Can virtual reality improve human performance in the workplace?
Kurt is the Chief Commercial Officer at tech-enabled training company Virti. In this interview he joins us from New York to discuss how they've used their own platform to improve human performance, and paint a picture of the future where remote learning is highly engaging!
This is the third collaboration between Unleash and the Harvey Nash Group, as we build towards Unleash America at the end of May. Below is a full transcript of the conversation.
Dave Savage: Thank you for joining us for this episode of ‘In conversation with’ which we are doing in partnership with UNLEASH America and Harvey Nash USA and is focused on the the American market and some of the trends happening out there in HR and education. And to do that today, I’m lucky to be joined by Kurt Kratchman. Kurt, you’re in New York. How are you? It’s lunchtime, right?
Kurt Kratchman: Here it is. Thanks, David. Yeah, it’s great to be here. And thanks again for the invitation. I appreciate it.
D: Absolutely. Thank you for joining us, and it’s just a shame that you aren’t cooking. It looks like a lovely kitchen to be in at lunchtime. First of all, it’d be great if you could introduce yourself. You’re the chief revenue officer at Virti.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with Virti, who is Virti?
KK: Yeah, so I help run a company called Virti, and we’re an ed tech platform. We specialize in immersive learning and training. I joined the company about a year ago, when we raised the A round.
I was introduced to our founder by the lead investor, who was also the lead investor at my last company that we sold to Oracle.
As the chief revenue officer here, I oversee the marketing and sales functions which involves growth strategy, grow to market positioning, team building, and all the processes and systems that go with it.
D: So immersive environments and education. I suppose you could jump to all sorts of slightly wacky science fiction-style scenarios. And when we think of immersive environments, and VR, I imagine at the minute people immediately think of the metaverse and all of those possibilities.
What are actually the origins of Virti? Where was the idea for this company?
KK: Yeah, so the origin came from Alex Young, who’s our founder, and he’s a medical doctor in the UK. And his mission that we have all embraced as the company mission is to improve human performance by making experiential learning accessible and affordable for everyone on the planet.
What we did was we built this interactive video and VR training platform. It’s got a very powerful analytics engine. It started out in the medical space, but used by professional educators and trainers, L&D teams, instructional designers, creative agencies, and even management consultancies who specialize in designing and rolling out training programs for the corporate customers.
You can see that while it started with this sort of gap that Alex felt he was experiencing which is very typical for an entrepreneur, the applications go far beyond the field that he was in.
Now, in terms of that sort of VR, science fiction, all those pieces, our focus is very B2B. It’s very focused on serious problems and we work across many verticals, including corporate enterprise publishers, franchises, call centers, transportation, education.
Of course, we’re in simulation centers around the country healthcare systems, but we also do work in pharma and medical device companies on the sales and marketing side. There’s lots of use cases, and they are endless, and sometimes it’s almost too much that we have to sort of bring it in and sort of really tighten it up to make sure that we’re solving the right business problems with our customers.
D: If you don’t mind me asking, it’d be great if you could just give us a couple of examples because when you talk about immersive environments, you kind of think about total immersion, and you imagine these kinds of scenarios where maybe a paramedic is being trained in a high pressure situation and virtual reality or an immersive environment where they’ve got a lot of sound, they’ve got a lot of visual stimulation, and they’re having to perform under pressure, but it’s obviously a safe environment.
That’s the kind of thing that jumps to mind, but that doesn’t necessarily, to me, immediately translate to a marketing and sales environment. What are the kind of the examples that can bring this to life if anyone’s trying to get their head around it?
KK: Yeah, so a couple of things. We’re certainly used as part of the curriculum for medical universities, like NHS in the UK, Cedars Sinai, University San Diego, University of Texas, we’re in about 20 medical systems healthcare systems and universities around the country.
But we’ve also expanded to work with global education publishers, who are moving their content into our platform to make it more interactive. And there’s also use cases for workforce skill training of soft skills too.
Just today was published in mostly in the UK, but there’s a truck driver shortage in the UK and globally because of COVID-19 and supply chain, and they are having such a demand for training that these organizations are using our platform to train their truck drivers in how to use in how to drive trucks.
Now, obviously they’re not using it to drive the trucks, but they use it to give situation awareness, all the training on how to connect the trailers, and all the technical training. So that’s a very sort of fresh use case.
We also have similar type training in aviation where they’re trying to bring in a lot of new talent for baggage handling, for ramp engineering, and they use Virti to take their current in the classroom type training and moving that into live field recordings that are in 360, so you can have a much more immersive experience.
It works on a VR headset, but it also works perfectly fine on a web browser or your mobile device. It adapts elegantly to almost any place, and that’s just one of the reasons why I think we’re quite usable, and those who come to us for the VR experience we can deliver that, but those who need something that’s more accessible because they don’t want to invest in headsets, it’s not a problem. It’s still as feasible.
D: You mentioned that it’s on the curriculum for medical education, so you mentioned the states was it Cedar Sinai.
