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Bridging the gap for Home Builders and the transformative impact of immersive virtual experiences

EnvisionVR’s founder and CEO, Michael Shaw, joined The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast where he discusses the transformative impact of immersive virtual experiences on the design, marketing, and sales stages in the property industry.

The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast

Voice over: Welcome to the HomeBuilder Digital Marketing Podcast. Over 90 percent of today’s home buyers start their buyer journey online. Here we talk with not only industry experts, but also your fellow HomeBuilder marketers to learn how you can succeed in our incredibly competitive digital world. And now here are your hosts, Greg Bray and Kevin Whitesell.

Greg Bray: Hello everybody and welcome to today’s episode of the HomeBuilder Digital Marketing Podcast. I’m Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.

Kevin Weitzel: And I’m Kevin Whitesell with Zonda Livable. 

Greg Bray: And we are excited today to have joining us Michael Shaw. Michael is the CEO and co-founder of EnvisionVR. Welcome, Michael. Thanks for being with us today.

Michael Shaw: Yeah, thanks for having me, Greg and Kevin. I’m keen to have a good chat today. 

Greg Bray: Well, Michael, why don’t we start off by just helping people get to know you a little bit. Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Michael Shaw: Yeah, hi. So I’m Michael Shaw, founder and CEO of EnvisionVR. I’ve come from a construction background, been in a property developer for my original life.

And also in a few construction companies, but now with EnvisionVR, we’re the technology company that is empowering the 3D design professionals around the world to be able to visualize their future space before it exists. 

Kevin Weitzel: Well, that’s the business side of it. But here’s what I need to know. I don’t know if you’re an avid listener, but usually I ask to tell us something personal about yourself, which I will, but I have a pre question.

Have you ever been over to Perth? Number one, number two, have you ever seen a Quokka? And number three, do they really look like they’re smiling? I have to know because I got to know. 

Michael Shaw: Yeah. Yeah. So I have been over to Perth. Yes. But I haven’t seen one of the Quokkas. Is that what you called it? 

Kevin Weitzel: Gotcha. All right.

Well, anyway, so now we’ll get back to our regular question, the regular Kevin question, which is, could you tell us something personal about yourself, not work or home builder related that our listeners will learn about you personally today? 

Michael Shaw: I’m really into motorsports. So I used to actually race cars around the country.

So I really into motorsport and I’m also a helicopter pilot. So I’ve also got my helicopter license as well. So they’re the two interests that I’m in, I suppose, outside of work. 

Kevin Weitzel: Now we talking like formula one. Are we talking about like stock modified cars? What kind of cars are we looking at? 

Michael Shaw: Yeah, definitely.

Formula One is my favorite. So I’m definitely an avid Formula One supporter, been following them since I was a little kid, and definitely more of a Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo kind of fan. So hopefully he gets back into the main seat. That would be good. 

Greg Bray: There we go. Well, Michael, tell us just a little bit more about EnvisionVR and the kinds of products and services you guys are offering right now.

Michael Shaw: Yeah, so EnvisionVR, we use the latest technology to allow anyone to be able to Not only just visualize, but actually experience their future home before it’s built. How we do that is we empower the 3D design professionals around the world to be able to create these virtual experiences that allow people to be fully immersed in their future space through web, mobile and virtual reality technology.

But more importantly, we then use those virtual experiences to be able to then market and sell property. And so that last part is obviously very important because these virtual experiences need to provide value. But what that actually means, like to give you context of something that’s already in the market, a lot of people are very familiar with Matterport.

Matterport. Do a similar thing in terms of that they create really immersive virtual experiences, but they’re for existing properties. They empower the property photographers of the world to be able to create these virtual experiences where what we do is our experiences are way more immersive in terms of that you actually can walk around the space and one to one and view on site.

But instead of pairing the property photographers of the world, we empower 3D designers of the world to be able to make their spaces come to life. 

Greg Bray: You mentioned owning some construction companies and doing some property work yourself. What made you decide you wanted to jump over to kind of the software piece and get into this technology avenue of building versus kind of staying with what you were doing before?

Michael Shaw: Yeah, I suppose it mainly came from my experience as being a developer. So I did a big development and we tried to sell off the plan, sell before we built. I obviously found that very challenging because you realize when you put yourself in the buyer’s shoes, a lot of people don’t understand how to read floor plans or understand what a future space is going to look like.

So I experienced that problem firsthand. And then through my just experience and progress through my career, I obviously started to understand the new technology that was coming out with virtual reality and augmented reality. And just really saw an opportunity there because I tried it for the first time and I was just blown away by how immersive and actually how much clarity and certainty it does give you in a space.

