“Change is painful, but nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don't belong.”
There’s been a lot of hype in the last few years about the metaverse and Web 3.0. A lot of confusion, misconceptions, and misinformation. Our guest today is here to help us navigate all that – and then some.
Kirin Sinha is the Founder and CEO of Illumix, one of the world's leading augmented reality (AR) companies.
From a young age, through a background in dancing, Kirin developed the confidence to follow what she loved and understood how consistent work led to better performance, irrespective of field. Her other great passion was mathematics, and you’ll see how these two areas have followed her along the entrepreneurial journey.
In 2012, Kirin launched non-profit SHINE (Supporting, Harnessing, Inspiring, Nurturing, and Empowering), a unique after-school program to empower young women to value their own potential and capabilities within the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
Kirin has degrees in electrical engineering, computer science, and mathematics from MIT, as well as advanced degrees in mathematics, statistics, and business from the University of Cambridge, London School of Economics, and Stanford.
She was listed as Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2022, and was honored as one of Variety's “10 Innovators to Watch'' in 2021.
Today, her big focus is Illumix. Since launching in 2017, Illumix has powered digital-physical experiences across the metaverse, ranging from entertainment to commerce, and bridges the 2D and 3D world through their breakthrough technology.
Illumix has been recognized by Fast Company and Google and secured $13 million in venture capital funding. As a woman of Indian descent, she is one of Silicon Valley’s few minority female founders and CEOs with a technical background.
If, like me, you have a lot of questions about how emerging technology will shape our world, you’ll love this conversation.
In this episode:
- How to recognize and unleash your potential
- When Kirin realized the metaverse was going to be the future
- How she’s built Illumix into a global powerhouse; and
- What exciting things technology has in store for us just around the corner.
Before we begin, the right bit of inspiration can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend or loved one who needs to hear this episode or could use some help to Win the Day, share it with them right now.
Let’s WIN THE DAY with Kirin Sinha!
Kirin, it's so great to see you. Thanks for coming on the Win the Day show.
Thank you so much for having me.
Well, I'd love you just to set the table. What are we talking about when we talk about metaverse, augmented reality and those types of things?
Absolutely. So the metaverse is getting a lot of attention today. And really all we're talking about when we talk about the ‘metaverse’ is what the next form of the internet is. How will people participate in the digital world in the future?
Today, a lot of how we participate in the digital world is behind screens, on Instagram or TikTok, maybe you're on Zooms as frequently as I am! That's really how we engage with our world today.
The idea with the metaverse is that it will become more immersive, more 3D, more interactive, where instead of sitting in one place and staring at a screen, we might actually be moving around and have digital content around us.
We might be in a fully digital world, but I think it's really about freeing ourselves from some of the constructs technology has put around us that have given us so many opportunities and so much connection, but in some ways have also really limited us in its current iteration.
Is everyone going to be walking around with giant headsets? Or in the future, is it going to be without those things to make it more accessible and more comfortable?
With augmented reality (AR) in particular, whenever you're talking about combining digital and physical, there has to be a lens of some kind. Today, a lot of the lenses are really clunky and big and really more targeted at a virtual reality (VR) audience.
VR might be something that would replace the personal computer, so it's something you might have at home; you maybe do work or gaming and really things that are more targeted at staying still in one location. In contrast, AR might be the future of something like the mobile device, where it's something that you have with you that's lightweight, that allows you to constantly be connected to a digital world.
So eventually, I think the way augmented reality will go is more lightweight glasses or a contact lens, something like that, as we move into the future.
Doing some research on you before our interview today, to me, you really are the epitome of the quote, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."
Where did that confidence, strength, and ambition that you have today all come from?
You spoke a little bit earlier about how dance has always been a huge part of my life from the time I was very, very young. I was a hugely dorky child, and could barely walk in a straight line!
My parents, who were rightfully concerned about my ability to make friends and stand in a classroom, stuck me in dance classes. I loved it. This music and movement became a huge part of my childhood and my expression.
Through that process, I learned a lot about confidence and how it's a skill that you work at. Everyone really, if you're competitively dancing, is looking to stand out. And that's really different than how I think a lot of girls are taught to behave inside the context of a classroom. Many young girls don't want to stand out necessarily, right? You want to fit in. It's the opposite. You were taught to fit in.
In the environment I grew up in, she never once suggested to me that I couldn't do something.
And in fact, if you stand out, often you're bullied, or that's not a positive thing in society today. But in the world of dance, it was. I think it was through that.
I have to give a lot of credit to my mother. In the environment I grew up in, she never once suggested to me that I couldn't do something. There was always a lot of support and confidence around supporting whatever it is that I really wanted to do.
From the time I was very young, I was very motivated to push and work really hard to be great at it. I used to want to stay home and practice and not go to birthday parties! That was just the kid that I was.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Kirin Sinha does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about her favorite quote, what advice she’d give her 18-year-old self, the one thing on her bucket list, and a whole lot more. 🚀
Map out the path if you never developed that confidence – where do you think you would've ended up?
