What is augmented reality? In this episode, Amber Allen, founder of Double A Labs, joins John Livesay as they explore the world of augmented reality and leveraging immersive experiences for consumers. Amber and John talk about innovative ways how brands reach their customers and how Amber helps her clients make the impossible a reality. With a disruption at hand and every industry is thrown out of whack, learn how Amber and her team utilizes the digital world and successfully imitate live events in cyberspace. Tune in and get a glimpse of what’s to come in digital marketing, the advances in AR and reach your audience in ways you’ve never seen before.
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Leveraging Emerging Technologies And Immersive Experiences With Amber Allen
Our guest is CEO and Founder, Amber Allen. She’s a pioneer in emerging technologies and immersive experiences with a deep background in the entertainment and gaming industries. She started Double A Labs to elevate experiential marketing after spending time in-house at Disney, Warner Bros., and Riot Games. Double A Labs innovates immersive experiences for brands to reach and keep fanatics of gaming, eSports, entertainment, and emerging technologies. Fast thinking and always exploring new ideas, Amber envisions how to make the impossible a reality for her clients. Amber and her team have delivered over 1,000 global activations and over 4.6 million attendees for companies such as Apple, Dell, Disney, Google, Reddit, Twitch, and Warner Bros. It’s not unusual to find her wearing the latest gear, tinkering with a new gadget or playing the latest video game. Amber, welcome to the show.
Thank you. I’m excited to be here.
I always love to ask my guests their own little story of origin. Where’d you grow up? You can go back as far as childhood or college. What made you interested in the entertainment business and of course, this new technology of immersive experiences?
I grew up in a small town in East Texas. The entertainment was heading to Pizza Hut and getting to play Galaga or Pac-Man. Video games were our way of getting to bond with my dad as we were kids. I’m a big fan of the movie side and all that. There wasn’t a lot to do in our little town, so it’s a stroke of excitement for new technology and such because it took about ten years to get to us.
That’s quite a journey from a small town in East Texas to being in the heart of working for many big brands like Disney and Warner Bros. Where was that moment where you said, “I’m going to get out of Texas and I’m going to take Hollywood by storm with my expertise in technology.”
As kids we’ll get to the big city, we used to go to Dallas and it was, “I can’t wait to move to the big city.” I knew that when I was a little kid. When I moved to Dallas and I was working as a merchandiser and running a program for Disney. The opportunity came up where they asked if I wanted to move out to LA, and that was something that I had never thought about doing. I love exploring and I still even to this day, get that itch to move about every few years. I like to have new cultures, learn new things, and spread my wings.
I’m curious about transitioning from Disney to Warner Bros., where you got this big job as an event manager for their games. Let’s be completely transparent, there’s not a lot of women, typically in this industry. Did you find yourself being the only woman sometimes in some of these meetings?
I’ve always had a passion and love for the technology side. When I was at Disney Mobile, it was one of the early times of mobile and when I was at Warner Bros., I wanted to get out of the event side and I was in the film business. To your point, yeah, there were about two of us at the time in a home video group, but I was lucky enough to have Netflix as a client. I got to see back in the day when they went more on the digital side. That announcement was made and I see, “This is going to be similar to music, how the consumers are going to want to be able to get their hands on it quicker.”Getting to see the passion is a real game-changer for you in your career. Click To Tweet
After that, I moved over to the video game side and did the event management and such, and I loved it. I got to work on amazing titles like Batman: Arkham and Mortal Kombat. Getting to see the passion was a real game-changer for me in my career and seeing the passion of the fanatic space is what we still play in. How do you get to share with the rest of the world why? I always say, “Why do your kids love Fortnite?” I feel like sometimes we’re back in that time in the ‘50s where our parents didn’t understand why the kids loved rock and roll. That is what that space and that time have opened up over the years and what we’ve done in my role is how do I get to share why gaming is such a passion for these kids and how it helps them with their careers later down the road, too. It’s an exciting space.
Having been in the corporate world myself for many years, it’s a big transition jump to being an entrepreneur and working for yourself. You’ve started Double A Labs several years ago. Going back to the beginning of that, what made you come up with the name? How did you decide that that was even something you were willing to do and leave that big comfort-y corporate world of the steady paycheck and all that?
