"Customer Feedback — Customers drive our feature developments. We conduct product reviews and case study interviews with customers to better understand what they are looking for in new software enhancements. Then we follow up by delivering on these enhancements to win the confidence and trust of our customers."
As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Chen. As co-founder and CEO of Kandao, a virtual reality research and technology manufacturer that provides innovative imaging solutions to make it easier for people to move from the physical world to the digital one, Dan Chen strategically leads the company’s initiatives, including research and development. With his technical expertise in electronic product design and imaging technologies, Dan Chen has spearheaded several of Kandao’s technological breakthroughs, from its professional and industrial level 3D VR hardware and software system ”Obsidian” that won the CES “Best of Innovation” award, to a portable 360º camera that brings new imaging technologies to the corporate meeting.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I got my first camera and computer from my dad when I was 10 years old, and ever since then, photography and programming have been my hobbies. Getting a Master’s Degree in Physics deepened my understanding of the fundamental principles behind my interests, and further kindled my creativity and desire to make things. I joined an electronics power supply company in Shenzhen, China, after graduation to pursue my own ambitions of making and creating hardware products.
I feel lucky to have been able to personally experience the fall of the film camera and the subsequent rise of the digital era in photography. It has been amazing to see the advances in lenses, and sensors that have enabled digital cameras to capture ever more impressive images. I have always been particularly fascinated by the use of advanced digital processing techniques that are now used to enhance and manipulate photos and video, achieving previously unimaginable effects and experiences.
After working for 8 years in research and development at my first company, I felt it was time to “connect the dots”, to take everything I had learned about computational photography and create a next-generation imaging experience. This is how Kandao got started in 2016.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When we first started Kandao, we knew how much global interest there was in VR technologies at the time, so we brought together a group of technical experts to quickly develop and bring to market a hardware product to capture content for VR. After countless hours and prototype iterations, we released the Kandao Obsidian. It went on to win the 2017 CES Best of Innovation award. We were the first Chinese company to win this award in the digital imaging category.
After the success of this camera, we started receiving attention from businesses and individuals from a huge variety of industries, who saw a particular application of our cameras to their needs. Thus, we started developing many variations of the Obsidian (Go, R, S) to meet the needs of these specialized customers. This was a valuable opportunity for our research team to increase their technical skills and knowledge, but at the same time, we learned that resource allocation was starting to be an issue. The development team was stretched thin across multiple products, and overall progress had begun to slow down. Going through this taught us that sometimes we must take it slow and plan out our projects, and choose those that most deserve our focus and attention, in order to develop quickly and move forward as an organization.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
The first person that comes to my mind is my dad. He not only provided me with the opportunities and resources to be curious and explore the world but also accompanied me along the way as I was starting out, providing me with confidence and reassurance by example.
My first boss and mentor, Francis Liu, was also a big influence. He showed me what it means to be a great leader, and how products and businesses are built from the ground up.
I would also like to mention how grateful I am for all the team members here at Kandao. As a small, growing company, we have been through the ups and downs of the past six years together, and we’re looking forward to building more great products in the future.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The American physicist Richard Feynman’s Lectures on Physics have had a very profound impact on me. I particularly remember how Feynman considered our world a chess game played by gods, and that the study of physics is our best attempt at deducing the rules of the game. He further added that “even if we knew every rule, we might not be able to understand why a particular move is played, either because it is too complicated or our minds too limited.” With this in mind, I have always confidently and optimistically aspired to discover the rules that govern our world, yet I have always carried this humbling and occasionally pessimistic feeling that our minds lack the ability to comprehend the greatest truths. I feel that it is this balance of confidence and humility that drives me forward and has helped me face the challenges that have come with starting my company.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
In Chinese, there is a Confucian idiom “知其不可而为之” which means to understand the difficulty of a challenge or feat but to attempt it anyway because it is the right thing to do. This has led me not to question if I “can” do something, but instead to ask “how” it should be done. This is a principle about grit and perseverance, focusing on the process of hard work and effort to achieve progress that drives our product development process.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Ever since its inception, our company has always been focused on creating distinguished imaging products and enriching our life experiences. Back in 2016, when I first left my R&D position at my first company, I sought to apply my learnings to the field of VR. At the time, the hardware to capture panoramic views was still very new. There were not many easy solutions to capture panoramic or 360-degree pictures and videos.
