Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We’ve all been programmed to think that as leaders, we shouldn’t ask for help and that doing so is a sign of weakness. I think having the ability to admit when you need help shows a great amount of humility and strength. It’s something I’ve struggled with quite a bit in the past, but I am continuously trying to improve.
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, as a part of our interview series called “Women Leading The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ashleigh Koontz.
Ashleigh Koontz is an entrepreneur, marketer, and sales specialist with over 15 years of professional experience. As Seek’s Director of Marketing, she specializes in current and forecasted technology trends. She primary focus is on augmented reality for e-commerce.
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?
This question would be a lot easier to answer if I followed a traditional career path, but I’ve never done anything the traditional way and I don’t think I’d be who I am today if I did.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve worked as a retail store manager, a photographer, a photo-booth owner, a ring designer, a marketer, and at one point I was even a character at Walt Disney World. As you can see, my career path has been anything but linear. But no matter where that path has taken me, I have always relied heavily on my knowledge and passion for technology.
As a young teen, my interest in tech really blossomed when my dad brought home some old computers from the school he worked at. My brother and I spent days taking parts from each computer until we built one that would function properly. I will never forget the feeling of accomplishment when we got to play Solitaire for the first time on our new computer — a computer that we built.
Learning through experience has been something my parents have encouraged my whole life and it’s how I continue to learn and grow today professionally.
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?
This is going to totally show my nerd card, but I’d have to say the original Star Wars trilogy had a pretty significant impact on me growing up. My dad was a huge fan to the point of having a dedicated room of unopened toys and memorabilia. When most kids were getting quizzed on the differences between mammals and reptiles, I was getting quizzed on the differences between AT-AT and AT-ST walkers.
This significantly impacted life because as a young girl whose favorite movie wasn’t the traditional “Little Mermaid” or “Beauty and the Beast,” my love for Star Wars really opened my eyes to the gender norms of our society. It helped me to realize that I didn’t have to fit in the box society built for me. I could have just as much fun with toys from the “boy” section as I did with my Barbies.
Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the AR industry? We’d love to hear it.
After losing my job at a large retailer, I promised myself that my next position would be a career move and not just a job to “pay the bills.” I was browsing LinkedIn one day and noticed that the Utah Women in Sales group was hosting a job fair. On one of their posts, I saw a comment from Seek’s CEO, Jon Cheney. He was asking if he could attend the fair because he was looking for some “rockstar salespeople.”
This led me to his profile where I saw a video of him in Walmart showing a LEGO set in augmented reality. I was familiar with AR after spending the summer of 2016 playing Pokémon Go, but I hadn’t considered its true potential in the commerce world. After previously being the manager of a retail store, I had an immediate understanding of the benefits AR could have for brands and their customers. I was completely wowed, and I wanted the opportunity to wow others. I reached out to Jon immediately and, after one of the most exciting interviews I’ve had, he offered me the position and the rest is history.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?
When I first started at Seek, I was reaching out to marketing agencies for potential partnership opportunities when I received a response from someone at Deloitte. Every year Deloitte hosts tours for some of their clients at NRF’s Big Show and they were interested in possibly using us as their AR stop during the tour.
After months of back-and-forth conversation and three successful meetings, Seek was selected to be their AR partner. During the show, they brought many executives from some of the biggest brands in the industry to our booth. It was eye opening to see people who see just about everything in the retail world get truly excited by our technology. The reactions AR gets is one of the things I love most about what I do.
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?
When I was a photographer, my specialty was birth stories. I got a call in the middle of the night that one of my moms was in labor and since it was a home birth, I packed up and headed to the home address on the questionnaire. When I was just about there, I got a text to just go straight into the back bedroom where they were.
Not sure if it was because I was still in a sleepy stupor or I was just in a hurry, but I didn’t think to verify the address with them and ended up heading to their old house — lived in by someone else.
After almost getting the cops called on me for trying to “break in” at their old place, I finally realized my mistake. Luckily the new tenants knew my clients very well and we were all able to laugh it off in the end. The lesson? Verify, verify, verify.
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?
My husband Joe has been my biggest supporter throughout my career. We have five amazing kids, and he currently has the incredibly important job of being the stay-at-home parent. He gave up his career as a successful sales executive so that I could pursue my dream and for that I am incredibly grateful.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We just released our newest feature, Nexus, which is the first truly scalable 3D marketplace. With Nexus, brands can easily make 3D model requests using specific requirements to ensure they are of the highest quality and compatibility across any platform.
Before Nexus, the 3D model creation process was clunky and time consuming — consisting of a lot of unnecessary back-and-forth communication between brands and modelers. Our platform significantly reduces the hassles associated with 3D model making, regardless of whether a brand needs 20 or 200,000 models at a time.
In today’s world, time is precious, and Nexus is going to save people a lot of it.
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?
- One thing I’m excited to see is how brands execute on their AR strategies. We know that the AR advertising market is projected to grow from $1.41 billion this year to over $8 billion by 2024. As brands continue to reinvent the consumer experience to meet new expectations and behaviors, AR won’t just play a supporting role — it will be a driving influence.
