Making the most of the metaverse moment with tech futurist Cathy Hackl
- 5:04 - My advice to any company is, if you’ve already done something public, great for you. Take a step back to really reassess what your strategy is and if you still haven’t done something and you don’t feel compelled to do something public, there are ways to experiment in private as well.
- 12:10 - I also think there is this moment of a bit of a talent war that’s slowly happening where there’s not enough people that are skilled in, let’s say, how to develop on Unity, how to develop on Unreal, how to do Solidity if you’re on the Web 3 space... where companies are going to have to look and say, who internally has those skills? Or who do we need to hire to come and help us lead in this space and understand these technologies?
- 14:40 - Eventually, AI is what’s going to run all the systems and optimize things and we’re going to have virtual assistants, all those sorts of things. They’re going to help run the back end of the metaverse. And I see this electricity. I think we’re in this moment where AI is as revolutionary as electricity was in its moment.
"Godmother of the metaverse" Cathy Hackl joins the VISION by Protiviti interview. Cathy is an author, speaker and media personality who has been featured on 60 Minutes and CNBC and in GQ, Vogue, WIRED and The Wall Street Journal. She is also the host of Adweek’s Metaverse Marketing podcast. Big Think named Cathy one of the top 10 most influential women in tech and she’s on Thinkers50 Radar list of management thinkers most likely to shape the future. Here, she discusses the "metaverse moment" with Joe Kornik, Editor-in-Chief of VISION by Protiviti.
Making the most of the metaverse moment with tech futurist Cathy Hackl - video transcript
Joe Kornik: Welcome to the VISION by Protiviti interview, where we look at how big topics will impact global business over the next decade and beyond, and today we’re talking about the metaverse future. I’m Joe Kornik, Editor-in-Chief of VISION by Protiviti, and I’m thrilled to welcome globally recognized metaverse expert, tech futurist, and top business executive Cathy Hackl. She’s an author, speaker, and media personality who has been featured on 60 Minutes, CNBC, and in GQ, Vogue, and The Wall Street Journal; and she is the host of Adweek’s Metaverse Marketing podcast. BigThink named Cathy one of the top 10 most influential women in tech, and she’s on Thinkers50 Radar list of management thinkers most likely to shape the future. It’s no wonder she is commonly referred to as the Godmother of the Metaverse.
Cathy, thank you so much for joining me today.
Cathy Hackl: I’m excited to be here.
Kornik: Cathy, I talk to people on both sides of the aisle and when it comes to the metaverse future, many say it will be sort of a revolutionary game changer. Others are not so sure, so we’ve been in this sort of wave of positive and negative news cycles now for the last year-and-a-half or so. Where would you say we are right now in the metaverse moment and how should we feel about this?
Hackl: Yes, I definitely agree with what you’ve seen, as well. I feel like we’re in this moment we’re coming off of a hype cycle, right, a lot of hype around the term metaverse, a lot of confusion around the term metaverse, a lot of hype, but now we’re at this moment where people are like, well, taking a step back. Yes, I think we’re coming off of a hype cycle for many different reasons or many issues right now with the market.
I feel like we’re at this moment of disillusionment. People are a little bit skeptical, thinking, “Well, what is this really?” You know, what I find funny though is whenever I read an article that says “the metaverse failed” or “the metaverse didn’t happen,” so to your question where are we, we’re still building towards that future so we’re not there yet. Something that hasn’t been created fully can’t fail, at least yet. But yes, I think we’re in a moment of confusion. We’re in a moment of skepticism and rightfully so, but also I think for the people that are in the space, that are building, it is an exciting moment, to be what I call in the trenches, right? To me, personally, these types of market downturns coming off of a hype cycle are the best moments to build and create new things, and that’s going to give us the innovation that’s, in my perspective, the tech jargonauts of the future.
Where are we in this moment? Really, despite the downturn, despite the hype cycle, the end of the hype cycle, we’re at this moment for me of creativity being unleashed with new technologies, new opportunities, and with all the layoffs and all the people leaving, being laid off from these tech giants, some of them are ready to take a chance and create something new, so I’m excited. As crazy as things are right now, it’s a really exciting moment I think for anyone in metaverse, Web 3, and emerging tech.
Kornik: Yes, that’s interesting, Cathy, and that disruption, those layoffs you talked about could create sort of a cascading effect of innovation, which I hadn’t thought of, so that’s interesting.
Cathy, I do think business leaders and executives are confused about the metaverse. I think they’re maybe a bit skeptical, maybe a little bit cautious. I think they’re being asked a lot about strategies and timelines. Are we too early? Are we too late? How should business leaders approach the metaverse? What would be your advice to them?