Okay, so I suppose that has perhaps been something that during the pandemic has been something of real interest to people because we haven’t been able to teach in physical environments, and there has been question marks, I suppose, against colleges and so on about, you know, what value were people getting from their money.
How has the pandemic affected the demand for immersive environments?
KK: Well, it’s gone up quite a bit, as you can imagine. Look, simulations have always been part of the educational process, in workforce training, as well.
We roleplay, we read, we watch videos and analyze, we discuss, and we do assessments. Most of us have the experience, even, I don’t know for you, but I remember in junior high, we had to learn CPR using medical mannequins.
Certainly, airplane pilots who fly us around the world, all training get tested in Sims, and all of us have seen impressive innovations in just consumer video games that are so realistic, you feel like you’re in the game.
Now, when COVID-19 came around, all those things that have been talked about as the potential of this technology just amplified and accelerated.
One of the projects that we did with the NHS was just how to how to train this new group of doctors and applying their equipment properly for protective equipment, but then it started moving into mainstream use cases where everyone recognizes the need for a hybrid learning, hybrid learning environments, work from home. Even the way you and I are doing this interactive, you know.
We’re all used to doing video at work, but the question then becomes, ‘well, how do you do training?
What else can we do that can bring these technologies into our organization?’ And so this is why we’re applying this tech to serious business challenges.
D: You mentioned, I think that this was an opportunity to allow access to education to people who I suppose might not previously have had access to that learning environment.
How much of a barrier is technology or even access to data to the mass adoption of some of this tech? I can imagine, okay, in the States, a lot of people have a smartphone in their pocket.
And you know, that there is a there is a data network that that can be can be tapped into, but I suppose in emerging markets, that might not be quite so easy. And it’d be great to be able to train people in some of those markets to the same degree as people in an economy like the like the US.
KK: Just right. We do have programs for hospital systems. Our platforms shows up in all places, and it’s not so much the cost of the platform. It’s how do we leverage the content that gets created? And we match it to people who might want that content.
For example, at Cedars Sinai is creating content, can we create a marketplace where we make that accessible to other hospital systems, let’s say, in another part of the world that could benefit from that. It’s not so much the technology, it’s really the content that goes onto the platform.
The cool thing is that we create a platform, it’s very much of a publishing platform, but the content that goes on it then becomes has its own life and it’s quite valuable. It is used in a curriculum that’s very specific to that place, but is something that we’re very mindful of.
The short answer is it’s paramount. I would also argue that it’s more than just affordability, the technology and the access to data for even our customers today.
It’s about the impact of preparing for tomorrow’s business and using technology as a competitive differentiator, ease of use, compatibility with existing workflows, understanding of the data, that governance that goes with the micro services, the API’s that can be plugged into different things.
Although your question was about sort of global accessibility and cost, I would say there’s just lots of dimensions to the question. From a platform perspective, our unit cost is quite affordable.
What we’re doing now is trying to come up with different approaches to, instead of a end user license on a per user basis, come up with a session license, so it’s almost like you pay to play, it’s on demand.
If you don’t need to use it throughout the whole year, you don’t have to pay for the platform for the whole year.
You just pay for it when you need it, and so I think those kinds of approaches, while we don’t have them implemented yet, will unlock more of the potential of the platform and make it more accessible and more cost effective globally.
D: UNLEASH America, the conference at the end of May is an opportunity for a lot of people and HR leaders to come together. We mentioned that you’re a chief revenue officer, but in a growth business and in that role for around a year.
Over the course of last year, what activities have you really enjoyed the most in the job that you’ve been performing?
KK: Well, hiring and onboarding and training are always the most exciting part of my work. Of course, closing deals is equally as important those two go together because I’ve been involved in that. We hired about 50 people over the last six months, and our company is entirely remote.
I think most of us can appreciate even at an existing business to go remote has its challenges, but when you start a business that’s mostly remote, and you’ve never met anyone in person, it brings a new kinds of opportunities and exciting challenges.
I think it’s important to note that we use our platform to onboard everyone in the company. We have a company-wide curriculum, we created a specialized sales training curriculum, and we continue to optimize based on the feedback for me to hire, so that’s been really exciting how we use our platform for ourselves.
What’s also interesting, and you asked this question earlier, and I’m going to sort of weave my way into it, is that we recruit a lot of people from tech companies who are much better capitalized and much larger than us.
Our NPS is over 85% and that promoter score. And our feedback about our onboarding has been amazing, so I think we are best in class and an innovator, and I want other organizations to benefit from this too.
Back to what excites me, as a sales leader, I use our platform to help my sellers get to value faster. I’ve been doing this for 20 plus years, I’ve been building companies, mostly startups, and I’ve never seen anything like this in terms of time to value.
In the past, it took my sellers, minimum three months before they became productive. And at larger companies who have big product portfolios, and are acquisitive, meaning they do a lot of acquisitions and having to do integrations, it takes a lot longer.