Funny enough, when I first started, it was Amber Productions because I was still holding. It’s still our LLC. Double A events are where we had started and for the first 1.5 years, it was me being a consultant working on the brands and the strategy with different CEOs and CMOs of brand companies. I felt that as I was hiring certain groups and vendors, it wasn’t at the quality level that I knew we would expect being in-house, so I started to hire different employees. Funny enough though, that even the third employee was an engineer. We’ve always had a tech background. I saw that in the eSports and gaming side of how are we creating physical worlds and how is the digital world getting to feel like they’re a part of it? We see that all the time with watching a sport and getting into learning from it in eSports. As a company, that’s been one of the biggest goals with Double A Labs of figuring out where and how we get to bring new technology and get to build around it.
Would you say there were any bumps along the way to growing the company that you could share life lessons from?
I find it fascinating and I laugh because if you’re an entrepreneur for even a hot minute, you know that there are a million bumps. Being a corporate kid for twelve years, this was my first entrepreneurial adventure to do. A lot of my mentors and advisors came from the corporate space. The advice that I thought was super valuable was how to set up a company so that you can scale. We had intranet sites because I was used always to have that. Those are the things that I set up but on the other side of that coin, knowing about investors or bringing in advisory boards. All of that was information I was not familiar with.
It has been an exciting time of how many people I can meet and pick their brain that I’ve done and how many books I can read. The biggest bump in that kind of way was even a line of credit. I didn’t realize how important a line of credit was until we had a major client that was going through some mergers and acquisitions and changes. We got stuck in the middle of it and $1.2 million was held up for about eight months. As a company in year three, I only had eight employees. At that time, it was a challenge for the company.
There are a lot of sleepless nights worrying about making payroll and all that good stuff, so that’s valuable insights. Let’s talk about some of the fun stuff you’ve done. What is a digital dinner party? If you can, share who hired you to do one?
We do a lot of these virtual experiences. A digital dinner party is when we are trying to do multiple different influencers for coming together. YouTube was wanting to bring and collaborate and still have that happen in a world, in a time that they could not do that in real life. We were able to create a space that was a lot of fun. We did Uber Eats, so they delivered different meals at the same time. We had games and contests and we hosted it inside of a virtual experience. Even since then, we have a product and a platform called Digital World, physical and digital. Think of SimCity and Fortnite if you are playing that. We’ve built it on a WebGL, so it’s a website. You can go to the website and you can interact and go inside of these worlds and play, watch live streams, and do video content, but you are the driver. You get to choose as the consumer that comes in what you want to interact with and play with.
This is what I find fascinating because a lot of the entertainment industry is saying, “We’re going to have to create multiple endings to a movie and allow people to decide how they want that movie to end depending on what they choose.” It comes from gaming and now it’s immersing into a lot of other things. Let’s talk about your business card. Tell us what you have created and then other people can create with the ability to turn a business card into almost a hologram, right?
That’s exactly what it is. Everybody in their mind thinks Star Wars, Princess Leia pops up. That’s exactly what my card does. It is augmented reality. It’s our logo, the A. You can do it right off of our website, funny enough, so you don’t even have to have my business card. That’s the biggest thing, you get business cards and you are like, “Who is this person and what did they do again?” On our card, you hold it up through where they are posted up and it’ll have a hologram of myself with little bubbles flying around. As you click on the bubbles, each of the bubbles explains what the company does, whether it be a video, our Sizzle, or animation, which represents our digital worlds or a different style of animated logos.
For people who may not be as tech-savvy as you are, it’s almost like using your phone to get a virtual menu at a restaurant correct. You don’t have to have any fancy stuff. You just take your phone, put it to photo, put your camera over your logo, and you pop up. Is that the gist of it?
For my card, we have it as an app. That way, we can deliver new content all the time without pushing it out but to your point, we are doing exactly that. Just like at a restaurant where people have a QR code, we can do that as well. We’re doing that for a concert where a well-known musician is going to be made into a hologram and that show will only last for a short amount of time. As it pops up, you can watch them as a live concert in your room and it’s all triggered from the camera phone to the QR.
There’s been so much demand even for celebrities and musicians that are no longer with us, whether it’s Elvis Presley or all kinds of people. I’m thinking that’s a new whole new way to bring that, in the past, people have been going to Vegas to see a hologram perform. Imagine you could do it from your phone, people would pay for that, especially if you happen to be a die-hard fan. Let’s share some of these on the road hybrid experiences where a brand is wanting to make a big splash. What does that look like?
What we have done in the past, speaking of the digital space, where everyone can be a part of that, the reason that it’s called Digital World is that we can do something in a live environment. We’re all used to a Comic-Con style and pop up experience. We can host an event and have it to wherein one of the worlds that we worked with, we created an entire thing that looked like a TV set. People could walk through one of them. They had AR, Augmented Reality triggers like with Pokémon. We had it to that brand and you could collect them like a scavenger hunt. We created an entire VR world where you put a headset on and go into the mind of this serial killer. It was one of the movies.
