360 Immersive discusses the growth of the company and VR Safety Training with Jim Stephens.

Recently, the owners of 360 Immersive, Jennifer Lastra and David Cleverdon sat down with Jim Stephens for the first segment of Entrepreneur Radio, to share their experiences with the Sandler Selling System and how it has helped the company to grow. 

Jim Stephens: This is Jim Stephens with the Sandler training hour, and welcome to our first segment of entrepreneur radio where we occasionally get the opportunity to highlight independent business owners and leaders in the Treasure Valley, and beyond. This week I have my guests, the owners of 360 Immersive, which is a 3D video training laboratory. Is that fair to say, Jennifer?

Jennifer Lastra: Yes, we specialize in training curriculum using virtual reality and augmented reality.

Jim Stephens: Jennifer Lastra and David Cleverdon then welcome guys. Glad to have you on the show. Thank you. So how did you two meet up David, you’ve been in the marketing world for years. Somehow Jennifer’s showed up on your doorstep and the two of you have merged into a whole new business. Tell us about your background.

David Cleverdon:  Well, I was actually working with a company for a long time and they brought in Jennifer as a VP of sales and marketing, and we were doing marketing for this particular company. And so we were working together on a client relationship. And ultimately, well I guess Jen, you can mention how you decided to come over on our side from the first an employee. And then as a partner.

Jim Stephens: Awesome. That’s great. So let’s hear your version.

Jennifer Lastra: Yeah, I got bit by the entrepreneurial bug. I didn’t want to work for the man anymore. I am the man.

Jim Stephens: Now there is something to be said for that, that sometimes your boss is a jerk.

Jennifer Lastra: Well, no, David had some great qualities in his business and I liked his personality and his go get ’em and his level of quality. And we started chatting one day about what’s great about marketing, what’s new, what’s fresh? And he said, there’s this virtual reality thing that’s coming along and I think there might be something there. And I said, Ooh, what’s virtual reality? And that’s how it began.

Jim Stephens: And so virtual reality is something that you guys are on the cutting edge of if not the bleeding edge. So talk to us a little bit about what does that mean, virtual reality and what benefits does that have over traditional training methodologies?

Jennifer Lastra: Well, I think from my perspective, the benefits of virtual reality are that it really does enhance traditional training methods. When you start getting people excited again about training and trainers, excited about giving training, there’s kind of this momentum shift in the classroom, right? There’s a lot of energy and I think virtual reality really, really allows the adult learners and using that as a supplement to traditional methods and allows the learners to get really engaged and you know, retention rates significantly increase. It’s the closest thing to actually doing hands-on simulation work as you possibly can just in a much more affordable manner, scalable manner.

Jim Stephens:  And so David, had you in your business always gravitated towards that or was this kind of a brainchild the two of you came up with?

David Cleverdon: Well it’s kind of both. We’ve always, as a company, the culture of our company was always to push forward into new technologies. And this is, of course, going back decades that we can bring something new to our client base. But almost simultaneous to the point that Jen came into the organization, VR was available from a technology standpoint. And I’d like to point out that, take a look at our company name, which is 360 Immersive. We actually branded that company a couple of years ago. Prior to that, it was DTX creative. And the reason we chose immersive is because it’s not just about VR, it’s about VR, AR, MR,  XR, all of these new technologies that share a common theme. And that’s putting you in the middle of a scenario. Now the scenario can be training, it can be marketing, it can be education, it can certainly be gaming. But our focus is primarily training with a subset of marketing. But the commonality is that you’re in the middle of it and you feel like you’re actually doing and the being exposed to that process.

Jim Stephens: So when you went through those acronyms, what do those mean?

David Cleverdon: XR is actually a term coined by, coined by Microsoft. But VR is virtual reality. Virtual reality replaces your reality with another one. Great for training works well for marketing. Augmented reality overlays your reality. So when you’re looking through a device, you see your, your office, your room, your home, and it overlays. You can put your PowerPoint presentation up here, you can put your email down here and it will pin it to areas within your room and as you’re walking around you feel like that YouTube videos literally playing on your wall. And that’s why augmented reality, it will have a larger impact on the common business unit user because it will replace the display keyboard, mouse and computer that we see today and have since 1984, that you’ll wear a device and your working environment will move with you a little bit like minority report if you’ve seen the movie. So the device you’re wearing are those goggles, if you will, their goggles, but they ultimately will become glasses. So it won’t be those big clunky things. And we’re just starting to see that now. In some cases, you’ll still have goggles because maybe in that circumstance VR is a better choice, but ultimately they’re going to be lighter. The displays will be better. They’ll have stabilization so that you don’t have that, well as you know, some people suffer a little nausea when they look at the content until they get used to it. All of that will be solved here shortly. From a technology standpoint, the content we’re producing now will be good for a period of years down the road, it has a long shelf life.

