Recently, Storm5 had the incredible opportunity to chat with Stefanie Smith, Interim CMO and Vice President of Marketing at MetaVRse. Founded in 2015, MetaVRse is a code-optional platform that makes it easy to create & share interactive 3D experiences instantly on the web. Since 2016, MetaVRse has created over 125 Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality (XR) projects for some of the world’s top brands.
Stefanie previously worked for Ikea for 26 years, where she had a long and successful career. We spoke with her to learn more about her retail experience, as well as why she chose to transition to the immersive technology space and how she did so.
Tell Us About Yourself And Your Work At Ikea?
When I first joined Ikea, I started off as a Supply Chain Planner. It was a huge company with a very flat structure, and you could talk to anyone. It was a beautiful job to start with because you got to see how global trade works.
Since I’m always interested in consumers and how people live, work, and shop, I had a strong interest in the product beyond forecasting numbers from my supply chain experience. As a result, the Head of Sales pulled me into the sales side on a corporate level. I had some quantitative skills and was in charge of the Category Manager role.
After planning several stores, I relocated to San Francisco to open the first San Francisco store as one of the floor managers. From there, I returned to the Philadelphia office to resume my previous role as a Regional Manager for Category, primarily working with stores on the sales side.
After that, the Regional Marketing Manager, who later became my CMO, drew me into the Marketing team, where I spent the next ten years. You were a member of the Marketing Management team, but since the states are huge, it is impossible to represent all of the different regions as they can be so different. There would be one common campaign, but we could do independent activations and things with stores at the regional level. That was perfect training for what I’m doing now, and it really set me up for startup life.
What Made You Transition From Your Retail Background At Ikea, To The Tech Industry?
Simply put, I felt like I wanted to build something again.
Leading On From That, How Exactly Did You Make The Switch?
One of the best things about Ikea is their co-worker base; they are curious, funny, smart, flexible, and open – so I didn’t have a great external network. Neither globally nor online.
I started talking to people on the internet, and this is my advice to everyone. I started mainly on LinkedIn, but I quickly learned how to use each channel.
I knew I wanted to work in a startup, but I wasn’t sure which industry or category I wanted to work in. I started going on Twitter for startup advice, as well as following, commenting, and posting on LinkedIn, while still staying a bit in the retail space.
I came across a metaverse post by Cathy Hackl and made a comment that sparked a conversation among those who followed her. These are people who have been involved in Web3 and the Metaverse, and they are really aligned with their vision for the world. They are looking at things decentralised, the creator economy, its independence, and its agency, and it is everything I was looking for. I want to build better commerce, and this group of people wanted to do the same by fostering community and culture.
I ended up in a lot of the social spaces where my now boss, Paul Konieczny, co-founder and CEO of MetaVRse, was because I was using the socials for watching and learning. He contacted me and said, “Hey, let’s talk.” We talked for about 6 weeks, exchanged articles, and I sat in on some client calls to get a sense of what they are doing.
Did You Need A Technical Background?
With my retail experience and generalist marketing background, we decided MetaVRse was a good fit for me. For more seasoned professionals like myself, the technology is incredible, but the process by which we create experiences is the same as it is for retail, brands, or any other piece of collateral or asset.
There will always be fundamental principles, such as who is your customer, what are your goals, how do you gauge success, and who are the stakeholders. Even though the output is quite different, the thought and planning processes are not. There are countless transferable skills.
Transitioning to the startup world from an established business, I had 26 years of experience, being involved in running a big, global business. I realised I had a lot of organisational experience that many startups can lack. For example, I was a member of Ikea’s first internal governing body, which brought together all of the functions, including Supply Chain and Logistics, Sales, Marketing, and Design where I created a whole process, ran that council, and formed a whole system and documentation. You can contribute to the development of processes and foundational elements which are not super sexy, but they help the company scale.
You have to be willing to learn your product and be a quick learner, flexible, willing to do things you haven’t done before, and ready to do things on the fly rather than following massive strategies. It’s a mindset that you can choose to have or not have.
What Do You Do In Your Current Role At MetaVRse As Interim CMO / VP Of Marketing?
