Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Interview with Bruno Uzzan, CEO of Total Immersion
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Our interview this morning is with Bruno Uzzan, CEO of Total Immersion (www.t-immersion.com), a firm developing interactive video technology. The firm's technology inserts interactive video into a live camera feed, so that a user can literally interact with virtual objects. Total Immersion recently moved its headquarters here to the Los Angeles area, and we caught up with Bruno to learn more about the firm, its technology, and why it moved here to LA.
Let's start off with a little bit about Total Immersion. What do you do?
Bruno Uzzan: In short, Total Immersion is working on interactive video experiences. The other name for it is what we call augmented reality--a way to combine the real world, with the 3D world, in real time. A quick example is a retail experience, where you might pick up a box at the store, and go up in front of a "magic mirror" where you can see yourself holding the box--but also see a 3D object popping up out of that box in real time. The real time aspect is very important. It provides a true interactive experience between the user and the presentation. We are working on two different markets, which is why we have our office here in LA. The first market is in brand advertising, where we're working with ad companies and clients to create solutions for shows and exhibitions where guests can interact with a brand. The second one is in the entertainment market. They're we're looking at it from a pretty large scale perspective, working on everything from theme park applications to toys for the home.
How did the company come about?
Bruno Uzzan: When we started the company, we were two at the beginning, I was one of the co-founders. My other cofounder came from a simulation company, working on flight simulators for the defense industry. That was in 1999, and he had some clients who asked him about getting some real objects into a virtual world, and getting some 3D objects into the real world. That's when he decided to start working on the software. The first market we were targeting was the advertising market, because we were pretty sure that brands were looking for a more engaging experience, a magical experience, where users can be in the show.
With your technology, and having seen your demos, it seems like this would be very compute intensive. Are PCs now faster so you can do this?
Bruno Uzzan: Here's a little background. When we first started the software was working on a dedicated PC--you had to use this PC, that graphics board, this specific video capture board. We have a pretty strong R&D team in France, and began working on a light version of the software. Now, it can be downloaded from the web as a DirectX version. That light version of the software that can be used on a five year old computer. This is where we are really moving forward. The technology we have and solutions can all be deployed on any PC or Mac.
How far along is your company, and are companies using your products?
Bruno Uzzan: We have already more than 50 here in France, 10 in the U.S., with strong revenues coming from both of these two markets. We have some clients like Six Flags in the US, Infiniti for brand advertising, plus Air France, Boeing, and Airbus. We are still young, but we are slightly profitable and we have some very interesting clients using our solutions today.
How is the company funded and backed?
Bruno Uzzan: We started the company in France, and have had two financial rounds. The first was in 2001, the second was in 2006, and we have two French VCs and one in the U.S. The combination of the French and U.S. backing for Total Immersion is helping us to grow year after year, and to get more and more clients and revenues.
We see that you originally opened an office in the U.S. in the Bay Area, but decided recently to move into the Los Angeles area. Why here, and what drove that decision?
Bruno Uzzan: We opened in the U.S. first in San Francisco. When I decided to start our branch office in the U.S., I figured out that it was easier to be close to our venture capital shareholders. Nevertheless, I soon figured out I was pretty far from our clients. I believe if you want to be a successful, growing company, you need to be as close as possible to your client. If you think about our clients--advertising and entertainment--Los Angeles was a pretty good place. That's why we moved the company from San Francisco to Los Angeles--to be as close as possible to the final user.
Are you hiring here in Los Angeles?
Bruno Uzzan: Yes, we're hiring. A year ago I was alone here, and we have 10 people so far. We are planning to hire between 15 to 20 in the next quarter. What we have in the U.S. is mainly some sales and delivery engineers. The sales guys are to promote and help develop our company here in the U.S., and the delivery engineers to help support sales by our sales team.
So what's next for your firm?
Bruno Uzzan: The big goal that we're now working on in the U.S. is on some massive deployments. We have some massive consumer experiences that we are in the process of building out in Q1 of 2009, which we will be providing to millions of users from toy companies and a trading card company. My goals for Total Immersion is to really deploy this and let everyone have access to this technology through their home computer with a webcam. That's all they need. Our main goal is providing solutions for end users. We are working with some pretty strong partner in the U.S. We're talking about toys, trading cards, and talking about car manufacturers where the final solution is deployed, not to hundred or thousands of people, but millions of people engaged using their home PCs and webcam.