Jim Stephens: So Jennifer, give us an idea of what are some of the companies that you are working with? What are some of the projects you’re working on?

Jennifer Lastra: So we’ve gotten some real traction working with fortune 500 companies, those that are a really good fit, where our mission, vision, and values are in alignment, meaning safety and the wellbeing of their personnel is a top priority within their organization. So when that aligns, it’s a natural fit. I think the other place that we’ve gained some good traction is in at the higher education, whether it’s four-year universities, trade schools, two-year institutions as well. So a lot of good development and work being done, training adult learners. You know, these new generations coming into the workforce, they’re expecting a different type of interaction than a traditional lecture with PowerPoint. They’re looking for something that they can, you know, students are looking for something that they can actually get immersed in and really participate in.

Jim Stephens: Yeah, I’ve, so I’ve had the advantage of seeing some of your work. If one of our listeners would like to see it, what’s your website so they could go peruse and see some of what you’ve done.

Jennifer Lastra: Absolutely. It’s www.360immersive.com.

Jim Stephens: One of the videos you showed me was of, I think it was a police training video. Share a little bit about the mechanics that go into creating that cause it strikes me you not only have to be a videographer, but you also have to be a programmer, I would guess to create that kind of reality.

David Cleverdon: Sure. So there are two different types of virtual reality content that we create. The first is Live 360 video. So most people will have experienced this, where you are watching a video right now on YouTube or Facebook where you can look all around within a scene, right? Or you can move a device all around, up, down, you know, behind you and you can see everything that’s going on. So that’s what we call Live 360 video. And that’s really a good use case for if your capturing expert role modeling best practices. You want somebody to deliver a series in a sequence of events in a particular order or the really unique use case for Live 360 video is kind of a day in the life of experience. And what I mean by that is you can actually develop empathy by wearing a virtual reality headset and experiencing what somebody may be going through from the perspective of that unique individual.

David Cleverdon: And so we have a lot of content that deals with law enforcement or emergency response responders, public safety folks on how to deal with people, let’s say maybe that are suffering from a mental illness or something like that. Or really if you wanted to feel what it’s like to be a law enforcement officer or for them for that matter, what it’s like to be a Boise State football player. You know, we use it for recruiting purposes as well to showcase what it’s like to be in some of these roles. So those are some unique use cases for live three 60 video

Jim Stephens: In Sandler, we say people buy based on emotion and what you’re doing is helping make that a real emotion.

David Cleverdon: Oh for sure.

Jim Stephens: When you’re in that 360 immersive perspective, right? You’re feeling all of the emotions.

David Cleverdon: Oh absolutely. And then the second half of that is computer generated simulation. Consider that like serious gaming. So it’s not a video game, but again, you’re putting somebody potentially in a training scenario that’s very hazardous to replicate,  too expensive to replicate or hazardous in the sense that somebody could get really hurt or actually die if they choose a wrong course of action. So we use a lot of computer-generated simulation to replicate very dangerous situations. And, and the overall goal with that is to eliminate injuries and fatalities in the workplace and just allow people to practice in a safe manner. These relatively potentially dangerous circumstances. And should they choose to take the wrong path in this simulation? The simulation, goes dark and says, okay, your dead? Yeah. We try not to quite go there. But you get the feeling, especially like if you have a trench collapsed in on you, you know, people don’t really get injured from trench collapses, even though they don’t occur very frequently. When a trench collapses, typically people die. It’s fatal. And so you can really get that sense using computer-generated simulation of what that kind of feels like. It’s impactful.

