Interview with Danny Stefanic
Photo courtesy of Mootup
As the so-called metaverse expands, this lifelike, computer-generated reality has become the new frontier for connecting professionals and their networks.
Enter Hyperspace, an innovative digital hosting platform that’s surprisingly approachable. Danny Stefanic, the company’s CEO, invited me into his virtual venue to communicate via avatars, or digital likenesses of ourselves. There we discussed his vision for Hyperspace, how professional hosting has changed, and why the metaverse is the next great media type.
What is your history with metaverse technology?
I have nearly thirty years of experience in the virtual reality industry; I actually created the first virtual tours platform back in the 1990s. People could use that service to explore real estate listings over the internet in 3D. I also started the first virtual reality association in 1994.
I began Hyperspace as a virtual platform for learning and training events. We received a lot of positive feedback that our events were more than just effective; they also helped bridge people from different locales and sped up the education process. From there, we moved into hosting virtual business meetings, and we now have companies that have adopted the platform as a virtual, year-round headquarters of sorts. They create private, 3D virtual worlds, or metaverses, that their staff can go in and out of to do all manner of tasks: sales kickoffs, meetings, customer journeys, customer support, and more. We’ve arrived at a proper market segment, which wasn’t the case as little as a year ago.
How can new clients host a Hyperspace event?
We have two main types of customers: those using the platform for events, and those using it year-round as a permanent metaverse for learning, training, etc., which they can revisit over and over again. Clients reach out, then describe what they intend to use the platform for. Once they tell us about their events, we give them a quote. Our team will onboard them and offer as much help as they need to feel comfortable using the platform—and invite others to join their metaverse as well.
How does your platform work for new attendees?
Hosts share a link to the metaverse they create with their invite list. After attendees click the link, they create an avatar and then arrive in a 3D space. They will also get an introduction from an AI chatbot with its own avatar, which will walk them through how to navigate the environment, answer any initial questions, and help anyone new to the technology get comfortable.
From there, attendees may navigate the 3D venue on their own, taking in the sights and such. They can approach other avatars, shake hands, share messages, and even interact with their surroundings. For example, there are lounge areas where avatars can sit and converse.
For a bit of extra fun, guests can also perform miniature quests to earn points and win rewards such as branded hats and shirts for their avatars or real-world prizes like Amazon gift cards. We’ve even had major figures like executives and celebrities provide holograms, which can speak prerecorded content, for events. Microengagements (small activations and tasks) like these keep people’s attention better than videoconferencing.
Hosts may then choose to whisk their attendees away to an auditorium so they can introduce themselves and kick off their event. They’re also able to share their webcam on a presentation screen to address the crowd. Those who use a private company space regularly can go straight to their usual meeting sites, like conference rooms.
It’s a very easy platform to use, even for people who have no metaverse experience.
What makes Hyperspace so simple?
Our secret sauce is the ability to run on any device, including smartphones, tablets, computers, and virtual reality/augmented reality headsets. And you can access the platform without installing or downloading any applications. It’s essentially a very immersive 3D web page.
Another helpful aspect is the presence of virtual guides throughout the space. You can click on any of the AI chatbots to ask questions or get support. Essentially, we’re targeting as many people as possible with our technology. Anyone should be able to join from a remote region with an older device and lower bandwidth connection and still enjoy their experience.
Do you intend for Hyperspace to replace live event hosting?
No, this is an adjunct to live hosting and a valuable component of the industry, not a replacement. Let’s say you attend a live conference, then go get a beer with a few people. You can form bonds that you will remember years later. That’s a really powerful benefit of face-to-face events. When you socialize, you create associations in your mind that you can draw upon later.
You can’t form this kind of rapport with someone on Zoom. Our platform is akin to what you experience in real life, but real-world interactions will always be way more powerful because so many senses are engaged. But on the spectrum of bonding with others, Hyperspace is akin to what you experience in real life—in fact, it’s just short of reality.
There’s a distinction between what I call “lean back” and “lean forward” experiences. With the former, you kick back and watch something, maybe clicking a “next” button to continue now and then. But with “lean forward” events, you perform microengagements to be part of an experience and have actual influence over the event in a way that’s unique to you.
For instance, some of our clients were just sitting in one of our virtual lobbies, talking to each other’s avatars. Then a prospect walked by and joined their conversation. This led to a lucrative deal for their company.
In the past, clients would ask for a recording of the event. And we’d respond, “Sure, but through whose perspective?” If you have a world where you can move from a lounge to an exhibition hall to a dance club, which part of that journey do you want to capture? I always say that if you can produce a flat recording of an event that directly replicates being there, then the experience lacked engagement.
How beneficial is your platform for companies that face difficulties meeting in person?
We have clients say, “We used to have internal events and meetings in person, but now it’s so much harder to get our team together.” We’ve seen so much growth in terms of postpandemic remote work. Companies have sensed that employees are not bonding or feeling a sense of belonging. I call it “un-remote” working: encouraging your people to feel less remote or isolated. As companies realize the value of corporate culture and being part of teams, they are using platforms like ours to achieve these goals.
What’s one event you’re particularly proud of?
We hosted Shell’s international awards ceremony on our platform. It was amazing to see people join from every corner of the world, and the event was a real success. I can’t think of another way you could provide that level of accessibility to so many people. It would be hideously expensive, not to mention inconvenient, for Shell to get every employee into one live space. We actually helped them build a virtual twin of one of their facilities to replicate a real-world gathering.
So clients can customize their events?
Planned events are infinitely customizable—more so than a live event, in fact. If you think of the Adobe set of tools for creators, you can build just about any image you want. Likewise, our platform is a suite that clients can use to design anything. But to avoid the rigors of starting with a blank canvas, the platform comes packed with existing content: a catalog of worlds like gardens, auditoriums, and wellness retreats. We also have a studio that can capture real-world environments so clients can invite guests into a familiar space.
There are also over one billion possible avatar combinations, including job roles like construction workers and medical professionals. We offer a 3D search engine full of trade show booths, furniture, decorations, and more. But Hyperspace is open standard, which means that you can bring content from elsewhere into our web page, whether it’s PNGs, PDFs, links to your website, logos, contact forms, or music via MP3 files.
It’s been incredibly exciting to open up the possibilities on the platform and witness what clients do with these opportunities. But we also know that some clients want a successful event with a short turnaround time, so our studio can quickly build events and hand project files over to them. But, really, our goal is to empower clients to build their own metaverses, get more power out of them, and generate more revenue and sustainability.
How do you think the metaverse will impact the business world?
I’m extremely excited about virtual reality and 3D as a media type. Before the internet, we already had images, audio, video, and words. These were our main media types. Then the internet came along, and we digitized this media—we moved it into another realm.
But there’s another media type that is quite young: 3D. It’s being used in gaming, architecture, and all sorts of industries. It’s becoming more pervasive, and with our platform, we can now offer 3D capabilities in any web browser. Hyperspace can now provide a metaverse experience on any device.
We really are on the foothills of the next major media type, a new way to communicate and share experiences. This is a pivotal point in history, in which we’re making a new technology readily available—the sort of thing that future generations will take for granted. It doesn’t matter where you are in this industry. Anyone who partakes in 3D technology or one of our platforms is a part of human history, the blossoming of a new communication medium.
For more info, go to hyperspace.mv
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