Eden Chen, a 31-year-old Taiwanese American serial entrepreneur, is the co-founder of Los Angeles-based Fishermen Labs, which specializes in augmented reality products.
Chen says his company is the largest producer of augmented reality content in the U.S. Last year his company was named the world’s sixth-best augmented reality and virtual reality developer by Clutch, a Washington-based market research firm.
Chen spoke with Business Next on the sidelines of the XR Key Influencer Summer Summit on July 26, a one-day event in Taipei organized by XR EXPRESS Taiwan and sponsored by Taiwan’s National Development Council.
Q: From hedge fund manager to tech entrepreneur, your career path has taken you through different business sectors. Can you tell us about your background? How did you start your business?
A: I studied business and graduated from Emory University. My parents are Taiwanese. My mother is a journalist with Voice of America and my father is a musician.
I’ve been very interested in solving problems in general and I’m constantly thinking about business problems. I started my first company when I was 24 years old, which I think is pretty common in the U.S. Many people start their first company after they finish their first job.
I’ve been running a company ever since then. My first company Lightmark Capital was a high-frequency trading hedge fund. The second company I started was Fishermen Labs. Since then I’ve started lots and lots of other companies, at least 20.
Fishermen Labs started in the middle of 2013 with my business partner Charles Hu. Right now we are about 60 people.
At present, Fishermen Labs is, in a lot of ways, self-running. We work with a lot of the same clients every single year. I don’t need to operate day to day. I do a lot more speaking than in the past and I run some other businesses as well.
We have a real estate fund, which invests in a bunch of real estate properties. We have a business-to-business software company called Sonar that helps people manage projects. We just launched high-end packaged food products, selling products like healthy instant noodles or ramen noodles. I have no background in food products but I’m interested in exploring different opportunities.
Q: What is Fishermen Labs?
A: We are the largest producer of augmented reality content in the U.S. We make content for lots and lots of brands, predominantly for consumer brands. We work with companies like Walmart, Sony, Nike, Puma, Snapchat, Microsoft and most of the entertainment companies in Los Angeles.
We’re based in Los Angeles so that we can work closely with some of the biggest film studios and entertainment companies in the States. We have 60 people. A lot of them are 3D artists, designers, engineers, mobile app developers and product managers. We have been working more on augmented reality ads, in part because they have been performing very well.
Q: What is the biggest case for using augmented reality applications?
A: The biggest case for augmented reality right now is [sharing selfies painted with augmented reality, and the like.]
People really like looking at themselves. What we do is that you can pick up your phone to augment your face and I can put bunny ears on it.
There’s going to be a lot of similar cases centered around information sharing involving augmented reality through different social media networks like Facebook and Snapchat. Facebook is launching augmented reality in their platform.
Nike is one of our company’s major clients. If you’re talking to a Nike augmented reality bot, or just a bot in general, you’re saying I want to buy these shoes and you virtually try them on. You can then post an augmented reality experience and share it with your friends on social media platforms. You can directly try to experience [a product] via augmented reality before you purchase it.
Facebook and Snapchat are building body recognition technologies. You can technically scan your body and then put a T-shirt on your body. The face is doable today obviously. The make-up companies do it very easily today.
For instance, Michael Kors just launched an augmented reality experience recently to sell the brand’s bags Cosmetics company Sephora is doing a bunch of augmented reality experiences in e-commerce right now, letting customers virtually try-on makeup.
In advertising you really care about two things: conversion and engagement. Engagement is basically about: how long did the user spend on that experience? Conversion is about: did someone buy that? The question for augmented reality is: Can augmented reality deliver a better experience that helps people engage with this experience and ultimately help them to buy or download the product? I think the answer is positive.
Q: What’s on the horizon in the next few years for augmented reality?
A: If you look at most of the high-end devices like HoloLens and Magic Leap, Microsoft is not really interested in consumer experiences at this point that [exclusively involve augmented reality] or involve expensive headsets.
They are more interested in how augmented reality technology can be adopted [with other technologies] in real-world cases such as business-to-business sales, marketing and supply chains. They care more about how augmented reality can make an impact in the way they do business.
There is really not a market on the high-end augmented reality side at this point. I think we are at least five years out from having a mass-produced augmented reality product for consumers. That’s because augmented reality has so many different barriers from a technological standpoint.
For instance, augmented reality needs good computer vision, which is a machine’s ability to see something and recognize what that object is. It needs good indoor mapping, meaning it needs to be contextually aware of where you’re at. It needs good content. It needs a device that can be socialized, so you can walk around and people won’t think you’re a weirdo for wearing a device on your face.
There’s a lot of barriers for augmented reality. It’s not something that is a consumer-ready product, at least on the high-end side.
But on the low-end side, I think we are in a very unique place. It’s cheap to produce augmented reality content and it can reach a wide audience, with the help from publishers like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. That’s the benefit of augmented reality right now.