So I just saw an opportunity there and then really just started deep diving into that field and then started putting together a team, raised a lot of money and we’ve built now a scalable solution that provides that clarity of unbuilt spaces, which we’re pretty excited about. 

Greg Bray: You used a word a few minutes ago that kind of jumped out at me.

You said that you’re trying to help people experience the home. You didn’t say tour, you used the word experience. Was that on purpose? I think it was, but tell us why that word is key to the whole goal of what you’re trying to do. 

Michael Shaw: Yeah, I mean, that’s a good pickup. It is on purpose because that is. Our differentiator of our end product that we produce in terms of there are already existing 3d tours out there.

Like I mentioned before, Matterport, where you are still in a space and moving around it, but you’re still on a 2d screen where with our experiences, it’s more likely taking it to that next dimension where you’re actually inside the space. So the most obvious experience is virtual reality, where you’re actually in the space and walking around it, like it’s already finished, but that’s fairly common practice.

What has been uptaken a lot more from our product in the market is actually our augmented reality experience where we allow people on their mobile phone or a tablet to be able to walk around the space and use the devices like a window into the virtual world. So it tracks their movement one to one scale and you can walk around the space and then act like it’s really already existed.

We also have then been able to take that experience to the next level where when you have your site, your vacant block of land that you’re about to build on, you can then take your design onto that space and be able to then position it on site and walk around it and then actually be able to view outside.

The windows and see what your view will look like that experience is what we mean by that virtual experience that you highlighted before. 

Greg Bray: So when you had that frustration that you mentioned where you were trying to sell from a plan from photos from things that weren’t experiential in the same way, right?

And then you said, okay, we need something better. You tried to create that. What type of impact have you seen on the actual buyers by having access to this type of a tool versus kind of the way that builders have always done it, whether that’s just trying to show them a blueprint or trying to show them a prettied up floor plan that’s still just lines and squares on a page?

Does it actually sell more or is it just cool? I guess is what I’m really trying to get at. Give us your thoughts on that if you don’t mind. 

Michael Shaw: Yeah, so. It’s a good question. Obviously at the end of the day, there’s no point just creating a cool or fun thing. It needs to actually provide value. What we’re finding with our clients is we help them in three main areas.

Our virtual experiences are used at first in the design stage. When they’re talking with clients and they’re still at that stage of deciding what the design is and moving walls and that very early stage to be able to allow their clients to be inside the space and be able to better make decisions that really helps in the design stage, but then where our products and our service and our virtual experience really come into it is in the marketing and selling side.

So on the marketing side. Being able to have our really engaging virtual experiences on your website or on your listing your property portals to create that extra engagement and time on page. It’s proven that these experiences do work in that area, giving that potential buyer some more understanding of what they’re about to buy.

As you can understand, this is one of the biggest decisions that these people are making in their lives. It’s the biggest investment that they’re making. And then finally, like I said, on the selling side, as you know, a display home, they’re very expensive and they’re very costly. And you can only showcase maybe two or three of your designs at once.

Where, when you give your sales agents, these tools, they are now able to showcase your whole catalog in a really immersive way where people can understand it. So where we found it beneficial to our clients in the building space is through the design stage, through the marketing stage, and then through the selling stage to be able to close faster.

Kevin Weitzel: You mentioned the design side of the equation. So if you were going through and doing a spatial study of a model and you built an augmented reality version of it, let’s say your end result client wanted to see three different versions of it. Are you showing them three different versions of that kitchen within that same environment, or are you showing them iteration one, iteration two, iteration three, or both?

Michael Shaw: Yeah, well, I suppose it is a bit of both. So we have two main types of virtual experience. One is called a wireframe and then one is we call our lifelike experiences. So the wireframe offering is to more partner with the Architectural designs, as you know, in a volume home builder space, they’ll have their architects in house and they’ll make these designs.

They’ll do it through AutoCAD or SketchUp. Those designs, yeah, that’s very cost effective way of having multiple designs. And some clients will show all the different types of designs and be able to let their clients be able to just pick and choose and do design iterations. And that’s a very quick turnaround process.

Then we have our lifelike virtual experiences, which are really, as the name says, they look real, they’re lifelike. That is where there is a lot more design work that goes into that to get them to that high quality with textures, materials and everything. So they’re more. set, those designers, they’re normally engaged by the Volume Home Builder who already knows their textures, their materials, all their finishes, and we make them to their spec, but the one variant that we do have in there is we have preset different materials for say benchtops or floor finishes that they can quickly flick between that they already know that they provide those offerings.

So to answer your question, it is both. And it depends on the builder what their needs are. We offer both. Some clients only work in one side and then we have some clients that do both as well. 

