Investing in the metaverse: is it worth it for small businesses?
This article was written by Benjamin Davison.
Imagine that you had a chance to invest in the internet in the early 1990s. While the average person in 1991 had never heard of the internet and likely wouldn’t understand how it could improve or change their life, a few forward-thinking visionaries saw what the internet could be and got in on the ground floor. Today, we depend on the internet for everything from navigation to shopping, information gathering, socializing, and gaming. Tomorrow, we may find ourselves as dependent on the metaverse as we are on the internet. So, is there a way for your small business to invest in the metaverse, and is it worth doing?
The metaverse of today is much like the internet of the early 1990s. It’s available, and many people are using it, but it is still a developing world built on relatively new technology. The metaverse, like the internet, is a shared virtual environment that allows people to engage and interact with the world around them in a new way. The traditional internet, however, is primarily a 2D experience delivered to us through phones, tablets, and other screens. Unlike the internet, the metaverse offers users a completely immersive experience through virtual reality or augmented reality technology. Google Street View, for example, can be helpful on a phone or tablet but brings users to locations much more viscerally in virtual reality environments such as Oculus’ Wander.
The completely immersive nature of the metaverse will change how we engage in many things. Remote work will be more effective than ever: imagine leading a Six-Sigma project in the metaverse, where people who are oceans apart can collaborate in “real” space, and clumsy easel-sized pads of paper do not limit your project boards and charts. Engineers, architects, and artists can engage in their work in ways we can only begin to imagine.
The metaverse will be a valuable work and collaboration tool, and our ability to access entertainment will be facilitated in a way almost too futuristic to be believed. Sports fans can be on the sidelines or the field during the big game. Concertgoers can engage with performers and have experiences we can’t even imagine. Gamers will get to play games that feel real and involve real-time, three-dimensional interaction with other people. This stuff sounds futuristic, but it’s happening now. Companies like McDonald’s are already developing plans for virtual events and building the metaverse into their long-term planning. A whole new economy is blooming around virtual land in the metaverse.
The metaverse is still reasonably nuanced, but it’s easy to see how a technology like this could become a game-changer in the years ahead. And while it’s likely possible that the metaverse could turn out to be a ten-billion-dollar nothingburger, this technology will probably catch on eventually. So, what kind of opportunities can the modern entrepreneur find in the metaverse?
Investing in the metaverse
The metaverse is a wellspring of potential for forward-thinking entrepreneurs who aren’t afraid of technology. Many traditional companies are investing tangible assets to build a metaverse presence. Retailers and fashion brands are busily developing metaverse experiences for their customers and building NFTs of their products. More and more businesses are accepting cryptocurrency, which will be a tool for commerce in the metaverse and can bridge the gap between real and virtual spaces. Even small companies may find ways to engage with their customers in the metaverse.
Why be optimistic about the metaverse
Perhaps the biggest reason to be optimistic about the metaverse is that we already live in it. As commonly imagined, the metaverse is a 3D, immersive virtual space. But that is only the most recent iteration of the metaverse. Realistically, you’re already living in a virtual space for sharing content. The average American spends about 1,300 hours a year on social media, about 3.5 hours a day when we engage with a virtual space through a handheld device. In addition, many people engage in multiplayer gaming, entertaining themselves for hours in a non-immersive virtual world.
And that world is beginning to cross over to the physical world. Services like Google Lens allow users to use their phones as an augmented reality devices, scanning nearby locations to gather relevant information. Google Maps uses the phone’s camera to layer walking instructions over a live view of the world. Shoppers on Amazon, Target, or Ikea’s apps can use augmented reality technology to project an object’s appearance in their space. Pokèmon Go provides an augmented reality gaming experience where users wander the real world while hunting for Charizards in the virtual one. Ten years ago, very few people used augmented reality. Today, nearly a billion people a day utilize augmented reality technology. So it’s easy to see how a 3D, immersive metaverse experience could be commonplace soon.
The metaverse has the potential to be a game-changer in how we conduct business, too. Many companies are re-evaluating how they run their daily operations in a world flush with pandemics, spiraling travel costs, rent crises, natural disasters, and other boogeymen. Work-from-home jobs are increasingly common. Many companies still use Zoom or Teams to conduct meetings in traditional offices. The metaverse can take this remote collaboration to a new level with an immersive world in which teams can pull up project boards, share information, and engage with their work in a novel way. It’s easy to see how the metaverse could be the next big thing.
Why you should be pessimistic about the metaverse
All of that is lovely, but there are a lot of potential downsides. Users will need to adapt to new hardware to engage with the metaverse in an immersive way. There’s a big difference between casually pulling out your phone and having to don a clunky headset and hand controls. This hardware will cost money, consume resources, and inevitably contribute to the growing problem of electronic waste. Many users blunder into walls, trip or fall, or suffer other mishaps in real life while wearing virtual reality equipment.
The metaverse will also offer companies a new way to learn about you. Already, our devices are disconcertingly good at figuring out exactly who we are in a very granular way. Companies like Meta have a history of manipulating their users’ emotions to drive engagement. Imagine if those companies could now gather a new layer of information about your behavior and preferences. If you think targeted advertising is creepy now, wait until the algorithms can sculpt an entire world for you. Many people may find this level of disengagement from our base layer of reality unsavory or unsettling, primarily if it is monetized in the same way as the apps we use today. If the metaverse becomes creepy and content and experiences become manipulative, it will never catch on.