It's so difficult to say.
A lot of what shaped who I was in my trajectory when I think about math, which has really been a huge part of my life and was the foundation for engineering, STEM, and everything that I've built my entire career on today. I don't think any of that would've happened.
I was accelerated as a child in math, so I was a sixth grader in calculus and high school classes with kids who were much, much larger than me. Yeah, I was a small dorky kid, no matter how you look at it!
I'm sure they were frustrated because you just kicked their ass in a math problem!
I would have never agreed or put myself in that position if I didn't have that confidence built up.
You're naturally going to stand out and be a little uncomfortable and awkward in those settings. If I hadn't developed that confidence at a young age, I don't think I could have ever done that. I would've said, "I'm just going to follow the path and stay as under the radar as possible,” which is how I was in my other day to day schooling.
I was definitely always uncomfortable and never felt like I totally fit in. And so, one of two ways to handle that.
In the intro we mentioned how a lot of the things that we would talk about would inspire people to realize and ignite their own potential, and that's it.
The reason I have the Win the Day podcast and do what I do – and it sounds like a big part of what you do too – is because there is so much wasted potential out there in the world.
Yet, the right mentorship and the right environment can completely explode your growth, happiness, and meaning every day.
People have so much potential. I firmly believe that. Everyone is on this earth to make an impact and has a purpose and can access that. But I think a lot of times you want to go with the flow and you are just floating through life.
One of the things I try and think about every day is: how did I show up today? Am I proud of how I showed up today? I feel like that word ‘proud’ often is something I reflect on in the evening of, "Do I feel proud of who I was today?"
A lot of being great at anything – and you learn that certainly dancing where you would spend hours on maybe a five second segment or playing piano or any of those types of things – is practice. It's doing something that's probably very boring, but doing it for an abnormally long period of time, and never giving up.
One of the things I try and think about every day is: how did I show up today? Am I proud of how I showed up today?
I think that that's 95% of the equation there. And if you live your everyday life like that, how different might your life be? Imagine if you showed up at every meeting and you were 100% present, you wanted to show up and give everything you had at every single meeting, how different might your life be?
How different would you show up? How different would you feel about yourself – and how might that impact the people around you, perceiving how much you care? It takes one person to really care and be passionate for that to spread and create incredible impact around what you do.
When did you feel comfortable being the odd one out?
Comfortable, I would say it came much later in life.
I embraced it when I was young and it was something I sort of tolerated and accepted. I think my headspace when I was growing up was I have one of two choices – either to just not do this thing that I love at all, or I accept that I'm going to be the odd one out and I'm just going to embrace it because I'm here and I want to be seen and heard and give back to the world around me.
I think about this analogy of being a large tree – you want to take up space and be present, but at the same time, you're giving back to the environment around you at any given time. I think about that a lot. It wasn't really until I started the company, so way after my academic career, where I leaned in and really felt comfortable being different because I realized that was a strength.
You might have touched on it there, but I was wondering, was there a single purpose that carried you through your childhood, through SHINE, and through Illumix and the things you're doing today?
I don't know if it was a single continuous purpose.
I knew from a young age I loved math. There was a very clear connection for me there of how simple and beautiful it could be to break down highly complex topics and how the most simple things were actually the most complex to solve. Or prove this idea of a universal truth and the currency that rings through everything was something I just thought was so beautiful.
A lot of my youth was following those passions. When you feel a connection to something, that's when you pursue it, even if you don't know exactly how that will manifest. It was only when I was at Stanford, maybe seven years ago, when I realized that was the toolkit for me to actually unleash creativity. That's really where my passion and purpose lies – in how we use technology and enable people to live and experience life the way you were when you were uninhibited.
Think about children running around and the way they see the world and their imagination, that all kind goes out of us at some point. And I love, love things like Harry Potter and Star Wars and all of that. I'm a huge nerd in case it's not wildly obvious from the story already! But I loved all of that stuff, as well as the idea of being part of those stories.
A lot of being great is about doing something that's probably very boring, but doing it for an abnormally long period of time, and never giving up.
Everyone is telling a story, whether you're a brand or you're a person, an entertainment company, it doesn't matter. Stories are all around us. It's what makes us human at a fundamental level.
I really feel that a lot of the way technology has evolved today has actually broken that down and put it in a very specific format. You're staring at a screen. You're just totally inert. How do we break free from that and do something that's going to be more natural and make people feel more engaged and fulfilled on a day to day basis?
So it really wasn't until seven years ago that I even realized media and entertainment was a real field I could get into.
It sounds like when you went to MIT, that was the first time you were in the environment where you had that peer support and found your tribe for the first time.
Who were you going into MIT and who were you afterwards?