I decided this would be our area of focus to create both the hardware to capture content and the software to automatically stitch the views together. With this focus, we’ve released a number of successful cameras, that have culminated in the cinematic VR experience offered by the Obsidian Pro today. We strive to create tools to help people create VR content. As the Metaverse and related technologies become a bigger and bigger topic every year, we want to be well-positioned to help consumers create content for truly immersive VR experiences.
Around 2019, we applied our experience in 360-degree panorama cameras and software stitching to conferencing devices and built the Kandao Meeting 360. Shortly after its release, the COVID-19 pandemic was sprung on the world, forcing many companies and individuals to video conferencing for the first time. We’ve since made it our mission to help people transition to hybrid meetings with a seamless user experience. Whether it is with 360-degree cameras, VR technologies, or enterprise conferencing devices, our mission has been and will always be to enrich human experiences.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
Focusing on our mission of creating next-generation imaging products to enrich human life experience, we are always iterating and developing new cameras for consumer, prosumer, and enterprise use.
While Kandao originally engineered products focused on consumer use, we have evolved to meet the needs of enterprises of all sizes through the launch of our two flagship conferencing cameras, the Meeting Pro and Meeting S.
Our Meeting cameras limit distractions and foster productive, collaborative video conferencing. With built-in android OS, universal compatibility with major web-based video conferencing platforms, secure privacy, smart tracking and one-step screen share, our meeting cameras are best-in-class for businesses of all kinds and sizes. From the lenses themselves (which can span up to 360-degree view of the room) to the Hi-Fi speakers and eight omnidirectional microphones), our meeting cameras are making hybrid work environments more attainable and videoconferencing a more productive experience.
We have new iterations of the Meeting Pro in the works to be released just in time for CES 2023. I would like to introduce you to the Meeting Omni, which is a connected system of 4 Meeting Pros or 4 Meeting S, along with a Next Unit of Computing to service larger conference rooms.
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
The reality is that digital transformation is not just about technology. It is also about an organization’s ability to adapt to these changes. Even if a company develops a robust digital transformation strategy, governing organization-wide change can be one of the most prominent digital transformation challenges.
Company culture and good communication is the key to tackling digitization challenges. It is essential to encourage employees and other stakeholders to get accustomed to the digital culture, tools, technology, and solutions. It will help businesses to persuade the workforce during the transformation phase.
Can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?
Digital Transformation is using new technologies to modernize existing processes to change how a business operates. This means increasing efficiency, improving workflows, improving customer experiences, or responsiveness to make decisions so that the business remains competitive in its industry.
For enterprises, that means seeking out new ways to improve the end-user experience. This could be through offering improved on-demand training and collaboration processes, migrating data to cloud services, leveraging artificial intelligence and more.
In a more specific example, from a conferencing standpoint, people used to have conference calls with just voice. Having face-to-face video calls was unusual, but this is now the new norm. With increased globalization and the pandemic, users are now accustomed to individual face-to-face communication using various video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams on their laptops. However, only recently have with employees returning to office, have people started to get used to hybrid conference meetings with multiple people in the room and some attendees remote.
As a result, voice calls in a conference room setting are no longer sufficient. Can you imagine the chaos that will ensue when many people are talking at the same time, interrupting speakers, and having bad quality signal?
Equipment inside conference rooms needs to be upgraded to account for the different ways that people have conference meetings, whether that is having a webcam in the front of the room or now, have 360 cameras in the middle of the table to enable efficient conversations. Furthermore, having a conferencing camera that also has built in mics and speakers enable the portability of the device to travel from room to room or enable sales reps/consultants to take the device to consumer on site locations and quickly set up for hybrid meetings. Sales reps and consultants no longer need to bring their full teams with them to client sites, creating cost savings for businesses, while still maintaining the productivity and inclusivity of remote team members when joining the call.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
All companies can benefit from a digital transformation. There are lots of new tools and technologies built every day to help users become more adaptive to new ways of working. Companies must seek to understand the new technologies available in the market and choose which will best suit their organizations. A fast and agile workforce will help a company become more responsive to their customer needs, communicate easily internally, and generate higher productivity to create new solutions.