How do you make technology not be scary, but incorporated all the way through? In a live environment, one of the things that we’ve had a lot of fun playing with is creating a digital world where people can walk through that same space, but then feel like they’re changing what happens in a physical environment. We did one where we had a live stream and an event where someone is on a surfboard. You’re getting to play Pong, old school and you’re trying to balance on the surfboard. The live stream is watching and they have a little ESPN, a little digital label. “Click on this. You’ve got ten seconds. Do you want to throw cats and dogs at him? Do you want to do cones? Do you want to do snowballs?” After ten seconds, the majority wins, and that is what happens in the physical environment. Over 3.7 million people in three days of interactively play.As an entrepreneur, don't drink your own Kool-Aid. Click To Tweet
Because we feel like we’re playing and we’re making an impact. If I were to sum up what you said, it would be technology can be immersive and make people feel like they have an impact on the experience they are watching.
We are no longer in the environment and it no longer resonates logos and impressions. We don’t want to be spoon-fed. We want to play with our food. We don’t watch commercials as a Gen Z and Millennial and even Gen X and Baby Boomers. If you’re interactive, you want to do stuff and you want to get your hands on things. How are we creating environments that let people be a part of the story? We grew up on Choose Your Own Adventure. If you taught us to choose your own adventure and I get to choose my own ending, then anybody wants to be able to be a part of the story. Creating things where you get to change it, be a part, or interact with it is what resonates with someone. It’s more about what they’re playing with not what they’re supposedly seeing in their peripheral vision.
What I love about what you’re doing is it’s not just for the entertainment industry, which is clearly all about trying to get people to watch a new movie or watch a new TV show and come up with some interactive things to do on social media. I saw one where you’re trying to throw popcorn into your mouth and have to hold your mouth a certain way. You also help companies. Let’s talk about a healthcare company. How does what you’re doing help them interact or learn some things in the operating room, for example?
One of the big ones that we were able to do for a medical world is we were doing internally for their 60,000 employees. We wanted to create something that explains what their product was that was rolling out. One, for example, was ophthalmology. In creating this internal app that was only available on their internal store for their employees, we were able to create some kind of hologram where someone popped up and had the bubbles around them. In each of those experiences that a person would click on, they would tell a story. One was a four-page white paper that was turned into a 60-second animation. Unlike a video, which is just 2D, you could walk around it and you could see it.
As the story unfolded, you could turn on a button on your phone and you would see that experience in augmented reality of what it looked like to have cataracts or myopic degenerative disease. You would see it in four different ways. If you had that eye disease, this is how you see the world. This is where technology is coming in not only on the empathy side but educating why something has to be dense that a person cannot quickly understand? We are visual learners. In a visual way, I can walk us a day in your step, then I’m going to understand what you’re experiencing and be able to then create a better environment around it.
I love that on many levels. First, the soundbite of the day, augmented reality is an empathy tool. I’ve never heard it phrased like that before and my mom is dealing with some vision issues. All I can do is offer some sympathy because I can try to imagine what it’s like not to be able to read or see stuff as well as you did and it’s way beyond just needing glasses. If there were some augmented reality experiences that I could imagine to have cataracts. In her case, it’s a macular degenerative disease, which is what Steve Wynn had, then it’s a more immersive experience for me to go, “Now I know why you can see this or that or how blurry that is for you and how frustrating it must be.”
It’s in your environment. That’s the thing. In VR, we close off to the world and we play inside of a closed environment. With augmented reality, is I get to be a part of my world. I get to see you, but it’s enhanced. I can see things whether it be at a conference and you see someone coming out and you’re like, “What was that person’s name again?”
You click a bubble. I want to go back to something you said and I’m trying to imagine what the readers are thinking. I’m like, “I can go to the DoubleALabs.com and hover my phone over your logo and I’ll get a hologram?” Explain that a little bit for somebody who’s ever done that. What is that?
We’ll have multiple different experiences there. What we do is one of the experiences is through the Double A Labs app. If you go and download it off at the store, Double A Labs is an app. This has made it to where it makes augmented reality a lot less expensive. We’re doing one for the medical space. If you go to our site and you hold up the Double A Labs app and it has A logo, it will come alive. It’ll be a digital experience.
We need to download your app and not just go to your website to have this experience?