Ironically, much the same person. A lot of my journey at MIT was a circle of going in and being this out-of-place math nerd, but I was potentially, I think, less confident.
I had felt going into college that I was a product of the things around me and not that I was choosing to be that person. I was the misfit math nerd, I didn't have a group. And that didn't feel like something I had as a choice, more as that was my reality.
So when I went into MIT for the first time, I had this incredible group of peers. We're all really excited and passionate about something, and it's what I loved about the school. It feels almost like tangible electricity when everyone around you is there for a purpose. It's the first time I'd experienced that when everyone was really there to pursue a passion or do research or push the boundary in some kind of way.
That was incredibly intoxicating to me. I felt like I had finally found my people who understood me and got me.
Through the process of going through college and finding a group and then realizing it probably still isn't exactly a perfect fit and then feeling out of place once more, by the time I left college, what I had realized was you can have these very deep connections with lots of people and be inspired by them, but it was never going to be, I think, my place to fit in with a specific group or be a specific type of person.
It was really more about me being able to form friendships across different groups and interests. And I felt like for the first time I had chosen for myself. This is what I want to do and this is what I want to be and I actually don't care at all about fitting in or having a group or anything like that. The stuff just doesn't matter.
Yeah, it was a very empowering experience.
From there is really when I started to feel comfortable charting my own path and doing a very different type of career than what I think I would've always expected for myself.
I should say that in Australia we say ‘maths’, whereas in the US, you say ‘math’ in case you’re wondering what I’m talking about!
With SHINE, when did you go from identifying that as a problem to being like, "I'm going to be the person to do something about it."
I've always been very passionate about getting more women into STEM. It's something I've always had a lot of exposure to, even at MIT which is a 50/50 gender ratio. In the hardcore maths and physics and electrical engineering, it is nowhere close to 50/50. It's an incredible minority of women.
When you think about that problem holistically, to me, it has to start from the pipeline. There have to be more girls at a young age who are interested in pursuing this, who will go to high school math and then potentially pursue it in college. Otherwise, you can't address this much larger problem that has a huge impact.
When you feel a connection to something, that's when you pursue it, even if you don't know exactly how that will manifest.
Technology is a sector that has a very wide impact on how we live our lives on a day to day basis and women's voices should be represented there. I think we will land in a better place as a society when that is true.
So I started just tutoring and teaching in the Cambridge public school system when I was at MIT. What I really noticed was that girls used very different language to describe what they struggled with than what boys did.
They would say things like, "I can't get fractions," not "I don't get fractions." And that word can't versus don't, it means something completely different. Can't implies you don't think you have the potential to do something. Don't means "I just don't get it right now." But can't means "I don't think I'll ever be able to get this. It's not who I am. I'm not a math person."
There was this huge amount of identity that was associated or disassociated with STEM that I think doesn't hold in a lot of other cases. When I really thought about my own personal journey and what changed that for me as we spoke about earlier, it was dance. And so it was a wacky experiment of, "Can I get girls to sign up for an after school dance program that's secretly teaching them math?" And the answer was yes!
Being in a different environment can make all the difference. When you're not sitting in a classroom where you might already have preconceived notions about who you are and what your capabilities are, you're in a totally new space, you're maybe experiencing joy, and I think dance and math are actually very interesting pair because it gives a physicality to something that's usually very abstract, so when you can start to tie those things together, it gave a lot of these young girls the space to have that aha moment of "I can do this."
All it takes is one moment of realizing "I can do this" to change everything. It changes how they show up in the classroom, how they show up in school, how they show up after school. It really has a profound impact.
We had girls who, for the first time in their lives, were raising their hands in classes. That's really significant when we're talking about a fifth, sixth grade girl where that's going to change potentially how her future unfolds.
And so for me, it was just something I wanted to try. It was in no way supposed to be a business or a huge franchise or anything like that! I just wanted to help the group of, I think it was like 11 girls that we started with.
I wanted to see if they could see what I could see in them. Because I could look at them and say, "I know you can do this. I know it looking at you," but they didn't know it yet.
Developing that habit at a young age, which then impacts the millions of other decisions they're going to make from there completely changes their evolution.
It's small changes, right?
It's usually not huge moments and big things that I think change the trajectory of your life or create impact. It's small changes, small moments that build up over a long period of time. It's a compounding effect.
You've studied at a whole bunch of educational institutions that we mentioned earlier. Did you do that because you wanted to go and learn more?
Were you getting more practical skills with each one that you went to? Or was there some other type of opportunity like relationships, or something else that you were trying to aim for?
Well, it was really interesting to be both in the US schooling system and in the British one which approach education and learning very differently. That was an incredible experience for me because I thought I was going to be a professor! So I did want a little bit of that exposure to a different way of thinking.
MIT, Cambridge, and Stanford all in particular do that very differently. And so I thought that was an interesting high level experience. But really there's less of a plan than I think people think.
