The Billion Dollar Real Estate Company Using VirBELA For Its Virtual Offices

eXp realty
Image source: eXp Realty’s Facebook page

A real-life real estate company is using VirBELA for their virtual office space, the Oddity Central website reports:

eXp Realty, one of the world’s fastest growing and most successful real estate companies, has become famous for not investing in any actual real-estate, opting instead for virtual reality offices that allow its agents and brokers to interact and socialize from anywhere around the globe.

Glenn Sanford, eXp Realty’s founder and CEO, founded the company a decade ago, soon after the real estate market collapse of 2007. He couldn’t afford to buy or rent office space, and figured that focusing on a system that allowed his team to work remotely would help the company avert disaster, should another real-estate crisis occur in the future. So eXp Realty relied on services like Google Docs and spreadsheets, project management solutions like Trello, and communications app Slack to help its workforce work together without actually sharing the same space. But three years ago, the company took this remote collaboration system to a whole new level, by building a campus complete with offices, meeting rooms, auditoriums, lounges and more, in virtual reality.

Now, I do take issue with calling the VirBELA platform “virtual reality”. You can’t actually visit the eXp virtual offices in a VR headset, which is my definition of social VR. I would call VirBELA, like Second Life, a “virtual world” rather than “virtual reality”.

Apart from a small leased space in Bellingham, Washington, that acts as a headquarters but is actually just a storage space full of file cabinets, and a few empty locations in places where physical addresses are mandated by law, eXp Realty only exists in the virtual world. The real irony is that the whole purpose of the company is to help people buy and sell real world properties, like houses and office buildings.

“The virtual campus is a big part of our growth engine. If we were to have the constraints of physical offices, the growth we’ve had simply wouldn’t be possible,” Scott Petronis, chief technology officer of eXp Realty, told Singularity Hub.

This is quite the marketing coup for VirBELA, which is a much smaller platform than Second Life. Historically, Linden Lab has found it difficult to attract and retain real-life business clients in Second Life. I’m sure that they’re not too happy that they missed out on providing virtual world services to a big, profitable company like eXp Realty.

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VirBELA: A Brief Introduction

VirBELA.png

VirBELA bills itself “the social virtual platform for business and education.” (There seem to be a lot of these popping up lately! Maybe I’ve just gotten better at finding them.) Here’s a couple of short videos describing the project and its aims:

Their website gives a bit of background about the company:

VirBELA was founded by Dr. Alex Howland and Dr. Ron Rembisz, who submitted their idea for VirBELA to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s Ideas to Innovation Challenge, in 2010. The challenge sought the most innovative ideas to improve management education. Alex and Ron were winners in the competition and went on to secure a large grant from GMAC to implement their idea in collaboration with the Rady School of Management and the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UCSD (University of California-San Diego). Since then, VirBELA has built a world class multi-disciplinary team, and has joined forces with strategic partners and clients.

More than a decade after Second Life’s release and Avaya Live Engage shutting down, our vision required a fresh, modern approach. We built Virbela on top of the powerful Unity Game Engine which allows us to take advantage of their on-going development. We build activities into our virtual world platform to support learning objectives and then utilize data driven techniques to assess participants. See below for a list of some of the collaboration features our software offers.

Communication

  • Voice Over IP
  • Text Chat
  • Private Text Chat
  • Private Voice Over IP
  • Avatar Gestures

Basic Collaboration

  • Collaborative Web Browsing
  • Google Slides Presentations
  • Google Docs
  • Whiteboards
  • Virtual Laser Pointer

Advanced Collaboration

  • Team Building Activities
  • Business Simulations
  • Record/Replay System
  • Participant Data Visualizations

Client software for VirBELA is available for both Windows and Mac. There are complete instructions available on how to install and set up the software. This is one of the few virtual world platforms that has links to a university, as opposed to a private company. For that reason alone, it’s worth keeping an eye on as it develops over time.