Is “Metaverse” More Than the Latest Buzzword?

AR startup innovator Alon Grinshpoon MS’18 says it’s time to think beyond typical AR and VR tech and consider the full 3D experience.

Jan 25 2022 | By Kyle Barr
Demo of echo3D in action

Have we entered the “Metaverse?” Beyond its very sci-fi origins, the word has become a catchall term for the way virtual reality and alternate reality tech have started to permeate everyday life, from advertising to social media to commerce.

One person on the ground floor of that 3D revolution is Alon Grinshpoon MS’18, who founded his cloud-based alternate reality/virtual reality startup shortly after he graduated from Columbia Engineering. With co-founder Ben Padazur and his twin brother and fellow Columbian Koren by his side, Grinshpoon’s product, which supplies back-end support and software for a variety of virtual reality and alternate reality projects, has been picking up steam, and recently gained close to $4 million in capital through a number of high profile investors.

For Grinshpoon, we have just begun to tap the true potential of what the technology has to offer. Metaverse, as a concept, got a huge shot in the arm once Facebook became Meta and announced its new focus on AR. The way Grinshpoon sees it, more and more professionals in every industry are trying to leverage 3D content, from multidimensional assets like fully interactable ATMs for banking apps, to crypto items like Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs), which can be represented as 3D objects in a digital space.

Scroll down to read more about how Grinshpoon’s project got started, what challenges his startup faced, advice for those seeking the same path, and where he sees the burgeoning “Metaverse” will head next.

How Grinshpoon and echo3D got started

Grinshpoon explains the origins of echo3D

What is echo3D?

Echo3D is a cloud platform for 3D applications, which basically means that we provide tools and infrastructure for developers and companies who want to build games, AR or VR applications, metaverse apps, or any 3D experience they can think of. Very similar to how if you’re building a website, you store images and videos on some remote cloud. And with us, you store 3D models, animations, interactive content, and then you stream that to game engines and mobile devices and web browsers all over the world.

Who I partnered with

My cohort, actually, included my twin brother, Koren, who went to Columbia Law, so go Lions. It’s amazing, get a twin everyone while you can. We definitely have that cool combo of a techie founder and a non-techie founder. And later after that, we also got another co-founder, Ben Padazur, our CTO and highly technical software engineer. So it’s been a really, really great ride.

My average day

Usually, I wake up early, which I hate because my hobby is sleeping, and then I look at my phone where I’m usually bombarded with emails and messages from the night before. I usually go through them and clear them before I head to the office, or head to the computer from working from home. Usually I have multiple meetings throughout the day, whether it’s with our investors, or if it’s with potential clients. Being a founder, I would say, is really difficult. There’s a lot of sitting in front of your computer alone, basically engaging with your inbox to make stuff happen. But it's so rewarding, because I love this space so much. I went through Columbia Engineering, I studied VR, this is what I love.

Where is the AR and VR industry heading?

Grinshpoon reflects on the AR/VR market at large

The burgeoning market of Non-fungible Tokens

We started early before NFTs were all the rage and before a lot of the buzzwords were there. But the cool thing about our product, and what we saw in the market, is that suddenly all these terms, all these kinds of buzzwords converged. We have clients who build in the NFT marketplace and are using echo3D as their backbone. That is something that two years ago we wouldn’t have even imagined. E-commerce has become such a cool case for using AR and VR, but suddenly we have something like NFTs, or kinds of digital assets and digital goods that obviously can benefit from AR and VR. One of our clients has a NFT marketplace for digital trading cards. They upload those 2D images and they’re converted into 3D automatically on echo3D. They did eight successful sold out drops, and the last three they did with echo3D’s AR platform sold in 30 minutes.

Facebook’s transition into “Meta”

My phone was burning when Meta did that announcement, because everyone is going to be super excited about this—suddenly it’s going to go mainstream. But I think, again, this is something that people are really confronted with and need to be forward thinking of, like, “how do we do 3D? How do we inject 3D content to my application?” We see that in our product as well. We get between 100 to 200 people registered every week to build applications. And everyone who’s reading this can be one of those people who literally just uses echo to build an app in 15 minutes or less.

What all this means for echo3D

Now we’re looking at how to leverage echo3D. Today, you can drag and drop 3D assets, and then BAM, stream them to your camera, just like that. And that’s a big, big benefit that suddenly that hardware is there. And not only that, it’s there, It’s in everyone’s pocket. One of the things that we pride ourselves in is that the time is really minimum for you to build an application. It can literally be less than 15 minutes. So I definitely encourage people to just start playing around with it, brainstorming how you can bring content into your phone, into your headset eventually and then into your industry at large.

What challenges did echo3D face?

Grinshpoon discusses some of the challenges of entrepreneurship

The simple difficulties you don’t anticipate

I have a few challenges that can come to mind. Hiring is definitely one. We need to get to the point that we need to find the right people and make sure that they have the right DNA to join the company, have a cultural fit. But also, how do you assess their skills? Let’s say we just hired a VP of sales. I’m not a sales expert, so how do you assess those kinds of skills to make sure that the person you’re in front of is an actual good fit? The good thing is that through TechStars, and through all these entrepreneurial programs I went through the Columbia Startup Lab, you have this kind of array of mentors that you can ask. Another challenge, it sounds funny to say, but just taxes. I mean, how do you run a company? I was fortunate enough, again, to have a twin brother who went to Columbia Law who’s my co-founder, so he handles all the operations on that end, and he’s doing a phenomenal job.

Resources at Columbia

Columbia Startup Lab, which our offices are located and we’re in right now, is an amazing space for entrepreneurs that’s highly subsidized. You can get like really cool office space, inspired by We Work-level amenities, just some really, really cool stuff that really helped us because it’s not just a space, they have amazing mentors and resources and workshops that help you scale your company and they bring in Columbia staff from Columbia Business school and engineering to help you build your startup. Columbia Engineering Entrepreneurship is doing phenomenal work in supporting startups like ourselves, whether it’s through legal advice or mentorship, or one of the things I love to go back in the day, were the Third Thursdays which were an entrepreneurial meetup where you can come on, meet fellow like-minded founders, and basically engage with the Columbia community to help grow your startup.

Advice for getting started

Grinshpoon offers tips for aspiring entrepreneurs

Use the entrepreneurial resources at your disposal

Use programs like the Columbia Startup Lab because it gives you this automatic network and puts you in kind of the space with like-minded founders that are literally in the same boat as you are and are confronted with the same issues. So if you have a problem, you can literally ask someone next to you, how did you solve it? Some of the problems obviously are recurring between startups. The engineering school has all these reunions for alumni that I went through and reconnected with peers. Now when I engage peers I can say, “Oh, these are potential hires.”

Find investors who care about your vision

Another thing that is really important is founder investor fit. Basically, with the people you’re bringing in are supporters, you should make sure they actually believe in your vision, that you’re happy that they’re on your cap table because you want them on this journey. And it’s more than just like “oh, I just got money from investors.” I love our investors, like Conway Ventures, Reimagined Ventures, Space Capital, and the angels that we have from GitHub, Facebook and Data Dogs. They’re all amazing and they’re all subscribing to our vision and where we want to go.

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