I just wanted to clarify that for everybody because I know everyone’s going to want to experience this. We’ve all seen Princess Leia and the fact that we can have that in our own world would be fantastic. What do you see in the future? The Minority Report movie and Google Glass try to take off. Are the headsets for VR going to go away or is it all going to be augmented? What do you think’s coming?
It’s interesting that you bring up Google Glass. They were one of the first clients that we worked with Double A Labs. I found it fascinating that the red light is what freaked everyone out. Going back to what we talked about. Remember that story of growing up in East Texas. How do you make technology less scary and more adaptable? That is the one thing with Google Glass. When you walked around and I would see you wearing the glasses, you’d be looking at me and if I saw that red light, I’d know you’re recording me. Think about that. There’s something that’s not what we’re used to. Understanding what it is that scares people in technology and what helps them adapt it is one of the biggest things that is the mission and vision of our company.
When you’re talking about where I see the future of augmented reality, I believe like Apple and other consumers out there we’ve heard and they’re working on things like that in the market. We all have our phones on us at all times. It’s easy. The more mobile AR that we’re playing in and such, you don’t have to download an app and can’t hold up something. The easier it becomes and the less friction that there is, the more the adaptability and greatness. If I can’t get a headset and I don’t know how to map a room for virtual reality, then how am I ever going to adopt it? With a phone, we are having that all the time and we know what to do. This is why augmented reality is becoming more adaptable and picks up quicker.Don't listen to the naysayers. What you listen to are the numbers. Click To Tweet
I used to sell advertising in the fashion industry and we were talking about how retailers enhance that experience. They were talking about the future where you would walk in and maybe eventually, we don’t have to wear glasses. We can hold our phone up and the phone will scan us for our sizes, and then we hold the phone out to the whole area and say, “Here are all the clothes that are your size,” without you having to sort through a bunch of clothes. Your shopping experience will be more customized and efficient that way.
It’s interesting you said that. It’s what we are building inside of the virtual world. It’s like SimCity, the virtual style. We’re looking at building a retail environment. As you walk through this, imagine you’ve got to go into Whole Foods. You and I both know whenever I go into Whole Foods, I’m going to go to olives, and then I’m going to palms. I’m going to see capers and I’m going to get olives. I’ll go on Instacart or one of those online shopping and I ordered it all because I’m not visually seeing all the things around it. I’m not going to remember all that, environments that you can walk in, see it as a store, be able to click on it, and add it into your cart. It goes back to what you’re talking about, however, you can also do augmented reality on top of it, “I love those earrings.” Click it. Now the earrings are on my ears. “I love it. Let’s see it in a different color.” You didn’t have to put them in your ears or the hat.
You can ask your best friends. “Do I look good in these,” before you would click the buy and all that stuff? That’s what I’m excited about with all of this.
The technology is there.
Do you do big, long forecasts for growing your company? Do you have a 1-year or 3-year plan? Any tips for entrepreneurs on how to plan for the future since it’s always changing and evolving?
Our business plan of what we thought would be in the digital and virtual worlds of over a two-year plan has happened in six months.
That’s how fast technology is changing, right?
Exactly. The environment of what a consumer may have been scared of has been taken away with what they have to do digitally. One of the biggest things I always say is I make a plan as the CEO of this company and we go toward that, but not being scared to pivot and change. We were lucky enough that we were already a technology and event company. It’s a little early to market on some of our stuff but we didn’t have to pivot. We were ready for this time. However, as an entrepreneur, I’ve learned the biggest thing for me is don’t drink your own Kool-Aid.
The biggest piece is I can love a product that we’re doing but if it cannot be up to the level or that a client or that we expect as a brand at Double A, then I have to be okay with saying, “We’re going to put that one on the shelf and we’re going to do this,” or the numbers are not backing it up. That’s the biggest thing that has made us have 100% growth year over year. We’re at 286% growth in our tech and that is because it’s making a point of like, “This is working or this is not,” and not falling so much in love with it that you can’t listen to the numbers.
Don’t fall in love with your new products so much that you can’t let them go.
You have to have the numbers and the data to back it. That doesn’t mean everybody may say, “You’re too early. It doesn’t work.” I don’t listen to the naysayers. What you listen to are the numbers. What is the market like? What are my clients saying? What are my mentors saying? Putting that all together as a formula helps me understand what the projected growth is and where we’re taking the company.
That’s a great place to end. Don’t listen to the naysayers, listen to the data. People can find you at DoubleALabs.com. They can Google your name. Is there any other way that you want people to follow you on any social media platforms?
Amber, thanks for being such a great guest.
Thank you for having me.
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