Makers of The Metaverse: Ainārs Kļaviņš Of Overly On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Passion for technology is the first — you have to love what you do to be in it for the long term.

The Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality & Mixed Reality Industries are so exciting. What is coming around the corner? How will these improve our lives? What are the concerns we should keep an eye out for? Aside from entertainment, how can VR or AR help work or other parts of life? To address this, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ainārs Kļaviņš.

Ainārs entered the augmented reality (AR) sector a decade ago and founded Overly, the first AR development business in the Baltic States, in 2014. Today, alongside his co-founder and CTO, Gatis Zvejnieks, he runs a SaaS (software-as-a-service) platform that empowers people with no tech skills to create AR experiences from anywhere in the world. While many are hung up on Meta’s offer for virtual reality Metaverse, Ainārs is adamant that blocking out reality to enhance human connection is not a long-term solution. Instead, he believes that the long-term Metaverse will see us enhance the real world with digital layers through AR.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?

I grew up in the capital of Latvia, Riga. I developed a passion for extreme sports early on — and what other extreme sports could I fall in love with living in a city if not skateboarding?

Skateboarding later led me to snowboarding, and both of these real-world hobbies took me into the world of digital technologies. I wasn’t just playing Tony Hawk on a PC as a teenager. I decided I wanted to be a businessman and started to sell computer games and software at school. I am not sure I cared about legal matters back then. Later on, I built my first website to create an online skating community in Riga. This was when I realized that I wanted to set up a technology business, but it was still a decade before I got to do it.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I read regularly, and my favorite genres include self-help literature and books on doing business. I also enjoy a good read from real-life adventurers and mountaineers to rest my mind.

When it comes to business, I always aim to select books that add value to what I do. One of the books that has most impacted me is Multipliers by Liz Wiseman and Greg Mckeown. It was eye-opening to see what I have done wrong as a business owner. I realized how my limitations had impacted my business and led me to burnout along the way. This book taught me to step back, empowering my team to handle more responsibilities and take true ownership of their work.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the AR Reality industry? We’d love to hear it.

I knew from my teens that I wanted to set up a technology company. The only thing missing was a business idea. So, similar to many millennials in the 2010s, I set up a blog. My website was dedicated to sharing the newest trends in the tech industry. In a sense, this site disciplined me to follow the industry news as I posted updates every day.

I was around half a year into my blogging career when I came across augmented reality (AR). It blew my mind, and I call it my aha moment! At that point, I knew I had no other choice but to set up an augmented reality business and needed someone who could develop an AR solution.

My blogging efforts dwindled as I switched my focus to finding software developers who could bring my idea to life. After more than a year and dozens of rejections from software developers who thought AR had no future, I found Gatis Zvejnieks. Gatis had also found out about AR some time back and developed mock projects. It was a serendipitous meeting. Together we co-founded Overly in 2014.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?

A lot of exciting stuff has happened in almost a decade since Overly was launched. However, as time goes on, we don’t notice that we start to live in this early adopter tech bubble where AR no longer is a novelty.

I remember we were creating an augmented reality 3D experience for a large brand a little while back. When our team delivered the content, I was not impressed with the result. Although the technologies we had did not allow for considerable improvements, I was sure that the client would also be quite disappointed.

Nevertheless, I went to present the first mock-up expecting some rather harsh feedback. Then something odd happened. After I finished the presentation, the board members of this large brand jumped out of their seats and started high fiving me. They were blown away by how incredible this experience was. Later on, their customers also shared the same enthusiasm.

It was an excellent lesson for me. When it comes to the general public, AR is still a novelty. We’re only now seeing the beginning of AR’s mass adoption. Many people still don’t know what AR means, that it exists and how they can use it, let alone about creating AR experiences themselves. If you look inside a tech company in the meantime, we cannot wait for hardware to catch up with software to deliver even more immersive experiences.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

A few years after launching Overly, I was invited to a large conference to speak about augmented reality. A few hundreds of people were in the audience, and I was excited to introduce them to our tech startup.