All it takes is one moment of realizing "I can do this" to change everything.
A lot of times when we look back at our lives, you can create the thread and create the story, but a lot of how I've focused my life is just when you have an opportunity that feels aligned with something that you feel genuine excitement and passionate about, just say yes.
I had the opportunity to go abroad and study at Cambridge and I just said yes, because that sounded like something that would help me grow as a person and push me and make me a good cocktail of discomfort and excitement.
I think that's almost always an indication that you should do it.
Have you heard the Steve Jobs quote, "You can only connect the dots looking back, not forward"?
Yes, I have.
I often think about that in my own life, just all the different things that we do. Down the track, people are like, "Oh wow, what an amazing plan, that straight line that you've been on."
It was actually like a stock market chart. It was the complete opposite!
Yeah. And it's totally natural, I think to go back and do that and make sense of it, but I think it can also be isolating when you feel lost in your life and you feel like everyone else had this path and this plan and they knew what they were going to accomplish from day one.
Maybe someone else out there doesn't feel that way and doesn't know where they're going in the path. It's easier than that in some ways. Like rip that all apart and say, "What excites you the most when you're doing it?" Where do you feel joy? Not happiness, but joy.
Every single day, I try to have one moment of pure unadulterated joy.
Every single day, I try to have one moment of pure unadulterated joy. It's something that a lot of times I'm lucky in that that's in my work. Sometimes it's a one minute dance party or a really delicious bite of food or something like that.
If you’re really connecting to joy: a) You never get burnt out. I believe that; and b) It's almost this incredible compass that points you towards what you care about and what you like to do. Where does that joy come from for you? If you push towards that, I think you're going to accomplish incredible things.
When does joy become dangerous?
And in the joy that you are talking about here in terms of you being able to be happy and avoid burnout, what are some examples or things that people should look out for so they can maintain it, but not fall off the tightrope?
Joy is always a complex topic because it's very different than happiness and very different than pleasure. So I would question if someone is eating three bowls of ice cream, is that pleasure or is that true joy?
Joy is more existential. I feel the most joy when I see something that I've been picturing in my head actually come to life. That to me is pure, like an unadulterated source of joy when I'm imagining "Wouldn't it be great if one day this character could be here and actually talk to me in real life? What would that be like? Wouldn't it be great if this whole environment around me were actually something totally different?"
When you actually see that occur for me, it's this incredible moment of joy. I think joy ultimately connects us to our purpose. A lot of times you can feel happiness and pleasure and things like that, but it may not really be connected to our purpose.
I work pretty long hours and I have for quite a while, so I get asked about burnout a lot, and I don't think it's about doing less. Everyone's like, "You need a break. You look like you're getting burnt out." And I completely disagree with that.
You need to do more of what genuinely connects you to your joy and to your purpose. If you focus more on why you do what you do, maybe it's because you believe that these kinds of fantasy worlds are really inspiring to you. Maybe it's because you think that technology is super exciting.
I'm obviously talking about my world [Illumix], but for anyone out there, why is it that you originally did what you do every day? What do you spend your time on that you care about? And if you can go back to that source, I think you never get burnt out.
What does your daily routine look like? And what do you mean by long hours?
I've cut back! I'm living a more balanced lifestyle now. It's really a marathon, not a sprint.
But I started waking up between 4:00 AM – 5:00 AM when I was 14 to start work. And for me, when I was dancing seriously, I'd have to do all my homework in the mornings basically, because after school I'd be in rehearsals until late and then you go to sleep and you have to wake up and do all your work.
If you’re feeling burnt out, do more of what genuinely connects you to your joy and to your purpose.
So I wake up quite early. I do my first work session somewhere between 4:30 AM – 6:30 AM. I work out for about an hour, get ready, have breakfast. And then I hop into meetings by maybe 8:00, 8:30. And then basically work on and off without a break – apart from a walk in the afternoon – until 9:00 PM.
On your afternoon walk, do you have headphones in and try to listen to podcasts or audiobooks? Or is that just to be connected to the environment and specifically not have any external stimulus?
Usually I try to not have too much external stimulus. Sometimes music. But I try not to listen to podcasts at that time. I listen to a lot of podcasts in the morning when I'm getting ready. That's my time to do that.
We go to the beach a lot as a family. I love the beach so much. It's my happy place. It's where I get centered and relaxed.
And inevitably, someone rocks up with this really loud speaker, cranking out this horrible music that destroys the serenity. You're there to be with nature! Not to listen to whatever this guy is blaring.
It's very easy to have that obligation or that sensation that we always need to be connected to something.
I agree. I think everyone does feel that they need to be connected. And to the point at which they're disconnected with the world, I actually feel this is the problem with how we live life right now.
