DeseoVR · Polo Lam

From Hong Kong to the Canary Islands: The unique journey of a VR entrepreneur Polo working in a global classroom.

August 11, 2023
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Table of contents

  • Founder - Polo Lam
  • Company - DeseoVR
  • Location - Tenerife, Spain
  • Started in 2017
  • Bootstrapped
  • 5 figure revenue

So Polo, what's your backstory?

My journey started in Hong Kong, but my academic path shifted dramatically when I moved to the UK at the age of nine. I studied at two different boarding schools there. To be frank, the education system in Hong Kong felt pretty intense and wasn’t quite my cup of tea. The realization hit me early on. My brother, who was already immersed in UK's schooling, painted a contrasting picture for me. He said, "Here, you aren't confined to textbooks; you can bask in the sun playing football if you wish." That's all I needed to hear.

The boarding schools weren’t just institutions; they were melting pots of diverse cultures. Interacting with students from every conceivable background gave me profound insights into various cultures and their unique quirks. It was an experience of not just knowing, but living with these differences. This, I firmly believe, has shaped me and enriched my entrepreneurial voyage.

One culture that struck a chord was the Spanish way of life. Their language, the aura they exuded – it was enchanting. Back in school, driven by this newfound passion, I plunged into learning Spanish. With some guidance and creative programs, I also managed to spend my summers as an au pair in Madrid and Barcelona.

While pursuing my business management degree in university, this passion for Spanish culture combined with my entrepreneurial spirit led me to an internship – an Erasmus year with a startup. That's when I had my tryst with Virtual Reality. It wasn't just a phase – it was a revelation that recalibrated my entire life’s direction.

What does your company do and how did you come up with the idea?

While on an Erasmus internship in Madrid, I got introduced to a company that crafted VR experiences primarily for multinationals, either as a marketing tool or for storytelling. The moment I slipped on an HTC Vive headset, it was nothing short of revelatory. Given my aspirations to dive into entrepreneurship, it was crystal clear – VR was the avenue I had to explore. That's how DeseoVR VR took shape.

Now, to put it succinctly, DeseoVR offers twin services. Firstly, we craft virtual tours – envision these as 3D, 360-degree representations of establishments. These aren't just passive walkthroughs; we embed videos, links, and photographs, offering a comprehensive peek into the space.

Our primary clientele? The education sector. Despite being such a dynamic field, educational institutions still leaned heavily on archaic marketing methods. I discerned an opportunity here. With our virtual tours, prospective students or their guardians can acquire an in-depth grasp of a school or university's ambiance and ethos.

Our second offering, VR experiences, is all about immersive storytelling. It isn't about just showcasing infrastructure; it's about teleporting a prospective student or parent into the daily life at an educational institution. They get to 'live' a day, even if they're miles away.

A key strength of our VR tools is their accessibility. Consider a scenario where an admissions officer isn't available. Our tool ensures that a potential parent, irrespective of their global location, still receives an insightful glimpse into the institution.

This is particularly invaluable for schools and universities with a significant international student base. Before these parents even land in a new country, they're already acclimated to the educational environment their child might step into. Moreover, unforeseen circumstances like adverse weather or global crises like COVID can halt traditional school tours. That's where our tools step in, offering uninterrupted access.

When we talk about VR experiences, the magic lies in their immersivity. There’s a unique connection forged when someone can virtually 'be' inside a school and perceive it through a student's eyes. Such VR experiences are predominantly showcased during conferences, educational expos, or events. The objective? To make the viewer feel and understand, not just see.

How did you get your first 10 customers?

Getting those first customers is indeed a challenge, but it taught me an invaluable lesson: the power of niche. By 'niche', I mean zeroing in on a specific sector, one you're convinced would resonate with your offering. However, it's crucial that this niche, while specific, is expansive enough to allow you to engage with a considerable number of potential clients.

My approach involved a thorough understanding of this chosen niche. It wasn't a eureka moment; it came after trying my hand at numerous industries over two years. But once I zeroed in on the education sector, things took a turn for the better. Why? Because I committed myself to comprehend the intricate workings of this sector.

I delved deep into understanding their operational methodologies, discerning the optimal time to reach out, crafting messages that would resonate, and pinpointing the actual decision-makers. This deep-rooted understanding allowed me to fine-tune my pitch and truly deliver value.

By doing so, I wasn’t just another vendor; I became an authority in providing my unique service within the education industry. This focus and specialization, I believe, were instrumental in getting those initial customers on board. It's all about mastering your niche.

How did you validate the idea behind your business?

The voyage of identifying the true alignment between DeseoVR's offerings and our potential customers' needs has been a blend of straightforward wins and steep learning curves. My very first breakthrough came surprisingly early, with my own alma mater. I showcased the virtual reality experience to them, and they were instantly enamoured — the 'wow factor' did its magic. Consequently, my university became my debut client.

However, the path from the first to the tenth customer wasn't all roses. Due to my inexperience, I envisioned vast applications for the VR experience across multiple sectors.

This lack of focus led me to knock on the doors of hotels, real estate agencies, local event organizers, and just about anyone I believed could benefit from VR. And here's the rub — without a robust strategy, my efforts were scattered and less effective. To add to the mix, my move from the UK to Spain brought its own challenges like language barriers and acclimatization to a new environment.

The tide shifted post-COVID when the demand for virtual tours became apparent, especially within the education sector. I recognized that schools, particularly private ones, were in dire need of this service. With renewed vigour, I meticulously cataloged all the private educational institutions across Spain and began approaching them.

This laser-focused approach, coupled with the hands-on experience I garnered from my initial projects, started showcasing its merits. As I got more ingrained into the educational space, my understanding of their unique challenges deepened, enabling me to pitch my services more effectively. The result? A journey that became progressively smoother, underlined by an offering that resonated with its intended audience.

