Starting from humble beginnings, fighting zombies in a Melbourne garage, today Zero Latency is taking free-roaming virtual reality (VR) to a global market. Co-founder Tim Ruse shares his four top tips on growing a new business.
How it all started
Born in a Melbourne suburban garage in 2012, Australian start-up Zero Latency took the fledgling virtual reality concept to a whole new level. Most VR experiences involve a single user sitting or standing in one spot. This one however, lets groups of people roam around a virtual world, from the safety of a large warehouse. They’re physically taking part in the video game, thanks to lightweight computers worn on their backs.
Zero Latency founders, Tim Ruse, Scott Vandonkelaar and Kyel Smith leapt into the brave new world of immersive virtual reality. There they found themselves immersed in the challenges of the business world. We speak to co-founder Ruse and ask for his top tips on growing a new business.
1. Stay focused
Early efforts to explore market opportunities and hone the business’s focus paid off, Ruse says. Taking on too much and spreading yourself too thin is risky, he explains, as you can become paralysed by indecision. From their initial setting in a North Melbourne warehouse, the Zero Latency team explored VR’s potential for three key markets:
Architects could walk clients through virtual floor plans during the day, plus law enforcement and emergency services could undertake virtual training. After dark, gamers could don the VR gear to fight zombies in a post-apocalyptic war zone.
“We had interest from police and defence as well as property developers – we could have run down a thousand rabbit holes doing proof-of-concepts,” Ruse says. “Ultimately, you’ve got to drive your business forward, otherwise you just get buffeted by the winds and that can be quite dangerous for young businesses.
“In the end we decided that the strongest demand was coming from the entertainment industry, where it was also easier to introduce a compelling product into many markets with less customisation.”
The decision to narrow its focus on entertainment paid off. Zero Latency has been named one of the Top 10 Most Innovative Gaming companies by Fast Company. They've also placed third in the Deloitte Tech Fast 50 Australia and eighth in the APAC Tech Fast 500. Today, the business has seen global market expansion, with licensing deals and joint ventures with the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. By the end of 2018, Zero Latency had also expanded to some 27 sites across 15 countries, with plans to reach 100 sites globally by the end of 2020.
2. Hire strategically
Along with developing technology and content, and growing its customer service and commercial teams, the business is focused on licensing deals. It combines a mix of hardware, software and services to generate ongoing revenue.
Looking back, Ruse says one regret from the early days is focusing too closely on developing the technology, while delaying staff recruitment. Hiring those with the right skill sets to help develop the commercial side of operations is just as important.
Being first to market with an innovative product gained Zero Latency publicity. It’s something Ruse admits he took for granted at the time, when he should have been doing more to ramp up sales and marketing efforts.
It wasn’t until the second year that the business became sales-focused, bringing on commercial consultants and a salesperson to help expand operations.
“When you make a key hire for a senior position like that, it’s a step change in the business – not only can they take on a percentage of your workload but they’ll also do a better job at identifying things you didn’t even realise you were overlooking,” Ruse says.
“I’d been told to start hiring strategically sooner and was a bit resistant, but you need to plan for success – when you bite the bullet and hire some really senior people, you see it transform your business.”
3. Keep an eye on your finances
Zero Latency has banked with NAB from the beginning and Ruse says this close relationship also helped the business through many of its early growing pains.
“We soon outgrew the category of local small business and NAB was quick to recognise this and change its offering for us, such as putting us in touch with the right business specialists to offer deeper expertise in areas like foreign exchange,” he says.
“As the business side of things became more complicated, the bank was there to help guide us through those new challenges.”
4. Look at the big picture
While managing the day-to-day issues of running a start-up business, Ruse says it’s important not to lose sight of your long-term vision.
“When you’re in a fast-growth business, in an evolving industry, you’ve got to be incredibly agile,” he says, “but you also need to be thinking big and keeping your eye on that longer three- to five-year vision in order to stay relevant.
“A big part of long-term success is building the right culture to support a company that’s open to change while maintaining a really clear direction.”
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The information contained in this article is correct as of February 2019 and is intended to be of a general nature only. It has been prepared without taking into account any person’s objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this information, NAB recommends that you consider whether it is appropriate for your circumstances. NAB recommends that you seek independent legal, financial, and taxation advice before acting on any information in this article.