CEO and Co-Founder, SPACES
Shiraz Akmal is the CEO and co-founder of SPACES, a leading immersive entertainment company bringing the next generation of location-based attractions to venues around the world, including DTLA. SPACES features a series of immersive physical attractions, powered by VR technology. SPACES was spun out of DreamLab, where Akmal formerly led business and product development for all of the virtual reality projects for DreamWorks Animation prior to 2016. Shiraz also served as VP of operations-product development for video game company THQ. His career highlights include directing a string of multi million selling video game titles including Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles, Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants, and Scooby-Doo! He was also involved in programming several genre-defining products such as, You Don't Know Jack, The Netshow and the After Dark screen saver.
What day-to-day operations have been most impacted at SPACES by COVID-19 and how have you creatively overcome those challenges?
Our entire location based / theme park business has been decimated by COVID-19. In January our Chinese business was shut down, February our Japanes and in March our US operations. This also included all sales channels as our partners we work with were also several affected. We made the difficult but necessary decision to cut wages and layoff some of our team.
While flattening the curve at home, we knew our theme park business was not coming back anytime soon – we had to pivot to survive. We found ourselves in Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting and thought there must be a better way to connect to people. We used everything we knew about VR and social interaction and developed and launched an app called SPACES (after your company name) that lets you Zoom from VR – connecting VR non VR users.
Has this new way of life/doing business resulted in any unexpected wins for SPACES?
Yes, our circumstances forced us to rethink what was possible and what we could create that the world could benefit from, we launched our SPACES app (where you can Zoom from VR) and have had more than 5,800 people download.
SPACES core business is providing entertainment through technology. Today, when people need a "passage into worlds beyond imagining" more than ever, how is your company reaching its customers?
We've taken everything we know about social interaction and emerging technology and launched our SPACES app that let's non VR users connect and communicated with VR users in a seamless and magical way.
How can LMU students best prepare their careers for a world that will be shaped by VR?
At SPACES, we always think about reimagining the ordinary into the extraordinary. How can emerging technologies fused with an idea be 1000x better than what we're used to. Be part of making the future.
For those who haven't experienced VR attractions like "Terminator: Salvation" at Two Bit Circus in downtown LA, how is it different from home VR?
Our attractions were each in of themselves VR attractions pushing the boundaries of what's possible and can only be done at one of our locations. For Two Bit Circus, we created a thrilling VR enabled, motion chair, force feedback, 4 player arcade ride.
What is the next new project we will be seeing from SPACES when the venues open again?
We're 100% focused on our communications app, SPACES. We hope that our venues re-open and customers return – but realistically, we expect this to be a long hard road for our partners given that people around the world will be hesitant to gather in large groups. A widely available vaccine would go along way.
Do you expect that any changes you've made to your way of doing business due to COVID-19 will remain in your company's normal practices moving forward?
We are embracing work from home and racing to build a future where we can enable people to work from wherever they may choose.
What will be the lasting impact of COVID-19 on SPACES — your most optimistic answer and most pessimistic?
We will never be able to return to what we were. Despite it all, this has transformed who we are as a company to reimagine ourselves for the future ahead.
What has COVID-19 made you appreciate?
Those people that are often the unseen heroes of our society – custodians, delivery, grocery, farmers, medical staff and factory workers.
How do you navigate the question of when and how to re-open your office?
We hope to migrate to a permanent work from home business.
How do you/your team balance personal life with professional life while working from home?
This has made us all more human than ever and removed any pretend veneer of seeing each other as a "professional" only – and now more as a person
Once the Safer at Home order is lifted and we get our city back, what's the first thing you're going to do?
See our family and friends, have a drink grab some dinner and maybe, just maybe share a few hugs.