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01 – Oliver Wöhler: Commercial Director Northern Europe for Pico Interactive

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Shortly after the release of the Pico Neo 3 Pro in Europe, we sat down with Oliver Wöhler, Commercial Director for the European region at Pico Interactive. Oliver was closely involved in the development of the new VR headset and provides us information on the new device. What is Pico Interactive aiming for with their new headset? What will be the future of 3DoF devices like the G2 4K? Listen to this episode now to find out or read the full interview below.

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Mark: [00:00:00] 

Welcome, everyone to the VR Expert Podcast. I’m your host, Mark Cowles, Marketing Manager at VR Expert. And in this podcast, we’ll be sitting down with innovators, experts and creators transforming the XR world. In today’s episode, I’m delighted to be joined by Oliver Wöhler days after the European premiere of the Pico Neo 3 Pro headsets. Oliver has multiple years of experience in the VR world having spent time with HTC Vive, Avatour, before being appointed as the Commercial Director of northern Europe for Pico Interactive in one of the company’s most exciting years. Pico, as a company, is focused on changing how people interact with the digital world, doing so through its development of some of the industry’s most innovative VR technology solutions. 

As Commercial Director of northern Europe, Oliver plays a key role in developing and implementing the region’s commercial strategy, managing the diverse partner relationships, as well as implementing new partner acquisition strategies, ensuring client and partner needs are being satisfied, and many, many more things as you can imagine. First of all, thank you for being here, Oliver. Nice to have you on the podcast. And just to start off, I would like to ask about how you got into virtual reality and this technology?

Oliver: [00:01:21]

Yeah, thanks for asking, and thanks for the possibility to be a part of this podcast and of your VR Expert world, very exciting. And yeah, my first contact to VR was for, I don’t know, five years and that was a stupid demo. It was really not nice and I felt very sick after it. But I thought this technology was super interesting and then there was a conversation with HTC. They were looking for someone who has experience on the consumer side with all these typical retailers like MediaMarkt and Amazon and Conrad and all these German retailers. This was the starting point for the conversation and then I joined the HTC team. And this was really a cool time to start VR from scratch. So, from point zero to make the first contracts with all these retailers, and I don’t know, we have made tons of demos on small and big events and meetups and so on. So, this was really exciting, of course.

Mark: [00:02:36]

When you joined HTC, was just after they launched the original Vive, correct, with the room-scale VR?

Oliver: [00:02:42]

Yeah, exactly. And just as the Vive was more or less on the market with the first items but it was exactly the time when they started mass production of it, yeah.

Mark: [00:02:53]

And as you went through the company, you also were part of a lot of other product launches. So, the Vive Focus, the Vive Pro full kit, the Vive Cosmos. What were those like? Because I imagine you were breaking into the industry, you are really making a footprint as one of the biggest and the most important players there. It must have been quite unique and maybe it’s similar now, but how all of the technology was developing so fast at that point.

Oliver: [00:03:17]

Yeah, it was really interesting to see our customers accepting VR overall so it was not a topic for HTC or Oculus or others. It was more, okay, where is this technology today, what does the customer need, what they are looking for, and it comes really quick to the point that people and customers are looking for standalone devices. So, standalone is normally the solution for a lot of things so you can wear it everywhere, you can use it spontaneously, so without any PC updates you have to do and play stations that you have to play and so on. So, for industry, I think this is a little bit different of course. 

But for consumers, you need an easy entrance to this market and serve as a start of the standalone devices Focus, Oculus and of course Neo 2. This market was opened and then it was great to see how successful these products are, and how accepted they are. And I say PC VR is for consumers more for gamers, a great product, but it’s a niche product. And everyone is looking for the — in the consumer world for the mass market of course and this is of course standalone.

Mark: [00:04:38] 

And did you expect it to come so fast in that way? I mean, if you think, when the first Vive came out and the first main Oculus was between 2014 and 15. The fact that after only five years we’re at these incredible devices, it’s been quite impressive. Were you expecting this rate of development?

Oliver: [00:04:56] 

Yes and no. Some things are not expected, like, so you saw some triple A game developers like, what is the name? But these games are super high-level, super expensive and so on. And then like, Fall Out for example and they’re not expecting and they’re not reaching the sales target, I think, that people were thinking at the beginning of when they were developing this game. And then there were some surprises like Beat Saber. Beat Saber was a super simple easy game, so this is not a complicated one. But this game shows the power of virtual reality, and the power of standalone and the idea of simple things that can move forward, and that are accepted by the consumers. 

But on the other hand, I have worked also more and more on the enterprise side. And this was really much more interesting for me later on to see where companies trying to begin to use VR. And a lot of companies, you can see this is not a project, everything begins, of course, with a project, but more and more it comes to, yeah, it’s a real use case in this company I think about the car manufacturers, every car manufacturer works with VR at, I don’t know, over 20 times a car is designed or is worked to put a system in the VR world for different use cases. And this is a fixed point in the production, and not an idea. And also, for the Airbus industry or air flight industry and so on.

