After a big Kickstarter, VR ‘treadmill’ turned to reality TV for funds

December 23, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

Recently, ABC reality show Shark Tank played host to the Virtuix Omni, a Kickstarted omnidirectional treadmill being developed for use with virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift.While the show’s judges passed on the Omni (seen in the video above), Virtuix founder Jan Goetgeluk says the exposure has propelled his product forward more than he could have anticipated.

Gamasutra: So tell us a little more about what the pitching process was like.

Jan Goetgeluk: They actually called us. I had applied online, the process of which was a quick email, and was notified we’d been moved to the second round of the selection process. I got all the paperwork. But at that point I started having second thoughts. We’re a serious company, this is reality TV, we’re not the right fit. So I actually decided not to do it. We never submitted the paperwork. But then one of the staff members called me. They said ‘we really like your product, we really want you to submit the paperwork.’ So I decided to go ahead, and a few months later we were on the show.

Do you regret it at all?

JG: Not at all. Not at all. It’s been a great experience.

I was in front of the Sharks for 45 minutes. Whatever you see on TV is an edited version, not necessarily in the right order of events or sequence. [chuckles] But in that 45 minutes we had a great discussion. We had a great time with the Sharks, the producers. The show itself has proven valuable for marketing and publicity. Our sales our spiking, our inboxes are flooding. The response has been very positive. It was definitely worthwhile.

As you point out, these sorts of shows are heavily edited. Is the final aired version we see representative of what happened? In the segment it seems like the judges all really enjoyed your demo, but then during the discussion afterwards most of their comments are quite negative. It seems like a huge disconnect.

JG: What you see is a sliver of the great discussion we had. They brought up great questions and comments. I gave them examples of why their vision might not be accurate. My responses when being voted out were basically ‘hey, no problem.’ But of course for television they depict me with these dramatic looks and close-ups. They try to show as much drama as they can, but that’s not really how it was.

Do you feel there were some criticisms you weren’t given a chance to properly respond to? Or which didn’t make it into the episode?

JG: Yes, certainly. I had responses and arguments for everything that the Sharks brought up. Even some arguments that they agreed with. But for the show, all of that was left out. They show a Shark posing an argument, and then they show me just standing there. [laughs] And then they move to the next one. But that’s how TV works, and I’m fine with that.

The Sharks bring up the argument that gamers don’t like to exercise. They bring up this stereotype that gamers are couch potatoes. That’s far from the truth. A lot of gamers are in shape, do exercise, and most if not all gamers would like to be in shape. When we’re at trade shows, people come up and express to us how excited they are to actually play games and exercise at the same time, to burn calories in a fun way. People are excited about that. So the idea that gamers don’t want physical activity is, to me, a flawed argument.

Another argument that [one of the judges] Barbara brought up was that people don’t want this in their homes. Well, a lot of people have treadmills in their homes — and they never use them, because it’s somewhat boring. But the Omni is smaller than a treadmill, it can be taken apart and stored like other exercise equipment. And really, if you remember the Guitar Hero and Rock Band peripherals, especially the drum kits and so on, those took up quite a lot of space too, and they sold 40 million units of that.

If it’s fun, and functional, and aesthetically pleasing, people won’t mind having it in their homes.

And feedback since the episode aired has been pretty positive, right?

JG: Oh, yeah. Our inboxes are flooded with people who hadn’t seen the Omni before, expressing how much they love it and they love the idea. We’ve had interest from companies who want to use the Omni for a variety of applications — fitness, training simulations. So the exposure that Shark Tank brought us has certainly exceeded our expectations. Mission accomplished, I would say.

Have you been receiving investment offers as well?

JG: Yes! Many people watch Shark Tank looking for companies to invest in, and some have reached out to us as well.

Right now we’re looking forward to a fundraising round, and we have had to turn investors down, there has been so much interest. We know we have a hot product in this emerging space of virtual reality. I’m sure you saw that Oculus VR raised $75 million last week in Series B funding, and the company has been valued at more than $250 million. That’s a great endorsement for virtual reality. People are noticing that this space is happening and that it’s real.

Are there plans down the line to pair your product with the Oculus Rift, say, at retail?

JG: There’s nothing official to be announced yet in that regard. It’s certainly something that we’re looking at. The Oculus Rift is just one headset being developed — twelve months from now, there are probably going to be three to five more headsets in the marketplace. And the Omni will work with any of those. We’re not limited to the Oculus Rift. We are not bound to it. We may choose another company’s headset to bundle with the Omni, when the time comes.

You can follow the Omni’s development from Virtuix’s website.

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