This week, we went international and caught up with Chicago based Aaqib Usman, Founder & CEO at Midwest Immersive.
Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your journey that led you set up Midwest Immersive?
I have always had two parallel passions: film and technology. I ended up going to college for film in Chicago where I studied for four years. After graduating, I worked in the film space and at the back of my mind; I always had a bit of itch to get back into the technology space. Even while working in film I was constantly wondering what kind of cameras and technology we were using to build things. That curiosity has been with me throughout my journey.
A couple of years after graduating I ended up working at a technology company in Chicago. A start-up was creating immersive experiences using live streaming so people could travel all around the world without physically travelling. That was something I found engaging. I did that for a couple of years, and it was around that time that Facebook purchased a company called Oculus, which was a virtual reality company in San Francisco, in Silicon to put on a headset and be in a completely different world.
When I put on a headset, I was in awe of the possibilities. It got me thinking, “What are the possible uses of virtual and augmented reality?” It felt closer than ever before. It was as if something out of a movie had popped into our reality. I could not help pursuing it.
If you think about it, it was a perfect marriage of my skills in film and technology. This headset almost did both. That led me to start a meet-up group called the Midwest Immersive Technology Meet-up and get people talking in a room together about immersive technology. Our meet-ups grew from twenty people to over two hundred in the space of seven months. Seeing this increase, I realised that there was a demand. People want to know about the technology, and they are keen enough to pay and go to the meet-ups. I also realised I had a short supply of speakers in Chicago; it was hard to find people at the time who could speak intelligently about these subjects. I put these two together, if there is a shortage of people coming to speak from Chicago while many people are coming to the meet-ups, there is something here. I was able to find some clients early on and developed it into Midwest Immersive as you see it today. We still want to do the tech meet-ups, but we just have not had the time recently. That is our journey so far.
I love how you have married both of your passions.
Thank you, it has been a blessing so far and I am looking forward to continuing to explore them over the next few years.
Massive congratulations for the awards you won recently: Best Augmented Reality 2018 and Shorty Social Good Award for Best Use of Augmented Reality.
Thank you! The particular project that actually won us those awards is very interesting. Snapchat at the time had released a new functionality that allowed developers to produce their own filters and lenses. Around the same time Matt Smith, one of our interns, introduced us to Kimish Moxley, a fashion designer in Chicago. He was showing us her work and told us that she had an upcoming event launching her new collection for that season. Encouraging other entrepreneurs is certainly a large mission for our company. We created a custom Snapchat lens for her event, which was created hype among that demographic. For those around the age of 20-21 years old, Snapchat is the perfect tool. The idea was that people would find a Snapcode at the event, which could only be accessed at the event. It got about 299 scans from a room with 300 people, gaining 24,000 views within four hours of the event. It was quite successful from both a social media and technology perspective. It got people intrigued as to what was going on in their environment.
That is so cool; I actually have a background in fashion. What was the lens?
We put in elements of her new collection, which was inspired by the early 2000s, into the lens, like cassette tapes. For Kim her collection was all about that nostalgia for her childhood in the 2000s so including those elements was important.
In addition to working with entrepreneurs who are just starting out, you have worked with some massive brands like Adidas, Nike Cadbury, Tech Week and the list goes on. What are some of the most exciting projects you have worked on with those bigger brands?
I am constantly looking forward to the next project. We have been able to increase the size and scale of our projects consistently. So, if you ask me what our most exciting project is, I am always going to say the next one! That said, I feel like the Adidas RV was especially interesting.
We created a digital experience inside of a physical space, which was an RV. We used an iPad where customers could put in their player style, favourite player and why they inspire them. This information was then used to assign customers in different siloes - X, Nemesis or Predator – that are different Adidas shoe styles. Once you walk into the RV, there is a locker-type setup, lined with LED lights to give you a custom light show that then reveals which shoe you are a part of. A brand ambassador inside the RV then lets you try on the shoe and takes you over to the next part where we installed six screens with videos playing all-around you educating you about the shoe. LED lights on the walls and ceiling work in tandem with the various videos. At the end of that, you have a photo opportunity that is then sent to you via email. Having all of that in an RV was exciting!
There are a couple of other projects we are working on at the moment, but I can’t talk about those yet! I think we will be ready to announce them in the next few months.