I interviewed Natalie Miller, co-founder and COO of XRGGlobal (*), a company that builds virtual, augmented, and mixed-reality solutions that revolutionize learning and development in emerging markets.
What prompted you to launch?
My co-founder Bryan had brought virtual reality to the training company he was Vice President of in the US and saw time and time again the dramatic increase in knowledge retention and decrease in seat time compared to the typical training methods previously used. He wanted to bring that to the emerging markets where he felt there would be an even more significant impact. From my experience of two decades working across the health, FinTech, and AgriTech sectors throughout first Asia and then Africa, I had faced the same pain points time and time again with in-field training which was low retention rates, time challenges of trainees, lack of consistency in teaching and challenges in gathering data on learning and uptake.
We met at the African Agri Investment Indaba when I was running an AgriTech and he showed me how VR could solve all these challenges. We joined forces and undertook a study with USAID Feed the Future (FTF) in 2019 in which we took a control group of agro-dealers and had them go through FTF’s traditional way of teaching which was a 3-4 hour classroom learning, they had a 5% increase in knowledge from baseline. We then took another group of agro-dealers and put them through a 30-minute VR module that we had built out using the same content, those agro-dealers had a 45% increase in knowledge retention. It all started from there and now we work across 8 countries, and 5 regions and have trained 80,000 people in Africa alone.
What problem(s) are you solving?
Learners typically forget 90% of what they’re taught within one week. With global workplace training being an over 370 billion USD industry in 2019 that equates to more than 333 billion USDs wasted!! Development Aid training in Africa alone amounts to close to 200 billion a year invested which equates to another nearly 190 billion USD in FAILED training. Worse than the money wasted is the failure of good intentions to create equitable economies and equality regarding access to effective learning across the developing world.
Our VR solutions enable deeper more authentic experiences without distraction. VR trainees are 275% more confident to apply skills learned after training than classroom learners, nearly 4x more emotionally connected to content than classroom learners, and 4x more focused than e-learning peers. As one of our Rwandan trainees stated, “We now see what we have been told to learn.”
Which are your products?
XRG’s vision statement is creating opportunity, transformative upliftment, and access to learning for all.
We plan to work towards achieving this by becoming a VR content hub and lowering the barrier of entry to our effective, scalable offline and online VR solutions. We are already enabling low-cost access to the online multi–user platform Meta Academie where organizations can do small group learning workshops and teleport students into various situations and locations as well as interact with endless 3D models of things that they might not typically get exposed to.
What is your business model?
We have three main revenue streams:
- Tiered Based User Fee for access to the offline/online platform
- Hardware leasing – 12-month upfront fee includes 24/7 support and remote push of content
- Customized content creation
We did not initially want to get into hardware but quickly realized that for multiple reasons though primarily due to challenges around access to headsets in our markets, we needed to provide it with our training.
The unit economics work. We provide VR headsets with all our training with our platform on it (enabling remote push of content and 24/7 support) which creates stickiness and one year’s rental covers our full cost of equipment. For the client, it doesn’t have to be on their balance sheet and they are not stuck with hardware that can become redundant when new technology comes out.
What is next for your company?
We’re in the middle of a raise and as soon as that is closed, we will start building up our full-time development team to further productize our platform and develop a library of more generalized training. We will also then have the BD funds to get out to our priority markets and escalate sales. VR needs to be experienced to fully understand the power, so selling remotely has been somewhat of a challenge.
We are starting to build out general training around topics that have been highly requested so that a low-tiered base user fee for even smaller organizations and non-profits may be possible, and thus enable access for all their trainees vs currently where we are customizing most of the training modules with our clients.
We will continually work to develop more learning content and to lower costs to enable greater access. We have also worked with hardware partner DPVR to design the first data-enabled VR headset to allow access to our online Meta Academie, in areas without wifi. In terms of headset access, we can provide hardware with our training.
Both our online and offline front end connects with the backend dashboard where clients can access the data from the trainees’ sessions and pull reports. With each training module, we embed pre and post-assessments to enable the tracking of baseline knowledge and knowledge transfer from each session.
What’s your greatest challenge?
Capacity. We need a cash injection to bring the rest of our team to full-time in order to not only do client work but to focus on further productizing our platform and building out general training. This will also help us solve our other largest challenge which is cash flow. Once we can transition our clients more to a monthly platform fee vs upfront content development, we will be able to balance out our revenues over the year.
Are you satisfied with your rate of progress?
After years as first movers trying to get prospective clients to understand the power, ROI, and ease of transition to VR, we’re finally getting inundated by inbound traffic. We are also seeing all of our clients wanting to increase their engagement with us which is exciting. We, as a small team, are our only limiting factor as Bryan and I have to carry a lot of the load of not only sales and marketing but delivery until we can generate enough consistent income to bring on more full-time team members.
“Life’s a dance, you learn as you go sometimes you lead sometimes you follow, don’t worry about what you don’t know, life’s a dance, you learn as you go!” –John Michael Montgomery
(*) I am an investor.