“Everything takes longer than expected.” — CEO Q+A: David Whelan, VR Education Holdings PLC

CEO Q&A, Interviews, Technology | Wed 5 Sep | Author – Business & Finance
David Whelan, CEO, VR Education Holdings PLC

In our next CEO Q&A, David Whelan, CEO and Founder of  VR Education Holdings PLC speaks about getting listed on the Irish and London stock markets, clear communication and the vision for his company. 

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

As CEO my main priority is to ensure that each member of my team is able to be the best they can be. I do this by hiring smart people with big ambition and a drive to achieve our company goal of changing the face of education and corporate training forever.

Day to day my role is to make sure that all departments are working efficiently so that we achieve company targets and release deadlines.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Clear and effective communication. It is crucial that I communicate the vision for the company and that I ensure that everybody, from senior management to interns, knows exactly what we are striving for and where we are going in the future.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

I give our team members ownership of projects within the business, this really motivates them as the type of people we have hired take great pride in the work they do. Our people always want to be the best in their chosen areas.

The team also derive motivation from the recognition given to us by our industry peers. To date, projects we have produced have received a lot of positive attention from the game development and virtual reality community and we have won several awards – these acknowledgements from people we hold in high esteem always add to our passion in what we are doing.

Personally, I am always quick to praise good work when I see it & I do so on a daily basis.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

We tap into several different industries as we are leading the way in VR/AR education and training.

The biggest challenge in the education and training sectors is finding ways to increase learning retention and engagement. A large majority of online learning courses and distance learning platforms have high dropout rates and low retention levels.

Our ENGAGE platform aims to fully immerse the user into their learning experience, in order to increase learning retention and engagement. It will allow people to receive the best education, from the best educators from around the world, all from the comfort of their own home using virtual reality.

The challenge with virtual reality at the moment is that this is a new emerging market with low user numbers to date, however, uptake is expected to grow experientially over the next 3 to 5 years, as new lower cost but higher quality devices become available on the market.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Online education is a growing trend in Asia, with growth expected to be from 90 million online students to 140 million by 2021. Most of this growth is with students from ages of 14 to 18. Simply providing them with videos and text-based content and expecting them to come out the other end is not feasible for everybody. Distance learning, home schooling and online corporate training are all seeing major growth, so this sector is very attractive for any business to target. We feel we are at the right place, at the right time with the right solution.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Yes – There are many low-quality VR devices that use mobile phones and state they are true VR. This leads to such a bad experience for the end user that it really pushes back the adoption of VR within the wider market.

Some companies like Samsung and Oculus have done a fine job using mobile phones however, many manufacturers in Asia are flooding the market with what amounts to little more than a plastic shell with low quality lenses. I lament when I go to meeting and ask if anybody has tried VR and somebody tells me “yes – they used a cardboard box phone holder”. This is not true VR as you need to be fully immersed and have interaction with the digital 3D world to achieve this.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

Yes – we hire lots of video game developers however, Ireland has a very small pool of people to choose from in this area as most of the big game companies are in the UK and the US. We have employed many workers from other countries in the EU however we are now starting to see more Irish graduates coming from some of the bigger Universities.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

We are a young company and only formed after the crisis. We were formed in October 2014 and listed on the stock exchange 3 years later.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Brexit has been good to us so far, as many of the people who work for me today are from the UK. When the vote happened, we got an influx of requests from workers in the UK to come and work in Ireland. Many of these workers are very skilled and the company is stronger because of them.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Achieving more than what is expected of you is what drives me. Success is passing a goal and setting a new target that seems impossible until you achieve it.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

The best advice that I’ve received, has been that everything takes longer than expected. I’ve also learnt over the years that there are certain situations where you need to trust your gut instinct. Most of the time if your gut tells you something its probably right and your head can sometimes take a little time to catch up.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

The biggest highlight this year has been listing in both the Irish and London stock markets.

Q. What’s next for your company?

We have multiple software releases coming up this year and should be making waves come 2019. A lot of hardware releases are also due in 2019, so it will be interesting to see what new toys our developers will get to play with and what unique solutions they will come up with.

Q. What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2018?

We have our latest creation, Titanic VR, releasing this month. We will also have a full release of our education and corporate training platform ENGAGE. As a company are growing quicker than ever and we are scaling massively over the next 3 years as the marketplace grows.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

We are currently the leading player in the VR space when it comes to educational content and I expect this to stay in the same position. However, next year we want to make a big impact on distance learning and grab some major headlines with client announcements.

The biggest highlight this year has been listing in both the Irish and London stock markets


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