We’re back with Series 2 of our 10x10 Sessions, a collection of 10-minute interviews with AR’s best and brightest, to celebrate Zappar’s first 10 years in business.
This week, Zappar CEO and Co-Founder, Caspar Thykier, is joined by Cathy Hackl, a leading figure in the XR space. Cathy has worked for some big names, like HTC Vibe, AWS, and Magic Leap, and now leads the Future’s Intelligence Group.
In this session, they chat about:
- Cathy’s journey into XR and becoming one of the top 10 most influential women in tech in 2020
- How layoffs at Magic Leap helped creativity blossom
- How brands are learning the possibilities of XR
- What the future of XR looks like for the world at large
How Cathy began her career in XR
“I got there by accident, to be honest,” Cathy recounts when asked about how she ended up where she is today. Cathy is now renowned in the XR world as a leading tech futurist, but her career initially began in media - she recalls that she was working for CNN back in 2004, and found herself at a tech conference where she used the HTC Vive for the first time.
“I went into an experience called ‘Confinement’ by The Guardian. It puts you in a very small solitary confinement cell where prisoners would spend 90% of their time. And within a couple of minutes, I was completely claustrophobic. I took the headset off and said, ‘wow. This is crazy. This is the future of storytelling on some level, and this is what I want to do for the rest of my life’.”
She describes that experience as the ‘aha’ moment that began her illustrious career in augmented and virtual reality.
How layoffs at Magic Leap helped creativity blossom
Cathy was first headhunted to be a VR Evangelist for HTC Vive, and then some time later was scouted again by Magic Leap. “I had tried to work at Magic Leap before and had never gotten the role, and then they called me, and you know, it was great.”
In 2020, Magic Leap saw large numbers of layoffs, owing in part to the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Me and a lot of my colleagues were let go, and it was a very turbulent time I would say - it definitely threw a lot of us into chaos.
“But I have to say that since the layoff I feel like I’m stronger, and like I have more control over my path and where I’m going. I better understand where I want to be in the industry.”
Cathy describes the layoffs as a “very sad moment in the history of XR”, and agrees when Caspar notes that it was “a real case of triumph in adversity”. Those who had been employed at Magic Leap went on to find new jobs in lots of different industries, bringing their knowledge of and passion for XR with them. “I think it’s unleashed creativity,” Cathy remarks.
How brands are learning the possibilities of XR
Cathy nows works in a consultancy role, and interacts with everyone from XR enthusiasts to corporate brands with little experience of using AR to meet business goals.
“I feel like I’m straddling two worlds: the AR/VR world, and then more of this metaverse, virtual goods world,” Cathy says. “I have several clients that are global luxury or fashion brands, and the big question that they’re trying to understand is: what’s the revenue opportunity? What’s the scalability opportunity in these verticals?”
Cathy also remarks that the relative explosion of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) recently is a good indicator of where things are going.
In her writing for Forbes, Cathy tends to address a CMO audience. “They’re big brands that come to me and need that advice, you know. [They ask me], ‘do we need a branded virtual world? Do we do a fashion collection in a game?’ They start to think through all that when it comes to these virtual worlds.”
What the future of XR looks like for the world at large
As a tech futurist, Cathy spends a lot of time thinking about what the next months and years look like for AR and VR. When asked to boil it all down, she notes that the metaverse, and particularly being a part of the industry that is trying to understand and tackle the metaverse, is a really exciting opportunity.
She also makes it clear that there really is no single definition of what a ‘metaverse’ is. “I think it’s something we’re all building and we’re all constructing. I’m getting really into virtual real estate and virtual property and virtual fashion, so that’s really exciting.”
As the interview draws to a close, Cathy leaves it on an optimistic note:
“The last words I would leave folks with is that all of us working in AR and VR, and even in virtual worlds, we’re really creating the printing press of the future. It’s an exciting time for anyone to be a part of this industry.”