- It is also worth noting that consumers’ familiarity with AR is higher than ever. This will push the industry to create faster, smoother, and more integrated experiences. Anything less, and the average consumer will move on. Nailing down apparel try-ons is going to be a huge milestone for the AR industry
- I am also on the lookout for the developing marriage between AR and hardware. Hardware will be what truly makes AR mainstream. I think the industry isn’t too far away from seeing quality products like AR glasses hit the market and transforming parts of our everyday lives. The company that’s going to make it happen, in my opinion, is Apple. When Apple comes out with its AR smartglasses, it will change the world. They’re going to do their best to make it feel like something that everyone should be wearing. I think people are going to have to get used to people doing things in front of their faces with their hands. Maybe there’s going to be some weird shifts in how people interact with each other. But after the weirdness passes, that’s how we’re going to run our lives.
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?
Widespread adoption of AR has been hindered by a lack of standardization. Manual, time-consuming, and expensive processes have meant many brands have struggled to create and distribute AR experiences at scale across multiple platforms. Thanks to recent developments there is now infrastructure in place that enables levels of automation the market has not yet seen before.
An entire AR advertising campaign with multiple different 3D assets can now be stored and easily launched across a limitless number of social platforms such as Instagram, Snap, Facebook, and most recently Shopify, as well as browsers like Safari and Chrome, and devices like iOS and Android. This kind of shift is not only going to fuel AR adoption across multiple industries, it’s also going to move brands away from delivering mediocre and single platform AR experiences to more immersive storytelling — engaging audiences with impactful content across the multiple platforms, browsers, and devices they live on.
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?
On the corporate side, the pandemic has shown that a strong sales staff used to being on the road can be just as effective in XR meetings provided they have tech that is easy to use for both sides. While XR/VR and AR may not completely replace human interaction in some part of the sales cycle, there does seem to be a new normal developing that deeply integrates XR for both the cost it saves in travel as well as the convenience AR can bring to training and corporate communication strategy. XR will become a vital part of the workplace experience especially as the tech becomes more user friendly, despite the occasional growing pain of user adoption. Case in point, the recent incident of the lawyer who made the news by having trouble removing the kitten face filter on a zoom call.
Are there other ways that VR, AR and MR can improve our lives? Can you explain?
What’s so great about AR is that it layers on top of the real world, which means you have limitless options to enhance the world in whatever way you want. From XR headsets to integrated heads up displays in cars, we can look forward to seeing more examples of AR going beyond an application that requires us to pause and pull up our phones.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in broader terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? If not, what specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
Right now, women make up only 28% of the workforce relating to STEM. While this number has increased over the last few years, there’s still a huge gap and continuous need for improvement. In order to fulfill this need, I think we need to start with our children. Being a mother of three girls myself, I’ve noticed the obvious lack of girls in the STEM programs offered at schools. If parents and teachers encouraged students to pursue their interests regardless of the status quo, and if girls were more often exposed to women role models in STEM, I think it would have an overall positive outcome on our society going forward.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about working in your industry? Can you explain what you mean?
A huge misconception is that the world isn’t ready for AR technology. Due to COVID and social distancing, the need for an alternative to in-store shopping has grown substantially. AR fulfills this need quite well and as more brands adopt AR technology, we are seeing an increase in awareness and the number of people using it in their everyday lives. Once companies like Apple release their AR glasses, we will see the use cases grow exponentially and slow adopters will undoubtedly be left behind.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in Tech” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Never stop learning. When it comes to technology there is one thing that will never change, and that is the fact that it’s ever evolving and what may be true today, may change completely tomorrow. I make it a point to never stop researching and continuing my education to ensure I am the best version of myself I can be.
- The Platinum Rule. We’ve all been taught the golden rule which is “Treat others the way you want to be treated”, but one of the best things I’ve learned from a past employer is the platinum rule which is “Treat others the way THEY want to be treated.” No two people are the same, so what works for me may not work for someone else. I keep this in mind whenever I’m interacting with anyone whether it’s in a professional setting or at home with each of my kids.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We’ve all been programmed to think that as leaders, we shouldn’t ask for help and that doing so is a sign of weakness. I think having the ability to admit when you need help shows a great amount of humility and strength. It’s something I’ve struggled with quite a bit in the past, but I am continuously trying to improve.
- Stay authentic. When I started early in my career, I tried to be what everyone else wanted me to be. The anxiety of saying something wrong or not being good enough to share my ideas was crippling. What made it worse was that I could tell when others were being inauthentic, and I hated it. We are all human and we all make mistakes. The more open and honest we are with ourselves and others, the faster we’ll learn what makes each of us special.
- Lead by example. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working with and learning from some of the most talented individuals I’ve ever met. The leaders I learned the most from were the ones who were always working with and supporting their team. They strived to earn respect and never demanded it. Anyone can tell a person what to do, but it takes a true leader to show them.
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. 🙂
Working at a tech startup in Silicon Slopes, I have been made aware of the obvious lack of women founders and women investors in the industry. If I could inspire anything, it would be a movement that supports underprivileged women in achieving their dreams and creating an amazing future for themselves. I honestly believe there are so many brilliant ideas out there that can change the world and we just need to enable the minds of those who hold them.
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 🙂
I would love, love, love the chance to meet the founder of SPANX, Sara Blakely. She’s a complete powerhouse and built her company to what it is from literally nothing. She also founded the Sara Blakely Foundation where she donates half of her wealth to empower women. She’s the kind of woman I aspire to be one day.
Thank you so much for these excellent stories and insights. We wish you continued success on your great work!
Wisdom From The Women Leading The VR, AR & Mixed Reality Industries, With Ashleigh Koontz of Seek was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.