In all honesty, it is almost impossible to describe augmented reality without showcasing it. To ensure people understand what I’m talking about, I included a lot of technological hacks in my presentation. I was prepared to do mobile screen streaming to my laptop, switch between computer apps, and include live AR demos.

To ensure I could deliver all this smoothly, I needed a good Wi-Fi connection. I did plan on bringing my router but forgot it. Luckily, I could use my phone as a hotspot. Or so I thought.

Just as I was about to showcase AR demos, my mother called. This call disconnected all other devices from the hotspot, and I could not get them reconnected. Overall, my presentation did not go too well. I tried to finish it with a joke about myself, but it was not how I wanted it to end. Since then, I have done things quite differently to avoid missing an opportunity to share AR experiences with large audiences.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I agree, but it is also impossible to narrow it down to one particular person. As you build a business, many people along the way help you.

Out of all my friends, family, business mentors and teachers, the first person I’d have to thank is my girlfriend. She has been my biggest supporter from day one and cheered me on to chase my AR business dream even at first when Overly was generating zero revenue. She also helps me switch off work and look at things from a different perspective.

Overly’s co-founder, Gatis, is another key person on my journey. Before I met him, I was looking for software developers because my ego thought that I should lead the business by myself. Today I am so happy that I’ve been able to build Overly alongside Gatis. He is the person who has always been by my side. We could always rely on each other and celebrate our success together. We are very different people, and it plays a significant role in decision making. Only together could we build Overly into the business it is today.

More recently, my business mentor, Lauris Lietavietis, provided excellent support in helping me switch Overly’s business model to a software as a service (SaaS) platform.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, indeed. Overly was an agency that provided personalized augmented reality solutions for more than eight years. Developing individualized AR solutions are more in-line with corporate budgets. Still, over the years we were increasingly approached by educators, nonprofits and SMEs. These organizations had terrific use cases in mind but limited resources.

That’s what inspired us to build a SaaS augmented reality creation platform that addresses all these issues. Launched in 2021, Overly Creator let us squash the high costs and scrap code-based development. We’re continuously updating the platform, and our most recent AR features include 3D content development and NFT (non-fungible token) visualization. Whatever a person or business wants to create in AR, we aim to make building augmented reality experiences just as simple as creating designs in Canva. No technical skills required.

Democratizing digital creation is more crucial than ever today. We see the Metaverse future described as a room in virtual reality where you hang out or build something. We, on the other hand, think that virtual reality is just the first step into Metaverse. The real Metaverse will happen in augmented reality. We will not go into an isolated room but rather bring digital assets into our worlds. I believe Overly will be a key tool that will enable everyone to create Metaverse solutions and experiences.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The VR, AR and MR industries seem so exciting right now. What are the 3 things in particular that most excite you about the industry? Can you explain or give an example?

If you’ve heard about Gartner Hype Cycle and tech adoption, you’ll understand that the most exciting thing is that augmented reality is entering the mainstream market and has left the hype stage way back in 2015/16.

Secondly, it is exciting that Metaverse is just entering its hype stage as it helps push AR and VR technologies back into news headlines.

Last but not least, I want to talk about non-fungible tokens in AR. As people embrace digital ownership, AR lets creators and NFT connoisseurs bring the objects they own or sell into the real world, increasing a sense of ownership. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to enable people to visualize their purchases through our platform.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the VR, AR and MR industries? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?

When it comes to augmented reality, firstly, it’s hardware. Software is developing much more rapidly than hardware which is a real bottleneck for augmented reality experiences. This includes both mobile devices and glasses. For AR to go mainstream, mobiles are the first step, but wider adoption will happen when we start using AR glasses. We’re still a few years away from being able to do this.

Hardware development links into my other concern: people who have experienced bad augmented reality content or its limitations automatically place AR into something that has little value. Businesses or users may reject the technology without realizing how far it has come and is yet to go.

There are also some ethical concerns in terms of privacy. Augmented reality puts digital layers into our environment or onto us. Face filters recognize our faces, and let’s be real, we’ve been teaching platforms to identify us for years through photo tags and selfies. In the future, AR glasses could scan the face of someone new we meet, and we’d see all about them in seconds. Is it something we’d want to happen to us? I am not sure.

