AR/VR is relatively still new to the market but it seems that we are starting to see some early adoption and use cases. Black Enterprise caught up with Russell Ladson, co-founder of Drop, the search engine for VR, to discuss why he started the company, how he sees the search engine being used and what his experience has been like to fundraise for technology that is still relatively new to the marketplace.
Tell me about your background.
I grew up in Philadelphia and then went off to Morehouse College—which was a defining moment in my development as an African American male. Subsequently, I moved to New York City to work as an investment banking analyst. I am now based in San Francisco where I spend my time working with an exceptional team at Drop, hanging out in art spaces, and hiking while hopping on and off planes to Asia and Los Angeles.
Why did you start Drop?
Drop started as a personal obsession with information discovery on computing devices.
One afternoon while heading back to New York City after a weekend trip, I was a passenger in a near-fatal accident. I recall the moment the ER doctor told me my injuries didn’t match the physics of the accident—that I was lucky to be alive. Having that face-to-face encounter with death reshaped my perspective on the relationship between our human existence and our daily work.This occurred around my third year on Wall Street so I was already contemplating new opportunities. Unintentionally, Drop became the new opportunity, thus taking this personal obsession and building a product around curiosity, intuition, and empathy.
Can you explain the product and its use case?
Drop is the “Google Chrome for VR/AR.” It’s an immersive internet searching and browsing experience for virtual reality and augmented reality users.
The first thing many of us do when we open our MacBooks or iPhones is access a web browser because the browser has traditionally been our gateway to information discovery. Well, what does this foundational computing experience look like in about 3 – 5 years when our iPhones or MacBooks are no longer our primary computing devices but instead each of us owns a virtual reality or augmented reality headset? Our team has been looking to answer that fundamental question.
Today, Drop is one of the most popular VR titles among HTC Vive users—the leading VR headset in the space.
How has it been for you and your team to fundraise for technology that is still trying to find its place in the market?
The formidable challenge wasn’t finding interested investors in VR/AR because funding for VR/AR startups remains popular among Silicon Valley venture firms. Our challenge was fundraising as African Americans building a software company. Even with a world-class team and an impressive product with significant traction, we found ourselves defending our legitimacy to create an enduring technology company. To circumnavigate that issue, we looked for strategic investors outside of traditional Silicon Valley firms. We secured a majority of our capital from institutional investors in Asia and Los Angeles.
Where do you see AR/VR going in the future?
At Drop, we build products that help people connect with the world in a more meaningful and authentic way. We often say we are building for the post-smartphone world. We believe the future adoption of these technologies in our everyday lives will create new social interaction paradigms, information-gathering systems, and new approaches to human productivity.