“All work and no play…” don’t be a dull start-up!

In his latest blog, Mat Braddy - ex-CMO of Just Eat and founder of Rock Pamper Scissors - argues the case for embracing VR tech in the office...

Over the past few years I’ve been unwisely asked to speak at a variety of conferences. This is mainly because I swear too much and don’t have a boss, resulting in a reckless and cavalier attitude to being honest about things. I’ve spoken at retail, marketing, startup and ‘yoof’ marketing events.

In the middle of my little set I like to bust out a stunt: Hands up if you’ve tried a virtual reality (VR) headset?

Can you guess how this goes? Well it’s not too bad these days – usually half the room sticks up their mitts.

I then follow with: Keep you hands up if you have one in your office? Guess how that goes…

Badly. About four people usually keep their hands skyward.

All work and no play make start-ups a dull place

Regardless of the business industry – no one seems to have VR headsets in the office. Why? Well, VR headsets are toys aren’t they?

We like to pretend to be serious business people. Despite the fact we probably spend a good chunk of the day chatting and having a laugh with our colleagues, we don’t go much further into play. Which is actually bad for business.

We can laugh at tech companies for having arcade machines and ping pong tables but in most businesses I visit these toys are part of the furniture and not actually used that much. However, these companies create an atmosphere where play is seen as permissible.

In ‘proper’ businesses these tech toys are rarely seen creating an environment where we all have to pretend to be ‘serious’. How dull.

Mat Braddy VR

Braddy styling his Google Cardboard VR headset

‘Anti-fun’ = Bad for business innovation?

This ‘anti-fun’ environment  is really bad for innovation. Let’s take the case of the humble smartphone, arguably the greatest technological change to human behaviour since electric lights.

The first iPhone was released in June 2007 to a frenzy of love from Apple fans and a curious glance from the rest of us. They only shipped around a million units in the first year. Yet within a few years, the iPhone was a phenomenon. Were we allowed to get one in 2007 as a work phone? Like hell we were. It was seen as a luxury toy. It was well into the start of 2010 before the grumpy policy maker in charge of such decisions loosened up a bit.

How stupid was this? Imagine if all employees were bought iPhone’s in 2008. Yes we’d have all been playing Angry Birds too much, but we’d also have been playing with the interface and trying lots of apps.

What’s more, users – outside of the tech elite – may well have had a genius idea for using this device in a new way to benefit customers. Lets take Match.com as an example. A dating site built on the web and huge in London with my single friends around this period. It asked for a lot of commitment – fill in long forms, upload photos, commit cash. It even sold itself with the marketing message ‘More marriages than any other dating site’.

This was in every way the opposite of what was happening to consumer behaviour on smartphones. Smartphone users wanted fast set-up, instant access, free service. I wonder if someone in Match could not have been playing with Instagram one day and accidently thought up something like Tinder before it came along and ate their romantic lunch?

Not all tech toys are created equal

The opposite can also be useful – by that I mean discovering how hyped toys are actually a bit pants…

Wearable tech – specifically watches – were being hyped to the heavens 18 months ago. But if you had bought a few in your office and lent them to staff you would have realised, way before the iWatch was born, that there was a fundamental problem with these things. The batteries suck and the device becomes just another piece of toot to charge up every night. By using one for a week and getting bored quick, you soon realised that this new platform wasn’t going to take off.

So why haven’t you got a VR headset in the office?

Back to the latest buzz – VR. Why haven’t you got a headset to play with in your office?

Right now you can buy a Google Cardboard for £10 off Amazon. Pop your smartphone in and away you go – you’ll get a not-bad VR experience to start playing with and pondering.

For the real experience you should go get an Oculus Rift. To be fair you’ll need a bloody good PC for this, but for a few thousand you can get a rig all set up in the office and let staff have their minds blown whist they wait for the kettle to boil.

Who knows how this tech will change consumer behaviour again? By not playing with it you risk a kid in a garage stumbling on a great idea and steamrolling your business model before you even see it coming.

“Disrupt yourself before someone else does”

Be curious and open minded to new tech toys – get them in the office and played with as many people as possible.

Think positively about how it could change your business model and play a game of trying to disrupt yourself before someone else does.

Remember Blockbuster Video… they were famously cynical about internet speeds delivering high quality video and hid from the problem until it was too late. Learn from their mistake!

Former CMO of Just Eat, Mat Braddy is founder of fast-growing hairdressing app Rock Pamper Scissors. Read Braddy’s recent blog for Startups.co.uk on marketing myopia and why your business needs to do away with boring adverts here.

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