A little over a year ago, two twenty-somethings from suburban Michigan quit their jobs and flew to Los Angeles to make movies.
It sounds like another cliched story of making it (or not making it) in Hollywood, but it’s actually the beginning of a much more exciting tale.
The two would-be filmmakers, Carissa Flocken and Ben Doyle, weren’t just looking to make any old movie. They wanted it to be an interactive, immersive one, using the new medium everyone was talking about: virtual reality. How cool would it be, they thought, to make a film where the viewer could be fully present, walking through doors, talking to characters, leaving one room to go explore another? Like playing a video game, except in live action.
But the pair soon learned that their vision was way ahead of current technological capabilities. To make a film like the one they envisioned would take a hair-raising amount of money, as the current process is incredibly labor intensive. Because there’s no one-size-fits-all method available, a developer is required to go in and “stitch” interactive elements into VR footage—essentially blending the two worlds piece by piece.
Still, Flocken and Doyle weren’t ready to return to their finance day jobs (they met while working at the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates). Instead, they decided that this—the expense and difficulty of making interactive content—was the problem they wanted to solve.
This month, Entrypoint, the pair’s now New York-based startup, closed a $2 million round of seed funding. Led by Samsung NEXT (the VC arm of the South Korean giant) and Two Sigma Ventures (a division of the investment manager of the same name), the round also includes Indicator Ventures, KBS Ventures, Galvanize Ventures, Social Starts, Female Founders Fund and Virtual Reality Investments.
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Entrypoint aims to help content creators bypass the arduous process of making interactive content by providing a self-service platform that will allow users to “drag and drop” elements into an interactive video.
The Entrypoint platform, which is due to launch this summer, looks friendlier than Apple’s (AAPL) iMovie program (not to mention professional editing software like Final Cut Pro). After being asked to name their film, users upload videos, images and any other files they want to include in the project into a central directory. Then, those elements can be “dragged” into the film.
Say you’re making a clip about outer space, for example. You can add a black hole that takes a viewer to another galaxy (in the form of another video), or a planetarium’s web page, or to a store to buy books about stars.
While the founders declined to go into technical detail about how exactly the platform works, Doyle did share that at the core of the product’s functionality is WebGL, an API that enables web browsers to display interactive 3D and 2D graphics without the use of plug-ins. Think of an API as a doorway to the inner workings of a program that allows developers in—but only for the purposes of integrating it into their code. Google’s (GOOGL) APIs, for example, are what let developers embed Google Maps and YouTube on web pages.
Once an Entrypoint video is complete, the platform outputs a simple URL, which is key to Entrypoint’s second major goal: to eliminate the need for viewers to download mobile applications. Right now, apps are how most major publishers are sharing VR content. The New York Times has the NYT VR app, Discovery Communications (DISCA) has Discovery VR, and AOL’s Huffington Post has RYOT. The limitation to these apps is that, well, you have to download them—and they eat up massive amounts of memory. “We think it’s really unwise for companies to expect users to hear about these apps, download them, and keep them on their phone,” says Flocken, the company’s CEO.
The other method of viewing VR content is through non-specialized web pages, which have limited functionality and are equally cumbersome; this seven-step NBC guide to watching the 2016 summer Olympics is a perfect example.
From a consumer standpoint, Entrypoint isn’t promising to deliver experiences that are completely immersive the same way that Facebook’s (FB) Oculus Rift is. Instead, it will give users a way to interact with 360 video within the comfort of a web browser.
“It’s the perfect company for right now,” says Colin Beirne, a managing director at Two Sigma, “because they’re enabling more and more people to experience VR content” by eliminating barriers like specialized headgear, which has not taken off with the mainstream audience. Sales numbers for VR hardware missed predictions by 29% last year, according to Digi-Capital, an M&A advisory firm.
Some say it’s far too early for widespread user adoption of “true” virtual reality. As Fortune‘s Erin Griffith wrote this month: “The hype surrounding VR today reminds me of the early days of 3D printers: In the future, every home will have one! Except every home didn’t need one, and they remain an expensive curiosity to most. Based on price and entertainment value, VR is in the same spot.”
Market estimates for virtual reality/augmented reality industry vary, but most predict that revenues will surpass the $100 billion mark within three years. Digi-Capital predicts that the VR/AR market will be $108 billion by 2021. Another estimate, by the International Data Corporation, is more optimistic: An August 2016 report estimates that revenues from VR/AR will grow to $162 billion by 2020.
Entrypoint declined to share details about current partnerships for now (“give us a month, month and a half”) other than to say that they are working with “premium content creators” that include major publishers, Hollywood players, ad agencies, and consumer brands.
Two Sigma’s Beirne says that while it’s a “trend to be anti-VR,” he remains a believer. “This is going to be the computing platform of the future.”