Matt Tande and Jeff Trinh-Sy already had a lot of irons in the fire when they ran across what they considered groundbreaking virtual reality technology. The realism in the games they encountered was so impressive they decided to open a recreational virtual reality gaming studio in St. Paul.
Over the past eight months, Voxel Virtual Reality Parlour has done so well the business partners have doubled its space and are considering a second metro area branch.
Their St. Paul facility now offers more than 20 different VR experiences to on- and off-site game enthusiasts. Visitors can choose from a spectrum of experiences ranging from war games to artistic fantasies to adventures such as mountain climbing or deep-sea diving. One of few such studios in the area, Voxel attracts game enthusiasts of all generations, many new to the level of realism possible with its cutting-edge equipment.
Though its concept is relatively new to the metro, Voxel’s success is not so surprising given the burgeoning global market in virtual reality games, slated to reach $14.6 billion by 2023, according to a report from Market Research Future. That figure assumes a 30.5 percent CAGR between now and then.
Crain's Twin Cities talked to Trinh-Sy to learn more details about the center and the industry.
Q: How are your technology offerings different from those on the retail market?
A: These headsets fit to your face well, so you don’t see any of the outside world. The tracking is like no other, and when you walk around, the precision with which it follows you … you very quickly forget you’re in a virtual world. You interact with everything. One of my friends was in a zombie game and it seemed so real she wet her pants.
Q: How did you two meet?
A: We met through our wives more than 10 years ago and soon started talking about business opportunities. Matt’s a lawyer (with Prescott, Pearson and Tande P.A. in New Brighton) and I’m a teacher (at Minneapolis’ Blake School).
Q: How did you get started in business?
A: We first started Voxel to help businesses build (infrastructure) for VR technology. We still hope to grow that part, but right now we’re focusing on the games. We really hadn’t seen that much buzz around virtual reality games, but knew there was a void here, not only with this kind of gaming, but … for different kinds of entertainment.
We did some market research, got two other investors, found our space and spent $40,000 to $50,000 on renovations. Since then we’ve marketed ourselves almost entirely through social media.
Q: Are you both diehard gamers?
A: I wouldn’t say that, but hardcore techies, yes. I’ve always been in that category. I teach physics, robotics and astronomy, so that kind of lends itself to tinkering.
Q: What’s been most surprising about this venture?
A: I expected a lot of middle-aged men and others who do a lot of hard-core gaming … but it’s pretty clear people are looking for new experiences, old and young.
Q: How hectic are your schedules these days?
A: We have five employees and try to be as self-sustaining as possible. I’m teaching part-time now, and Matt is still practicing law, and we both have young children. We’re managing quite a bit of workload. We’re both pretty hands on. But I think we’re both having fun… it’s fun to see the business keep succeeding.
Q: What’s been the most rewarding part about running your business?
A: For both of us, the no. 1 most rewarding part is introducing VR to new people. It’s a very new experience. They just about can’t believe their eyes, and to see that kind of jaw-dropping, wide-eyed reaction is a lot of fun.
Q: What’s in your five-year plan?
A: We’ll probably replace our equipment in six to eight months as newer versions become available. We hope to grow our off-site trade (corporate events, weddings, parties, etc.), which makes up about 20 percent of our sales, and we’d like to market more toward groups, which make up about half our revenues.
Q: What future uses do you see for VR technology?
A: I think it will be used for education, especially in science and the arts. When we look back, I think it will be like the PC, the cell phone and the iPod in that we’re going to wonder what we ever did without this back in the day.