How many times are you out in an environment, at a dinner at the beach and actually what you're doing is you're staring at this tiny little screen in your pocket and you're not engaged and present with the world around you? To me, the purpose of technology is to better connect us with the world and the people around us. At some point, we've lost sight of that a little bit and it's actually disconnecting us.
To me, the purpose of technology is to better connect us with the world and the people around us.
That's where I think augmented reality has such power because while we might not have to be completely disconnected, it's actually about us being fully present in our environment. To me, that is empowering people to be more connected, more present, more constantly kind of heads up.
Heads down is very concerning to me. When you look around, you look at the bus, you look at people at dinners, everyone is heads down looking at their phone and disconnected. I think during the pandemic we actually experience that that's not what makes people happy.
Are we at the worst point in technology before all these other improvements, like you’re working on with Illumix, can get us back on track in terms of quality of life?
I do think it's going to be getting better soon.
There are always cycles in technology and we're towards the end of our current cycle, whether you want to call that Web 2.0 or pick anything, this is probably that moment where there's enough dissatisfaction happening.
That's why we're seeing a revolution right now with metaverse and Web 3.0 of a lot of people saying, "Current state is not great. How do we make this better? What does the next version of this world look like?" And I think that's actually the moment in time we're experiencing.
With Illumix specifically, what was the problem that you wanted to solve and why did it fall on your shoulders to do it?
When I started Illumix, it wasn't so much that I woke up one day and said, “I want to be a CEO” or “I want to be an entrepreneur.” I don't think I've ever thought that necessarily.
I really wanted this world to exist. I really wanted content to break free from screens. And I really believe that we had finally hit a moment in time where we have super computers and cameras and are on our person at all given times to engage with the world in a new way.
I believed that was possible and that would be how we share experiences in the future. When I looked around, no one was doing it. If someone was doing it, I probably would've joined them and been like, "This is great. I would love to be a part of this!" But no one was really doing it.
I was completely consumed by this concept. I felt like I was on fire every day of "This needs to exist, I want to experience this." I think other people will want to experience this and I really believe that the future is going to be more immersive and more interactive and just put us in a position of power.
So much content today is passive. We're sitting there, it's happening. We're bingeing, we're scrolling. I don't think that that's the future. In the future, we're much more in control of that. And we're starting to see that come into play with gaming and TikTok and some of these new things that have gained huge consumer traction.
And it just didn't exist. It just didn't exist. Sometimes you build something because you believe it will exist – and should exist – and you want to be a part of shaping that.
The best way to predict the future is to create it.
Give us an example of what that looks like from a practical sense. What's available right now in terms of an experience using AR or the metaverse?
There's a lot.
What Illumix specifically does is we kind of think about it as when the internet came around. Everyone knew this was going to be important, but didn't know how to engage with it. How do you create a presence on the internet? How do you connect with consumers? And that's where companies like Squarespace or WordPress came into play, where they solved a lot of the technical problems and they made it easy for anyone to tell their story and create a presence.
That's really what Illumix is doing in the world of the metaverse. We're sort of what Squarespace or WordPress did, which is we've solved all the nasty tech bits and infrastructure bits that you probably never want to look at and we're just giving you the tools to easily create that kind of content.
Things are flying in the air and there's magic all around you.
So that could be everything from going to a theme park today and actually seeing these fantastical things that might not be possible. Things are flying in the air and there's magic all around you. It could be something like that, all the way to shopping online.
Think about how we do online shopping right now. The process is, you buy stuff, you try it on, you send it back, which is, one, incredibly inefficient, and two, horrific for the planet. And doing that differently and saying, "Well, if I'm looking at a necklace, I should just be able to see what that looks like on me. Why not? We have a camera there. We have connectivity there. Why is that not the case?"
So that's another example of something that Illumix is enabling.
What about 10-15 years into the future? Do you dare even think about some of those things and what would that look like?
Oh, I think every entrepreneur should dare. I think that when you're forming a company or forming a pitch deck, the first thing that you need to really have clarity on is in 10 years or 50 years, the world looks like X.
I think about this all the time. In 10 to 15 years, I think there will be a kind of head worn device, contacts, glasses – probably a blend of the two. We'll be in a place where people are constantly able to engage in the world around them, where I don't see the kind of horrible dystopian future of there's ads everywhere and all we see is digital content.
But I think it's one of those things where we can actually be heads up and walking on the beach and not worried about what's happening in my pocket. Why do I need to look down to see something? It could be something where we're walking along the beach and if you want to hear music or if you don't, you could just say out loud "Play Queen" or whatever it is that you're into.
"Turn off the other guy's music!"
Yeah, "Turn off the other guy's music!"
And you'd be able to live in that world and share your world with others. That's a really important thing. Being able to share the version of the world you experience with others is an incredibly powerful part of what the metaverse will be.
How far away are we from not having devices anymore in terms of things like iPhones?
I think we're several years away from that. My suspicion is that we'll still be a part of the infrastructure for the next few years. It will just be almost more like having the computer battery pack around you, but you'll have another way of experiencing and engaging with the information.
