Laura Smith is the co-founder and CEO of Slanted Theory, based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. ALAIRA, Slanted Theory’s product, is a cutting edge collaborative Data Visualisation & Analytics tool using AR/VR technology.
Slanted Theory creates real-time interactive 3D visualisations of large scale data for enterprise businesses to explore and analyse.
1. How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
I obtained my university degree in Information Systems. This has led me to work in UX development and eventually to a job in a computer science research department.
The people I worked with were inspiring and always looking ahead at what could be achieved from the analysis of data. So one day I had an aha moment and spoke to my now business partner Mark Burkitt, who helped refine the idea, using his expertise. Slanted Theory was born.
I wanted to find a way to make sense of large complex data without having to retrain to become an analyst or data scientist. I’m a very visual person, having a love for designing and art as well. So I combined the two.
Now I am the co-founder and CEO of Slanted Theory, where we focus on large scale data visualisation and analysis using virtual, augmented and mixed reality (XR). Our goal is to equip everyone with analytical superpowers without the need to have data science or analytical background.
We do this by creating 3D visuals you can interact with, rotate and pull apart to make data discoveries. Sounds mind-blowing but just imagine you’re Iron Man and you’ll get the idea.
2. What’s your company’s vision?
Slanted Theory is on a mission to drive and disrupt enterprise data analysis, by giving analytical superpowers to all employee levels of an organisation, to support faster and more informed decision-making.
3. What is unique about your business?
We focus on collaborative data analysis through interactive 3D visualisations of data, using XR technologies (virtual, augmented and mixed realities). These 3D environments give organisations the ability to see more data in one go, displaying multiple datasets combined to one visualisation or multiple, if you’d prefer.
Using immersive technology allows you to drill down into your data without losing sight of how it is connected. This is essential when you don’t have a background in analytics, because our users can explore naturally without having to send queries. The more data at your fingertips, the more informed your decision-making becomes. If we can democratise that to all levels within an organisation and empower existing staff with analytical capability, while bringing stakeholders across the value chain together, businesses will reach faster and better decisions.
4. What is your biggest achievement so far?
Starting ALAIRA was something that took me out of my comfort zone. I am always learning and making mistakes as I go along, which keeps things interesting if not a little stressful sometimes. What I do love, is when our users try our visualisations for the first time, and you hear them go ‘Wow’! And from that moment onwards, they simply start interacting without too much input from our side.
That’s a great feeling as you feel you’ve done your job right and they can get straight on with exploring their data. Our work was once likened to just playing, and that is something we want to keep, as we want to ensure that the process of analysis and data exploration is engaging.
5. How do you see your company in 10 years?
The ALAIRA technology built upon virtual and augmented reality gives teams the ability to come together in virtual worlds and collaborate in real-time. No sharing screens or passing permissions. A great aspect of our technology is its ability to support flexible working, something that we believe will become widespread in the future, especially given the current Covid situation. Keeping us connected is vital.
However, we do foresee that with the exponential growth of data, ALAIRA will play an important role in the democratization of data analysis across organisations. Our technology also helps companies to support their data-driven culture development, by upskilling employees with engaging data environments.
6. What are you like as an employer?
We’re a small startup so we always emphasize to the people that would like to work for us, that you will get involved in pretty much everything. I always encourage people to experiment and play with ideas, from helping us think about marketing messaging through to the development of functionality.
I encourage people to think about the underlying reasoning behind 3D. There are great ideas out there but, I always question myself and others, why would 3D help here? While Mark Burkitt and myself, both co-founders, are true believers in the fact that more heads are better than one, more heads from different backgrounds and perspectives are also best, so that we can all bring diverse thoughts from our experiences to the table.
7. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the XR industry? How do you deal with them?
From an enterprise perspective, there are two big challenges. First, the hardware, getting companies to invest in it to support use cases. Second, implementing XR within their processes.
The market is still emerging and large companies are still exploring what they can do with the tech. While we are seeing some great ROI stats coming out of training, there is still so much more that can be done with XR, but we need to educate these markets. Changing processes to incorporate XR is a big change management issue.
8. How do you handle adversity and doubt?
With any emerging technology, there will always be those that don’t get it or are averse to it. But you need to embrace the feedback from those that feel like that, and drive it into making your product offering greater and meeting the needs of your users.
XR is still facing a great deal of doubt in the areas it can offer value, as there is a persistent lack of understanding regarding the power of the technology. Some won’t try it because they may feel sick, or it’ll mess their hair up (at a low level). However, in our experience, those who have tried ALAIRA, walk away understanding the potential power of XR.
Working with companies to understand their doubts is important to a successful relationship and product. That and a heck load of determination and belief in your work when you are a startup because those challenges will keep coming and you have to drive through them.
9. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in VR/AR, what would it be?
User experience is key to immersive technology. So whatever you are developing, make it as intuitive, smooth, and pleasing as you can.
In my experience, those who have been averse to trying ALAIRA in the past have, after some persuasion, walked away with nothing but compliments and were pleasantly surprised at how smooth and easy the experience has been; and that creates impact.
10. What is one habit you wish you could break?
I am a classic procrastinator. I spend time thinking about ideas, which isn’t a bad thing, but I can overdo it, as I feel like I need all the answers. I need to learn to just get ideas out there whether they are fully formed or not.
11. What does creativity mean to you?
Creativity is so important. Creativity is arranging thoughts and puzzle pieces together in ways that others might not think of, to drive new ways of thinking. Whatever your skillset, it’s a means to look at things differently.
The exploration of ideas is essential to drive technology, just as the exploration of data is essential to drive new ideas within organisations. If we are not exploring creative and extraordinary ways to support businesses to move forward or even in ourselves, then we standstill.
12. What book has inspired you the most?
That’s hard to say as I have read loads of good books. However, a poem from my childhood has always stuck with me. The poem entitled The Song of Shapes contemplates people as different shapes. It instilled in me an appreciation for people’s differences and differences in opinions.
As an adult, I also love Ready player one! The concepts in the book are fantastic, and I am a huge fan of the creativity of fiction supporting concepts for future actual technology, such asStar Wars and Star Trek which were big influences in my life.
13. What do you do when you’re not at work?
I help run Sheffield Women in Tech and Immerse Sheffield, so all that keeps me pretty busy. I hope that my contributions to these areas help inspire others to get into technology, whether it is XR or not.
I also love DIY, there is always a project in my home I am working on. I see so many beautiful ideas out there I get enthused to try them out. I’m pleased to say my power tool collection is growing strong. But of course, I also love VR gaming, how could you not! Loving Vader Immortal at the moment.
14. Who do you see as an inspiration in the industry?
No one person sticks out for me since there are so many people experimenting with the technology and pushing the boundaries with some amazing pieces of work, in many different areas of the technology. The industry as a whole inspires me to keep trying out new ideas and concepts.