How long have you two known each other? Why did you guys decide to go into business together?
Waylon: We are cousins; we knew each other our whole lives. As kids, we were always getting into trouble by building stuff, climbing on things we shouldn’t climb on, and exploring places we shouldn’t go. We weren’t thrill seekers or anything like that, just two kids with creative and adventurous minds. We grew older, but stayed close. We always dreamed on owning a business, and that dream never went away. I was just about ready to start a career in the financial industry when I had the idea of a virtual reality arcade. It was far-fetched and crazy, right? I told Brandon about the idea and he was crazy enough to roll with it as well. We knew it was going to be a tough battle, but started meeting at the library and my house weekly to work on it. Both of us brought it into existence after that.
Brandon: We grew up together. We are cousins and our family is really tight-knit so we spent a lot of time together. We were a dynamic duo in our youth and always stayed close friends. Waylon came up with this idea around Christmastime in 2016. When he showed me, I was excited to get started. Waylon is one of the smartest people I know, so I knew that we could make this dream a reality.
Talk about VR Spectrum. Where did the idea come from?
Waylon: I haven’t mentioned this yet, but I am very entrepreneur minded. I would keep an idea journal with really far-fetched ideas that just might work in it. Ideas that didn’t quite make the cut were a wall-mounted backscratcher and the “foon” (not to be confused with the spork, but a similar idea). Those were two of my crazier ideas, there were much more realistic ones in my journal. Problem is I would research and see if there was anything that was already in existence and there almost always was. I would then draw a giant “X” on the page and move on to the next idea. Eventually I had the idea of a virtual reality arcade, before ever even trying virtual reality. I began to look up what little of an industry there was. Not only were there only a few people doing it, but almost everyone was failing. We decided to take this as an opportunity rather than a warning. From that point, we researched the industry and started to develop more and more of a plan. The moment we put on the headset, we were all in on the idea.
Brandon: Waylon showed me his idea for a business that specializes in virtual reality.I was immediately drawn to the idea as we romanticized the limitless potential of VR. Our goal was to make premium VR accessible and affordable for everyone. We had never tried it ourselves, but we had faith in this technology and what it could do. We eventually ventured outside our home state to try a headset ourselves. The moment we put on that headset, we were hooked. In that instant, Waylon’s cool idea had evolved to tangibility. We had to open Spectrum.
What were some of the challenges you guys faced early on in starting this business?
Waylon: Both of us are younger, (and did) not really have a great opportunity to establish a credit score. Myself, just finishing college, didn’t have much money saved at all, so gathering funding was definitely a big obstacle. ... Most people running virtual reality arcades were failing. We had to figure out why. We had to find out whether it was the arcade industry as a whole, if it was the execution, lack of demand, or something else entirely. Finally, our last obstacle was marketing, exactly figuring out who to target and what appeals to them. There have been other issues of course, but these are the three biggest for sure.
Brandon: Easily our largest hurdle was funding our project. We both were young with little credit history. The VR market was still in its infancy, so educating potential lenders of what our idea entailed was also a challenge. It was so new, there was no proof of concept. With months of hard work, and never giving up, we eventually found an investor who believed in our vision. Peter Bobeck gave us the opportunity to realize our dream. For this we will be eternally grateful. Our largest hurdle had produced our biggest ally, and we were finally ready to build.
What were people’s reactions when you explained it was a “virtual” arcade?
Waylon: First, (there was) my family’s and my peers’ reactions to opening a virtual reality arcade. I just finished 4 years of college, so they questioned it, but honestly not that much. My family was very supportive of the idea. My mom actually went with me when we traveled to an arcade to try virtual reality for the first time. She enjoyed it just as much I did. My family (they were Catholic, it’s a large family and I don’t just mean immediate family, I mean everyone)always believed in me, which not a lot of people have. My peers were very similar as well; they said if there was anyone who could do it, it was me. Having all the support was great. There were really few people that told me I was crazy, even though they were thinking it.
(Other) people’s reaction to a virtual reality arcade ... has changed a lot since we first opened. Most people in the beginning either didn’t know what that meant or did and were scared they would get motion sick because they tried it on a phone. For the people that didn’t know, most do now after 17 months of operation and tons of word-of-mouth. We are taking Fort Wayne by storm. People quickly became educated as so did the rest of the world. Overall, everyone comes in thinking virtual reality isn’t for everyone, and they leave disappointed they didn’t hear about us sooner.