What about dangers? There's a lot of chatter about how AI in particular can destroy the world hypothetically. Where do you sit in terms of the dangers of emerging technologies?
There is always an obligation to think very deeply about the ethics of anything that has the ability to make choices for itself, right? So there's a lot of bias that we can put in that, which is part of why I feel so passionately about having other representation out there, because you're going to see things differently and realize where some of that bias might come in when you're programming. Whether it's AI or just even traditional algorithms, there needs to be a lot of thought put into that.
On the AI is going to take over the world with robots that destroy us component, I have very little worry about that right now. We are just nowhere close to that. That's called generalized AI. We are a long, long ways off from that – if we ever get there. That's one of those red herrings that people talk too much about, that ‘sexy robots kill us’ example and not enough about the practicality of the AI that's actually impacting our lives every day and making choices for us.
There's a lot of bias that we can put in that, which is part of why I feel so passionately about having other representation out there.
If the government is using AI in a certain way to identify people or something that seems more intense and like that, all the way to something about how Google might represent your choices and show you different types of information, that all needs to be thought of very deeply. What data is being fed in? Is that an unbiased data set? Is it going to ultimately make us more separated and create a world that we don't feel safe living in versus something that I think can and has been used to make our lives much better and easier?
In some ways, AI is really just an evolution of algorithms and technology that have been around. I think it gets a worse wrap because people don't understand. Most of how companies use AI is basically a linear interpolation of a straight line like this data.
Most companies who are AI are not doing a lot. There's obviously some exceptions there that are doing very deep research and work, but usually it's, I think, not as harmful as people think.
As we adopt some of these immersive technologies here, are there any challenges with people having a difficult switching off and rejoining the real world, which might be far more mundane by comparison?
Yeah, sure. I think the example you're talking about is really the purely virtual world of where we're living and we're working in this incredible place, like a Ready Player One style environment and then we go back to our real lives and feel a huge disconnect.
I really believe that the future is actually about, this is why I like augmented reality, where these two things are constantly blended so you never feel that disconnect. In some ways, I actually think the scenario described is not super far from the way we're living today.
If you look on Instagram or TikTok, you might be seeing a very different version of the world where your life looks a lot less fulfilling and exciting in comparison because you're basically comparing something that doesn't exist to something that does exist, right? That's still what's happening in a lot of the digital world today.
But I honestly believe because that makes people unhappy, it's specifically because that is the case, that that will not be the future. Because ultimately, people will go, I think, for things that make them feel more complete. And we see this happening, right? There's already a huge backlash against this sort of fake overly perfect world or these worlds that don't make us feel good to something that feels more representative of the real world.
The real world is gaining some sexiness back of being authentic in yourself and not embellishing. And that's where augmented reality in the metaverse is ultimately going to take us.
You're five years into the Illumix journey. What was the moment when you were like, "Wow, I think we're onto a winner here"?
There are a few moments along the journey where you really think there might be something incredible here. And I think a lot of it comes down to how consumers react to your product, or whoever your target audience is. There has to be that product market fit of, you might think it's really cool and I've always thought it was really cool, but do other people really want this?
I think the first time we play/tested our first game, which was Five Nights at Freddy's, we brought in a bunch of Stanford students and basically randos off the street and said, "Hey, we want you to try this and see how you feel about it."
You might think it's really cool and I've always thought it was really cool, but do other people really want this?
Watching them actually engage in AR for the first time, and this was a horror title, but we saw people, it's just their little phones basically, backing up into corners and being really scared and really screaming. A lot of people moved up against the wall and we were like, "That is a visceral reaction to something that does not exist right now."
But people felt it was really real! And that's when we realized we really were stitching together imagination and this kind of digital content with what reality was for people in a way that I think hadn't been done before.
It must be incredible to watch that just unfold before your eyes for the first time.
It was really incredible to see it happen and to get the feedback. When people have moments where they feel like their own imagination and creativity has come to life, it's something people automatically connect to because it's human.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Kirin Sinha does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about her favorite quote, what advice she’d give her 18-year-old self, the one thing on her bucket list, and a whole lot more. 🚀
Everyone imagines the world a certain way or has imagined the world a certain way. When you get to see things that you didn't think were possible actually unfold before your eyes, it's a pure magic moment. You see it in everyone's eyes. Everyone's eyes get wide and you have a real reaction as though that thing was actually sitting in front of you.
Are there any particularly rough days on this journey that stand out? We've mentioned joy. We've mentioned all the good times.
Especially since it’s been such a wild few years for the world more broadly.
Oh, constantly. As a founder, you’re probably some combination of exhausted, terrified, and nauseous.
But I mean, if we're being honest, that's what a lot of it is. A lot of my personal journey as a founder has been learning how to emotionally regulate through that and how to not be so impacted by the bumps along the road. There have been a few tools that I've kind of gathered through the years that I think have helped me with that.
