This Entrepreneur Is Pushing VR Into Animated Movies


Everyone has heard of Virtual Reality, but with Maureen Fan, CEO of Baobab Studios, films are about to get a lot more engaging. In particular, the Emmy nominated actress and director Elizabeth Banks, is going to star as the main voice for the new Baobab Studios VR animation “ASTEROIDS!”, which is scheduled for release in 2017. Banks is widely known in pop culture, and combining her talent with this new entertainment medium is sure to make Baobab Studios much more widely known.

Maureen Fan is somewhat of an animation superhero, who studied at Stanford undergrad and designed her major to be computer science, art and psychology, which is the perfect major for animation. However, instead of going into film after graduating, she went into Ebay as a designer and was there for five years. Fan still really loved animation, though, and made a point of taking classes at the community college to further her talent.

As an incredible overachiever, Fan then went on to Harvard Business School for her MBA and took an internship at Pixar, helping the production team with Toy Story 3--yes, I’m sure you’re all jealous too! Following her work with Pixar, Fan was employed by the game company Zynga as a senior product manager, and worked her way up to be vice president of games. On weekends she helped two friends work on the short film, The Dance Keeper, which was eventually nominated for an Oscar.

This diverse background is what lead Fan to launching her new venture Baobab Studios, changing the entire animation industry through VR.

“When I watch animation, it brings back that five year old in me, it brings out my sense of wonder."

When she worked at Zynga, Fan had the most women and the most minorities on her team, and as a female minority, she says that she was more comfortable hiring similar people to work with and build a trust with. She has brought this idea of inclusivity to her new VR-focused company Baobab Studios, which has an incredibly diverse workforce.

Baobob's first product, “INVASION!,” was actually meant to be an experiment to see if the company had what it takes to make a successful product. Much to Fan's surprise the animated VR movie became the number one downloaded piece of content (in VR), and later got picked up to be made into a feature length animated film. Thanks to Baobab Studios and Fan’s genius, this is the first time VR is being sourced into Hollywood instead of the other way around.

And while it appears that Fan has only had successes in her life, that is not actually the case. While still working at Zynga, she was part of a team designing a game that got cancelled. About this trying time, Fan says, “That was very difficult for me because I hate failure, but at the same time I always tend to gravitate towards projects that are riskier, that I think will make a huge impact.” Words to live by. How quickly can you pick yourself back up and try again after experimenting with a risky project? Well that might be a little easier with two more points of advice from Fan:

Always make sure you’re asking questions--if you’re not asking, you’re going to lose out. Men are asking for promotions etc, so don’t become disadvantaged by not doing the same.

Get a ton of sponsors and mentors.

She also makes sure to clarify that women shouldn’t strive to become more like men in these industries--women don’t have to change, but the system has to change. With more women like Fan entering and improving the industry, this change should hopefully happen towards bettering women in a more male dominated work place.

So what’s the big vision for Baobab Studios? “With virtual reality, not only are you inside the experience, you can become an active participant in it.” Meaning, Fan and her coworkers want to make VR films that affect people’s emotions and allow them to truly become apart of the film they are watching. You are a character and you have impact on what happens to the other characters in the story. What you do impacts how the other characters feel, and how they feel about you, which then changes your emotions. Incredible, right?

Make sure to keep a lookout for the newest animation, “ASTEROIDS!” and what’s sure to be many more successes in Fan’s, and Baobab Studios, future.

3 Min Read

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.