Currently, I am the only marketing hire. When I first started, we just moved the business with earned media and owned media. I manage the LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, as well as the newsletters, to begin building a base of followers and content. I was also hired to provide sales and pitch support. Pitches were written with engineers in mind, but we changed our focus from features to benefits.
We are now launching a virtual mall, but it is primarily a commerce and entertainment space. We sell virtual real estate and have an auction coming up in May, so I’m concentrating on the B2B side and appealing to brands.
On the B2C side, I’m collaborating with creative and digital agencies to develop our consumer campaign.
So, in essence, I go through all of the marketing functions, which is where my generalist marketing background comes in handy once more.
In Moving Into This Space, Did You Have Someone Who Was An Inspirational Figure Or Was It The Type Of Tech (XR) That Piqued Your Interest?
For me, it was the overarching mission of how they intend to use technology for the betterment of society. There are people in this space who are committed to having interoperability and open access to anyone, which is hard to do, but that is what drew me in.
What Advice Would You Give Someone Transitioning Into The Extended Reality And RetailTech Scene?
To start, the easiest thing you can do is set up Google alerts. Find the words you’re looking for and set up alerts for them. This will provide you with reading and posting material. Live on the internet, attend webinars, comment on people’s feeds, and if you find people who impress you, reach out to them and ask if you can talk to them. Take it all in.
Apply for jobs, but also network with people that look like they’re building something.
You have to be bold. You need to reach out to people, envision your transferrable skills, have an elevator pitch, a point of view, and you need to put yourself out there.
How Would You Encourage Women That Want To Pursue Senior Leadership Roles?
You have to have a strong point of view. Come in strong. You need a commanding presence, both physically and verbally.
“Know your worth, determine your own value and don’t say sorry.”
Show up with an executive presence. Your posture, what you’re wearing, how you speak. Do all of that for yourself and people will feel the energy. It might feel uncomfortable but be purposeful in getting out of that stereotype.
The problem is that there is built-in, unconscious bias, but you have to disrupt that which you can do by being yourself. It’s hard and it can take work, but you can do it.
To You, What Does Working In An Immersive Technology Space As A Woman Mean?
It means I have a chance to both understand the future for my children and also change it.
I’m a member of an organisation called XR Women, which is chaired by Julie Smithson, our co-founder at MetaVRse. These women are working on incredible projects that are changing the world, such as:
- Lady Pheønix – “She who plants a garden, plants hope.” In solidarity with Breonna Taylor’s family, Lady Pheønix developed Breonna’s Garden, an Augmented Reality experience for veneration. It’s a sacred space and a protest.
- Sarah Porter – As the Director of Business Development & Strategic Partnerships at Hope for Haiti, Porter wanted to raise awareness for Haiti, so she collaborated with Max Noir to create a Unity-based Hope for Haiti VR world that serves as a social VR platform.
- Afrocyborg VR Collective – A group of four multi-cultural women filmmakers from South Africa, and Botswana, who make VR films that explore a democratized and decolonised African Female Gaze, about the technopolitical tools of VR that enable self-representation of women in African Science Fiction.
A lot of the women in this group are changing how people think by immersing them in the mediums.
What are your predictions for the XR/RetailTech/Metaverse space over the next six months or so?
It is constantly changing. Nobody knows for sure.
From a marketing and communications standpoint, I believe that organisations will begin producing 3D assets in-house in less than ten years. There is a parallel between when organisations wanted something and outsourced it to agencies, such as having their website built, which can be costly and time-consuming, and then everyone eventually brought it (website and e-commerce) in-house. I believe that will happen with 3D asset creation, regardless of the technology used.
I also think that younger people have already entered the metaverse through gaming. At this point, that is their direct experience and point of reference. They are building things and don’t expect to be talked to, but they want someone to have a conversation with them, and the immersive space allows that through communities.
If you’re ready to take the next step in your career and transition to RetailTech, or if you’re looking to find experienced and skilled professionals for your RetailTech, get in touch! As Stefanie mentioned, networking is essential for getting your foot in the door, so feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.