*Q&A: Simon Chu of Escape VR
This Q&A is with Simon Chu, co-founder of Escape VR. The company produces virtual reality content and hardware for escape rooms and entertainment companies.
The bootstrapped startup moved out of its incubated space at WeWork in Irvine and now has its own digs in Santa Ana. It’s seeking an investor as a strategic partner. OC Startups Now spoke to Chu about starting and growing the business and why he chose Santa Ana for the expansion.
OCSN: What was the primary catalyst for starting EscapeVR?
Chu: There were actually a few things that led to the formation of Escape VR, but the primary one was simply because we see VR succeeding this time around and it seems the technology is now here to stay.
OCSN: What in your background gave you the confidence to start this company?
Chu: I have a knack for being an early adopter of technology that explodes. At the time, I had also been running my mobile app company, StuckPixel, for about seven years. (StuckPixel is a mobile application development company, with HQ in Irvine.)
OCSN: When did you officially launch it?
Chu: August 2016 at the Room Escape Conference in Chicago.
OCSN: Why base it here in OC?
Chu: My co-founder and I are based in the OC. We both went to UCI and there is surprisingly a supporting startup community here as well. The talent pool seems to be growing and there is an emphasis on technology and digital assets.
In regards to specifically Irvine at least, this is more of a family-oriented city with many people who work at larger corporations. I do think this is changing though, as Oculus VR was based in Irvine as well.(Oculus developed a VR headset, the Oculus Rift, and was acquired by Facebook.)
The startup community certainly isn’t as big as what you’d see in the Bay Area, but I do think the culture is starting to change as (Orange County) sees big money moving towards innovation.
OCSN: Why put the new studio in Santa Ana?
Chu: At first, we worked out of my house, but I was getting sick of having a large VR system right in middle of my living room. Once we had enough traction, I got an office at the new WeWork at Irvine Spectrum where I ran operations and my cofounder, Ali, was running development in his home.
The space we needed to do VR testing started to have larger requirements and WeWork simply couldn’t accommodate us with space (or even non-glass windows) so we decided to find a new affordable space. We ended up finding a great location in Santa Ana with 6,000 square feet for us to run operations as well as develop new content and turn-key solutions for our clients. (It also happens to be near the Esports Arena, a 15,000-square-foot indoor venue that opened in 2015 at 120 W. Fifth St.)
OCSN: How much money have you raised, and from whom?
Everything has been self-invested. We haven’t found the right investment partner that would give us leverage in relationships and partnerships for distribution yet.
Chu: We’re passively seeking an investment partner. The right investment would valuate us for our potential and add to that potential. What I mean by that, is that an investor would strategically partner with us and place us in many locations. We’re looking for business as well as monetary investment.
OCSN: How will your new studio help your company scale and grow?
Chu: We’ll be able to hire more – we’re now hiring for quality assurance testing and 3D environmental artists as well as riggers and animators – and have more VR setups so we can develop different solutions at (the same) time.
We’ve also created a 2,000 square-foot arena scale area for customized larger development. This is for bigger clients that want the premium experience for full multiplayer capability. As an example, we could have an experience where a group of people could go from room-to-room in their experience and have real-life tactile objects mapped to virtual objects. We could do shooters, escape rooms, or even simpler walk-through, tactile experiences.
OCSN: Anything else you want to add?
Chu: Our specialty is in designing experiences and considering hardware to provide the fastest ROI for businesses willing to invest in VR. Our team is scrappy, ambitious, and hard-working so we have what it takes to succeed. Their experiences are used in 30 locations. We hope to be in 50 by the end of the year.