Follow Jeremy Lam
Tell us about yourself?
I’m Jeremy, Founder, and CEO of Venu. Venu is the #1 metaverse events platform of choice for virtual event organizers who want to create stunning lifelike event experiences in the metaverse.
We’re based in San Jose, California, backed by Y Combinator and Harvard, and loved by thousands of customers, including Microsoft, YPO, Hirect, Samsung, Brex, HP, Stanford, and Ubisoft. Before Venu, I was the Founder and CEO of Virtual World Arcade, developing social multiplayer virtual reality games; the Founder and CEO of RoboBear, teaching elementary school students college-level robotics with robotic teddy bears, Program Manager on Microsoft HoloLens and Xbox One; and graduated as a computer engineering student at Georgia Tech.
What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you?
Being a founder has taught me way more than I can fit into this interview. My 3 most important learnings are:
1) When I treat people like people, with their own goals, ambitions, needs, and approach to work and life, whether it’s our team or customers, we develop trust, loyalty, and alignment working towards our common goal, that helps us overcome any hardship and grow as a team and as individuals together.
2) learning about myself, my resilience, my ability to adapt, learn, and evolve, who I am in times of hardship; and as Fred Rogers said, “Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime’s work, but it’s worth the effort.”
3) I have learned, am learning, and will continue to learn from my unique experiences as a founder the skills and wisdom I need to take a problem I see to an idea, a team, a solution, to a reality where that problem is solved at scale.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
Follow your gut. If you hear, “Startup life is really hard, I’m going to fail a lot, I’m going to make a lot of mistakes, it’s super stressful, there’s a lot of really hard problems that I have to solve, and maybe can’t solve,” and if you get excited hearing that, then you’ll have a lot of fun going for it. Buckle up for a long journey.
A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?
I learned that lesson the way I learned many lessons–by going to one extreme and finding out it wasn’t sustainable the hard way. This was during my days as CEO working on Virtual World Arcade, the VR gaming studio before Venu.
I had burnt myself and my team out, stretched us too thin, one sprint after another, and when my old college friends would visit, they would warn me to take care of my health because it was that visible on my face–somehow, I was the only one who couldn’t see it.
I went on a cross-country road trip shortly after to take a break from life. I ended up in this blizzard in the mountains of Idaho; at the end of my trip, tired, homesick, and I just wanted to get to my destination.
I drove for 30 hours straight from Arkansas to Idaho, without sleep, road raging, frustrated about not being there yet, and around the 26-hour mark, in the middle of the blizzard, I had this epiphany–maybe it’s not a sprint; maybe it’s a marathon–and I chilled out, stopped trying to get there faster, accepted it was going to be a long drive, and started seeing and enjoying beautiful things around me.
I took that philosophy back to the team and my work when I got back, and as a side effect, I started having a personal life, and developing my personal life was a journey in itself. I think it’s easy to get so focused or even obsessed over a goal that we lose sight of reality, the now, the things around us, and taking care of ourselves.
At the end of the day, for a startup and a founder, the founders, the team, that’s the startup. There’s no multi-billion dollar product in an early-stage startup, just the passion, vision, and potential of the people here.
Our health, happiness, learning, growth, and experiences are the startup. In order to enrich ourselves as a person, we need a balance of work and personal life and new experiences in both.
What is the inspiration behind your business?
Why do we travel? To see the world and the people in it–the culture, the history, the art, the entertainment, the work that people have done?
What if we can bring everything that the world has to offer, all into the comfort, convenience, and safety of your own living room? That is my vision for the metaverse. Our team started Virtual World Arcade in 2016.
We made VR Arcade games, opened our own VR Arcade in 2017, made games for players at home, developed games for clients in 2018, and developed VR healthcare, training, and University research applications for clients in 2019, all while hosting VR conferences every year in the Bay area. In November 2019, our business was stable, and I was looking for ways to scale. Where do we get most of our sales? From conferences. But I can’t host more than one conference a year.
It takes 6-12 months to host an in-person conference because people have to book flights, budget a year in advance, get hotels, and take a week away from work and family. What if it was as easy as a single click of a button? And thus, Venu was born.
We started hosting virtual events on existing platforms in November 2019, realized no existing platform had what we needed to host business conferences, spent 2.5 weeks developing the prototype of Venu, hosted our first 100-person conference in February 2020, got overwhelmingly positive feedback on the metaverse event experience much greater than any games we had made, decided to dedicate a year on Venu, a year later we got into the Y Combinator accelerator, got another seed investment from Harvard, and now we have hosted events for thousands of customers including Microsoft, YPO, Hirect, Samsung, Brex, HP, Stanford, and Ubisoft.
What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?
Traditional in-person conferences? No event organizer wants to deal with rent, physical labor, tons of equipment, and months of prep time to get people to fly in.
Event organizers love Venu because of how easy it is to create an immersive, lifelike event experience. Also, no one wants to travel for work. Traditional 2D video conferencing?
No one wants to sit and watch someone monologue on a screen for an hour and get Zoom fatigued from the closeup shot of the person’s face that triggers our fight or flight stress response.
People love how fun Venu is, the freedom to walk around, explore the metaverse, adventure through the exhibits, and have serendipitous encounters and spontaneous conversations with people they didn’t expect to meet.
Other 3D metaverse platforms? No other metaverse platform was designed by and for business conference organizers.
There are great platforms for making friends, hanging out, concerts, and small meetings, but no other platform has the ability to house 1000 users simultaneously in the same room because the value of a conference is in packing as many people into the event as possible, sales telemetry data and buying intent data analytics and AI-powered business matchmaking because we’re not here to make you friends; we’re here to make you sales and revenue.
