According to a 2016 VR study reported by ThinkNow Research, an agency that specializes in African American, Asian and Hispanic markets, African Americans expressed the most interest in virtual reality products, with African American males showing the most interest overall.
Black tech entrepreneur Michael McNair is among those leading the charge. We first reported on McNair in our print publication back in December when he shared his insights on Virtual Reality. In the article, “Virtual Reality – The Next Big Theme in Tech,” he talked about his company, Moxie Reality, the differences between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, and the potential both VR and AR hold for diverse content creators.
Here, he tells us about the launch of his new company, UnicornAR.
TNJ.com: Tell me a bit about Unicorn/AR.
Michael McNair: UnicornAR is a smartphone AR application that helps level the playing field for anyone to feel more comfortable, connected and engaged in real time. It works by downloading our app onto your phone and then during a networking event holding it up to get a better read on the people that are in the room. We will give you suggestions of people in your network and it gives you small details that people WANT you to see. We use Machine Learning in order to connect people in real time that need to either meet up, or you can send a message to them directly if they are in a conversation.
TNJ.com: What is the inspiration behind it?
M.M.: The inspiration behind the application is the speech impediment I had when I was younger. As a result, I didn’t want to communicate with people. As I got older, I really liked talking once I was able to slow down my words. I felt I had some good stuff to say. It sucks when you feel you don’t have a voice.
Entrepreneurs should take advantage of opportunities quickly. There are people and events that could be better engaging if they had the right tools. We are trying to give that to them. When I moved out to San Francisco, I knew that I needed to find a gritty team to help me push this forward. By that time, I was already done with wire-frames and the way I wanted them to work. Team members and co-founders Yves Songolo, Mark Bailey and Ahmed Salem joined me on the journey to help finish the product. In the tech capital of the world, I figured I would get funding but I know that investors fund teams – not ideas. Even though the idea has to be good, it is about having people on board who are ready to go the long journey with you. That is why finding other people was so important to me. Although I am a strong leader, I too need people to pick me up when I am down.
TNJ.com: What is its mission?
M.M.: Our mission/promise is to give everyone a fighting chance to connect in person with someone. We understand that software engineers, introverts and people with moderate autism are a huge part of our market and we are trying to help them feel more comfortable at events. We understand that networking is a huge part of their life and always will because kids are growing up in such a competitive space like technology. So what is going to set them apart from each other? A big part of that will be who they know, and how they continue to drive that relationship. Our promise is way beyond my team and I. We want to just lay a platform out for people to connect and communicate and allow them to do the rest.
TNJ.com: How is it doing in the marketplace:
M.M.: We aren’t in the app store, but our beta will be out next month. We have been doing market research and analysis. If anyone is looking to get into our beta program and is from New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Boston, go to my website and click on UnicornAR company to sign up of the form.
TNJ.com: How is UnicornAR different from the last tech company you had?
M.M.: It is different because it pushes the line of AR. As a whole, the market is made up of a lot of games, which is good! I love video games and have been playing them since I was 7 years old, but we all bring different ideas and things to the world. I didn’t want to bring another game to the AR space. I wanted to bring something that was meaningful to me and that I can speak to. I found out about my problem and felt maybe other people had the same problem. After doing some research, I found that a lot of people have different fears at these events and that it would open conversation if they all had a way to communicate in person in real time.
My last pivot was from VR because we saw a lot of opportunity in the space, but AR is where the world is going. Also, I can send an update and show people what we are doing. There are a lot of people in this country without headsets. Even though more and more people will start to understand VR/AR technologies, as a business owner I wanted to make sure I chased after something that impacted me, was meaningful, and was something I felt that was futuristic enough.
TNJ.com: What are your short- to long-term goals:
M.M.: Our short-term goals:
- Finish the beta with our early adopters
- Gain some media traction
- Secure funding
- Get some early stories of success stories
- Move faster in securing strategic partnerships
- Secure strategic partnerships with Microsoft and others
- Secure funding
- 20,000 monthly active users in the USA
TNJ.com: Why is VR and AR important to you?
M.M.: I have been deeply affected by this industry. It excites me to speak about it, but I don’t want to give too much on this. So I will say VR/AR will affect everything we do for the next 10-20 years. It will disrupt the way we communicate, work and collaborate, and there is nothing we can do to stop it.
My goal is to share this with the African American community, Latinx, and many of the people who want to be in this space. There’s a lot we can be doing to prepare our kids for the future. We have to take our ideas to market and make those ideas our own and be creators and OWNERS of these ideas and not just consumers of them. We can’t miss out because we didn’t take the risk when we should have. I won’t let that happen, and on every platform I speak on I will continue to share the same message.