“When you think about music or sounds, it’s hard to think of it in 3-D. But now with virtual reality (VR), you can represent and place it wherever you want.”
Visualizing music is what Taiwan startup LyraVR is set on doing.
The new virtual reality program is more than a game that offers a new immersive way to experience music; it’s an innovative tool for creating music. Think of it as a VR version of GarageBand with a massive upgrade in visuals and sound quality.
After being selected as one of the companies in the first batch of the HTC Vive X Accelerator program in 2016, LyraVR is one of the 12 startups showcasing in TechCrunch Disrupt NY this year.
The News Lens spoke with Dilun Ho, co-founder and CEO of LyraVR, and Leo Chen, in charge of marketing and partnership, to learn more about the virtual reality program.
TNL: The News Lens: What inspired you to start LyraVR?
Dilun Ho: I’m a little late in the game with this kind of stuff (startups). This is officially my first startup. Earlier on, I had all these opportunities to partner and do startups but they never followed through. I always ended up going back to working in corporates, doing web development and web design. After working in the field for over 15 years, I have pretty much seen how the internet evolved and I have worked with a lot of internet technologies. Now I see virtual reality as the same thing but I think it’s going to be even bigger. That’s why I dropped everything and jumped on to focus on doing this.
I have always wanted to make video games as well. Early on, it was really difficult; you had to have a whole team, time and investment to build a game. Now, it has built up to this moment for me to be able to do all this.
I also play the guitar and was playing a lot in bands before. I even tried to sell music. But then I decided I didn’t want to do it as a professional job because I would hate what I love to do. I have seen friends go to do a show and then end up having to pay to do the show. Seeing this opportunity, I thought we could do something with music and virtual reality because it’s a really perfect combination of mediums.
VR is something I have been following for a very long time, and when I found out there was this hackathon event that had development kits of the early Oculus Rift, I thought I had to go because I have never built a whole game myself. I was paired up with a team that happened to be focused on VR, and we were the first Taiwan team to build a VR demo for this kind of event. This was in January 2015.
That’s how it all started. We started prototyping LyraVR in late 2015.
TNL: So the idea hatched in 2015. How far have you come?
Ho: We currently have a beta version so it has evolved a lot. Originally it was a hackathon game app with a lot bugs; now it’s a fully-fleshed program you can use to compose and create music, and interact with music and sounds.
TNL: Do you have an official launch date set?
Ho: We’re gearing toward the end of this year. The beta version has already been released (currently 200 users are testing it out), but we want to work closely with users to focus on what needs to be implemented or polished. Currently, a lot of VR games and apps are on a short production cycle because if you try to work on it for more than a year the hardware is going to change. That’s one of the biggest challenges. You have to have a really short development cycle to be able to survive.
Leo Chen: It has actually been a little frustrating because the feedback we have been getting from those testing out the beta version has been positive. There hasn’t been much negative criticism so far.
Ho: We’re waiting for someone really critical. We were a little later than we wished in releasing the beta version, so that’s why it was more polished than it should have been. But that’s fine. We want to target prosumers and anyone interested in music. The idea is to make it accessible for people to play or create music through virtual reality.
TNL: Why did you decide to launch LyraVR in Taiwan?
Ho: Taiwan’s our home. That’s the first thing. We see a lot of cultures here that we feed off of, and music in Taiwan is pretty big. It’s a really good place for us to start, especially because virtual reality here is really picking up.
What’s interesting is most computer components are designed and made in Taiwan, and they depend on VR. So it’s a huge advantage for us to be here. If we were in the U.S., it would be so hard because VR is also getting really big there. We wouldn’t be as noticeable compared to being in Taiwan.
TNL: What markets are you targeting?
Ho: Our initial market approach is doing the B2B. We’re working with some artists and events but our consumer version is going to target the U.S. because that’s the biggest market. We’re using Taiwan as a development base and to work with the local major artists and events, which is currently in process.
The product can pivot in so many ways, and we are still trying to nail down what will work. But we’re sticking to our original goal of allowing people to easily create and experience music in a whole new way.
TNL: How are you currently funding LyraVR?
Ho: We received a small ammount of seed money from the HTC accelerator, so we’re working with very limited resources. That’s why we need to work on B2B projects to promote our brand and work on new features at the same time.
TNL: Do you have any competitors or potential competitors?
Ho: I would say so, but they aren’t direct. There are other programs that are using VR to create music but they’re not as innovative as we are.
Chen: They are in the same space but not with the same idea.
Ho: Our next step is to add a multiplayer feature, which is really going to change it. Anything with a social aspect enhances it, especially if you’re playing with music.
TNL: What are your expectations for TechCrunch Disrupt NY?
Ho: One of the goals is to find the right partner to work with. We are not looking for money because we are on track to do what we want to do, it’s just if we receive funding, it will be done at a faster scale.
TNL: I’m sure you’re familiar with the startup scene in Taiwan and the U.S. What differences do you see?
Ho: I think the biggest gap is investment; there are more investment opportunities and more resources in the States. But I see the Taiwan government really pushing it right now, so it’s a good sign.
Chen: It’s a bigger culture over in the U.S. to cultivate startups. In Taiwan, it’s just starting and they’re starting to grow it.
TNL: What do you think the Taiwan government can do more?
Chen: It can make it clear about what resources it offers. Right now it’s kind of cluttered and hard to find out. If it were more transparent, it would make it easier for people who are interested to know that the resources exist.
Ho: It would also be easier if the streamline of work was simpler. Currently the paperwork takes a lot of time, especially because it has to be done fully in Chinese, which is a challenge for us. If the government wants to cultivate and expand Taiwan startups and to attract talent, I think it needs to build an English application process.