Greg Bray: Now, this may come across as a Kevin question. I’m just, I’m just saying, but it’s fall, you know, Halloween’s coming.

Has anybody ever asked you to put like something in the closet? So when they open the closet, this thing jumps out at them when they’re touring the hall, you know, just for fun, right? Just a little scary, something in the closet when they open the closet. 

Michael Shaw: To be honest, we actually haven’t had anyone. Myself and the team have always played around with different ideas like that.

And we’ve actually thought that it would be a really engaging marketing idea to like have little Easter eggs that are hidden around the experience that make people want to go search and find them and create that extra engagement. So I think it’s a great idea. To be honest, like I said, I haven’t had anyone that actually specifically requested, but I see it happening more in the future.

Greg Bray: All right. Well, if you start getting that request, I want to commission. Okay, sounds good. Now, here’s the really one, right? If you find the treasure in the virtual model, you get, you know, 1, 000 off on closing costs or something, right? And then that’ll get them hunting.

Michael Shaw: I totally agree. 

Greg Bray: Well, I think it’s just It’s interesting and fascinating how much more engaging these tools are, but yet so many builders seem hesitant to kind of engage or embrace these.

And I don’t think it’s just because of cost, right? What are the concerns they have that maybe stopped them from trying to implement tools like this? 

Michael Shaw: It’s a good question. If I’m being honest with this, I do feel that the home industry. Does have a tendency to adopt technology a little bit slower than some other industries that I’ve found.

What they’re doing currently right now is obviously working for a lot of them. So sometimes there’s no need to change if they’re getting good results. Yeah. It’s just that resistance to change and new technologies, the unknown, but when we show them how simple our experiences are and how easy it is to integrate, that is generally where we give the people confidence and the buyer’s confidence to give it a go. Sometimes it’s the resistance to that. To be honest, there is still a resistance to the VR headsets because in the past, they have had a bad reputation, the old virtual reality, where you have to be plugged into a computer and you can’t move everywhere and it’s very expensive. So it was a lot of expense and just very cumbersome, like the devices, but that’s now not the issue anymore.

We’ve now got really cheap and affordable headsets, which are very easy to use. So, yeah, I think it’s just past perceptions of the technology and it Expensive and hard to integrate, which we now don’t think is an issue. So there’s some of the objections that we deal with and we feel like we’ve now got a solution for it.

Greg Bray: So I do wonder how just getting more comfortable with things like headsets and such as people start to do those at home, like for gaming or for other applications that now it just feels more comfortable to use something like that. While they’re in the shopping mode as well. And it’s still growing in adoption in some of these other use cases.

And so it’d be interesting to see if that accelerates the adoption of some of this in home building. Any thoughts? 

Michael Shaw: Yeah, I totally agree. I totally agree. That’s why we’re very excited about the new Apple headset that’s coming out as well, because obviously everything in the past that Apple has done with their new devices, the market does follow.

And so I think that will be. A really good thing in the market, obviously meta being in the market already is a big company that is pushing that industry forward. But to be honest, we’re also very excited that we’re not just VR. I know it’s in our name and sometimes that leads people astray, but our biggest seller and our biggest use case is actually our augmented reality, which is on mobile phones and tablets, but then also now our web experience as well.

So have you found that? I know, Kevin, you, you were Outhouse, you were in that space selling a lot of those interactive and modern technology in that. 

Kevin Weitzel: I was, and honestly, COVID was both the kiss of death and a blessing all at the same time. First off, you’ve got that 18 percent of the population, I’m one of them, that get motion sick as soon as you put the headsets on.

I put a headset on, I get violently ill within seconds. You could have an over under Vegas competition as to how long it takes for me to throw up. Like I said, 18 percent of the population that just has that same issue. You also have the germaphobes, the people that don’t want, even if you tell them we’ve sanitized this thing over and over again, they don’t want to put these masks and stuff on their head.

I totally get that and COVID didn’t help with that. But what it really comes down to is that the people that may say it based off of cost, people are wowed by this stuff. If cost is an issue. It costs more to carry the dirt on Greg’s heard me say this like it’s a broken record It costs a home builder more to carry just the dirt on a model home than it does to Do virtual models of every one of their plans that carry cost of one single model could easily fund The virtual aspect of every model that you offer so I don’t buy the whole they can’t afford the technology bit You know, there’s a few small builders that maybe not but On the big scheme of things, I think it’s here to stay and I think it’s just a question of the affordability of the actual process to the home builder as those processes improve that could change that.

It’s here to stay, especially the augmented side. For people that haven’t experienced that, it is mind blowing to walk onto a hunk of land, take your tablet up, and literally see what the view is going to be looking out your bedroom window.

