June 16, 2017
Interview by Rosemary Newton
As co-founders of Suometry, Phuc-Tue Le Dinh and Gina Zhou are working on the next frontier of entertainment—live VR. We talked to them about their unique tech, its possibilities, and what they’ve learned as entrepreneurs.
Creating real-time, 3D, VR videos
Suometry comes from the Latin word for stitching.
“Which is kind of what we do,” says Phuc, Suometry’s Business Lead. “We have a 3D, 360, VR camera, but our configuration is very different than others.”
Suometry offers a 3D, 360-degree, live, real-time VR camera. It uses an omnidirectional stereo geometry, reducing the number of sensors needed and minimizing the complexity of stitching.
“Most others will do a radial configuration, meaning cameras are pointing outwards and then they film, and then the problem, and the real pain point is that the more cameras you have, the harder it is to stitch all these images and video feeds together to make it look good and to make good 3D out of it,” says Phuc.
Stitching time can be between 8 and 24 hours.
“With our configuration, we do the exact same thing with the same quality, but we do it in real time: we provide a live solution.”
Applications include live events, sports, concerts, training, education, and walkthroughs of real estate.
Gina, who is Suometry’s Tech Lead, adds the tech is also useful for filmmakers and creators.
Happening across the opportunity
Phuc happened across the opportunity—literally—on a stroll around his neighbourhood.
“I found an open house for TandemLaunch, and thought they were doing interesting things,” he says. “I thought it would be interesting to join.”
He went through the onboarding process and found a project that interested him, and fit with his background—he holds a Masters in electrical engineering and video processing.
Gina, who has a background in electrical engineering and a PhD in bioengineering and biomedical engineering, first began working with TandemLaunch as a staff member for their technology sourcing team. Eventually, she missed hands-on work and owning a project and after meeting Phuc, made the switch.
The duo began work in the Fall of 2016.
Passionate about the future of VR
As a creator, who dabbles in producing videos, Gina felt naturally drawn to Suometry.
“It may sound cliché, but I’ve always been interested in tech. I think that’s what transforms how people live and how people interact,” she says. “My dad is a professional photographer, so I think it’s ingrained in me, photos, videos, that’s fascinated me from a very young age.”
“Everyone has a VR enabled supercomputer in their pocket, but there’s really a lack of content being created and building a consumer VR camera company seems like the natural next step.”
“VR is awesome. It’s very immersive. It’s very different, it conveys a very different emotion. The medium itself is very cool and we’re at the very forefront of that,” he says. “What we had in our hands, what I evaluated, I thought fundamentally, was wonderful and great differentiator to whatever anyone else was doing.”
Phuc jokingly cites proximity as a reason for choosing to create his startup with TandemLaunch, but insists that there’s much more to it.
“They were close by!” He says, but adds the structure and support has been invaluable in making the transition of growing a startup easier. “I’m very inspired by the team here and the people here.”
Since the last year, they’ve built up a full demo and are close to shipping product. They’re also selling development kits and rental services to stream VR events. Their prototypes have evolved, and they’ve spent time going to trade shows and expanding their team.
“It seems like a short time, but a lot has happened,” says Gina.
They also collaborated to deliver full 360 streaming of an event at SXSW, and have had a recent engagement with an NHL team to shoot content.
“That was also a difficult market to get into, but we were extremely lucky to have the opportunity,” she says.
Advice and lessons learned
Since beginning his journey as an entrepreneur, Phuc says he’s learned a lot, from technical building, research and development, to refining market perspective.
“It’s a crazy, wild ride. Things happen much faster than you can anticipate and there’s a lot of lessons learned.”
He says flexibility and evolution is key.
“For VR, this is a new thing for me in the sense that we don’t know where VR is going to go, in terms of market adoption, and learning to make the company adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the VR market, as it evolves, you need to evolve your company as well. And learning to make sure we have a secure revenue stream in a burgeoning market is an ongoing lesson.”
For Gina, learning to hire, manage teams, narrow down the right market fit and develop for the long term have been points of growth.
Phuc’s final advice for budding entrepreneurs is simple:
“The best way of learning is just doing it.”