‘Because it’s a higher barrier upfront, when you get funded and grow, the chances of a female-led company succeeding are higher than average’ – Kirin Sinha, CEO of Illumix
By Doreen Hemlock
She’s one of Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30, a math and engineering whiz with degrees from MIT, Stanford and Cambridge, and the founder of a business with $ 15 million in funding and millions in revenue.
Now, Kirin Sinha – CEO of augmented-reality company Illumix – has relocated from Silicon Valley to Miami, lured by the city’s focus on tech, finance and the Metaverse and a lifestyle with more chances to meet others.
RefreshMiami spoke with Sinha, 29, about her move, her new virtual “Try-On” technology, the Metaverse and being a woman of color in tech. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: After seven years in business in Silicon Valley, why did you relocate to Miami?
I moved here in early April. A few things went into my decision: I had been looking at where the up-and-coming tech scenes were in the US, and with the shift to work-from-home, some previously second-layer cities really benefited. Also, in entrepreneurship, being near funding is always important, just to have the serendipity to meet someone or go to a meetup.
I visited three growing tech cities: Los Angeles, Miami and Austin. Miami was the clear winner, because you have a bit of the financial ecosystem from New York moving here as well as tech from California moving in. It’s an incredible alchemy that the others don’t have because of Miami’s proximity to NY.
It’s exciting to be part of a city with a young, vibrant entrepreneurship circle, especially in the fields of crypto and Metaverse, which is where Illumix sits. Miami was doing more in those spaces.
Q: Did you move your company to Miami too?
Illumix has 30 people on staff, and we’re all fully remote since COVID. It’s my understanding that when a company is distributed, you’re based where the majority of employees are. So, we’re still technically a California company, but as we continue to grow, we may want to move more operations to Florida.
Q: Describe your company and your vision.
We view Illumix as an underlying platform that lets brands enter into the space of the Metaverse. In today’s world, brands have physical presences and increasingly, offer digital experiences. In the most basic example, they’ll have a store and a website and then, e-commerce and maybe games or a TV show.
The goal of our company is to bring those two pieces together: physical and digital, to merge the benefits of both – the freedom and creativity that digital allows and the value that being in-person provides. The applications of our technology are numerous, from gaming to shopping to eventually, the majority of our daily activities. We think of it as being the WordPress or Squarespace of the Metaverse – to enable anyone with drag-and-drop interfaces to engage in this new 3D interactive space.
Q. I understand you’re creating a product that lets online shoppers “virtually” try on rings, necklaces, glasses and other luxury items.
As more brands engage in this combination of digital and physical reality, one of the biggest unlocked sectors is shopping. Traditionally, shopping was tied to a physical location: You had to go to a store, be in the right city and hope they have the right inventory in your size to see how something might look on you. But that concept feels outdated. Now, most shopping in the US is online.
The idea of trying on things via the Internet is evolving. Today, we order a bunch of stuff online, see how it works and send some back. But that’s so inefficient, not to mention its global environmental impact.
So, imagine a website, and next to the “Buy-now” button is a “Try-now” button. You click on it, your camera opens, and immediately, you see things on you: a ring on your finger, glasses on your face… It’s instantaneous, real time, no need to take a picture and upload. We’re going live with this for several luxury brands this quarter.
Q. What are you doing in the gaming space?
When we started, we built our own game, Five Nights with Freddie AR. The game was an outsize success. We’ve done more than 35 million downloads all organically; it’s been at the top of the app store several times on Google and Apple; and it’s reached 6.7 million active users – something almost never done in our space before. Building on that success, Disney has invested in Illumix through its accelerator program. From there, we’ve opened up the technology to other entertainment companies.
Q. How do you define Metaverse?
Metaverse is the evolution of the Internet that allows people to immerse themselves and actively participate in a 3D world. You are free of this passive, locked-behind-the-screen kind of engagement where we spend majority of our waking hours today. It’s a shift from 2D and passive to 3D and active.
There are lots of different ways to engage with the Metaverse. One is glasses. Some are through mobile and the Web today, and some are through Web 3.0 full-crypto universes.
Q. Being a woman of color in tech is a double minority. How has that played out for you?
It’s similar to how it played out in my STEM education. It really boils down to: What is the assumption someone walks in with? Are you given the benefit of the doubt, or do you have to prove that you’re worth being there?
You have to work harder to get where you are, have more credentials, have more proof and data for people to give you the same level of benefit. You find your champions along the way, who see past that and really look at the potential. But you have to be prepared to be rejected more frequently and prove yourself more. Yet statistics show that because it’s a higher barrier upfront, when you get funded and grow, the chances of a female-led company succeeding are higher than average.
Q. How does Miami differ from Palo Alto for you?
What stood out to me most is that there are many more people around. In San Francisco, over the past year if I went out to a coffee shop or even a happy-hour meetup, there was almost no one there. It was a very isolated feeling I had. And here, I can go out at any time of day, and there is a real energy and life-force happening. There are always people around, engaging and meeting each other. And that’s really nice, especially when you move to a new city.
The people here have a more diverse set of interests, not just tech. And that’s a welcome change. It’s refreshing.