Barry's Not Sobbing: VR Training Platform Talespin Triples Funding

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

Barry's Not Sobbing: VR Training Platform Talespin Triples Funding
Talespin

Before an interview with Stephen Fromkin, Talespin's co-founder and chief content officer, wants to make something clear: "We didn't build the platform to fire employees, nor do we want to."

Culver City-based Talespin, which announced $15 million in Series B funding Tuesday, has become best known for its heart-wrenching demos showing how virtual reality technology can sack a sad-looking, aging worker named Barry. "This company created a VR character which you can fire over and over again" headlined Mashable. "Barry sobbed as he begged for his job. VR is getting heavy, man" was the take in the Los Angeles Times.


Fromkin insists the demo is just a demo and he says he does not regret releasing it because it vividly shows how Talespin can train employees to navigate the toughest of situations.

"It proved what it needed to prove, the emotional resonance of a virtual human for learning," he said. "We haven't had one client request, 'Hey, can we have a termination demo?' Not one."

While many once-hot virtual reality companies have cooled, Fromkin says Talespin has grown more conservatively by focusing on exactly what its customers want, modules that train workers and precisely measure progress rather than just checking a box.

"We don't want to end up with something that is just a fun, shiny thing and doesn't really train," said Fromkin.

Talespin has had the most success training insurance workers – early on it signed a major contract with Farmers Insurance, which also was an early investor.

"Their immersive VR and AR platforms have helped us reshape the way we look at training Farmers Insurance claims adjusters and we're excited to continue to support the Talespin team through this next phase of growth and development," said Scott Lindquist, chief financial officer of Farmers Group, Inc, in a prepared statement.

Watch: Talespin Artificial Intelligence for HRwww.youtube.com

Insurance companies used to employ thousands of workers to go out and investigate claims but now with more sophisticated technology, fewer investigators are needed in the field but customer service agents have to be more sophisticated. Someone needs to train up all those workers, and Talespin wants that someone to be its VR software.

"A lot of what we're doing in insurance is a mixture of soft skills and more tangible task-based skills," said Fromkin. "We're building a learning library of VR and our training modules for insurance and by making them off the shelf, we're lowering the barrier to entry."

The Series B round was led by Cornerstone OnDemand, an enterprise training platform. Talespin's content will be available to customers through Cornerstone. This round triples Talespin's previous 2018 seed raise of $5.16 million.

"It's still pretty conservative compared to what a lot of organizations have raised in the VR space," said Fromkin.

Fromkin founded the company in 2015, along with CEO Kyle Jackson. They say they deliberately chose to start the company outside Silicon Valley.

"We knew we didn't want to be caught in a tech bubble," said Fromkin. "We chose L.A. because of its tie to entertainment — all of our modules are designed to be entertaining and fun, and being here we're able to hire incredible storytellers."

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