As much as we may sometimes think of ourselves and those around us as finished or complete products, there’s still much more to learn, and training on the job is one of the most important functions of any company as it seeks to maintain and improve upon the skills of its team.
I had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Alex Young, a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon and the founder of Virti, a company using things like artificial intelligence and augmented reality to improve and measure training. Given that AR and VR represent our brave new world, it was fascinating to get his insights into how training can be implemented and improved without any of us leaving our desks.
Mary Juetten: What’s the name of your company and where are you based?
Dr. Alex Young: My company is called Virti. We’re based out of Bristol, but we also have offices in Texas and California. We started in Bristol as it’s a fantastic city and an exciting tech hub in the UK. We’ve been met with success in the States, so it’s a huge privilege to be in a position to have satellite offices in the U.S. just a few years into our startup journey.
Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Young: Even before the pandemic, organisations were struggling to find engaging and scalable ways to upskill their workforce and look after employee wellbeing. In-person training is expensive and time-consuming, and teaching methods such as lecturing and reading fail to have a significant impact on human performance in the long-term. So Virti exists to help organisations get the very best out of their teams, by improving how people train, learn, and perform.
We offer an end-to-end, VR/AR-based immersive learning platform, which elevates human performance by making experiential training affordable and accessible. It has also been a godsend for many organisations during the pandemic, as our simulations can be accessed from anywhere at a safe social distance using desktop and mobile devices or VR headsets.
Not only do we deliver the tools to facilitate learning, but we also generate rich data to help organisations understand their team’s performance, so leaders can work out precisely where people need to improve. We use AI to turn subjective information – such as self-expression or tone of voice – into measurable data and actionable feedback, which helps to drive development and success. Our technology has been proven to help learners acquire knowledge faster and retain it for longer than other tools.
Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Young: Our customer base is broad, as our team of experts can build simulations to train people in almost any skill, subject matter, or experience. Our customer is any organisation that wants to optimise their workforce’s performance using science-backed immersive technology and in-depth performance data.
At the moment we’re doing lots of work with hospitals, medical institutions, and medical device manufacturers, as our technology is particularly helpful when it comes to recreating hard-to-access environments where hands-on training opportunities are limited (for example surgery, COVID training, emergency care training, or patient communication/soft skills training). We’re also working with higher education institutions to deliver teaching where practical sessions have been put on hold due to the pandemic. Elsewhere, we’re working with big corporations on things like mindfulness, mental health and leadership training, as well as institutions such as the military and the police.
Juetten: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Young: My journey to launching Virti started as a medical student when I noticed the short-comings in the way teaching and learning took place. So much of how we learned at medical school involved lectures and textbooks, when medicine should be all about hands-on, practical learning. Especially when it comes to preparing for infrequent emergency scenarios involving high stakes and high pressure.
A lot of our learning experiences were also based on luck or chance. Some of the people in my year went on rotation with amazing registrars who worked hard to develop their skills and knowledge. Others were less fortunate and were given less time and attention. As a result we came out with varying levels of confidence and expertise, despite studying the same course. I knew then that I wanted to develop a tool that could help to level the playing field and optimise learning.
I wanted to build a scalable training platform that could be accessed on demand, was fun to use and that could turn subjective information into objective data for comparison, to improve human performance and reduce error.
Juetten: Who is on your team?
Young: Our team is made up of talented individuals and experts from around the globe, who all work together to achieve a common goal: optimising human performance and making learning accessible and scalable using the best technologies on the market. We’re all passionate about the power of learning and education, from the way we run meetings to the ways we celebrate success and have fun we have built an organisation that reflects a range of personalities and cultures. As Virti grows, I am looking forward to seeing how we evolve to reflect all the new people who join us. The range of passions and interests that people have is always fascinating.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Young: We secured a $2m seed round in April 2019 and just secures a $10 million Series A round.
Startups are an adventure — what’s your favorite startup story?
Young: I love what Michael Acton-Smith and Alex Tew have built at Calm. The founding team has a history of overcoming challenges, and showed resilience and determination to keep going and build a company that helps a huge number of people globally and has scaled rapidly. Their marketing is predominantly business to consumer (B2C) and is simple, creative and effective, with the product doing the majority of the work to show value to users.
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Young: I think the most important metric people should track is self-development: learning and pushing yourself to do challenging things on a daily basis. If you feel excited, fulfilled and are equally happy at work and at home I think that is success.
I’m always humbled by the guests we have on the Virti Human Performance Podcast, with my favourite success stories coming from anyone that has overcome adversity or pushed themselves to the limit. A great example of this is NASA Hall of Fame Astronaut Scott Parazynski who was a guest on season 2. Scott trained as a physician and logged over 1,019 hours (8 weeks) in space including an emergency space walk to make essential repairs to a shuttle during his last mission. He then went on to set first boot prints in the Masaya Volcano’s lava lake in Nicaragua – all of which required a huge amount of training and dedication.
Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders or CEOs in growth mode?
Young: My main piece of advice would be to ensure that you don’t sacrifice company culture for fast growth. You need to try to build a strong ethos and work ethic in your team, even whilst scaling quickly and making lots of new hires (perhaps in different international markets). This can be a challenge, but I’ve found the best way to tackle it is to build scalable, reliable onboarding pathways which transcend markets and support new hires to build a deep understanding of your company values. You should also codify company knowledge and best practice in such a way that makes it easy for everyone in the business to communicate and access.
Another important action is to ensure employees at every level understand their worth and feel accountable for progress. Everyone must know how their role furthers the company goals and helps to solve the problems faced by customers. This will help create a strong work ethic and will motivate your team to drive success, wherever they are in the world.
Juetten: What’s the long-term vision for your company?
Young: The long-term vision is to be the world-leading developer and distributor of digital training technologies, and to make these world-class learning tools accessible to everyone on the planet. We believe that education is a basic human right, so our goal is to drive learning and success in every type of organisation and institution – from schools and universities, through to corporates and the public sector – around the globe. We’ve already worked with medics in Ethiopia to develop their practical skills using our technology. In future we’d like to work on many more projects which involve training and upskilling teams and individuals in less developed parts of the world.
We also want to be recognised for our deep technical capabilities. The insights we can derive from our data are of huge value to the organisations we work with. Data makes all the difference when it comes to developing, optimising and investing in your human capital. Going forward, we’ll be ensuring data remains at the forefront.
Thanks to Alex for taking the time to share his experience and insight. During such trying times, sharing knowledge and training is critical for the obvious reasons but also can give people a renewed sense of purpose. More effective training should serve as a benefit to any business, and to the world at large. #onwards.