The absurdist’s view of business data visualization: meeting BadVR (& how Oculus Quest and 5G will change business)

Suzanne Borders, CEO/founder of BadVR, says she’s an absurdist, that she looks at the world differently than most other people and that’s the philosophy that drives even the name of her company.

I dragged my camera down to meet her and her team in their offices in Marina Del Rey, near Los Angeles, to get a look at the business visualizations they are building for use in both Spatial Computing headsets, like Magic Leap, and VR, for HTC Vive, Oculus Quest or Rift, or others.

Right away you see why this startup is gathering accolades. It makes its own hardware so its customers can “dive through” massive amounts of data much easier than trying to see the same data in older tools like Microsoft Excel, or charts.

The kind of data businesses are generating now just requires new approaches. Think about dwell times in retail stores. That’s data that soon will be gathered by cameras and sensors in store shelves and in the ceiling (Amazon’s new Go stores do exactly that, for instance). But does seeing that data in a chart, or trying to find patterns in it by looking at grids of numbers make any sense?

Borders thinks no.

Instead, she’ll build something like a digital twin of the store and then overlay the data on the grocery aisles themselves, so that managers can walk around and “see” where customers actually hang out. This would help them redesign stores, or think about where customers actually hang out considering, say, what brand of cookies to buy.

This kind of 3D thinking has deep impacts on all sorts of business data and strategies. Factories and warehouses, today, often have thousands, of sensors and thousands of robots. How do you visualize data streaming off of those servers and robots?

BadVR has the answers.

She showed me a factory floor (we were walking around this factory floor while drinking tea in a San Francisco). I saw the way the factory floor looked in real life but then I saw numbers and user interface elements over each machine that you could walk up to and study, or, even, change.

This isn’t how I ran the businesses I was involved in, which usually was a spreadsheet or a view of a database.

“I can augment myself and ultimately give myself superpowers,” she says, while explaining how this new way of looking at business data will change how our work lives and careers will change.

In the interview we discuss the next few years and what she expects to see in devices, in wireless thanks to 5G, how she funded her company, and why she got into VR itself.

Back to the absurdist claim. She told me about some trouble her name has gotten her into with investors and the status quo. Customers, she says, love it, and so do many others, particularly people walking by her booth at conferences, but some investors have said BadVR brings up troubling questions for them and they recommend changing it to something more “enterprise appropriate.”

“You have to have a sense of humor,” she says. “Enterprises are made of people. A lot of the tools designed for the enterprise are intentionally bland and boring.” She continues that a lot of people in the enterprise space think that anything with a sense of character or personality won’t be taken seriously. “I don’t believe that.”

“Enterprises are made of people.”

“I believe people are hungry for a tool that is both powerful, and useful, and fun and engaging to work with,” she says.

I agree.

I used to work at enterprises, whether Microsoft or Rackspace, and it’s time to leave that belief, and the tools that it brought businesses, behind.

I’m all for the absurdist future that Borders is fighting for. I love the name, and her set of business visualization tools does give workers superpowers, and it’s one of the reasons I drove to Los Angeles because I wanted to hear the story and meet the team she has gathered BECAUSE she sees the world differently than any entrepreneur I’ve ever met.