Sarah Philomena Schmidt and her business partner Giacomo Mason are creating 3D virtual spaces for advertisers with their company, VSLB.
These vivid virtual spaces were originally used in the architectural world as 3D renderings, but as Sarah says, “life happens.” Sarah and Giacomo were approached a personal contact to pivot their renderings toward advertising. They then began creating and designing virtual architecture for brands to place their products into so that their customers can experience the products in a visually stunning environment anytime they like. The two are growing organically and have already been accepted into an accelerator program. Their target looking to see how technologies such as gamification can be leveraged by brands to attract customers. VSLB is a true marketing-technology, enabling brands a presence in their customers’ digital lives.
This episode is made possible with the support of Eastpoint Partners. Offering an unparalleled Asia wide networking connecting with corporates, governments and investors.
Creating 3D virtual marketing environments for the digital era
Alex Jensen: It is Thursday December 9th. You’re listening to Koreabizcast with the KBLA. I’m your host, Alex Jensen. Now today, I’m going to ask you a quick question to start us off. If I say the words 3D virtual space, what comes to mind? Is it perhaps something in the metaverse area? Something that sounds a bit futuristic. Well, the CEO and Founder, we’ll be hearing from shortly has been harnessing this very technology for very real-world applications today. Find out more very shortly. Let me also take this chance briefly to say thank you very much to our sponsor for making this episode possible. Eastpoint Partners offering an unparalleled Asia wide network of relationships with corporates, governments, and investors.
Alex Jensen: Well now then, we can welcome on the line Sarah Philomena Schmidt who is the CEO and co-founder of VSLB Inc. Now, perhaps you don’t know much about VSLB, you’re about to find out the story, and why many of us should be excited about the kind of technology they are harnessing. Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time.
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: Thank you so much, Alex, I’m very excited to be here.
Alex Jensen: Let’s begin with the ideas that shaped your company.
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: Yeah, so VSLB was founded in 2019 by me, myself, and my co-founder Giacomo Mason was Italian. And I moved to Korea about five years ago. And this is also where here, I met my co-founder. And we found the VSLB. You know, with the idea actually to serve architecture offices in South Korea but 3D visualization. But we soon realized that we very had a very special kind of, you know, skill because we could create virtual spaces based on the architectural experience of Giacomo and then bring that to the advertising industry. And the way that happened was quite random actually, kind of life happened and we kind of flipped into the advertising industry, and now serving several brands around the world with 3D visual campaigns created in virtual spaces.
Alex Jensen: And this is where it starts to get a little bit mind bending, because I think for many of us, we can easily picture what a 3D visualization of a building would be, and how that would really serve the world of architecture. Can you better or just further explain for us the transition into branding?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: Yeah, so basically, the first time, we discovered that we could actually create virtual environments, and using the 3D, the technique of 3D rendering for brands was because we got approached by for personal contact by production specialists or by a 3D, another 3D, sorry, production, heavy production, that creative director, sorry, he’s doing advertising already but he’s shooting them at physical studios. And he’s doing like a lot of different visual campaigns. And he said, “Hey, Sarah, I see you have such a great quality in 3D visualizations. But can you do this for products?” And we said “Sure, yeah, why not? Why we can totally do that for products as well”. And then we sort of started creating and designing about sort of a virtual architecture, so nonexistent spaces, to showcase products within them. And so how it works is really replacing physical photo studios and recreating virtual environment with 3D software. And we created all around the product USPS, the brand target market. We do creative art direction, and then we produce the entire media the visual campaign in a 3D set rather than the physical studio.
Alex Jensen: What sort of tech, do you need to use for this?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: Well, we use different rendering software’s. We use video modeling software’s and 3D rendering software’s and also postproduction software’s to create everything virtually. And then of course, you need to create a skill, the knowhow of creating a virtual reality space.
Alex Jensen: So, you said your partner had this architectural background, what was more of your background then?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: My background, so I’m actually taking care of off the business side. I my background, actually, I’m a ballet dancer, previously used to be a ballet dancer all my life actually. And yeah, Korean, Korea really opened me the door to explore something new with my career. and get into a new field. And actually, I have no business background. I have no entrepreneurial background. So yeah, but I am entrepreneur now and I’m leading the company together with Giacomo. Yeah. So, I have a strong artistic background though. And I think that helped really to shape my entrepreneurial vision.
Alex Jensen: I was just gonna say this is fascinating that you have this background in the arts and in ballet that you’ve just described, and yet are in this position now where you’re selling 3D technology very convincingly to me. How many years have you now been developing that knowledge?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: Since 2016, but then, yeah, cooperated the company officially as cooperation in 2019. And, yeah, so now we’re really, I feel like this year has really, has been a pivot for us. And really growing also without investment at the moment which is also quite exciting from zero to the stage we are at now.