Hackl: My advice to them is, I feel like a lot of the marketing machine already did what it needed to do, that hype cycle where all the marketing people wanted to do something, to launch something. I always say, scratch that metaverse itch. They did something to get the PR. We’re seeing a little less than that because the more metaverse marketing activations happen, they’re getting less coverage, so their initial idea of ROI is changing. That’s actually a really exciting moment because it’s when companies can be like, “Okay, we did this. We did the marketing activation, but what does really mean for us and what is the long-term strategy?”
I think that has to do with the fact that there’s this skepticism, this lack of clarity because if you have 10 metaverse people at the table and you ask them what the metaverse is, you’re going to get 10 different definitions, in reality. But most people do agree it is the successor state in some ways of the internet. Many people have different opinions on how that happens, but I think that’s kind of the agreement. If you take that as the basis of what this is potentially, then, the marketing has been done, now, it’s time to really think about, what does this mean for us as a company, as a brand in the long term?
My advice to any company is, if you’ve already done something public, great for you. Take a step back to really reassess what your strategy is and if you still haven’t done something and you don’t feel compelled to do something public, there are ways to experiment in private as well. There’s always though room for education. I think educating everything, everyone within your org is a really important moment for people to understand metaverse, gen AI, all the different things that are happening in this space.
Kornik: Right. Let’s talk a little bit about how some businesses are using the metaverse because some are already there, right? As you mentioned, some have already had some success. Maybe you could walk us through a few of those, if you don’t mind. I know you work a lot with fashion and luxury brands, and you spend a lot of time on marketing in the metaverse. Is that where the early innovation is happening? Is that where you’re seeing the most traction?
Hackl: Yes, so there are early test cases, use cases that are successful. I’ll give you an example. I work very closely with Walmart, a pretty giant company and brand, to advise them as a metaverse advisor and then help them launch their first steps into the metaverse, which was two giant world builds inside Roblox. I’ll speak specifically about WalmartLand which is in Roblox, like I mentioned. It has got over—I think it’s over 13 million visits, that’s in September, so that’s very, very, very good numbers. It has got more than a 50% approval rating. It has got constant traffic, people coming in and out, great sentiment. That was a case where you take a brand like Walmart and you don’t necessarily want to bring the same concept of the Walmart store into the metaverse. That’s not what people want to see. The idea was, how do we create a Walmart in a totally different way? This is not your grandma’s Walmart. It is the Gen Z, Gen Alpha, future of, a new way to see Walmart. We brought it into a gaming platform like Roblox, into the metaverse, let’s say, and it has been very successful for the company to engage with Gen Z, so yes. To me, it’s a case of bring in a brand that normally wouldn’t be mentioned in the same space as Gucci or something as Nike, Vans, but now it’s being mentioned in the same sentences in a lot of these brands and causing brand awareness and affinity, so that’s a good use case.
One of the brands that I did some early work with was Nike as well, and I think Nike has really been leading the forefront of things, both from an acquisition standpoint, acquiring a company like RTFKT a while back, and recently launching their new Web 3 loyalty program called SWOOSH and the things that they plan to do with that, so keep your eyes on those sorts of things. Yes, I think there are some leaders out there that you can look at, both from tons of things in luxury but also brands like Walmart.
Kornik: As you look out a little further, maybe even to the decade’s end, what are the ways and in what other industries do you think the metaverse will have some of its bigger impacts?
Hackl: I do a lot of work in the fashion space. I’m really excited about how that vertical is leading. They’re really pushing the limits and they have the appetite for it, but where I think we’re going to see really huge change, one of those areas is education. I think education is due for some disruption and I think the metaverse and those technologies are going to be part of disrupting the current way we do education. So I’m very thrilled about potential democratization of education and learning from the best and how that might change, so very thrilled about that.
With that obviously comes the training elements in whichever company, in the L&D departments and everything that’s happening, already seeing that with Accenture, everything, so education. I’m really interested as well, and while it’s not as exciting, I think the healthcare side is what I think we’re going to see a lot of change there in not only how doctors and nurses and medical professionals are trained, which we’ve already been seeing for a couple years in medical schools, but also I think for patient education, being able to go inside your body in a virtual way and trying to understand, if you’re going to have a brain surgery, what are they really going to do and those sorts of things. I think we’re going to start to see that from the healthcare side, and mental health as well, using these technologies to help with PTSD, trauma, just very powerful ways. Education and health I think are two of the parts that I think we’re going to see transcendental change beyond the retail and fun fashion side.
Kornik: Cathy, you’re not the first metaverse expert to tell me that, actually. We’ve had quite a few who would echo those same sentiments, so I think we’re really onto something there which could be exciting, right? I know you’ve teamed up with the World Economic Forum recently. Would you mind telling us a little bit about some of the work that you’re doing with them?