David Cleverdon: So if you, if you think of the word reality, we can actually change people’s reality by putting them in these simulations, in these goggles, and for a better outcome. Because in real life you make decisions every day, even turning right, turning left. Do you know, changing lanes without signaling? Each one of us makes design decisions that can actually affect how we ended up that day. Well, wouldn’t you like to be able to train in hazardous situations at a point that that you can go down through that same scenario? You can make a decision that may have a great outcome. You finish your job, you do it like it’s supposed to happen, or maybe, unfortunately, you make the wrong decision and just like in the real world, bad things happen and we can simulate that and it again, the idea is that you actually feel that you have a visceral feel about when that trench collapsed has Jen’s example was you, you feel it. It’s not just like you’re watching a screen, it just happened. You feel it.

Jim Stephens: Yeah, it is it like it vibrates or?

David Cleverdon: Well it doesn’t vibrate but it that it’s, it’s a cognitive feeling that something has happened to you because you see the earth shaking, you see rocks coming in on and them like Jen says, everything starts to go dark. We don’t throw blood splatter or anything like that. But the point is that it affects a different your brain in a different way than just passively watching a video.

Jim Stephens:  Yeah. On a screen. No, that’s a great point. And you’re going actually through the motions of activities needed to accomplish a task that’s right. And when those are not focused on correctly, that’s when you see a troublesome outcome.

David Cleverdon: So CGI or computer simulation is an amazing technology for those types of things. Or maybe that the scene is too expensive to easily set up and replicate and then we can replicate in a virtual environment, give a more meaningful presentation or learning experience. If you go back to the 360 Video side of things, we can teach soft skills. You know, the harassment issues in the workplace are a big thing now. There’s a lot of things that we can impact in a virtual manner that maybe aren’t as impactful. Just showing somebody a video or looking at a PowerPoint presentation with photos. And so all of those, that dichotomy of, of different service offerings from CGI based simulation 360 Live Video all comes back to how to also do distributed. And I think that’s great because you have the best content in the world, but if you can’t get it in people’s hands in a meaningful manner and maybe track how they’re doing within that simulation, what do you have?

Jim Stephens: So do you guys see a commercial application for this from a marketing perspective because somebody can’t really experience it unless they’ve got the goggles. So I’ve got to own the technology, the hardware to be able to experience the visual. How do you bridge that gap or what’s happening in the marketplace as you look forward, that will make it so that this is more mainstream?

Jennifer Lastra: So your statement that you have to have hardware in order to experience virtual reality is sort of correct. So I just want to make a quick correction in there. You can still view virtual reality experiences on an IPAD or a tablet or a smart device simply by rotating that device around, up, down, around. Right. The most immersive experience though, where you get that real connection that David was alluding to, where you feel like you’re part of the scene is only available in a virtual reality headset. So that’s kind of one little distinction that I wanted to make from a commercial standpoint. There’s a couple of things that we’re doing to make it as affordable as possible, not just on the training side but on the marketing side as well. So what we’re doing is we’re creating, so think of this from the safety perspective.

Jennifer Lastra: The first thing somebody does when they come onto a construction site is there supposed to analyze their surroundings and really evaluate the safety of their workspaces. And I think that’s at the employee level and at the supervisor level and the responsibilities start at the very beginning with the employee, right? Do you really understand the situation that you’re in and understand what’s going on around you? So that situational awareness is really one another, one of those impactful things that you can develop and train on it in a more unique way using this technology. But my point is is that there’s, you know, allowing somebody to experience that firsthand is one of the more impactful and meaningful things. It starts that critical skill development that we’re trying to train into adult learners, which is not an easy one to train and you get that based off of experience, right?

Jennifer Lastra: So when we talk about the commercial viability, we’re talking about creating content that just focuses on scene assessment, hazard identification, because from one construction site to another, there’s not a whole lot of differences, right? You’re going to have your standard hazards that are found in any construction site. That’s just one example of one setting. So we can create experiences now and make them publicly available to any organization that wants to use them as supplemental training aids that you can feather into traditional training sessions. So then when you can make those publicly available, you can not only impact a five-person work crew, but a 5,000 person work crew, right? You’re at least getting a different tool to get the adult learners and the instructors to start thinking a little bit more about kind of what’s going on and have discussions in the classroom.

Jennifer Lastra: So from a commercial standpoint, being able to make this content readily available for, you know, a sub $5 a piece download. That’s a fantastic tool. Specifically, on the marketing side, some of the other things that we’re trying to do is allow organizations to be able to capture their own Live 360 video if they wanted to, and then we can help them turn that content into their own training aids and that makes it far more commercially available. Again, typically organizations think that there’s a cost barrier to entry and we’re trying to really minimize and almost eliminate that as much as possible so we can have a much broader impact than just learning institutions and in fortune 500 companies. So hopefully that answered your question.

