Konstantin Urvantsev is the CEO of Altair Digital. The startup based in Novosibirsk, Russia, focuses on children education and produces VR innovative material for schools, summer camps, educational centres and all kinds of children’s events.
1.How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
In Barnaul near my home, there was a planetarium where I liked to go to after school. When my old friend Alexei told me in 2010 that he had his own planetarium, I just did not believe him. He was going to create a business with this product, and at that time I already had the 18th workplace and the 10th own business project. Every time, I got bored with either the business itself or the fact that there was nowhere to grow. The planetarium united two of my hobbies at once: in addition to my love of astronomy, it also allowed me to combine my yearning for travelling.
Over time, we came to the decision to transfer real planetariums to the virtual world using VR headsets. I invested all the money from the domes sale to finish the old platform for the new reality, which led to my old dream come true: build a franchise.
Thus, we quickly reached a higher position in the Oculus Store rating, our app headed to the top of free applications globally for Oculus, it was downloaded on 5% of all devices. In addition, we were simultaneously developing a franchise and added content that applied not only to the planetarium. Then, we made a Virtual Encyclopedia. When the product was quite comprehensive, we decided to focus on franchise development.
2. What’s your company’s vision?
The mission of our company is to make it available for children, for them to use the modern, high-quality education technologies even if they are in the most remote corners of our planet.
Virtual and augmented reality allows you to touch things that are impossible to see in real life, it allows you to expand the boundaries of perception. This will help new generations to think in a broader and more detailed way, to understand and realise the processes and the structure of the universe.
Virtual reality enriches emotions, complements experience and helps children reveal their hidden hobbies and interests; for example, the ability to explore Mars so thoroughly can create a lifelong fascination with space. What is key is that it makes the educational process interesting from the very beginning and creates a desire to learn from the very early stages of life.
Thanks to our products, we stimulate interest in education: children do not feel bored in class but rather realise that it is possible to study in an interesting way. We can say that we instil a love for education.
3. What is unique about your business?
Our business model. Since 2010, we have been providing additional education services for children, including remote and inaccessible places. Since the creation of the Virtual Encyclopedia, our main goal has been to provide each child with the possibility to have a high-quality and technological education.
At first, we achieved this goal with Oculus Store’s app: in August 2017, our application was installed on 5% of VR devices worldwide. However, this meant we only reached the users who already had virtual reality headsets. But now, we could make our product available for children, parents, teachers and schools from villages and the countryside.
We have implemented VR in our work, and launched the VR education franchise.
4. What is your biggest achievement so far?
One of the main and greatest achievements of the company is the unique franchisee community that we have created during this time. In fact, we are not just partners or colleagues, but, if I may say so, a family. I very carefully select partners; first, they approach our company, and then the choice is ours.
Each franchisee consciously approaches the acquisition of a business. Of course, sometimes they face some problems, but you cannot do without it. For such situations, we have a franchise development department.
At any time franchisees can ask a question in the chat. Our employees will promptly answer and tell where the information of interest can be found to the partner. From time to time, we conduct trainings and webinars that are available to all partners: we answer all of their questions, share new strategies and approaches to sales. We also organise real-life meetings with partners, where the franchisees share their experiences and solutions to common problems, to find a way out of difficult situations. We are all on the same team where every player matters.
5. How do you see your company in 10 years?
The biggest EdTech company in the world in the sphere of engaging visual learning.
6. What are you like as an employer?
We hire people with high growth potential in different areas and allow them to do what appeals to them, as long as this aligns with the company’s goals.
We hire professionals and allow them to implement their experience and skills in our company, providing freedom in decision-making, hiring and training employees.
The management structure of the company is sufficiently horizontal, built on the personal responsibility of the heads of departments.
7. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the XR industry? How do you deal with them?
As a matter of fact, every business area is faced with its own difficulties or challenges in XR, from the mere lack of equipment to the lack of an invisible tracker that will analyse any movement of your body and will respond to it.
Specifically, our company is faced with the problem of trust XR as such. We are connected with education of children, so one of the key points is to overcome parents’ concerns (who, incidentally, were hardly studying with the help of such technologies) before VR headsets.
Perhaps someone will think that this is not a problem at all, but they are wrong in some way. If you do not dispel someone’s fear of some new technology, this new technology will need centuries to become a part of our daily life. It goes without saying that for people who are creating such technologies, there is nothing surprising, for example, in interactive XR games. But for ordinary people who are busy with both making a living and raising their kids, Extended Reality is something incomprehensible and distant.
Our company is just working on this at the moment – we show that the world is much closer than it seems, that you do not need to spend money, energy, time to go to the other side of the planet or even the universe. It is easy and affordable, especially through our company help.
8. How do you handle adversity and doubt?
When such situations arise, I just talk to my wife, and everything falls into place. I can generate ideas, tasks, schemes, strategies, fears and everything in some chaotic way. She knows how to structure what is happening in my head and all this mess. And at the exit we get a perfect plan of action.
9. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in VR/AR, what would it be?
The market is not saturated. You can enter the market from any direction, make a good product, and it will certainly be in demand, but you should be prepared to wait.
10. What is one habit you wish you could break?
I have not thought about it, but most likely – workaholism. It is very difficult to disconnect from work when there is driving dynamics. If the team is correctly selected, like ours, then people are involved with all their heart, they work 16 hours per day, stay in the office till midnight, resolve any issues, find resources and life hacks.
In those moments, you can achieve what is considered impossible in the usual rhythm, and it energizes you – you cannot and do not want to stop working.
11. What does creativity mean to you?
An open mind and a flexible way of thinking. Ability to look at any question from different points of view.
12. What book has inspired you the most?
Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
13. What do you do when you’re not at work?
When I do not work, I think about work and make plans. Sometimes I can disconnect and just play with my child, but at other times, I am all about the work.
14. Who do you see as an inspiration in the industry?
Happy children interested in taking up sciences studies Despite the fact that we are talking about business, the source of inspiration is far from money. Each partner and team member understands that in the end we are focused on education. Therefore, the feedback of children and their desire to learn is exactly the key moment that gives the strength to move on.
When you now see a network of 90 franchises operating in 17 countries, you might think that we are in the trend, clinging to a good topic of technological education in virtual reality, but these numbers are made by kilometres of nerves, thousands of hours and dozens of sleepless nights.
Fortunately, this is all compensated by hundreds of thousands of joyful children’s eyes after watching Altairika Virtual Encyclopedia sessions.