A Q&A With an AR/VR EdTech Startup Founder

Why Peter Campbell left Pearson to found xpereal.

January 19, 2017

Have you ever thought about building your own edtech startup? About jumping from your current gig at a school or a big company, and going out on your own?

Peter Campbell just made that leap. I wanted to know why.

Below is Peter’s story - as told through my questions and Peter’s answers.  

Peter has also agreed to answer any questions that you might have - either about his startup xpereal - or about the experience of launching an edtech startup.

Question 1:  Can you give us the elevator pitch of your new edtech startup?

xpereal is an immersive experience consultancy focused on solving real problems in the education and training market. Our passion is education. So we bring educational institutions, teachers, and subject matter experts together with innovative companies from the world of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and 360 video to create immersive learning solutions that solve real problems in teaching and learning.

Question 2:  At Pearson, your last job before leaving to start xpereal, you started and ran that company’s augmented reality (AR) initiative – a partnership with Microsoft’s HoloLens group. Why did you decide to leave Pearson and pursue a similar vision of AR for education within a startup?

Working at Pearson was an extraordinary honor, and I was able to align with key thought leaders in the company about the potential of immersive learning. But Pearson, like most content companies, is not quite ready yet to make significant investments in this arena. Most of the work I did at Pearson was around building alignment internally, articulating a clear set of opportunities, and making the business case for immersive to solve precisely this problem - convince stakeholders to invest. 

As the founder of xpereal, my goal is to continue making those arguments and helping companies to build their own business cases for immersive. But now I’m able to make the business case to other publishers as well as hardware vendors like Microsoft and educational institutions like San Diego State. In short, xpereal gives me the chance to expand the opportunities to help drive growth in the immersive experience industry above and beyond what I was able to do at Pearson.

Question 3:  Starting a new edtech company would scare the pants off me.  Startup founders work all the time, and their startups have notoriously high rates of failure.  The education market seems particularly challenging, with long sales cycles and a risk aversion to go with unproven companies amongst colleges and universities.  Why would you take the startup plunge, and how do you plan to beat the odds to make xpereal economically viable?

You know the musical Hamilton? The song “My Shot” that Alexander Hamilton sings has been my anthem over the last few months. Immersive learning is “my shot.” And I’m not throwing away my shot! 

This is a passion project for me. I’ve been in ed tech for 22 years, and I’ve never come across a technology that could enable such huge shifts in teaching and learning. I also see how ripe this market is and how few players there are in the immersive education and training space. So I had two options: stay employed and try to fit my passion into my day job, or turn my passion into my day job. I took the latter path. 

I’m blessed to have the unconditional support of my spouse, and I’m lucky that she makes enough to put food on our table. So I don’t have to make money right away - I can afford to explore and try new things and risk being wrong. But the response so far has been amazing! In fact, the problem I have right now is there are too many great projects to pursue. I’m having to winnow things down and really concentrate on the low-hanging fruit. The other really exciting part: I’m working with some incredible friends and colleagues in my network. I’m able to leverage these connections and help steer business towards them as they steer business towards me. But we’re all building breakthrough solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

As far as beating the odds is concerned, I’ve had dozens of conversations with edu stakeholders around the world in the past year. Here’s what I see: there’s a significant number of educational institutions that are eager to explore the potential of immersive learning. I'm seeing VR labs pop up here and there across the country. But they often don’t know where to start or what problem to solve in a particular discipline.

So I framed xpereal's solutions in response: (1) immersive learning spaces, (2) immersive learning curriculum and instructional design, and (3) product development.

xpereal can help edu's design and create immersive learning spaces, e.g., mixed reality or virtual reality labs, that give students and faculty an opportunity to experiment and play with immersive learning tools and content. We can help edu's integrate immersive learning content -- virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and 360 video -- into their existing courses. We can also help them develop programs and certificates for immersive learning content design and development.

At the end of the day, educational institutions want to give their students the very best learning tools and content. We can help them.

Do you have any questions for Peter about xpereal, AR/VR/MR for learning, or on the journey of doing your own edtech startup?

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Joshua Kim

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