Hackl: Yes, so I am part of their metaverse initiative, part of the value creation group within the World Economic Forum. There are lots of different organizations and companies that are part of the initiative. We recently launched some white papers, some studies. One was on interoperability, the other one on value creation in the metaverse. They were launched during the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos where I actually got to speak, but yes, I think the idea is to bring together different stakeholders to really think deeply about what this means. If this is the future state of the internet, what are the implications for society? What are the implications for a lot of different countries, for companies, for professionals? Yes, there’s definitely really interesting work being done there.
The World Economic Forum as an organization is also diving deep into the metaverse and creating their own virtual spaces. Yes, I think we’ll continue to see that but, it’s exciting. For me, coming from the tech sector and what I’ve been doing, I never thought I would get invited to Davos but this year, I did get invited. I spoke there. I had never gone because I didn’t have a reason to go but I feel like now that tech is at the forefront, we’re having these conversations, it’s important to have a seat at the table. So yes, I think it’s important for both industry but also professionals that might be in the community to have a seat at the table to discuss what does this mean for the future of society and the future of everything.
Kornik: I want to ask you about the positive and negative, and I’ll start with the negative and I’ll end with the positive. What are some of the things that potentially worry you? What could hurt adoption rates or limit some of what you think could be the most positive impacts of the metaverse?
Hackl: I think there are three things. One of them is that people tend to equate adoption with how many VR headsets there are, and that’s if you take the premise that the metaverse equals VR, which I don’t. Most people agree it’s not just virtual reality. When you read a headline like, oh, metaverse adoption is down or not enough headsets, you’re missing the mark. That kind of misconception worries me because then people think it failed, which it hasn’t, so that’s one.
I also think there is this moment of a bit of a talent war that’s slowly happening where there’s not enough people that are skilled in, let’s say, how to develop on Unity, how to develop on Unreal, how to do Solidity if you’re on the Web 3 space. There is that moment as well where companies are going to have to look and say, who internally has those skills? Yes, or who do we need to hire to come and help us lead in this space and understand these technologies? I think that’s one of the things we’re going to see, continue to see a talent war.
Then there’s something—this is a little bit more futuristic, right, but you did ask me to go a little bit into the future. Another thing that worries me is the concept of virtual air rights. Who owns the air around me? Who owns what I can see? Because eventually, if the premise is that we do move from our phones into some type of wearable, potentially glasses, then who controls what’s within eyesight and earshot of me? That is extremely valuable and I worry about that. I worry about who’s going to control that, like who’s going to control what I can see and what I can hear because those are the things I’m going to believe. I think from a societal standpoint, that worries me quite a bit as a mother of three kids. Yes, that’s what keeps me up at night, right?
Kornik: Right, who or what controls that information and how it gets in front of our eyeballs and into our brains is certainly something to think about going forward.<>All right, so I’ll end with this one. I promise to end with a positive, so what if we get this right? Take me out to, say, 2035. What is Cathy Hackl’s best-case scenario for the metaverse and what does it look like?
Hackl: I hope that my vision for then is, hopefully, we’ll have something that replaces the mobile phone, potentially glasses, so we might go back to seeing each other in the eyes. There’s going to be data overlaid over you, over your eyesight, but I think eventually going from here to here and looking back at each other as humans I think is very positive.
I think we’ll get access to information a lot faster. One of the things that, as scared as people are about generative AI and everything that’s happening in that space, to me, AI is the electricity that’s going to make the metaverse work. I give people this example, when you open your refrigerator, you’re not thinking about the electricity that’s cooling all your food. You’re not thinking about that. I feel like eventually… right now we’re at this moment where everyone’s like AI, AI, right? Eventually, AI is what’s going to run all the systems and optimize things and we’re going to have virtual assistants, all those sorts of things. They’re going to help run the back end of the metaverse. And I see this electricity. I think we’re in this moment where AI is as revolutionary as electricity was in its moment.
To that point, I’ll give you a really fun example. I learned during Davos that the first time the term CEO was used was for Chief Electricity Officer. It wasn’t for Chief Executive Officer because electricity was new. No one knew what to do. They needed people to figure it out. I think that that’s where we are right now with, I’ll say, Chief Metaverse Officer or chief whatever it is. We’re in this moment where we’re trying to figure out what all these technologies are and what they mean, what the future of the internet means, and we’re at that moment right now again, of trying to figure out what all these revolutionary technologies that are converging mean for our future.
Kornik: Cathy, thank you for the time. What a fascinating conversation.
Hackl: Thank you so much. It was a thrill to be here.
Kornik: Thank you for watching the VISION by Protiviti interview. For Cathy Hackl, I’m Joe Kornik, and we’ll see you next time.