Lindsay Boyajian: Part 1
I am so excited to kick off Girls of AR & VR - IRL, a new Whole Role Models series about 5 influential women in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). We're kicking off with Lindsay Boyajian. Lindsay is a young woman who has taken on an executive marketing role in augmented reality. Even though she’s got big girl responsibilities at work, she’s also larger than her job title and takes care of herself outside of work through fitness, hanging out with loved ones, writing, and public speaking. She’s also got some cool twists along the way, with stints in Paris and New York.
Setting the stage: I’m interviewing Lindsay from my car on my lunch break since she’s in New York and I’m in LA. This is our first time chatting. She is warm, well-spoken, and totally chill – at some point my phone overheated and we were cut off abruptly. This didn’t phase her at all – we were able to laugh about it and pick up right where we left off after my phone cooled off. Her ability to go with the flow tells me she knows how to handle curveballs!
Current City: New York, New York
Where did you grow up and how did you make it to New York?
Answer: I actually grew up about 20 miles outside of the city in New Jersey. I came to New York to get my Masters at Cornell in Ithaca, New York. I did a dual program in Industrial Labor Relations and Management. The second year of my program was spent in Paris. There I discovered a French startup called Augment and started working for them right after school. I then transitioned to their New York office in the Flatiron District, and in a few weeks will be joining Conductor, also in New York.
How did you end up working in augmented reality? Was it something you did right out of school or did you somehow fall into it? How did that happen?
Answer: I fell into it. It was a funny series of events, which I think is the story of most who end up in AR/VR right now. They see the technology, fall in love with it, and want to be involved.
I had chosen to study in Paris because I was really excited about the French tech scene. I was just finishing up my Masters and starting to interview with different emerging startups. I didn’t have a particular role in mind. I was just kind of raising my hand saying “Hey! Does anyone need an American?” I just had this passion for tech and was really eager to get involved. I didn't speak the language that well but I had some rich experience. In undergrad I’d worked at Metamorphic Ventures (now called Compound) and founded my own startup WeareverYouGo. It turned out a lot of people were excited about my business background and broad understanding of markets and strategy. I came across Augment and met with the CEO of the company. At that time I had never really understood or thought about augmented reality more than hearing about it in passing. He did a demo of the technology and I was just kind of blown away. At that point I said sign me up, because I could tell this would be the future of tech.
Defining AR & VR
How would you describe augmented reality to a family member or a friend who's completely unfamiliar with it? (Here For A Few readers: I’ve got your back!)
Answer: (laughs) It’s definitely difficult. The way I usually go about it is by asking them if they know Pokémon Go. Pokémon Go kind of took the country by storm last summer and it’s basically my jumping off point. So if they know Pokémon Go, I tell them that is augmented reality. You are taking that digital creature and overlaying it on top of the real world. That is what augmented reality is. It’s taking anything digital, and putting it in the real world. Another good example I use a lot is the 1st and ten line in football when you watch it on TV. That line isn't actually there in the real world. That is actually a digital line that the TV broadcaster overlays, and that is augmented reality in its most basic form.
How do you describe the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality?
Answer: Augmented reality and virtual reality are really interesting, and they are kind of two sides of the same coin. They lie on the virtuality continuum. On one side of that continuum you have the real world and on the other side you have virtual reality. Virtual reality is completely immersive, so normally you are in a headset that blocks out the entire real world. You have headphones on and can't hear anything outside of the experience. I mean you are completely immersed in this digital world. Virtual reality is great for things like gaming and entertainment.
Then towards the middle of that continuum between the virtual and the real you have augmented or mixed reality. That is where you are combining the digital with the physical. With augmented reality you’re not completely immersed in a digital world. It’s more inclusive than virtual reality and can be experienced through a mobile device or an augmented reality headset like Hololens.
Experience in AR
Your most recent job was CMO at Augment. What kind of product were you marketing there?
Answer: The goal of the product was to seamlessly merge the virtual and physical world to create a new experience for consumers and retailers. A retailer could implement Augment to allow shoppers to visualize products at home through a mobile device. For instance let’s say, Amber, you were trying to furnish your new home. If you were using your favorite e-commerce app to look at new couches and they were using Augment you would see a “view at home” option. With the simple tap of a button you could actually see all those couches in AR in your home. It actually removes the guesswork from shopping online.
What sort of items can people shop with using augmented reality? AKA can I try on outfits at home yet?
Answer: Great question! Today, Augmented Reality works best for home furnishing, appliances, small electronic goods, and any kind of physical goods. Clothing and textiles are still difficult to get right in AR in my opinion. The best AR shopping experiences today are for home goods.
I love the idea of being able to shop with AR right now. My boyfriend and I just moved in together and took interior design decisions very seriously since it was our first shared space. Although we're so happy with how it turned out, it was hard at times! We both have our own styles but are both picky about individual items. We shared tons of Pinterest images of items we liked in other people's spaces to try and convince each other of how the items would look in our apartment. It would have been a game changer if we could have overlaid items in our actual living room. We could have determined immediately whether we had an agreement on each item for our space. That’s really cool!
