Adtech startup Petaluma is building a remote culture in the metaverse | Panda Anku

Virtual reality headsets were originally the gear of serious video gamers. But at a Petaluma-based advertising technology company, the gadgets are for serious business—and serious team-building fun.

At a recent weekly gathering, a dozen Spaceback employees donned their company-issued VR goggles to meet in the metaverse to brainstorm and get updates. One setting looked like a virtual fly on the wall, similar to a typical corporate boardroom. Team member avatars were arranged around a conference table with a virtual flat screen for sharing document viewing.

But with a few setting changes, the immersive 3D computing venue transformed the meeting venue into a Mediterranean-style room with an open-air view of the cyber surf, and the team was now arranged like a seminar audience.

A sign that they were no longer in their home offices was that each of their avatars floated above the seats as a legless torso.

“This is extremely effective for combating Zoom fatigue,” said CEO and co-founder Casey Saran.

The ability to turn your head to focus on the person speaking without having to constantly see all of the participants’ faces — including your own face — helps solve two of four root causes of this group videoconferencing phenomenon, identified by Stanford University researchers in the first year of the pandemic. And the ability to do hand and face gestures and move around the virtual world helps solve the other two.

“My team would rather be an avatar in the metaverse than on camera, but being on camera is easier than getting into the metaverse,” Saran said.

That’s because in the four months that Spaceback has been exploring how to use the Metaverse for collaboration and collegiality, it has been a challenge to get everyone on staff putting on and using the Meta Quest 2 goggles and VR controller ( $400 package) and then log into meetings at Facebook’s parent company Meta’s Horizon Workrooms (free), Saran said. This has resulted in some employees having to log into meetings up to 10 minutes late as the engineering team helped them with the technical details – apps installed and updated, VR glasses charged, meeting number entered.

But when the technical challenges are solved, there’s a fun side to bringing the team together virtually from far-flung locations like California, Wisconsin, Texas, the East Coast, England and the Netherlands, e.g. B. when employees use the Metaverse for virtual miniature golf. That can be as short as nine holes in nine minutes.

“It’s a very effective tool for building a remote team culture, but not the most effective for remote collaboration,” Saran said, noting the time it takes to prepare for and get into the metaverse, and then “pop out.” ‘ needs to interact with the real world, like taking a call or replying to a text message. Sometimes the brainstorming can take place as team members “walk” between the virtual holes.

Not yet ready for every meeting

But for simple collaborations like tactical meetings, the Spaceback team currently finds it easier to get together in traditional Google Meetings video or audio conferencing to discuss project status updates in a common spreadsheet, Saran said. The team also uses Slack messaging software and Zoom video conferencing.

Founded in 2017, Spaceback helps businesses convert their social media posts into digital advertising outside of these platforms.

The startup is operating entirely remotely, having vacated its San Francisco offices early in the pandemic. Saran, a former digital ad executive at Admeld, Google, iSocket and Rubicon Project, had relocated to Petaluma prior to the pandemic, and co-founder Joe Hall, an ad executive also at iSocket and Rubicon, relocated to Texas shortly after the pandemic began. The other two employees lived in Seattle and Charleston, North Carolina at the time. The company will soon employ two dozen people, ranging in age from 21 to 60.

Spaceback flew all employees to Petaluma in January for an “offsite,” a strategy and camaraderie session outside of the office — if the company had one. They went together to an escape room and a tasting room. After introducing the Metaverse option, the team decided to do occasional full-scale offsites but do more Metaverse team building.

“I like to know that we’re a step ahead and that can be an advantage for our team when it comes to that,” Saran said. “I tell them, ‘The metaverse may suck or it may suck, but you can be part of the future.'”

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before joining Business Journal in 1999, he wrote for the Bay City News Service in San Francisco. You can reach him at or 707-521-4256.

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