Brandon: Many people have come in expecting a traditional arcade with gaming cabinets and foosball. They are instead greeted by six state-of-the-art VR stations with nigh limitless capability; and we still have foosball. One headset is equivalent to thousands of worlds to explore. They can fly, battle gladiators, shoot zombies together, paint 3D sculptures, be a wizard, visit anywhere on the planet and so much more. Most of our customers have no idea what VR is capable of, but they’re amazed when they discover it for themselves. Most first-time customers turn into regulars after they experience what VR can do for themselves.
You recently received an award from the Small Business Development Center. What was your reaction?
Waylon: We were so happy. The SBDC meant so much to us. We went to the SBDC by IPFW for advice and resources all the time. We were in a completely new industry, so sometimes help was limited; Nicole Heffelfinger would always meet with us and give the help she was capable of. The gratitude I have for the center is why I am so glad we won the award. We worked really hard and honestly could not have done it without them. More in regards to the award, we know what we are doing is special and receiving the award is great because it means other people think what we are doing is special as well. The award is just one of those reasons why all the hard work we did has paid off.
Brandon: We are beyond grateful for this recognition. The folks at the SBDC have been instrumental in giving us a running start. When we first started, Nicole helped us traverse a lot of unfamiliar territory. From registering our name with the state, to formulating a detailed business plan, the SBDC is an amazing resource for anyone trying to open a business, and it’s free! This award is proof of our hard work, and is just as much attestment to the impact the SBDC has had on us.
Do you feel as though virtual reality is a fad that will pass in a few years or something here to stay? Why?
Waylon: Virtual reality a fad, no. It is just getting started. The amount of money being invested in virtual reality is growing every year. Companies that had no plans of introducing virtual reality are planning on introducing virtual reality. Developers are creating more and more content, and big name developers are joining in.The video game aspect will always be there and it will only improve along with innovations in technology. Virtual reality is used for much more than just gaming. It can be a social platform. You can play board games or watch movies with friends from other states. It can be used for education. It can be used in media. I already mentioned watching movies, but what about going to a concert in another country or being court side at the NBA finals. So no, it’s not a fad, but rather a new medium for how things will get done.
Brandon: Absolutely not a fad. If we go back to earlier iterations of VR, many of those experiences were lackluster and didn’t seem to gain anything from VR. Take (Nintendo’s) “The Virtual Boy,” for instance; VR was used as a gimmick, and the games were basically the same as playing on a 2D screen. Now, however, we are seeing a new wave of virtual reality. Gaming, medical, architectural, VR is evolving in all of these fields and many more. We now have rich environments with amazing graphics that pull you into the experience. These applications are being built specifically for VR; so we are seeing increasingly more innovative ways to interact in VR. Virtual reality is here to stay, that much is certain. What is still unknown, is just how extraordinary this technology will become.
Where would you like to see VR technology go from here?
Waylon: I would like to see virtual reality just become more and more immersive. It’s already immersive, but I would like to add scent and feel to environments. This is possible now, but way too expensive and only profitable in certain regions of the world. The other thing I would like to see done is increasing the play space by the use of a treadmill or other special technology. This is already being done, but not in a way that doesn’t break some of the immersion. I want to see people embrace the technology. Just as excited as I am about the entertainment side of things, I am excited for the education side. Schools need to embrace the new technology and use it as a medium for teaching.
Brandon: VR could go anywhere, but it will probably go everywhere. Surgeons are already receiving training in VR, soldiers are being field-tested without leaving base, concerts and sporting events are being broadcasted in VR, complex scientific topics are being visualized in VR, and the games are already unbelievably amazing and immersive. Virtual Reality will continue to evolve, and I can’t wait to see what we do with this near limitless technology.
What plans do you guys have in store? Another joint venture? Solo projects?
Waylon: Our current plans are to help grow the competitive gaming scene in virtual reality. Everyone should know what esports are now after Fortnite took the world by storm. We have taken part in multiple global tournaments now and actually just won a big one. As this industry grows, so will we. We have two other projects we are working on. An expansion and stepping into the education industry. I mentioned my feelings for education adopting virtual reality, we want to be one of the companies that helps the industry do so.
Brandon: We plan to further the growth of the virtual reality industry and branch out into other fields of VR. Education through VR is just one rapidly growing application, as well as the VR esports market. You can expect to see the Spectrum team this season. Aside from VR, we both have many ideas for new businesses. I’m personally passionate about the field of renewable energy while Waylon continues to come up with ideas from inventions to full-fledged business plans. We are continually exploring ways to improve our business. I imagine that Spectrum won’t be the last business Waylon and I open together, as I couldn’t ask for a better partner.