What distribution channels did you try that didn’t work?

Absolutely. Not all avenues prove to be fruitful, and for us, the most notable misstep was in the realm of online advertising. Given the niche nature of VR technology, ads, especially in the early days, were not our friends. Regardless of its application, VR remains a specialty service, and in a B2B landscape, the resonance of such ads is limited.

We dipped our toes into Facebook, Instagram, and Google ads, but the return was lackluster. A startup's initial budget is often tight, requiring judicious spending. And while a larger budget might potentially make advertising more viable, for bootstrapped startups like mine, it's probably not the wisest initial investment.

What specific tools or resources have been most helpful in growing your business?

It's undeniable: this year, and I expect in many years to come, AI is the game-changer. I've woven it seamlessly into our marketing efforts, and the time savings alone have been monumental. To provide a bit of context, our target demographic includes both English and Spanish speakers.

Imagine this: previously, after crafting a blog in English, I'd spend another five hours translating it to Spanish and reformatting the design. Now, thanks to AI, I can produce the Spanish version in a mere 15 minutes. It's mind-blowing.

But the applications of AI don't stop there for us. I'm venturing into podcasting, which has become a pivotal medium to establish authority within your industry. The editing process was initially a roadblock – spending an entire day on Adobe to create a handful of short videos was just not scalable.

However, the AI-powered tool 'Opus Clip' has revolutionized that. It smartly segments your video into significant snippets, provides captions, and even gives an overview of the content discussed. In essence, I can have ready-to-post content for our social channels in a matter of minutes.

To those in the startup realm, I'd strongly advise this: dive deep into AI. Seek out tools tailored to your needs. Platforms like Chat GPT can guide you to resources that align with your specific use case. Embrace the future, and let technology propel your growth.

How did you make the transition from side hustle to full-time?

Interestingly enough, I wasn’t anchored to a full-time position when I initiated DeseoVR. My commitment at the time was as a part-time English language assistant in Tenerife, Gran Canaria, following my move to Spain. The true turning point, however, arrived in the aftermath of COVID.

During the pandemic, like many, I found myself in introspection. Two clear realizations emerged. First, COVID underscored the burgeoning need for virtual content as businesses sought innovative means to market their offerings.

And second, the profound understanding that life offers no encores. I recognized that if I hesitated to invest my complete energy and resources into DeseoVR, its potential might remain unfulfilled.

Fueled by this epiphany, I took the bold step to commit wholeheartedly, and the journey since has been incredibly rewarding. My advice to anyone nurturing a side venture is this: Don't let the "side" tag linger for too long. If you truly believe in your project, immerse yourself fully, sooner rather than later. The rewards often outweigh the risks.

What drives you to do what you do?

Ever since I was in year 7, anyone who knew me would be aware that I was constantly toying with the idea of how I might leave a significant mark on the world. There's always been this innate pull in me, perhaps stemming from my experiences of living in a foreign country at a tender age and seamlessly adapting to my surroundings. This resilience made me realize I had a purpose — a calling to make a difference.

Originally, my inclination was towards biology. I nurtured a dream to contribute positively to our society, possibly through scientific means. But serendipity led me to business studies during my A-Levels. And what an unexpected turn that was!

I remember being completely taken by my first lesson, not just because of the subject, but due to a highly inspiring teacher. That pivotal moment made me recognize that business was the avenue where I could truly make an impactful difference.

My journey from there has been an exhilarating one, powered by my love for creation. There's a unique sense of fulfillment in realizing that I can bring something novel to the table, something that no one else has thought of. It's an exhilarating game, where the joy isn’t merely in the monetary returns, but in the sheer pleasure of creating, and in seeing others value and desire what you’ve crafted.

The thrill of innovation and creation drives me every day. Whether I'm still with DeseoVR or onto new adventures in the next couple of decades, I know my heart will always find joy in building and innovating. It's the very essence of who I am.

How have you found it running a startup in the Canary Islands?

Running a startup in the Canary Islands, as with anywhere else, presents its unique blend of advantages and challenges. On the bright side, life in the Canaries is quite affordable compared to many other places. And, honestly, the perpetual sunshine is a real blessing.

Whenever the pressures of the startup world start to mount, I have the luxury of being just a short drive away from pristine beaches or invigorating mountain trails. This accessibility to nature, combined with the delightful cuisine, weather, and overall quality of life, makes it a haven to counterbalance the entrepreneurial grind.

However, it's not all sunshine and siestas. The entrepreneurial ecosystem here, especially within the local community, is in its nascent stages. While there's a smattering of entrepreneurial activity, it doesn't possess the dynamism or support infrastructure you might find in more established startup hubs.

And while there are other international entrepreneurs and digital nomads around, they often have transient lifestyles, making it challenging to foster deep, lasting business relationships.

The Canary Islands offer a lot in terms of lifestyle, but from an entrepreneurial standpoint, progress is gradual. Would I recommend budding entrepreneurs to set up here?

Well, it depends on what they value most. If it's primarily about enjoying a balanced lifestyle while running a startup, this might just be the place. But if it's about being in the heart of a buzzing startup ecosystem, then one might have to weigh their options.

Who are some recommended experts or entrepreneurs to follow for learning how to grow a business?

Gary Vee - Social Media Guru
Ray Dalio - Business Owner
Jordan Peterson - Psychologist
John Kelly - Colegio Ikigai

Any quotes you live by?

"If you ask, you are a fool for 1 minute, if you don´t you are a fool forever."

Your links + socials

LinkedIn Personal Profile

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Instagram Personal Profile - impololam

Instagram Company Profile - deseo_vr

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