Michael Shaw: I totally agree. Yeah, that’s the feedback we get as well. It’s just that…ability to give people certainty of their future design and home. Like it means a lot. 

Greg Bray: So Michael, as you see builders make the investment into some of these technologies, do they do a good job of actually getting their sales team to actually use it? Is that an obstacle that they have to overcome or the sales team just like begging for it and ready to go?

What’s been your experience? 

Michael Shaw: It is always a mixed bag. Let’s be honest, you’re dealing with individuals, but definitely that is very important. Where we’ve found it most successful with some of our clients is when they really invest in training their staff to make sure that they are aware of the power of these experiences and understand the benefits that it’s going to mean that they sell more, I suppose.

And a lot of people are on commission, so understand the benefits to them individually. Yeah, we do find that they’re really adopted quite quickly by most people. However, I mean, there is still some people that don’t like new technology and that there are obviously some barriers there, but generally, yeah, we, we find it as adopted very, very quickly because we’ve really focused on trying to make it as user friendly as possible.

Greg Bray: Is there a particular spot in that conversation that you feel like is the right time to introduce and say, Hey, put this thing on your head and let’s look around, or, Hey, let’s go walk the lot and hold up the tablet, or is it. It just kind of really depend. 

Michael Shaw: It does depend what we normally advise and what we’ve found the best experience is definitely utilizing our virtual experiences on your website and on your property listings.

Step number one to just really get that engagement at that awareness stage where customers are still trying to understand and search the market. So you can like stand out from the crowd. Cause there’s a lot of options out there now. We advise them first to use the technology. And then second, it’s more when they’ve come to your display suite or your showroom.

And that’s where we advise to use the tablet experience, which is the augmented reality, where you can showcase all your designs. And it’s really low barrier to entry. Everyone is comfortable holding a tablet and walking around a space. And that’s where you get the first aha, wow moment that I’m in my future home.

I can see it. I’m walking around. And you just create that really engagement with that customer, then it really is customer dependent. If there’s someone that is really even wanting that next level of that engagement and full understanding, and they’re open to technology, then that’s when we advise to bring out the virtual reality headset.

And a lot of our clients will have a separate room that they take their clients to and. It’s a big open area where they can walk around and really see the space and walk around it. And that’s when you get your second aha moment where it’s like even more engagement. Some people don’t want to do that experience.

So that’s where we leave that up to the individual and the sales agent to make that decision. That’s how we generally advise it to be used. 

Greg Bray: Yeah, but I thought he was going to say they’re going to take him to a big padded room. I 

Kevin Weitzel: think they have put him in a room with a whole bunch of just mis strewn objects around, just randomly placed items so people trip over stuff. A full home alone experience, you know? 

Michael Shaw: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that would be an interesting journey. 

Greg Bray: Well, Michael, this technology is amazing today, but what’s it going to be like A year from now or five years from now, what do you see coming in this space that we ought to get ready for? 

Michael Shaw: It’s again a good question and it’s always hard to predict the future, but as I mentioned with the likes of Apple and those big players coming into this space where there’s billions of dollars being invested into this industry, that generally means that there’s some Pretty revolutionary kind of things that come in the future.

So it’s a bit hard to tell exactly from a hardware point of view, but it’s only just going to get better and easier and more immersive. From a software and technology point of view, though, obviously the advancement of AI right now is going to have a huge factor in this in terms of just the cost of creation of these virtual experiences is going to.

Get even cheaper, but more it’s going to be able to be controlled and it’s created by people that are less, I suppose, design professionals. So like with the thing of text prompting. So in the future, I see the ability for when you’re in a virtual experience, you’ll just. Type or say that I want to change the floor to wood or timber or tiles, and it would just automatically change from your prompts.

So I see that feeding into this design space and this experience in the future. And that’s something that we’re obviously looking into. 

Greg Bray: Well, this has been really interesting, Michael, and we appreciate you sharing some of your experiences with us today. Before we wrap up, any last pieces of advice or thoughts you wanted to share with our audience?

Michael Shaw: I think it’s just always important for volume home builders and builders to just always remember to always put themselves in the buyer’s shoes. It is sometimes easy to forget that it is hard to understand floor plans and to understand the design. So it’s always important just to make sure we make a really engaging buying experience. I see that people do forget that people struggle to read floor plans when you’re in the industry so long. 

Greg Bray: Well, thanks again, Michael, for being with us today. If somebody wants to reach out and connect with you, what’s the best way for them to get in touch? Yeah. 

Michael Shaw: If you just go to our website, envisionvr.net, that’s the best way. And you can either contact one of our sales agents or send us an email and thank you for having me, Greg and Kevin. It’s been really nice to have a chat. 

Greg Bray: Well, and thank you everybody for listening today to the Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast.

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