Alex Jensen: And we can explore that a little bit further as well as your future in a moment, I’m interested as well, how you met Giacomo and how you ended up working together?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: So, we met actually, we are engaged. So, he’s also my partner in life. So, we went, we met personally first and he was still working at an architecture firm back then. And I was still dancing here. So, and then sort of, we got inspired by my sister to apply for an accelerator program. We’re totally doing different things back then. And we did apply, you know, with the initial idea of the architecture visualization. And then after the first week, we applied we got the opportunity to work with LG which was very random to kind of, you know, so and then from that moment, we really picked up and then Giacomo actually quit his job after a year, and, or two. And then that’s where our company really took off.
Alex Jensen: It’s just an incredible story so far, the romance blooming into a business relationship, where exactly physically did you meet where were you in the world?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: In South Korea, we met here in Seoul.
Alex Jensen: And so, you were here dancing? He was here doing architecture. Is that right?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: Right. Yeah.
Alex Jensen: And often when startups begin whether it’s at home or on the other side of the world, it’s because there’s a problem that’s been identified. And the startup is looking to present the solution. Can you explain how this part of it came about because presumably Giacomo knew about some of the architecture issues that were out there but then this developed as you went along, and you go into branding, and it sounds like some of the problems that you’ve solved or are solving were not identified at the start?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: Yeah, not at all actually. Well, when we got into the architectural realization, of course, yeah, we brought the background of, you know, the challenges for architects and visualizing architecture in the design process but also, you know, to selling a property to clients, I mean, that was already very commonly known around the industry. But then we found out actually, we’re stuck with creative skills as an architect that there was so much potential to bring that idea and technology or solution towards brands because brands have to shoot advertisings regularly, and they have to continuously create amazing visual content to inspire the consumers around the world. And now in this digital landscape, even more, it’s very difficult for a lot of advertisers and brands to create such a high volume of content for so many different platforms by being still inspiring and creative enough to stand out. And so, the solution to bring it into advertising was actually very natural for us because we could see that enhancement of 3D first, you know, the production process is much easier and faster than I mean, I wouldn’t say easier, but much faster than a physical photoshoot. And it offers more creative freedom because you’re not bound to physical space or gravity or, you know, physics and, and you can also have much more creative freedom and so, yeah, we’re really solving the problem of creative resources for advertising agencies and brands around the world but also the production processes and the time and the budget constraints they’re facing, tailoring so many contents and media to different platforms.
Alex Jensen: We’ve been told repeatedly that it’s challenging to achieve a startup without a Korean partner. It’s not impossible, of course, and people are doing it. But for you to be on the other side of the world with a partner who’s not Korean setting up a business here, were there some major challenges for you or was it surprisingly smooth?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: Um, it was? Well, I don’t know. I think it’s a perspective thing. I don’t know if when, you know what? you consider, it’s challenging. I feel like of course, yes. It’s super challenging to think especially when it comes to building a team in South Korea and not speaking Korean as a primary language, I feel like that with a partner not having a Korean partner is not as difficult because in our industry, you know, we’re so it’s so global anyways, and especially the brands that we are targeting all very international brands. And so, for them, for us, it has been very good because we can help them advertise their product globally and bring in a European or Western kind of perspective in design. So, it has, it’s, I think it’s more challenging to build a team as foreigners in Korea.
Alex Jensen: On the client gathering side, though, you said almost right away, you’ve done some work with LG. And if you said to most people, “Right, get LG as a client”, you would think maybe that would take quite a long time to set up the meetings and perhaps need some local introductions. How did that happen so quickly?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: Um, I had happened through kind of my personal contacts through my because I was still dancing and I knew just, you know, production company, CEO back then. And who asked me, you know, if we could do this for brands, and he engaged us so quickly after a week, actually, almost. And so, through that, you know, we could establish over a long period of time, the relationship with LG now and the advertising agencies, and so it has been, it takes a while, I think to set the foundation and oftentimes, you know, I think projects would be maybe smaller and the beginner, beginning and then, you know, you would grow into like a long-term partnership and relationship. I think in terms of winning Korean clients. Yeah, it’s definitely a very challenging landscape I think, and you have to continuously really deliver the best quality and to speed.
Alex Jensen: As you said, it is a global landscape for you though as well. Why stay in Korea?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: Um, for me personally, I think I’m also for the company, I think we are very in a very unique market position because it’s a very fast paced environment. And Seoul in South Korea especially, I think there’s so much happening I think, as founders, it’s an excellent environment to test out your, you know, your brand or your product, or your services, but also to really learn that endurance of excellent quality and speed and innovation. I think that is really the key why we are here. And being in this fast-paced environment, I feel you have a lot of advantages if you want to expand into different markets from here because you’re oftentimes advanced in certain solutions on some knowledge as well.
Alex Jensen: So, if I was to come to you as a potential client, I was interested in new branding strategy but wasn’t exactly sure about what I wanted to create. And we sat down for a meeting what sort of services would you be able to offer this moment in time?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: If you’re not sure what to do, I think what we first would, we actually what we do is we show our clients away. So sometimes they just come in with a vision, they say, Okay, I want to create this amazing campaign, and I want to, you know, should target this market. And so, we find, and we sit down, and we find out more about their objectives and what they really want to create. And then we handle the rest from the point of discussing where the goals are, and where we stand on what we want to achieve. We then create an outline of creative direction. First, we create a conceptualization concept around a visual, how it’s going to look like mood, board, you know, where the product is going to be what has to be included all of that we create an outline, and then we go into production of a video, of an image and with 3D. And we really handle the end-to-end service. They actually, just can come back to us for like notes and little bit of feedback. But the rest is up to us creative direction until final finishes of the media.