Our video conferencing technology specifically has helped clients spanning a multitude of industries including high tech, politics, education, banking, and consulting services. Video conferencing is an obvious solution for many enterprises, but we’re starting to see it pop up in some unlikely places — industries where in-person interaction has long been considered the only way of doing business like criminal justice, consulting and banking.
In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences?
A large majority of company leaders expect their company to feature a hybrid workplace model in 2023 and beyond, in part as a response to employee preferences in the midst of talent shortages. Especially with the rising inflation and recession concerns, more companies will also look to remote or hybrid models to lean out their business. Hybrid and remote work are no longer a passing fad, but a permanent solution to the disruption we’ve faced the past two years.
With digital nomads, remote workers, and office regulars all in the mix, it can be difficult to get everyone on the same page during a video conference meeting. Attendees often feel disconnected or left out of a conversation which can lead to consequences in lowered productivity and employee buy-in. Additionally, the setup of most video conferencing cameras in the market are difficult, the video quality is subpar and the people speaking get lost in the shuffle of unwanted background noise. Others struggle with security issues in an era of heightened cyber attacks against enterprise business.
AI-powered video conferencing cameras, such as Kandao’s Meeting Pro or Meeting S, can improve the efficiency of video conferencing at the office. AI tracking system uses both audio and video to track who is speaking while minimizing confusion with outside noise. It’s extremely adept at following the conversation accurately and in real-time. 360-degree lenses, Hi-Fi speakers, and omnidirectional microphones with a wide radius of sound recognition, are necessities that can ensure collaborative meeting experience where everyone in the room and those dialed in virtually get more of the information they need.
Having an improved way to communicate with customers, employees, and shareholders improves productivity and efficiency at every step of the business.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
Digital transformation in the conferencing world can be challenging for some companies, but it does not need to be. As a hardware provider, we believe it is up to us to create a seamless user experience for the customer and guide them along the way with installation and set-up instructions to make it easy for the user to adapt to this new norm. At this point, it’s not about companies “choosing” to transform, instead it is about “how” to move forward with the transformation.
Disparate systems — There are a lot of different types of conferencing systems available for users going back to the office and getting used to hybrid meetings. From 4k cameras, mics with background noise cancellation and hi-fi speakers, or a mix of these different types of solutions, users still need to do research on each part and decide how to best integrate these systems together. We provide an all in one solution so users can simply plug and play with their computers. We take it one step further and offer users the ability to also connect directly to monitors with HDMI to have video conference calls right from the device without needing to connect to a computer.
Cost — To replace a whole conferencing set up, or purchasing one for the first time can easily run thousands of dollars, and you may not even be able to test or demo the product before purchasing. By keeping the cost of our Meeting devices low, it allows greater accessibility without breaking the budget.
Portability — Most conferencing systems in the market are not portable. They are fixed into a conference room or have too many moving parts to easily carry around. The Kandao Meeting Pro is designed to best meet the needs of most users. It is lightweight at 700 grams, comes with a travel bag to easily travel around, and can be set up in 2 minutes. For users who do not wish to carry the device around, the camera can be fixed in the middle of a table with a ¼” screw mount, or even inverted to hang from the ceiling. We designed this camera to be very accessible to a wide audience of users.
Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”?
1. Customer Feedback — Customers drive our feature developments. We conduct product reviews and case study interviews with customers to better understand what they are looking for in new software enhancements. Then we follow up by delivering on these enhancements to win the confidence and trust of our customers.
2. Digital Health Check — There are always new tools that provide more efficiency to an organization. By taking a look at an organization’s own internal resources, and learning about new tools available, then implementing them can create a more agile and responsive work force
3. Employee Educational resources — When adopting new tools, it is very important for the entire organization to be aligned. By providing educational resources, tips and tricks on how to effectively use new tools, companies can help quickly ramp up employees
4. Marketing Automation — New tools now make it easier to deliver relevant content to a large audience is needed for any organization looking to succeed in today’s environment. Keeping current customers and potential new customers engaged with the company’s content, product releases, and community resources will ensure people remember you at all times
5. Project management — Designing and developing new products can be challenging without a dedicated, organized workflow. Keeping track of resources allocated and assigning the right experts ensures quicker go to market, and shorter development cycles