At Virti, we got this down to one month. In two cases, we got this down to one week, so imagine joining a company, getting to understand the culture, the mission, the complex products, and be confident to go into the market to sell in such a short time.
This is what we call improving human performance, getting my sellers to value quickly frees me up to do a lot of other important things that need my attention like optimizing channel partnerships, distribution, and identify new revenue streams.
I think that we started out as a training platform that was used by doctors and nurses and training, and now using it in different ways, we’re finding that it’s really about the story that you want to tell on the platform. And we create a sort of an immersive environment, which I think is just has better outcomes. it doesn’t replace everything else. I think it’s a complimentary platform, but we are seeing even some of the franchises that we’re working with, they’re moving their entire operating system into our platform.
And a franchise is really interesting, right?
Because they onboard lots of new people every month, there’s high turnover, they’re bringing on, they’re selling out new licenses, they’re expanding in new areas.
So training and learning development is an enormous core competency for franchises, and to see that go into our platform is pretty cool. I don’t think that’s something Alex necessarily imagined when he was building this out originally as a medical use case.
D: So let’s just dwell on that for a second because we’re always interested in the psyche of leaders, right? You mentioned that you’ve been in the industry for 20 odd years, but they’re talking about the franchise model, it talks to a fact that the business is highly scalable.
You also admit that it’s evolving in a way that I suppose Alex might not have necessarily foreseen. You know, he was an entrepreneur solving a problem in the medical field.
And I suppose for you, you may well have worked in environments where teams were remote working, but in the pandemic, obviously, that has been pushed to the to the nth degree.
What have you learned about yourself as a leader through this process through, I suppose, taking everything that you’ve previously experienced right to the limit?
KK: I may need to pause on that for a second. it’s a big question because I’ve learned a lot of things. I’ve learned a lot of things of working in the startup, in this particular startup, working with this technology, although I’ve been around it for a while.
A couple years ago, back in back in 2016, I got involved in a data company that was also scaling up and we really turned it around and we sold it to Oracle. Then I became an executive inside Oracle for a couple of years, so I got this experience working in this really big company.
I was on the executive team, I was in a global business unit and had about 1500 people. Oracle is 140,000-person company, so even you know, we learned a lot about systems.
They’re also quite acquisitive, which I mentioned earlier, which is important, and operational integration and bring all those cultures together and product integration and dealing with wanted and unwanted attrition, I just learned so much at such an enormous scale of a business.
What I’ve learned is exactly those same things that I was dealing with, there are the same things I’m dealing with at a smaller level, almost like a fractal, at Virti. They’re just as important and they’re just as critical for the success of our business.
As I meet with customers, I really key in on the fact that they have the same issues no matter how big or small. So by being around companies getting involved in really big companies and being inside as an executive and as an operator.
Then even we merged with another business unit, and that group that I was part of grew even more.
Bringing those skills and working with our customers on being empathetic to their problems that they’re solving, the HR leaders, the talent leaders, those are the things that I think we are aligning Virti towards.
While we might have started out with really as a tech company, I think we’re turning into quite more of an empathetic business solution company.
That’s something I never thought I would say a couple years ago, when I’ve been selling tech, but it’s very much the culture of what we’ve we develop here Virti to be extremely empathetic to the end user and to the outcomes that our customers are trying to achieve.
D: Now, again, you mentioned their HR leaders and people function, at UNLEASH America that is their audience, if I think about the Harvey Nash USA audience very much dealing with HR, with procurement, with people.
And whilst that wasn’t your heritage, I suppose with the fact that you’re becoming more empathetic, I suppose, you mentioned that you have got an understanding, especially when you’re dealing with how organizations are training their people, you’ve got an understanding of the challenges facing that community.
What do you think the biggest challenges are facing HR and talent leaders as we head into 2022?
KK: Yeah, it’s a big question. So as a business leader, there are three macro issues to manage that I was trying to keep my eye on. One, It’s meeting the needs of today’s operations. Two, it’s improving today’s methods, and three, preparing for tomorrow’s business.
Everyone must manage the business that comes in today and most try to improve the methodology and efficiency of the ways they are doing that business, but few apply adequate resources to developing tomorrow’s business.
My message to your audience, this audience that I’m really honored and appreciative to be exposed to, I’ll sort of close up on these points, all the great talent and people leaders listening today.
One, think big to grow, you must design implement systems to support growth.
Two, understand that time is always a factor, you must use time as a competitive weapon.
And three, ask the right questions in order to get the right answers. Use your insights and your data and think like a CEO, and you will get the resources you need to achieve your goals.
D: Thank you for giving up some time over lunch.
KK: I thank you so much. Bye, everyone.
D: Thank you for joining us for this episode of ‘in conversation with’ as we mentioned, it is in collaboration with UNLEASH America. That conference is at the end of May and also have a look at the Harvey Nash group webpage.
There are plenty more of these conversations that we’ve posted in the past, So lots more content to explore there. But thanks for joining us today.