David Cleverdon:  We call it Do it Together. You’ve heard of DIY? Well, we found that there are some challenges from a technology standpoint to creating VR training with three at Live 360 Video, and the Do it Together program minimizes those so that people can economically create the content by using these new cameras that are easy to use. If you can run your smartphone, you can run one of these cameras.  You can capture all of your content, your simulations, everything that you do in your normal training. Or it can also be used in a marketing exercise, but let’s talk training, and then what do you do with it? Send it in. We do all the technology-heavy lifting, upload it into your APP, and into the library and then it’s in your training room. That seems to be the most economical and effective way to create training, if you have determined that Live 360 Videos is the way to go for your organization.

Jim Stephens:  My office overlooks the State Police Headquarters and they are out there every day doing roleplays and practicing. They’re driving, they’re marching there. They’re doing roleplaying because it’s the most effective way of learning. It’s really hard to get. As a sales trainer, it’s really hard to get salespeople to roleplay, because they feel awkward or uncomfortable and so any kind of a tool that would immerse you into, here’s a scenario, what are you observing? What are some of the things that went well, what didn’t go well? I think that that really awakens the participant to experience at a new level. In fact, we call it sales malpractice when you practice in front of your client. So we want people to role play and having a tool like yours is an awesome way to provide an opportunity for that.

David Cleverdon: Well, we actually have created an APP speaking of the State Police that store that when they used to go out and practice the pit maneuver. The pit maneuver is where you have a high-speed chase and an officer’s trying to stop the car and you bump it in a very tactical manner and it spins it out and then everybody will arrest the person doing bad things. The problem with that is that what happened is that they would use PowerPoint and it would show people pictures of what you’re supposed to do in this process, to the trainees in their academy. And they would beat the cars up because you just didn’t have the feel for it. So we went out and using VR, we documented that whole process from multiple different angles and now what they can do, they can take that APP and they can train and they can practice and they have not damaged the car since they initiated that process. It’s like a football quarterback. Would you send a quarterback out on for the big game without going in and practicing with the team and running the playbook? And this technology allows you to use that preparatory practice and then maybe six months later or a year down later, you come back and you can use it as a refresher.

Jim Stephens: Awesome. So give your contact information, Jennifer, in case somebody is listing would like to reach out and learn more about your company.

Jennifer Lastra: Yep. So like I said, you can find us on the Internet, www.360immersive.com our office number is (888) 843-9580 or you can send me an email at jennifer@360immersive.com

Jim Stephens: Awesome. Perfect. So let’s shift gears a little bit. We’ve been working together, you have been a member of the Sandler family for almost a full year, and so Jennifer’s been a part of our sales mastery program and then together we’ve worked on in a consulting context on strategic planning. So start with a sales mastery. Jennifer, what, what have you derived from being involved in that training program?

Jennifer Lastra: Well, coming as ex-military, I love a plan. I never had a plan before with sales and I’d always in the past sold a commodity. And when we started 360 immersive, virtual reality software is far from a commodity at this point, especially when you’re trying to sell it into the consumer market. So I needed a plan and I realized I was a bit out of my league when it comes to software. I’ve never sold software before. And so I just needed to really get some expert advice. And the first time I came to one of the free sales mastery sessions, I was just hooked. And I said, this is very clear, that people have been very successful here. And I thought, well heck, if everybody else is using it and they’ve been successful, then I should be able to get right in. As I said, I think I told you this, just tell me what to do and I’m going to go through it. You know, I’m that simple. I told you I’d be your best student.

Jim Stephens: That’s in fact, and that’s because you’re fearless enough to know in your heart of hearts, it’s a proven system. So you don’t have to go out and prove that it works. You just work the plan. And that probably does come from your military background. That’s very interesting. So what are some of the fruit that you’ve reaped as a result of being involved in the program?

