Title: CEO of Futurus
Annie Eaton is the CEO of Atlanta-based future technologies company Futurus, where she creates immersive, engaging and interactive experiences in virtual reality, augmented reality and 360 capture. Annie earned her degree from The Georgia Institute of Technology in 2010. In 2014, she created XR Atlanta, which now boasts nearly 1,000 active members. She is involved with GeorgiaVR and serves on the board of the Technology Association of Georgia’s Digital Media and Entertainment society. In 2017, she was named the TAG Young Professionals’ Technologist of the Year. Annie has vast public speaking experience, having been invited as a speaker to engagements including General Assembly, Georgia State University, Hospitality Executive Exchange, Talk NYC, Federal Reserve, OrlandoiX, FutureX Live and Atlanta Tech Edge.
In your own words, describe the professional journey you took to get where you are today with your career.
I came into the virtual and augmented reality industry in a roundabout way. I have always welcomed technology in my life coming from a family of engineers. I even went to Georgia Tech (to get a liberal arts degree – yes, they have those there). My love of technology blended with a creative mindset brewed the perfect storm for my current line of work. When my business partner, Peter Stolmeier, introduced me to Oculus’s first developer kit (DK1) in 2013, I was hooked. But I saw more than just gaming – I saw a medium that was bound to be the future of marketing and training. We took the knowledge we had in our respective fields (digital media, design, marketing) and blended them together to create a company built on creativity but driven by technology – Futurus.
Tell us a bit about your day to day – and what you love most about what you do?
I start each day at my amazing office. I wanted to create a space that was open and collaborative with all of the tools and means to digitally and physically create anything we wanted, and that’s exactly what we did when we moved in last year. We have high powered custom workstations for our developers (that they build themselves) for the digital side of the business. We also have a workbench with tools, components, soldering equipment and soon-to-be 3D printer where we can make modifications or adaptations to existing physical hardware. Because of what we’re doing in an emerging industry, the road is still being paved. We sometimes have to approach things by trial and error when there isn’t documentation but that’s part of the excitement in our field.
What was the best piece of career advice you were given?
I recently read an article in Inc. where Oprah said when you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself “What’s the next right move?” I sometimes come to a point where I have so many things to do, I have difficulty prioritizing. As a business owner, I wear many hats and sometimes it’s challenging to choose one task over another. I start questioning my judgment and then things come to a halt. With this simple advice to pause and ask myself “What is the next right move?” it forces me to think short term. I can break down my tasks into smaller, manageable pieces and get back on track. Anyone who has ever accomplished something has gotten there by putting one foot in front of the other and asking myself this prompt helps me do just that.
What was the biggest challenge that you face with virtual reality and augmented reality?
Technology perception has been a challenge when we are working with clients who have preconceived ideas on what a virtual or augmented reality experience looks like. Many people have seen their kids using headsets or apps and think that the only use for VR and AR is in gaming. Because of this, the first thing we like to do with our customers is a VR/AR 101 session to get everyone on the same page and truly assess the potential of this technology for a specific industry. Whether it’s manufacturing, automotive, consumer packaged goods or hospitality, there are so many different ways these immersive mediums can help brands. Once we walk through that with our audience, the gears start turning and we have a great collaborative relationship.
Where do you see immersive and interactive experiences going in the next five years? Any predictions you’re able to make based on what you’ve seen?
Large companies like HTC, Microsoft, Samsung, Facebook, and Apple have made great advances in the past several years to produce high quality augmented and virtual reality devices. This is showing no signs of slowing down and I know over the next five years these devices will become smaller, more fashionable, more economical and accessible to the masses. My hope is that in five years we will have one solution that serves as both a virtual and augmented reality wearable. Companies will achieve this by producing a lens that can be transparent with a digital overlay, as well as opaque to surroundings to create the necessary environment for a virtual simulation. Once a company releases that, adoption will soar and these wearables will be as common as today’s smartphones.
How do you unplug at the end of the workday or workweek?
Over the past couple of years, my husband has introduced me to the world of board games. And I’m not talking about Monopoly or Life – I mean designer games like Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, Splendor, and Libertalia. These games have given me a way to have a social and interactive experience without looking at a screen. It serves as a time to be competitive, let out my energy and exercise a different part of my brain. This hobby has grown on me and I would recommend these types of games to anyone looking for a way to unplug.