One of the big realizations for me is that you never actually know what ends up being good or bad. There are times where there were deals that we didn't get and I was devastated because you've worked so hard towards an outcome.
You really want something to happen and it doesn't work out. And then you look back and you say that was absolutely the right call. I think almost exclusively, the best moments come after the worst moments.
You never actually know what ends up being good or bad.
And so you go through some really tough times where you think, "This is never going to work. This is never going to launch. We're going to run out of money. No one's ever going to agree to fund us."
There's constantly moments of doubt of "What am I doing with my life and how do I continue to do it and justify it if no one else believes in me?" Fundraising, I think, is always some of the toughest times for founders for that reason, because you're really putting yourself on the line.
And it is personal. It should be personal in some ways, right? Not the rejection component, but this is your life's work. This is what you wake up and fall asleep and think about 24/7. If someone says, "Oh, I don't think it's going anywhere," you're, of course, going to take that personally.
So learning that resilience and that ability to keep an eye on the larger picture has been a really important part of the journey.
Is there anything specifically you do to enable that?
Or even self care, in terms of what helps you stay focused, committed, and productive?
There's a few things I do.
Focusing on the big picture is an important one. That's when it can become really dark as an entrepreneur, when you get really stuck in the day to day and you don't see the bigger vision and picture anymore.
So I journal every night, kind of stream-of-consciousness style. And that helps just remove everything from my brain that might be there. So I think that's very important. In the mornings, I meditate. I think that helps me focus.
And I also literally have a Google Calendar invite at least once a week. Sometimes it's every morning, it's called ‘Big Picture Thinking.’ It's just a reminder for myself to say, "Okay, where are we going? Where is the company going? Is everything we're doing still aligned with that? And how is it that I'm showing up today to support that big picture goal?" Because otherwise, you can do a lot of work and miss the boat on what really matters.
Where are we going? Is everything we're doing still aligned with that?
So I literally have a Google Calendar invite that reminds me to focus on that every day and at least think about that every day. I think all of those things have very much helped me.
And you just reframe your attitude towards ‘no’ – that’s been so important. You hear no a lot, especially as an early startup, right? And certainly when you're fundraising. You need to realize that failure in some ways is not an end state, it's just a stepping stone on the way to get to a yes. It's the stepping stone on the way to success.
I had heard at one point, "How would you feel about no if I told you there was only two more nos until you got to yes? You would be running at those nos, you'd be like, "Yes, let's do this asap!"
"Thank you so much!"
Exactly! “I cannot wait to get through those two nos because I know that yes is on the other side.”
That is the reality. There is always a yes on the other side and there is a finite number of nos. And so you have to kind of run into the wall knowing “I just need to get through the nos and the bad fits and the people that are probably not going to be the right ones for my journey anyway. And that no is actually just a path on the way to yes.”
It really reframes how you think about things. There is always a yes there if you keep going. It's a perseverance game.
You mentioned the stream of consciousness journaling.
Do you write something down or are these just thoughts that you just have going through your head mentally? What's that process?
I write things down. So I used to hand write them. Sometimes I type them now because there's such a lot of thoughts and limited time and I can type very quickly relative to how quickly I can write. I use Day One.
Yeah, me too. The Day One journal app?
Yeah. Day One.
It's amazing because sometimes in between meetings I have things on my mind that I need to feel clear out before I get to my other meeting and I can, in an Uber ride or something, just type it out. It's an incredible app for journaling, and kind of keeping track of your emotional status and regulation.
There is always a yes on the other side and there is a finite number of nos.
I started journaling when I was at MIT actually and things were very stressful. Again, it's a good opportunity to get things out of your head, to focus on gratefulness. I put prompts in mine on things I'm grateful for on things I'm inspired by on something I could do better for the next day.
So in case you can't tell, I like structure! I like structure and everything I do. So even my stream of conscious journaling has some structure to it. And that's how I do it every night.
So my Day One journal, I created a Win the Day template to include a daily recap of the last 24 hours, gratitude acknowledgement, three things to Win the Day, daily affirmation / intention, and then a lesson that will help me reflect and learn.
Oh, that's a great idea.
That's sort of the way I've been doing it now 420 days in a row.
That's amazing. I don't know what my streak is, but it's pretty high as well. I think the three things in the morning is also so important. I tie that into my big picture thinking of, what are the three things that I'm doing to make that big picture or vision a reality every day?
What gives you the confidence to keep raising the bar and just have that energy every single day in terms of this massive, massive vision? Are there other people in your network that you have to have conversations with on a regular basis?
I know a big part of your success is being very intentional about how you approach building your network, finding out the best performers in their different fields and meeting up with those people to find out who they know.
