The responsible development of XR technology requires a diverse community of voices to help build it. To celebrate the limitless number of perspectives in the XR industry, the XR Association (XRA) sat down with Dmitry Kornilov, CEO and Co-Founder of FFFACE.me. Kornilov, a Ukrainian tech entrepreneur, currently resides in London as the Russian-Ukrainian war affects his home country.
Below is an excerpt of the interview with Kornilov, which has been edited slightly for brevity and clarity.
1. What’s your XR story? How did you get started with FFFACE?
I was originally involved in the sciences. I graduated in organic chemistry, but switched to marketing later on where I worked for 10 years [before starting FFFACE.me] So, my XR story started accidentally. I was invited to create an AR art app for a Ukrainian tech organization. Before that, I had never worked with XR so I knew I needed to learn the basics. I took an AR course on Coursera, and it was there where I saw a slide forecasting the XR industry would grow ten times larger from 2019 to 2022.
I thought it could be a great opportunity for a business and decided to learn more about different platforms in AR. I found that Instagram was launching its own platform aimed at creating filters and AR experiences. As a member of that community, I met [my co-founder] Yegor, who was already making filters.
Sometime later, we reconnected at an AR event in Kyiv and we decided to form a studio to create filters for brands together. That is how [FFFACE.me] started, by accident after investigating the XR industry.
2. What is FFFACE? How have you seen it grow since you started?
FFFACE.me creates AR filters, digital clothes, virtual influencers and metaverse projects for world-renowned brands. During the last three years with my co-founder, Yegor Kumachov, we’ve grown from a local indie studio to an international award-winning agency with offices in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and France.
In the beginning, our studio was just two guys sitting in the kitchen and eating burgers. Two months before I started FFFACE.me with Yegor, I didn’t think I had the entrepreneurial mindset, and couldn’t imagine having my own business. We hosted an event on an educational hub [when we were first starting out] and invited about 500 potential clients – only about 100 came. We didn’t try to sell our product but led a tutorial teaching attendees how to make a basic Instagram filter. After this event, we received contracts with Pepsi, Visa, Porsche and other top brands.
As we started to work with these cool brands, we added them to our portfolio and announced them on social media, which attracted other clients. From there it started to grow.
3. What kind of hurdles, if any, did you have to overcome to be here now?
For me, the main challenge was believing that I could build an international business. When you’re a young and inexperienced entrepreneur from Ukraine, it’s hard to launch a worldwide business. There are various reasons but one of them is that Ukraine is a great country, but is still developing in terms of its business ecosystem. There’s a gap between local and international markets.
When you’re in the U.S., for example, it’s easier to enter a market because of the number of networking opportunities and organizations that can support you. When you’re far away from your target markets, it’s harder.
Nevertheless, I started to build slowly. I connected with brands around the world with the help of LinkedIn, and networked at international conferences, and I entered the Ukrainian Business Leaders Program, which connected Ukrainian entrepreneurs with U.S. businesses. At some point, these small steps started to turn into big results.
My advice would be to overcome hard moments with small steps. You don’t have to change the situation with one action, but you can try and look for ways to overcome it. At some point, you will find the way and you will just forget that it was a limitation.
4. How has the industry, in general, changed since you started?
I would say that the industry has evolved a lot. AR filters have become more mainstream, and are now one of the main features on all three major social media platforms.
If we want to talk about changes on a higher level, I would say that three years ago, classic XR activity usually focused on basic AR. Nowadays, XR can include cross-platform experiences with AR and VR, it could be online and offline, and also cover multiple use cases, from marketing to shopping and education.
For example, Amazon added shoes to try on within their fashion app. It works great, it helps people, it decreases the level of returns and, therefore, it increases the level of sales. [The industry] has evolved and will continue to even more within the next five years.
5. So you’ve talked about how the industry has changed since you’ve been in it. What is some advice you’d give to a younger person starting out now?
I would give four [pieces of] advice. First, always try to find things that you actually enjoy doing, and integrate them into your job. This way, you will have fun, perform better and earn more money.
Second, don’t be afraid to switch between industries. We’re constantly in the process of understanding ourselves. You can be a designer, then a manager, and still say, I’m interested in psychology so that is what I’m going to do next.
Also, don’t focus on mistakes. We live in a fast-paced world today, but something good today is better than something perfect tomorrow.
And finally, I think that it’s essential to have long-term goals and dream big. But apart from that, it is also important to deconstruct these big goals into small tasks. What I offer is: divide this big goal into small tasks, and celebrate each of them. This way, you will be able to keep rising to something big, but still celebrate and receive these instant wins.
6. Are there any lessons we need to be aware of from immersive technology now as we build new technologies?
I believe that we need to remember our nature, our human side. Playing virtually is this weird shell game, it’s really easy to lose your personality and lose the understanding of some basic rules for human interaction.
One of the hardest lessons that humanity has received over the past 10 years regarding technology follows digital dopamine dependence. That is based on a study by Dr. Lembke, who investigated the behavior of people from different countries. In a meeting or on a date, you see someone who takes out their phone and swipes. That’s already a physiological need, unfortunately.
So what we need to do, apart from understanding how this technology works, is focus on how this technology affects our physiology and psychology. Not just on a basic level, but on a deeper level. Because [reckless management] can initiate major changes in each individual and society in general. And we need to be careful with this. What is working in virtual life sometimes is in conflict with our physical life.
7. What does the XR industry need? Are there things to be applauded so far? Things that have worked?
Right now, XR technology has been developing kind of on its own, in a natural way. I think we need a structural approach to get more out of this technology. We use mainstream technologies like financial tech and mobile tech every day without even thinking about them. So I believe that similar to these technologies, XR should be recognized by governments, educational institutions, and other non-business structures. And if this happens, we will be able to systematically integrate best practices in our everyday life, and create a structured and accessible educational system for a new generation of developers.
8. At XRA we like to say that the XR industry has a limitless future. What does that mean to you?
For me, it means that XR’s world is as limitless as our physical world. By inventing new technologies, we will uncover new layers of digital life. I believe that our virtual world will have the same depth as the physical world.
We understand and enjoy how AR works right now. We try to play in VR spaces and the metaverse. But we still have a long way to explore how digital interactions can bring physical reactions.
In the physical world, we still have some limitations. For example, the physical body. And we can really change it in a virtual reality world, we can play with it. I believe that a limitless future is about uncovering new features and opportunities.