Alex Jensen: And so, to create a typical 3D video campaign and when I say typical, I mean more in terms of length and perhaps content because perhaps there’d be so much variation. What’s the kind of time that would require to create?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: I think for 15 second video around two weeks,
Alex Jensen: So, a couple of weeks, and you can get something that you can share all over social media.
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: Yeah, two weeks and then you can even so usually, you know, we start with a production of a space. So, once we have a virtual environment set up, we can take pictures within a day from every single angle, we can change it up, we can change colors, it’s so much flexibility and so much freedom there. And we can create animations within the space. And so that entire process, I would say, for one entire campaign with five images, and then and a video that can go across the globe would take about two weeks.
Alex Jensen: And so, in the office, do you have multiple people at any one time working on campaigns or is it quite a small team that you that you manage at the moment?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: We have about, we have three full time designers right now. And we have, we will have another one joining in January. So, we’re just a small, very small team right now.
Alex Jensen: It’s interesting to hear that the way it’s all developing though, and you said that you hadn’t had investments so far, if someone was to come in and hear this interview and think, Wow, this is something I’d like to invest in? Would you be open to that and if so, where would that take you potentially?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: I actually thought about investment quite a while, you know, I’ve been playing around with the idea obviously, because I feel there’s so much potential in our company, and our mission and vision and I would be open definitely would be open to discuss. But I think it would need to be an investor that really believes in the artistry that we are creating within our company. And of course, also believes in the vision and, you know, maybe not, maybe more, maybe also a strategic investor. That would be also something we’re open definitely.
Alex Jensen: With the biggest impact of that though be to scale up your team or to vary the types of services you offer, or something else that I’m not aware of, because I don’t know your industry as well as perhaps, I’d like to.
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: Yeah, definitely, I think scaling up the team that will be one of the priorities but where ultimately would get us, it would get us more brand exposure. And it would be of course, you know, with more people, we could reach more, getting more get, more capacity for my project. And, and really, I think our focus is on building a brand, we want to be a very strong brand, rather than having a huge, huge, you know, 2000, 3000 people around the world. For now, it’s more focusing on the brand and then in the future. I think we want to expand more globally as well definitely help us investment.
Alex Jensen: And speaking of the future, I’m curious about how you might view things like metaverse, applications because when I hear now, about 3D, it feels like there’s a whole world opening up when I was much younger, I’m sure other people listening would have had the same experience. It felt like it was a bit of a quirky technology that had a lot of potential, but not so many real-world applications. Does the metaverse change everything do you think? even for you and what you’re doing?
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: Yeah, I think so. I have, I think especially in retail, it will change a lot. You know, I think there’s a huge shift last year, especially, you know, with NFTs and fashion, the fashion industry especially but also, you know, a lot of brands getting into the games and gamification, I think the metaverse will be applied into several different industries. And then I feel also that retail and ecommerce will happily change and shift. So instead of, I’m imagining, you know, that it will all be an interactive and immersive experience going into a e-commercial, for example, if you’re going on a platform, maybe it will not be like a 2D, you know, images on white background kind of thing but maybe more like a virtual environment that you enter with your avatar or directly through a web, app that you can walk around, you can merge this, merge it with augmented reality, you know, there’s going to be more like an immersive solution that will be provided I think, different technologies coming together.
Alex Jensen: Because kids are growing up with this. Now they’re playing these games where they wanting to buy things. And it started with like gems and things like that in games, and now it’s an actual product by big name brands. It makes sense that if you were to build a campaign, you wouldn’t just make a 15 second video that would go across social media that you might also use that architectural background to create a little world for a brand potentially.
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: Yeah, exactly. And this is I think, where it gets so interesting because really, it really offers the solution for the brands that can create one space. They can create, they can shoot their entire campaign with it, but they also can convert it into a VR experience, which is amazing. And speaking about the young people and the younger consumers, I think they are now, so active in the digital world. It’s such an important space for them. And I think brands probably need to shift and evolve with them. And I think 3D definitely offers all the solutions for those brands, but also connect to consumers more easily.
Alex Jensen: Sarah Philomena Schmidt, I wish you and your partner both in life and business Giacomo Mason all the best and we’ll definitely be following your progress.
Sarah Philomena Schmidt: Thank you so much for the opportunity. It was very great to talk to you.
Alex Jensen: And if you want to hear more about Sarah’s work and Giacomo’s for that matter, you can check out VSLB Inc. via their website which just vs-lb.com and good luck, if you yourself want to get much deeper into the 3D creative space. Thank you again also to our sponsor for today making this episode possible Eastpoint Partners. We’ll be back again for a bit of a whisky special this Friday.