VirtualSpeech co-founder Sophie Thompson was invited to talk on the BBC World News - Business Live show. She discusses the story behind VirtualSpeech, virtual reality and being accepted onto the leading VR accelerator, Boost VC, based in the Silicon Valley.
BBC Presenter: VirtualSpeech are developing VR experiences which will help users improve their public speaking. The software can drop you into a variety of daunting scenarios like a board room, a job interview, a networking event where you’re expected to give a speech.
VirtualSpeech has already been downloaded by over 150,000 users, Sophie Thompson is here with us, she’s co-founder of the business.
Sophie tell us about the business, you wear the headset and that will put you in a scenario that you might find yourself in on stage, how does it work?
Sophie: You put your mobile into the headset and then select the environment you want to practice in. So if you selected a conference room, you’d be immersed in a conference room with a photo-realistic audience looking at you, and then you can receive feedback on your speech such as how many filler words, how many uhms, ahs, your tone and your pace.
BBC Presenter: Who’s downloading your app?
Sophie: Our biggest market is in India, then America then the UK.
BBC Presenter: And is it students, young people, do you have that kind of knowledge to who’s downloading the app?
Sophie: It’s mainly a younger audience because of the technology, but we have companies and universities who use it as well to train their employees learning and development initiatives.
BBC Presenter: For many people who are making a public speech, whether it’s a best man speech at a wedding or you're at a conference for work, it’s the idea of being infront of so many people, so does it really work when you know they are not real? Can you really recreate the fear with VR?
Sophie: Yes, if you’ve tried virtual reality you’ll know that it seems very realistic and tricks your brain into thinking that you’re actually where. We’ve had plenty of feedback from people that when they have put it on they have been terrified because they have all these people looking at them but obviously they are not real. If you go on the app stores there have been lots of reviews, even people who suffer with autism saying that it has helped them with general social life.
BBC Presenter: So tell us about your journey, because you’re 24? You started this when you were at Warwick University with your co-founder, you came up with the idea and then you were snapped up by Silicon valley, tell us more.
Sophie: We came up with the idea while I was studying at Warwick Business school because both of us hated public speaking so it’s a miracle I’m here today. My co-founder was working at the virtual reality department at Jaguar Land Rover, which is when we thought VR would be a good idea, and then a few months ago we got contacted by a startup accelerator program in Silicon Valley called Boost VC who specialise in virtual reality and blockchain technology, and we flew out in February until May.
BBC Presenter: So you were there for 3 months, you and your co-founder. I understand it was a flat with bunk beds and you were there with a whole load of other 20 somethings who had great fantastic ideas that Silicon Valley liked the look of.
Sophie: Yes, it’s a different world out there, everyone has a startup, you meet someone and you might as well say, so what’s your startup?
BBC Presenter: What does it let you do, having a bit of financial backing, moral support, technical networking support, how does that let you develop the business?
Sophie: It really helped us to monetise it because the basic app is free on the app store, we wanted to make it into a company so need to make money. It helped us find out what the customers want, what corporations want, what universities want. Out there, everyone knows what virtual reality is, whereas over here, people are less sure.
BBC Presenter: Sophie, we could talk all day because I think it’s really interesting, but time is against us. Thank you so much Sophie Thompson, the co-founder of VirtualSpeech.