Finally, no other team in the world has the unique depth and breadth of experience our team has in social multiplayer virtual reality development and business conference organizing expertise.
That is what makes our team uniquely qualified and most likely to own this market.
How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you just starting out?
I’ll echo what I learned in the Y Combinator accelerator program, plus my own thoughts. Sales is a numbers game.
Reach out to as many thousands, tens of thousands of people as you can, and a non-zero percentage will surely be a match, then talk to them and study what about their unique set of problems and circumstances makes them a match, then optimize your sales strategy and iterate.
My personal thoughts are there is a lot of value in thinking of leads as people.
- What is their personality?
- Are they early adopters?
- Are they excited and willing to take a chance and help you out?
- What is their situation? What do they desperately need?
- What are the risks and costs they are incurring?
- What do they need to make their boss happy and get a promotion?
- How would you feel in their situation?
- What social proof, guarantees, trust, and relationship building do they need to feel comfortable to say yes to you?
What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far in your business, and how did you overcome it?
We had the most challenging time in our team’s history in 2017-2018 while working on Virtual World Arcade before Venu.
We were trying different business models and products; things weren’t working, we kept pivoting, we were running out of money, and the team was burned out. #1 is the team. Even when we couldn’t pay ourselves, things weren’t working; we were out of the runway, and the team stayed and kept working.
I think this is because our team came together on a common vision, not just a vision for what we wanted to create, but a vision for how we were using this startup as a learning experience to grow ourselves and develop the founder skills to be able to take any idea we wanted in the future and make it into reality.
We got new credit cards, maxed them out, asked friends for loans, used those up, made a sale here and there, used up that revenue, but we kept trying, kept moving forward, kept staying barely afloat for long enough, that we made enough progress to come across another gasp of air, a pivot, a sales opportunity, an investment opportunity.
I had undying trust and faith that as long as we had time and kept moving forward with what we were building in the product and in ourselves, we were going to make it, so it was all about buying another month of time and another month, and at some point 7 years went by, and now we’re YC and Harvard backed founders, and our customers love us.
🏄 What do you consider are the main strengths of operating your business in California over other states in the US?
People are what create opportunities. Silicon Valley has the greatest concentration of people who make shit happen in the entire world. Our conferences, connections, partners, customers, investors, loyal community, and opportunities all came from being in Silicon Valley.
🏄 What (if any) are the weaknesses of operating your business within California?
High rent. We hire remotely from all around the world, so we are not affected by high wages. We also have a dedicated enough team that when we ran out of money a few times, our team stuck around and kept working up through when we had money to pay them back.
Individually, California also has great healthcare and other low-income benefits for founders who are not generating much revenue yet.
🏄 We are currently suffering through a cost of living crisis. With California already being one of the most expensive states to live in, how has this impacted your business?
We were lucky and found reasonable landlords who value our long-term cooperation as tenants over squeezing every little penny in the short term.
We pitched our vision to our landlords early on, and we have been lucky enough to have landlords who believe in the startup work we are doing and support us by not drastically increasing rent each year and allowing us to stay for 7 years now. Our founders all live and work in the same house. We’re basically family.
🏄 It is no secret that California is the birthplace of innovation. But that also makes it incredibly competitive. How have you found the competitive environment of California?
This is my personal view, but I don’t believe in competition. We are too early for the competition. Everyone working in the metaverse space is working together to lift up the brand and image of the metaverse. The more people who know about metaverse companies, what the metaverse is, and what we’re doing, the better.
There are also far more collaboration opportunities and value to gain from working together than thinking of founders as competition, such as sharing experiences, and advice, building a community and comradery, and honestly, collaborating as businesses since metaverse is so new and every business is such a niche, it’s more like each business is a small piece of a larger puzzle than competing in the same space.
You have what I need, and I have what you need, and we partner to create something greater.
🏄 Have you considered moving your company to another state? If so, which state and why?
As a founder, I think you have to consider everything, or rather; you can’t avoid considering and thinking about everything about your startup all the time.
Of course, I have considered moving to another state. I’ve considered moving to another country! But it all goes back to the same answer.
Why are we here? Are we here to live cheaply? Or are we here to grow rapidly, pursue our dream, and maximize the opportunity?
💻 What makes your company stand out as a SaaS/Software startup/company?
Metaverse. Backed by Y Combinator and Harvard. Loved by Microsoft, Samsung, HP, Stanford, Brex, and other customers. Metaverse development and event organizing expertise. Venu is the platform and metaverse experience itself.
💻 What excited you most about working in the SaaS/Software industry?
I don’t really care about the industry as long as we are solving problems we care about and we’re having fun doing what we love. Every industry of people needs Venu. Every business needs a way to meet new people.
💻 What are some of the biggest challenges in the SaaS/Software industry that innovators and other startups often face?
I don’t see any industry-specific challenges that aren’t or are more important than just the general challenges of being a founder.
If anything, working in software opens up the opportunity for remote work and remote talent.
💻 Tell us a bit about your culture. What makes your company’s culture unique?
We care about individual growth, skills-wise or personal growth as a person, above all else. As long as we are creating a valuable experience for people to learn and grow and achieve things they couldn’t have otherwise done on their own, then our work is worth it.
The founders eat, sleep, and work in the same house, and are basically family by now after everything we’ve been through.
The team lives and works in the metaverse from all around the world. We are all working towards a common goal. We can lose any team member, including me, and each individual would still know why they are here, what they need to do, and what their vision is.
💻 In your opinion, what are the most exciting trends in SaaS/Software right now?
Metaverse and AI, both of which we are in.