Jennifer Lastra: Well about three years ago when I finally did start selling, I realized the sales cycle was almost two years long. Now there’s a lot of contributing factors to that, right? It’s a new technology. You know, we’re looking for a very small subset of early adopters, really the innovators that are kind of embracing this technology. So I had that challenge I had to overcome. The company just wasn’t going to be able to be successful if I couldn’t get my sales cycle down. Right? So what I’ve been able to do, my sales cycle is down now to, I want to say anywhere between 60 and 45 days, somewhere in there, which is remarkable. From a first touch perspective, and again, just simply following the process,  I am a very unexpected salesperson and people don’t look at me as a salesperson.

Jennifer Lastra: The relationships and the sales that I have brought in over the last, well I’m just going to say over the last year or since meeting you and following the process, these people view me as trusted advisers and I’m not being phony about it. I am not your typical salesperson and right up front they always tell me that. I mean I could give you testimonials of some of our customers that have said, love you Jen, the first time I met you, you pretty much ran me through the wringer to find out if I was going to be a good fit or not. And I felt like I had to earn your business. You know, and that’s, that’s the process, right? You want to make sure it’s a good fit all the way around before you invest any more time. And so, you know, hey, they know, they know what to expect in that transparency and the process. They appreciate being led down the process. They’re exposed to it.

Jennifer Lastra: And a big part of that is just giving yourself permission to be that intentional leader. Instead of let me do my song and dance and show you how great we are. Yeah, let’s find out first if we really should work together.

David Cleverdon: I can tell you that just from kind of the outside looking in, that Jen started to see results in the first month, she would come back and tell me about this process is so amazing because customers are  relating to me in a completely different manner that allows me to kind of move them forward. That was in the first month.

Jennifer Lastra: I think the other thing that I really like about the Sandler system is that it is a system which means there’s a beginning, there’s a middle, there’s an end and if you follow a system, the logical outcome is a decision one way or the other. A No is a good decision because it frees me up to go find somebody who’s going to say yes instead of ending up with a bloated pipeline full of people who really liked me and really like what I do and will buy from me sometime, but I don’t know when that is.

Jim Stephens: So let’s talk a little bit about the consulting aspect. David. We’ve been working on putting together your strategic plan. What value have you seen and have you as partners derived from that process?

David Well, really there’s been a couple of different aspects. On one aspect I call it kindly couples therapy because, when you have two people involved in a business we have employees that we have to manage, we have projects that we have to manage and it’s a small business, and it’s stressful. And so how do you get along? How do you relate to each other and coming to you as turned that around 180 degrees on how Jen and I relate to each other, how we can be productive and driving the business forward and scaling the business. And so that’s been huge, it’s been invaluable. Let me just put that way from my standpoint, and I also believe from Jen’s standpoint also, but also moving beyond that as a business, you need that plan and you’ve had been instrumental in kind of helping us craft a plan for the business as we move forward. And if you don’t have a plan, how do you scale correctly? How do you go out and find the right clients? There are just so many ways. Let’s just face it. You can, you can muddle through it for years and you can kind of make it work, but it’s like you’re running your engine on four out of eight cylinders. Or you can go after it, and you’ve helped us go after it.

Jim Stephens: That’s awesome. Jen, your thoughts?

Jennifer Lastra: Well, I think from my perspective, again, always wanting a plan and sometimes as business owners the plan is in our head, right? And unfortunately, but fortunately enough we were able to realize that, and realize that being held accountable, you know when you’re the owner who’s holding things up. And that’s a huge piece of not only having the plan and having something that you can gather metrics off of and tell whether you’re being successful or not. If you don’t have a written plan that you’re monitoring, how do you know when you need to adjust it? You can’t just wait until the end of the month when you look at your reports and say, Oh Dang, this just isn’t going so hot. Right? So I like a proactive approach to management and to growing the business. And so I, I want a plan. I want to see what are the key rocks that we should be focusing on and what do we need to do to hold each other accountable and our areas above and beyond just daily operations, right? And how are we pushing each other to, in a strategic manner, grow the business. And so that’s what it’s kind of all about in my eyes.

Jim Stephens: Yeah. It’s really easy to become absorbed in running your business and then your business starts running you and the end up as a firefighter instead of moving the ball the direction you want. You just get in that lot collusion and having a clearly defined plan with mutual accountabilities. Huge difference.

Jim Stephens: Jennifer Lastra, David Cleverdon. Then thank you both for being on the show today. Really appreciate you being here. Thank you.

And I’m Jim Stephens. If you’d like more information, you can reach us at 208-429-9275 or on the web at www.crossroads.sandler.com.