Yes. So when I think about, this was I think in reference to hiring, early on of how did I get into a field I really didn't know anything about, it's taking one person who will talk to you. It might take a while to find that first person. I cold emailed a lot of people, and taking that and showing up, being present, being really engaged and then asking them who are the top three people that they've ever worked with and do think they would speak to me.
By doing that, you get exposed to some incredible talent and different ways of thinking. And as your environment shifts, you grow and shift along with it.
I think a lot of the confidence comes from doing the work, right? I mean, some of it is a headspace thing, but some of it is I don't stress as much when I go into high intensity meetings compared to other people or when I'm giving talks in front of a lot of people. Because at the end of the day, I know every single day I have worked my butt off to be the expert in my field.
I know every single day I have worked my butt off to be the expert in my field.
I've read every article. I've done all the studies and all the technology pieces, I've worked really hard to stay up to date on that. There's nothing someone else could throw at me that I haven't already thought about. And if they have, then that's great and that's an incredible learning opportunity for me to grow and continue to think about something in a new way.
So for me, this is always kind of a win-win of either I have the opportunity to grow in this space, or there's no reason to be stressed because it's an exchange of ideas or just a conversation. What's the worst that can really happen?
I think people really overemphasize all this negative components of what could happen, "Oh, I could sound silly. Oh, I could be embarrassed." They really underestimate all the good things that can come out of that. You could meet someone that's really inspiring, you could find someone who's going to be our COO. There's incredible things that can come out of every interaction because everyone has something to offer.
I really approach everything in that headspace. It takes a lot of stress off. I think a lot about how you can show up and be better every day as a part of the journaling, as part of my weekly routine of how is it that I'm growing and being better, constantly learning, by no means stops when you're outside of school.
There's so many different axes on which to grow outside of just education, which I think a lot of people focus on. But how you fill your time, I think a lot about my "diet..." I say diet in quotes here because when people say diet, they think about what you're eating and what you're putting in your body. But your diet is, to me, everything you consume.
What are you watching? What are you listening to? Who are around you? You're consuming things constantly. And what's around you, just like your physical diet will change what your body is like, your environmental, psychological diet will really change how you show up and you feel.
So if you're watching a lot of TV or hanging around people who are really negative, there's all kinds of different inputs that might be there, it's going to change how you feel about yourself and how you show up whether you can see it as clearly as gaining weight or losing weight or being muscular or not.
That's all a part of who you are, how you show up, and it impacts your performance the same way a meal would. That is something I think a lot about is, what has my diet been, basically. Who have I spent time with and has this been something positive for me or negative for me?
It's like catching up with someone for coffee and all they do is complain, complain, complain. At the end of an hour, they've just ripped your ear off about how bad their life is and all this complaining.
Then you meet someone who's gone through things that are 1,000 times more difficult, yet they're always looking for the gift in this and they're positive. You leave in a completely different headspace.
It's a completely different headspace. And so much of it is the lens of what you're looking for. It's the, when you buy a car and you see that car everywhere all of a sudden. That happened to me recently. And I was like, "My God, there are a lot of white cars out here!"
But that's the same thing with life. If you're really going around and you're looking for something positive, if you're looking for signs that this is working out for you, you're going to see them. When you go in and you think, "I'm not going to win today," or if you go in with a negative headspace, that's what you're going to see. And it's a snowball effect.
On your best day, what's an affirmation that you would write on a flashcard that you could show yourself on your worst day?
I love Post-its so I have Post-its all over my apartment at all times! I have them with me all the time. I think they're an incredible business tool because you have to distill thoughts in a very clean and concise way.
The Post-it I currently have on my desktop screen and the quote that most inspires me right now is, "Champions don't show up to get everything they want. They show up to give everything they have." And that is something that's giving me a lot of energy right now – on your best day or your worst day, it's really a question of, did you give everything that you have? All you can do is show up every day and give everything you have.
Champions don't show up to get everything they want. They show up to give everything they have.
And to me, that's regardless of the type, what happens, what you get out of that, that could be bad, that could be good, that's not always in your control. But if you show up and you give everything you have and you think about your life from that impact driven mindset, you will, I think, feel more fulfilled.
You’ll actually achieve more towards your goals than any other headspace.
What are you most excited for with the future of Illumix?
Oh, it's an exciting time right now across the board. I am really excited over the next year as you start to see more of these digital physical interactions and what you interact with daily. Whether it's how you're shopping, how you're gaming, how you're walking around and experiencing the world, that is actually at a bit of a tipping point right now where we're really going to start to see interactive 3D becoming a part of our everyday life versus static 2D.
Final question, what's one thing you do to Win the Day?
I'm going to name finding that moment of joy and kind of using that as your beacon for finding your purpose.
Kirin, thank you so much for sharing all your amazing wisdom today. It's been such a great chat.
Thank you so much for having me.
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Resources / links mentioned:
💎 Illumix website.
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🗺️ ‘Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration’ by Ed Catmull.
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