Virtuix Omni: From Kickstarter to Shark Tank to CES

Insights from the FirstMark Hardwired series, a monthly event in New York covering the intersection of hardware and software, including Internet of Things, 3D printing, robotics and virtual reality. With more than 5,000 members, Hardwired surfaces the stories behind some of the most interesting companies in the world. This post profiles Virtuix Founder Jan Goetgeluk. 

When Virtuix Founder Jan Goetgeluk moved from Belgium to the U.S. he bought a white, four-door, 2001 Dodge Stratus, which he went on to drive during business school and his career as an investment banker at J.P. Morgan.

He remembers a J.P. Morgan executive asking for a ride from the airport and being shocked at his modest wheels. Goetgeluk recalls the guy saying, “You know you’re going to have to buy a new car, right?”

Years later, Goetgeluk still drives the Dodge.

And with classic entrepreneurial stubbornness, he says, “I’m going to drive this car until the wheels fall off or we become a sustainable company.”

Much of Goetgeluk’s entrepreneurial journey is classic grit and hustle. He earned a mechanical engineering degree in Belgium, immigrated to the U.S. for a graduate degree and dreamed of one day launching his own company. After graduation, he took the investment banking job, which provided a work visa and enough income to save for his future startup.

It was 2010 and Goetgeluk was part of a burgeoning virtual reality community. And through this community he heard chatter about what Palmer Lucky was building at Oculus, but he noticed one big problem.

“How can you walk around in the virtual world? You needed an omni-directional treadmill in 360 degrees and that didn’t exist yet,” Goetgeluk said. “I thought, ‘I’m a mechanical engineer. That’s a problem I want to start working on.’”

So, in the off-hours from his 80-100 hour investment banking work weeks, Goetgeluk started designing a prototype of the Virtuix Omni. And, after 12 months of hard work...the prototype still didn’t work.

Goetgeluk found himself sneaking out of his day job to visit the machine shop to continue pushing toward a design that would enable natural movement within VR.

And, with great persistence, a working prototype emerged.

Goetgeluk filmed videos of himself playing games with the Omni prototype and the “community went wild,” he said. He attracted press coverage and the type of enthusiasm that gave him the gumption to leave a $400,000 banking paycheck to go all-in on the Omni.

Harnessing some of that early enthusiasm, Goetgeluk launched in June 2013 a Kickstarter campaign that attracted $1.1 million in backing from more than 3,000 individuals eager to walk through virtual worlds. It was an amazing start, but he realized it wasn’t enough money to bring a groundbreaking hardware product to market.

So, he turned to ABC’s Shark Tank. While he didn’t raise money on the show, he said you can’t beat “having your product on primetime television in front of 8 million viewers.” He didn’t have trouble lining up funding after the show. To date, Virtuix has raised $8 million and the first commercial version of the product shipped last month.

Interestingly, Goetgeluk said it required a certain amount of ignorance for him to bring his idea to life.

“If someone had told me the day I quit my investment banking job that it would take $8 million and 3 years to get this product to market, I probably wouldn’t have quit my job,” he said.

But, Goetgeluk continues to drive forward, though it remains to be seen how long it will be from behind the wheel of a Dodge Stratus. Coming off a Top Pick award at CES 2016, the Virtuix Omni has terrific momentum at a time when virtual reality is set to go mainstream.

To hear more about Goetgeluk’s entrepreneurial journey and see the Omni in action, check out the above video from FirstMark’s Hardwired NYC.