FACES OF WEB3: Simone Clow, Zebrar

FACES OF WEB3: Simone Clow, Zebrar
April 30, 2024

For Simone Clow, co-founder and CEO of creative tech studio Zebrar, the prospect of her upcoming 50th birthday set the wheels in motion for an exciting career move into metaverse marketing.

Hi Simone! How did you get started in the Web3 space?

At age 48, after a long and rewarding production career in New York, London and Sydney, I was managing a VFX studio in Sydney. I loved the team I’d built and the job, working on VFX shots for feature films including The Great Gatsby and Hacksaw Ridge.

In the back of my mind that number 50 was haunting me — because in Australia, production is a young person’s game. One day, during a management meeting, I made a split-second decision to just leave. I went to Italy and Greece for a month, with no plan. An old colleague messaged on LinkedIn, asking if I’d be up for producing experiential content for motor shows. And suddenly I found myself travelling the world to motor shows and working alongside a VR team.

Truthfully, I wasn’t really interested in this new technology — it felt like it was for young gamers — but one day I agreed to try it. And it was transformative. I’d spent my entire career building CG worlds for 2D screens. With VR I was able to be immersed in those CG worlds and interact with the content. I could see so many use cases for it from immersive brand activations, hard skills training and soft skills training.

And is that how Zebrar came to be?

That VR team was made up of three exceptionally talented men at least a decade younger than me. They were determined to build a business, but unlike so many entrepreneurs who think they can build a business on talent alone, they realised what they did not know was the business of business. That’s where I came in.

We started Virtual Immersive (later rebranded to Zebrar) with a bang, building world-first augmented reality technology for World Square shopping centre’s Lunar New Year activation. It went on to win several awards and is still today a great example of best-in-class AR.

From there we moved global, building immersive interactive experiences for Salesforce, IBM, Visa, Meta,  and other brands, as well as continuing our local work with Westfield, Cadbury, CUB, Accenture and others, including an interactive, personalised  experience for LG at the Vivid Festival of Light in 2023 #MoodUPbyLG., and a world first interactive stage show, The Metaverse of Magic, currently traveling internationally. 

The definition of ‘Web3’ is quite broad – how do you define the term?

My answer will be metaverse-specific based on the widely accepted understanding that Web3 is the next, decentralised version of the internet that leverages blockchain technology, aiming to provide a more secure, transparent, and user-centric online experience. ​As a founding member of the Australian Metaverse Advisory Council, we define metaverse as “a network of immersive experiences that merge digital and physical realities; enabled by technologies such as virtual and augmented reality and AI.” It represents the next generation of the internet, offering new avenues for social connection, entertainment, economic, collaborative and creative activity. ​

What do you determine to be the biggest societal opportunities that Web3 brings?

I am not a fan of the concept of the metaverse as ‘the next evolution in social connection’ unless there is value and purpose. For example, to people who are geographically isolated; those who are housebound due to injury, disability or other reason; people who are living in towns or communities where they are marginalised. The metaverse can unite companies who have workers geographically dispersed, bring people together to share cultural stories, and provide socialisation opportunities for our aging population who are immobile. There are many use cases here, including the obvious – games.

While there is certainly an element of social connection to the Metaverse, my interest is the value and purpose it provides. I do not want my 21-year-old son spending his days in a virtual world. But for my 86-year-old father with mobility issues, he can use VR to explore destinations he will never see in real life.

And what do you see as the biggest challenge that the Web3 community faces?

I see 4 key challenges:

  1. Technical scalability and user experience: One of the biggest challenges is the technical scalability of blockchain technologies, which underpin the Web3 infrastructure. As these platforms aim to support more complex applications and a growing user base, they must overcome issues related to transaction speeds, data storage, and energy efficiency. For Web3 to reach mainstream adoption, it must offer a user experience that is as seamless and intuitive as the centralised services it seeks to replace and ensuring that users can navigate the ecosystem without requiring technical expertise.
  2. Interoperability: Achieving interoperability is critical for creating a cohesive ecosystem where users can easily interact across different platforms and applications. That is, the ability to travel across different virtual spaces with a consistent identity or set of assets. This means your avatar, digital possessions, history, purchases, achievements, etc., are recognised across multiple virtual worlds. 
  3. Security and privacy: As with any technological innovation, security and privacy are paramount. The decentralised nature of Web3 presents unique security challenges, particularly in smart contract vulnerabilities and the potential for systemic risks across interconnected platforms. Ensuring the privacy of users in a transparent and immutable system also raises complex questions. Balancing transparency with privacy requires innovative solutions that protect user data while maintaining the integrity of the blockchain.
  4. Regulation and adoption: Lastly, the regulatory landscape presents a considerable challenge. Governments and regulatory bodies are grappling with how to oversee a technology that inherently resists centralised control. Finding a balance between protecting consumers and fostering innovation is crucial. 

What are some career highlights of your Web3 journey so far?

There are so many! One of our first ever projects was a world first AR activation, which won many awards. Watching thousands of people engaging with our two interactive activations at the global Salesforce conference, Dreamforce, in San Francisco in 2019 was also so rewarding. As was collaborating with global consulting firm, Accenture, on technical innovations that we are uniquely qualified for.

Other highlights include working with Jones Theatrical Group on the interactive technology and building the gameplay and digital tech layer of this interactive live magic show; speaking at two events at SXSW Sydney in 2023, and being a founding member of the Australian Metaverse Advisory Council. I also thoroughly enjoy being a mentor to young women in tech.

What’s coming up next for you and the team at Zebrar?

2024 is huge. We have already delivered the Cadbury AR portal activation that celebrates the largest chocolate holiday on the calendar – Easter. We have created some world first AR wayfinding technology that we are looking to patent. Most importantly we have developed partnerships that will expand our immersive storytelling globally.

What inspires you to stay professionally motivated?

Every day is a new adventure. I am lucky to work with three co-founders who I genuinely like and respect – after seven years we are all still on the same page, while each staying in our own lane. I consider our staff like family, so it’s a joy to turn up each day. I am part of several networking groups as well as being part of a female community called ‘Powerful Steps’ where I am held to account and supported to keep growing as a leader and an entrepreneur. I love what I do. My passion for the technology we’re creating runs deep, driven by a commitment to ensure its responsible development and deployment.

When you’re not working, where will be most likely find you?

Now that I am an empty nester, I am enjoying my freedom! I travel often – so you will likely find me adventuring around the world (or visiting my daughter in Melbourne). Closer to home I am an avid boxer, working out with my PT twice per week and enjoy supporting the arts (MCA, STC, Writers Festival).

You can connect with Simone via LinkedIn or find out more about Zebrar here.

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