I think the entertainment aspects of VR, AR and MR are apparent. Can you share with our readers how these industries can help us at work?

This is a great question. The thing is that entertainment can be viewed from two perspectives. For your customers or audience, AR and VR experiences provide entertainment. Great content inspires and educates people. However, if you look at providing these experiences to your audience from a business perspective, these technologies are tools that you use to drive engagement and boost your bottom line.

SMEs that fight in the same market as big brands need to do things differently. AR is more accessible than VR technologies as most of us own mobile devices. That’s all people need. Retailers can offer AR try-ons, which research shows makes people feel more confident about purchasing decisions. Museums use augmented reality to expand their exhibitions. Educators embrace the technology to provide a new, more visual form of learning. It was especially important during the remote learning scenarios. And to use AR successfully, organizations don’t even have to invest in hardware as people bring their own mobiles everywhere.

Are there other ways that VR, AR and MR can improve our lives? Can you explain?

This is the great thing and pitfall of mixed reality technologies. On the one hand, we already see a lot of ways to use these technologies. Yet, we are still taking baby steps to understanding where and how they can be used across various industries. Hardware and software continuously evolve. Almost every day we discover a new problem that can be solved with AR or a new hypothesis that begins testing.

To give you an example, let’s look back at the time when the world was hit by the pandemic and global lockdowns. Suddenly activities that people had been doing in their free time and at work for that matter were no longer available to them. Although Netflix streaming rocketed, the longer people spent indoors the more they needed inspiration and new ways to spend their time outside home. This is when we saw organizations and businesses step in and use augmented reality to launch interactive city tours and scavenger hunts, giving people a new form of entertainment. This is still one of our top enquiries today.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in your industry? Can you explain what you mean?

First of all, I want to dispel the myth that augmented reality is virtual reality. Somehow, virtual reality is a better-known term for the general public. Given that it is almost impossible to explain augmented reality without showing it to a person, people often assume it is the same as virtual reality. But unlike virtual reality, which aims to teleport you into a completely digital world without any references to your existing environment, augmented reality lets you place and interact with digital objects in your real-world surroundings.

Another one I hear at times is that “augmented reality is on its way out”. Yes, AR has been through a period of hype where businesses used it because it was something new. But instead of disappearing altogether, we’re finally seeing organizations put novelty aside and develop valuable use cases.

And the last idea I’d like to squash is about AR goggles stopping people from thinking for themselves. With the development of augmented reality glasses, we expect that users will see digital information about their surroundings in real-time. Perhaps artificial intelligence will serve up relevant information without a person’s request. However, isn’t it something that mobiles do already? I believe that digital devices, including AR glasses, can allow us to be more present in real life. We can focus on living our lives by enabling digital support when necessary. We’re just changing a device that serves up information.

What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The VR, AR or MR Industries?”

Passion for technology is the first — you have to love what you do to be in it for the long term.

Open-mindedness is another one — AR is still a novelty at large, and we have to continue exploring different use cases rather than focus on one avenue we may already believe in.

You also have to be an early adapter, invest in new technologies, and take risks to build new use cases to convince other people to jump aboard.

Patience is a big one. Although it seems that technologies are developing rapidly, when you’re working with augmented reality, you see that the hardware is not quite there yet to meet all your ambitions.

Lastly, I think it is awesome if you have a background in a completely different field, like fashion or retail. This will let you come up with great applications for your particular sector.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would eliminate greed! Without it, people would be more focused on things that are truly important.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

This is a hard one, as there has never been a business leader I cannot learn anything from. I do not have a particular idol in entrepreneurship, but I would love to meet the grands like Tim Cook or Jef Bezos. I am fascinated by the ways successful people think and would want to learn more about their approach to life. If I did meet them, I would enjoy their company and try to persuade them to come to the advisory board of Overly.

If we spoke about augmented reality players, meeting with Ninantic’s CEO, John Hanke, would be most interesting. He is a true industry leader.

Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!

Makers of The Metaverse: Ainārs Kļaviņš Of Overly On The Future Of The VR, AR & Mixed Reality… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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