Mark: [00:07:00] 

And then you said that you started in the consumer department, and you eventually moved to the more business-oriented What was that like? Was it a whole new section? Or suddenly, you were thrown into this role? Did you see it coming?

Oliver: [00:07:14] 

No. So, this is more based on which knowledge you have, and then more and more questions and the companies are looking for a person who was in this market and understands the technology. And it was also in Germany, there are not so many people for five years that are so deep in this VR world. But overall, I always have an eye on sales. For me, I’m a salesperson and sales guy, so this is — I’m not a super technical developer. And the enterprise industry is, of course, a little bit different. So, you have to speak, weeks and months, sometimes years with a customer and then from one day to the next, the doors are open, and then everything works. But coming to this point was a long way. 

And this was, for me, new. So, in the consumer business, you’re doing advertising, you do something and tomorrow, you will see some sellout, hopefully. And if not, so you have to think about why not and you have to change it. In the enterprise world it’s completely different, of course. The company is looking for a solution and this is the main part. And you are then the interface to find a solution, you have to connect engineers, to connect software partners, to find the right thing at the right moment so that this company can say yes, it’s working for me, and this is helpful. And at the end of the day, it’s always a process that you’re looking for to save money, to save time, and this is a reason to use VR for them. And you have to show that this is working. And if not, then you are not the right partner at the moment. 

Mark: [00:09:13] 

Yeah. And I think that’s actually a great explanation of how it actually works in the enterprise industry. So, you spend the time at HTC and then eventually, you moved on to Pico or you ended up being brought in at Pico. Was part of the thing finding the proper software parties, finding the proper teams, and the people that can help you with these enterprise clients part of the reason you went there, or how did that come about, that you got to the more enterprise focus.

Oliver: [00:09:35] 

Yeah, to work with Pico it’s really, really fantastic because Pico have a clear focus on developers. And it’s not about hey, we are the best, great, biggest headset manufacturer in the world. It’s more about okay, tell me what your problem is, what is the solution that you’re looking for? And companies who are working with VR, normally, they’re not interested if you’re wearing headset X, Y, Z. It’s important that the software fulfills what they are asking for and the developer who’s producing the software he is looking for the right partner. 

And in that case, Pico is a really fantastic partner because we are helping developers directly from the beginning to bring their content in a good way on our headsets, and we are doing this in a very good partner way. And this is a main difference I think to a lot of other companies that we are helping them to find a solution. And as you know, we have a really open product and open headset with very open ways to work with and this is exactly how we are thinking. It’s more like what is your problem and how we can help you and not like this is a great headset and now do what you want. It’s a little bit of fun.

Mark: [00:11:05] 

So, then your first year, actually, it must been quite an exciting year because I imagined when you came in, you knew that there was a lot of potential for the company, there is a lot of potential for Pico and you knew that there was going to be a Neo 3. People have been talking about it since the Neo 2 arrived. So, when you were making the Pico Neo 3, was this problem solving built into the equation that they take in the western market because the product as we’ve seen so far has been incredible. We’ve seen a lot of positive reviews about it. And did you build in the production of the product the development? How did you feel that they were taking in your thoughts and your requirements for the western market?

Oliver: [00:11:42] 

So, yeah, this 6DoF-world starts with us and the real business with the Pico Neo 2, of course, and the Pico Neo 2 Eye. And we have learned a lot with the Pico Neo 2 Eye. In the beginning, there were some starting issues like always with new headsets, and we’ve solved them, we have made the tracking much better. We were the first company who are using magnetical tracking in the controllers. And we are trying different things to make it a little bit different from hardware perspective but also from software perspective; very open, no ecosystem, no accounts needed and so on. And then the feedback from the developers was yes, this is exactly what we are looking for. And please change things here, change there. So, we have learned with them together a lot of what we have to do better, how we have to create a new headset better. 

On the other hand, you have to always look at the pricing. If you fulfill all your wishes then you have, I don’t know, a headset that is super expensive or the weight is, I don’t know, five kilograms. So, this is not working, so you have to find the right balance. And Pico has also a consumer headset in China, and this was also part of these ideas, how to bring all these ideas together. And with the Pico Neo 3, we have now the Pico Neo 3 as a consumer product in China and outside China, we are pure enterprise company and that means we have this Pico Neo 3 Pro and Pro Eye. And it took two to three months to build from this consumer business to enterprise version and to fulfill all of these ideas from developers. And now we think we are in a good position with this headset. And especially with this XR2 chip from Qualcomm, it’s a really perfect-working environment for us, and the partnership Tobii eye is also fantastic because — checking this out. We believe in this eye tracking technology, and we believe this is an important part of the future of virtual reality.

Mark: [00:14:12] 

Then, of course, Tobii tracking is fantastic and you see so many use case, like you said the –, there’s so many training situations for marketing even. So, it really is fantastic. Going back to a point you made regarding the privacy and the accounts about the Pico, why does the company continue to persist with the idea without having no account needed to use it, is it? What do you think? Is that there to stay for the moment?

