70.1 F
Los Angeles
Friday, May 27, 2022


When did you arrive in the United States and why did you come?

I started my first company, Countingdown.com, in 1998, and while I was in Australia, my co-founder was in California, so I went back and forth quite a bit. I moved to the United States full time in 2001 after we were acquired by DreamWorks. Later, I started an incubator in the United States, which funded a range of startups, including 8i. The company was officially started in Wellington, New Zealand, where my co-founder, who came from Weta Digital, is based. In 2015, I returned to open 8i’s first studio in Los Angeles.

Title: Chief executive, co-founder

Company: 8i, Culver City


At the time, did you intend to eventually return to your home country?

From the start, we planned to build 8i across both New Zealand and the United States. If you look at the world of ecology, the greatest amount of diversity in a forest is on the edges. So we’re grazing for innovation in New Zealand, which is on the edge of the world, and bringing it back to the mainstream in L.A.

Why did you move your business to the United States?

We believe virtual reality and augmented reality are truly the next leap forward in media and storytelling, and there’s really no place that brings you closer to the talent and creators using 8i’s technology to bring photorealistic human holograms into this new medium.

What’s the hardest thing about starting a business here?

New Zealand is 19 hours ahead. There’s also the expected communication challenges of having a distributed team. Ironically, that’s the problem our tech will eventually help solve by enabling presence.

And the easiest?

In Wellington, we have access to some of the best technology and computer vision talent in the world. Being in Los Angeles gives us a tremendous advantage as we’ve already been able to bring on great leaders in the industry like Steve Raymond, formerly co-founder and CEO of Big Frame, and a team of experienced production talent. It’s also easier to raise capital in California than in New Zealand.

What have been the biggest surprises?

In New Zealand, it’s such a small market so everyone has to generalize to survive. Startups have to do everything in order to scale. In the United States, the market is much bigger, so the more you specialize the greater the opportunity to grab market share.

Would you tell someone from your home country to start a business here or there?

I’d advise them to start where they have a solid foundation. We started in New Zealand because of the talent coming from places like Weta, and it’s where we had solid relationships with investors.

Do you go back often?

I’d like to go more often but I’m focused on building our business in the United States.

What did you know about the United States before coming here?

When I was younger, I imagined it to be like New York, a bustling city with skyscrapers. But when I arrived in Los Angeles, its downtown area was practically a ghost town.

What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you as a foreign-born entrepreneur?

You end up bonding with other foreign-born entrepreneurs with conversations containing sequences of letters like H1-B, OS, and E-2.

– Omar Shamout

Featured Articles

Related Articles