In moments of uncertainty or doubt, how do you build yourself back up?
This is a difficult one. As a small business owner, I often times feel isolated and alone – like not many people around me understand the stress and work that goes into creating a successful business. At times, that can be overwhelming and the “what ifs” start to pile up. In those times, I turn to several people – fellow business owners – that can commiserate my woes and celebrate my triumphs. I have found amazing support in this through a program called Launchpad2X, an organization built to help women entrepreneurs succeed. Launchpad2X consists of a core program and monthly workshops, but it’s so much more than education and networking. It’s a fantastic community in which I can discuss my issues, have a sounding board, and realize I’m not alone in this. It’s like business owner’s therapy and it is monumental in bringing me back to life when I’m feeling overwhelmed.
What tools/apps do you use on a daily basis that you can’t live without?
I live by my Google Calendar. I keep to-do lists, appointments, and reminders and would be lost without it. I especially like that it will tell me when I need to leave to arrive at my next meeting on time. I have become a little obsessed with keeping my calendar and it’s rolled over into both the personal and professional aspects of my life. Growing up, we were often times late to things and perhaps that’s what fuels my obsession. The integration with the entire Google for Business Suite is great and I am so happy to have this tool in my daily life.
What’s your favorite thing about your workspace/office space?
Well, I picked it out and designed it, so everything! I love how collaborative the space is. We can all talk to each other in various co-working areas which is great for projects and planning. Our desks and chairs are all ergonomic and all of us utilize the motorized stand/sit features. Recently, we saw a stationary bicycle chair that I think we may add to keep fit while we work. The main goal is to have a friendly and creative space that also serves as functional. My employees and I spend so much time here that we have to love it and I certainly do!
Is there a woman (or women) past or present that you admire or look up to for inspiration and motivation?
There are many women in my life that I look up to – a couple of whom I will mention today. First and foremost my mother, Danice Eaton, who is one of the kindest people I know. She genuinely cares about people and taught me that if you are honest and truly kind, good things will happen. The second is Bernie Dixon, founder of Launchpad2X. She showed me how to be tough, yet fair in business and I would not have grown this quickly if it were not for her inspiration and the Launchpad2X program. She and Launchpad2X are proving that women entrepreneurs are a force to be reckoned with and I am proud to be one of her graduates.
If you were given 3 more hours per day – how would you use them?
I would love to rediscover some of my hobbies. I love my business and the path that I’ve chosen, but I have realized recently that I let some of my hobbies, like piano and dance, fall by the wayside. If I had more time, I’d like to get those back, and I’m sure that would be helpful to achieving a more even work-life balance.
What 3 pieces of advice would you offer to other female entrepreneurs?
- Speak up. It is important to make sure your voice is heard at the table. While it may be a little more difficult, speak up and prove that you are a valuable asset to the conversation (because you are).
- Be confident. Being confident sounds simpler than it is, but with practice, you can command the attention of anyone. Say things with certainty. Don’t trail off in your sentences. And most of all, believe in yourself.
- Finish what you start. If you want something, go out and get it. There will be times that things stand in your way and take those as learning experiences – not reasons to quit. Most success comes out of failure and perseverance will be your greatest asset.
There’s often the debate of whether or not a degree is needed in order to pursue a career in technology. What are your thoughts on this and how do you feel your degree has prepared you for being a CEO of a tech company.
This is a tricky one. I believe that for many jobs, a degree is necessary to get your foot in the door. In more technical fields, experience and portfolio are more important, however, so I can see many circumstances where a degree would not be required. Another benefit that a degree shows is dedication and commitment to completing a goal. This really must be assessed on a case by case basis, so, unfortunately, my answer is going to be “it depends.” Regardless of your chosen career path, start early on projects that you create to start building a portfolio or experience outside your degree. It will show a driven personality and give you some work to back up your resume.
Fun Fact: What Song Best Describes Annie’s Life?
“Unstoppable” by Sia
Want to learn more about Annie Eaton and her company Futurus? Follow at the links below!