Oliver: [00:14:35] 

Yes. So, this was one of the reasons why we are so successful in the last 24 months with a really high growth rate. And companies are looking for an easy working entrance into VR. And with not a personalized headset, this is not working in the enterprise world. In the enterprise world, you need a headset, and to work with an account is from our perspective, not the right way. And it’s much easier to put on the headset and go for it. And sometimes it’s so simple. But this is maybe also the difference, Pico is not an ecosystem, Pico is a manufacturer of headsets. So, there’s no need from our side to try to connect with our collaboration tools or with our whatever tools and app stores and so on. So, we are trying to make it exactly different, and this is what, especially enterprise companies are asking for.

Mark: [00:15:39] 

Fantastic. I mean, I’ve known a lot of our clients have been asking, is there going to change anything regarding that? So, that’s fantastic to hear. And as you know, most companies have gone for accounts, which has made it much harder for adoption. And that’s one of the best things about Pico, that they continue to persist that it’s, as you said, they are a manufacturer, which is really important for all clients and all businesses, especially with all those account integrations. Then back to the hottest topic, the new Pico Neo 3 Pro, how’s that going? I mean, it’s been, as you said, it took you three months into the consumer version. How’s the market been receiving it? How have you found it? And what do you expect from it?

Oliver: [00:16:13] 

Yeah, so the last days were really fantastic. It was really great to see how many headsets we have sold and how many orders we have. And also, the first reviews are really, really good. So, we had a super small quantity of developer kits, and we saw first companies who are working with these developer kits and producing really great experiences. And this was the first good signal. Then the standard version, the consumer version in China was also a huge success there. And this was really good for us in the US or outside China and Europe to hear, okay, the feedback is really good. 

And so we are in a good way also for the enterprise version, because it’s the same technology inside the same shipment and so on. And then we started to send out the dev kits, the feedback was also really good. And then in the last 10 days, 14 days, we have started to do our PR announcements on different events to say now we are ready. Our distributors have enough stock, let’s start to sell this product and let’s start to send it to developers to help them now to create more content for this headset. Because we are at the beginning of this Neo 3 Pro world. A lot of things are happening now and a lot of companies have to start now to work and to develop this headset. And yeah, this is again, a really fantastic time.

Mark: [00:17:51] 

Fantastic. And for the people who remember Pico from the first days with the G2, with the 3DoF world, do you have an update on what’s the plans for the 3DoF headsets, the G2 4K and the enterprise? You guys are one of the strongest there.

Oliver: [00:18:04] 

So, Pico is a 3DoF and 6DoF company and we want to make this also very clear also for our customers and developers. We believe in the three degrees of freedom technology also in the future. So, personally, I would say the next 12 to 18 months, we will still continue this product. And after this, I don’t know, we have to see. It’s difficult to say from perspective today, but three degrees of freedom is a huge market and also an important market also for people. And it’s for medical, for students, for education, for cinemas, for theatres, for operas and so on. We see so many different use cases where six DoF is not needed. And so people are looking for a good picture quality and a good experience but not for six degrees of freedom while they are sitting or lying as there’s no need for six degree of freedom. And also, with an eye on the pricing, three degrees of freedom costs half the price of a six degree of freedom headset. And you have the same picture quality and you can bring, very easily, 100 people at the same time via preset button on your tablet into VR. And, this is of course, a good argument for three degrees of freedom. So, this is the reason why we still continue to produce these G2 4K and 4K enterprise, especially for in the future. And the enterprise version with these specially hygienical materials, we see a lot of use cases in hospital environment, medical environments overall. 

Mark: [00:19:50] 

Thank you very much, Oliver. So, finally, to round it off I’d like to ask, where can our listeners find you online, and where can they find you the coming months and weeks? 

Oliver: [00:20:00] 

So, online is easier. So, we have started a small tour on different events, starting with a PR event in Berlin, and Hamburg, and Munich. And we have shown the product on the VR/AR Global Summit. So, this was the starting phase, and we are working now on more ideas. Let’s see how this COVID situation is. It’s really difficult to say what’s going on at the moment, is this allowed or not, difficult to plan batches for this. So, we are happy to have developers, of course with our distributors together to try this product, to build loan models so that they can try it and to check is this really working well.

And then to scale customers together. And this is the main point, and I hope we can do a small tour end of November, through some cities, with distributors and other partners. And I’m trying to be a part of a lot of meet ups if they are really happening. This is really interesting to see if or if not. And based on all of this, yeah, you can find us online, of course, on our web page if someone is interested, then you can register yourself or go to, of course, much easier directly to you to VR expert and asking for support or ask for a loan or ask for test devices. And myself you can find on LinkedIn, and those typical channels, of course.

Mark: [00:21:44]

Thank you so much for your time, Oliver. And we wish you all the best in the coming time, and with the continued launch of the Neo 3. For all our listeners, if you enjoyed the episode, please follow the show and share it with your network. And we’ll see you at the next episode. Thank you.

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