Yeah exactly. There is so much guesswork that goes into interior decorating. You are always going to wonder if something will truly work or not when it arrives in your home. And it’s not like these are small investments. Something like a couch is a huge investment. You want it to last forever and returning it is a terrible hassle costing you a ton of time and effort and also costing the retailer a fortune. It’’s exciting how AR can transform that process for the end user.
Definitely, I cannot tell you how many times we have had to return huge items that have shown up and just don't look right in our space. With both of us having full time jobs. We live in a city. It’s hard to even a car to take it back to wherever it needs to go or even get it to the UPS store around the corner if it’s really big.
Creativity at Work
Thinking back to different chapters of your life – childhood, high school, college, the real world – have you always been creative?
Answer: Entrepreneurship has always been my creative outlet. Even as a child my brother and I were starting companies just to sell stuff to our parents or to neighbors from the driveway. I remember when we were younger we emptied seltzer bottles and filled them up with water, dish soap and hand sanitizer. We printed labels using Microsoft 1996 and branded them as our household cleaning supplies. We sold them to our parents and grandparents and were taking orders by the dozen. That was one of my first memories of being entrepreneurial and something I’ve carried all the way through.
Do you get to be creative working in augmented reality?
Answer: I do, which is one of the great things about marketing and working in tech. In AR, on one side you have the technical piece and on the other side is the creative piece. You get to be creative in terms of branding, messaging, everything. As marketers, we get to experiment and try different things. We’re constantly looking for new ways to innovate and reach our target audience.
What was one of your projects that came together through a lot of creativity that you’re really proud of?
Answer: One of the projects I recently worked on at Augment was our second e-book. I worked with our previous content marketing manager Dennis Williams. He and I and the rest of the marketing team realized that there was no real authority on augmented reality in retail. There was no “go-to” guide for retailers to quickly understand why they need AR, how could they use AR and what the value was for their businesses. We saw the need and decided to fill it. We were able to get really creative with it. We worked with the design team to create some really eye-catching graphics and visuals throughout the piece and put together the first e-book and book of its kind. When the first batch of hard copies arrived at the office, it was exciting to hold the book and see the fruits of our labor.
Being a Woman in AR/VR
Do you think there are many women working in augmented reality right now?
Answer: No. In general there aren't a lot of women in tech, and AR/VR is no exception. The interesting thing right now though, is that because the space is still so new, we have the opportunity to shape how diverse the industry is going forward. If we can get more women into the space now we can be a really diverse and equal ecosystem. Again the interesting thing about AR and VR is that it combines creative and technical side. There’s opportunity for people of all sorts of backgrounds to get involved in the space.
You mentioned to me that a lot of people think there is a huge barrier to entry to getting into augmented reality but it’s actually not as hard as you would think. What advice do you have for any girls reading your interview thinking this is something they might be interested in? What skills do they need to learn to make themselves valuable candidate for an entry level role in that field?
Answer: I would say if you’re interested, your first step should be to start attending AR/VR meetups in your city. There are Women in AR/VR meetups in most cities now. Those are great jumping off points to start meeting people and learning what the ecosystem is like in your city. New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles – they all have very different personalities when it comes to tech and when it comes to AR/VR as well. Just get in there, see what the emerging companies are, get a sense for who's hiring for what, network, and go from there.
In terms of skills, it really depends on the role you are looking for. There are so many opportunities for great marketers, great story tellers, and great salespeople. A lot of the skills that women and anyone already have are really applicable to the business and we need the talent. So, I wouldn't say that you need this certain magical skillset to get into space.
Have you ever felt pressured to hide your femininity in order to be successful?
Answer: I wouldn't say I have to hide my femininity, but I would say being a young woman in the space you have to be mindful about how you present yourself sometimes. I think often if you aren’t mindful it’s easy to be viewed as the young female marketer in the room. It kind of comes with this connotation and prevents you from being seen as an experienced executive.
Regarding being a women in tech in general, who inspires you the most in your career?
Answer: Definitely my parents. They have been incredibly supportive throughout my entire career. When I came to them and said I had this idea for a company as an undergraduate they were the first to say go for it. They have been supportive every step that way. When I came to them and said “hey, I found this cool startup in Paris, I think I’m going to stay here and work for them,” they said go for it. So they helped to inspire me and my career. My father actually works in the emerging tech space so it’s kind of fun trading notes with him over what trends he’s seeing in tech, and then I share my insights based on what I am seeing from the AR/VR side.
Next week sneak peek
Now you’ve met Lindsay and learned more about augmented and virtual reality. I hope you're enjoying learning from her as much as I have. Check back next Monday as we get next level. We’ll meet the Lindsay outside of work and get more details on her career growth and lessons learned!