‘Metaversity joining VR, identity, assets for holistic education’

THERE NEEDS to be a fundamental change in the way education is thought of and that should not be limited to uploading videos of educational and professional courses online, former Twitter India head and Metaversity co-founder MANISH MAHESHWARI believes. In an exclusive interview with AASHISH ARYAN, he says higher education should not be limited to only those who can afford to go to such campuses. Edited excerpts:

What is the idea behind launching Metaversity as a platform?

In the last two years, education has gone online, not by choice but by compulsion. Before Covid, it was unfathomable that classes would be online, people would get degrees online. As a result, a lot of quick fixes appeared. Software meant for office communication was being used for classroom teaching.

What we are now building is a combination of virtual experience, identity and assets and bringing together all these so that we can holistically solve for students – from the beginning. Instead of watching a class happening, you would actually be sitting, experiencing the class. A simple VR (virtual reality) device will help you do that. The hardware cost is going down. Our view is that in the next few quarters, this would probably be about $100, which is Rs 7,000-Rs 10,000. The bandwidth is also almost free. So why should you then not experience the feeling of being in a classroom?

The most amount of learning for me in college came from before and after the class when I hung out with my friends in libraries, cafeteria and auditoriums. There was so much networking. That is all missing in online learning today. The completing rate is less than 10 per cent in online learning.

Through a Metaversity, we are going to bring social and community back to learning. I come from Twitter, so I know the power of building social, of community. During Covid times, I saw how people connected online and built community. I want to bring the same to learning.

Are you a pioneer in the meta space or you are too early with a platform for an ecosystem which is still in early stages?

Our view is that the world is ready now. The number one reason is Covid. People have accepted that things can be done virtually and that is here to stay. Even if Covid goes away, everyone might not go to the campus all days a week. They might go one or two days a week. The world is also ready for a metaverse. People like more immersive experience, and in education, there has not been any fundamental innovation so far. People are also just hanging out in virtual spaces. Our view is that this space is innovating very fast.

How do you plan to compete with other bigger companies in the metaverse who will come at you with much deeper pockets?

Zoom was nowhere two years ago and look at where it is now. How did it become so big now? Everyone will try to get into this space. But we are single-mindedly focusing on education. We are not going to build a layer which is for everything. We will remain student focused. Yes, everyone will try to do it, but that is the beauty of it.

The market is huge. There will be different variations of solving one problem and a small nimble team is much more likely to pivot and find the answer than a larger team at a larger company.

Metaverse is a very different layer from internet. My view would be that it resets the playing field and creates a new way of doing things. Different players will come and occupy different verticals. Our desire is to occupy the educational part of metaverse.

I think existing companies have a huge legacy baggage that they have to unload and things cannot move as fast. They may not see a new trend on the horizon.

How big is your company? Where do you plan to expand it?

We are a global, US-based company with a team of about 50 people now. We have a tech team in Bengaluru. What we are building has global applicability. We are expanding as a lot of people want to work on the cutting edge of both education and metaverse. Our plan is to run two courses in India first and then one in the US, and then invite schools and colleges to re-create their campuses online. Many colleges want to do that because they realise that the real estate that they have had, for the past two-three years, is lying waste.

Students can be anywhere and it is brutal to expect them to travel to a town, leave their home and attend some course. We are getting good traction from students as well. Our first course starts in May in the Metaversity campus. We are adding and hiring more.