, what happened to all the hype?

It’s still there, but now it’s all about the enterprise. 

I got a chance to speak with Jake Rubin, CEO of HaptX, to find out why his company is so laser-focused on the enterprise with its first commercial product, “HaptX Gloves.”

The company is an exciting — and incredibly cool — Series A startup helping VR users to develop simulations with realistic touch feedback, which garnered over $12 million in their latest round of funding.

Jake went over:

  • Why HaptX and others have been quick to pivot to the enterprise
  • What haptics are and why they are so important for the future of VR
  • The challenges emerging technologies face when scaling

It’s all about the enterprise, baby 

It isn’t that the excitement around Oculus and the coming Ready Player One world of consumer VR has disappeared, it’s still very much alive. 

But for startups like HaptX, the economics and consumer realities in a space dominated by Facebook’s behemoth budget makes it a less attractive playground. Even Magic Leap, which raised billions of dollars, is struggling.

The enterprise space offers an opportunity for HaptX to really make their mark and, really, be the innovators to miniaturize and refine the technology the consumer space will end up ultimately relying on. 

It’s not just that the enterprise space the only place to build a VR business right now, though. It’s also exciting and more meaningful. 

Medical, military defense and industrial applications mean a laser-focus on the enterprise literally results in lives being saved, meaningful impacts on the economy and helping people better do their jobs. 

This is why Jake says — as much as he likes the Ready Player One vision of an immersive virtual world to hang out with friends — the enterprise space will have the greater impact on humanity itself. 

Why are haptics so vital for the future of VR?

In case you didn’t know, haptic technology, like that found in the HaptX Glove, is a means of transmitting tactile information to the user, like your phone vibration.

In our day-to-day lives, touch is massively important to how we navigate the world. And the same is true if we want to create a truly immersive experience in a virtual world.

That’s why HaptX decided to focus on making a truly responsive glove first. Your hands are the most valuable part of your body for realistic touch — they are the most sensitive and dynamic part of the body as well.

That means it’s a perfect engineering testbed to validate truly immersive haptic technology. If fact, in terms of sensitivity, your fingertips are about a thousand times more sensitive than your arms or legs. 

In the enterprise space, its haptic peripherals mean HaptX is really honing in on applications where motor skills are critical. Like providing training in medical, military or industrial environments. 

It’s nice to be able to learn something in an immersive simulation, with 360° video and sound, but without tactile feedback, you aren’t really able to learn anything involving motor skills. 

Really, the majority of learning these skills boils down to building the right muscle memory. And to do that, your experience needs to translate seamlessly into the real world.

Otherwise, it’s worse than not learning it at all. 

The challenge of scaling new technology

When looking at startups at the very forefront of emerging technologies like HaptX, it’s pretty easy to get lost in the futuristic, innovative and, frankly, downright cool products.

But any startup, and especially any hardware startup working in the space of emerging technologies, faces challenges when scaling. 

Jake says he and his colleagues spent years building an organization that was amazing at R&D. They build all kinds of fundamentally new technologies in the haptics field and obtained a bunch of foundational patents (with relatively little capital). 

But that’s miles away from the skill sets (and, of course, capital) you need to scale your product. So they started raising more capital and scaling the team. They grew enormously and really focused on skill sets that would help bring their product to market. 

Then they hit a wall. 

This just wasn’t their area of expertise.

But, unlike so many hardware startups that go up in flames at this same juncture, they decided to pivot and bring in a partner to take on those tasks.

This freed up resources and let them invest heavily in what they were the best at while offloading areas like manufacturing and product development to more experienced partners. 

As too many startups have found out the hard way, all the money in the world is no replacement for the years of experience, massive infrastructure and the massive scale it requires to pull it off. 

So, in order to survive HaptX looked to a partner to help meet customer demand and keep investors and shareholders happy. And that was a challenge in itself. 

But, eventually, they managed it. 

And there is a good lesson here — let your decisions be guided by what lets you focus on your superpowers and don’t be afraid to get help to avoid getting bogged down by all the other things.

This post is based on a TechTables podcast with Jake Rubin. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to TechTables here. 

PS: You can also email me at joe@techtablespodcast.com for anything related to the podcast and joe.toste@nagarro.com if you are interested in learning more about Nagarro and our philosophy on #thinkingbreakthroughs. 

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