Traditional investment vehicles
If you are an investor or investing profits from your small business, consider investing in the metaverse through traditional investment vehicles like stocks and ETFs. Companies like Meta, Microsoft, Roblox, and Nvidia are deeply invested in the success of the metaverse and are actively producing the physical and digital materials necessary to drive it forward. There are also several metaverse ETFs and cryptos available for trading,
Real estate in the metaverse
Like physical real estate, “land” in the metaverse is in demand. Of course, nobody is going to move to the metaverse. But there is an opportunity for people to buy space in the metaverse to make their own. Celebrities like Snoop have already purchased space in the metaverse and now get to exercise ownership over it—they can build interactive areas, exhibits, chat rooms, archives, or whatever suits their needs.
To buy space in the metaverse, you need cryptocurrency access. Ethereum is generally considered a metaverse coin, so you must open a crypto wallet that can give you access to Ethereum. You’ll then need to decide which space to buy in. Services like Opensea allow prospective buyers to examine the prospects in several metaverses and help facilitate the necessary transactions to obtain the “land.”
There is also a burgeoning market around Augmented Reality land rights. Augmented Reality is similar to the metaverse, but it is a similar technology: users access an augmentation layer by equipping some hardware. The augmented layer might contain information about the physical space, advertisements, a game layer, a chat, or a million different things. However, for augmented reality to work, it must be tagged to a physical location. So, new companies have sprung up that allow property owners to acquire digital land rights to prevent competitors from advertising in your business or a nasty neighbor from layering an obscene image over your house.
While we commonly think of the metaverse as the immersive 3D world presented to us through headsets or other pieces of a kit, the metaverse is interwoven with the rest of the internet. Developing an appropriate online presence is the best way to prepare for the metaverse. If your business’ website looks like something from Geocities, has outdated information, or is otherwise clunky and unusable, you should bring your current web presence up to speed. Customers might be using the metaverse in a few years; they are using the internet now. You should be able to engage with your customers, follow their activity and patterns on your website, and offer essential e-commerce services and current, relevant information.
Consider using augmented reality as a bridge into the metaverse. If you sell physical products, work with a digital artist and create NFTs of your products to sell or share in the metaverse. Invest in building an augmented reality component to your web or mobile application; let customers view your product in augmented reality by “virtually” placing it in their room or on their person. If your web presence is strong and you’re leveraging or are at least aware of augmented reality, you’re taking solid baby steps toward developing a presence in the metaverse.
The easiest way to take a small, manageable step in investing in the metaverse as a small businessperson is to remain adaptable. Be open to new technologies. Keep your eye on technological trends, and be willing to advance with the times. A website that was relevant in 2012 isn’t noteworthy in 2022. Technology’s mantra is that you must embrace change or become irrelevant. Paraphrasing Darwin, the most successful businesses will be those most adaptable to change.
How can the metaverse help a small business?
Much like the early internet, the metaverse of today is a wild, unexplored new realm. It may seem like it’s not worth investing in the metaverse, but that kind of Luddite thinking has no place in our modern world. Indeed, projections show that more than a billion people will likely engage with the metaverse by 2024. Meta has pumped more than $10 billion into developing the metaverse, and between augmented reality experiences and virtual reality experiences, the metaverse is getting bigger every day. Consumers will likely demand augmented reality or virtual reality experiences in the metaverse as it gains traction.
For small businesses, the metaverse offers several opportunities. First, you can create a virtual space in the metaverse to allow customers to interact with your brand or business in a novel way. Second, the metaverse offers a new way of socializing with customers or prospective clients. Third, the metaverse can enable a whole new kind of e-commerce. While there are hundreds of exciting ways to use the metaverse, these three seem most likely to make an impact in the medium term.
Build your own space
We’ve talked about virtual reality headsets and immersive experiences, but that’s a tough nut to crack for the average entrepreneur. With that in mind, services like Rove offer regular people and small businesses the ability to establish a presence in the metaverse. You can build your own custom 3D space and an avatar and explore what other people on Rove have created.
In many ways, the ability to create a free-form 3D space that anyone can access hearkens back to the early days of the internet. Before the age of social media, people often put up their blogs and websites without paying much attention to things like good web design, SEO, or other modern web principles we take for granted. Then, it was the wild west, a place for nerds and techies—but 20 years later, almost all of us are startlingly dependent on it. The metaverse is still in its infancy, but getting on board now will help you and your business thrive as the medium grows in popularity. In addition, building a space for yourself and your business in the metaverse will help you gain visibility and potential business from forward-thinking people.
Socializing your small business in the metaverse
When Facebook first launched, only true visionaries would have seen the outsize impact that social media would have on our society. The metaverse offers many unique ways of socializing and building a virtual presence today. It provides you with an entirely new way to socialize your business. Instead of meeting remote clients over scratchy Zoom connections or endless Teams meetings, you can call a meeting in the metaverse and engage more humanly. If you want to share your brand’s story, you can build a 3D, interactive experience to immerse customers in your product’s history and purpose. You can bring customers to a 3D factory floor, farm, or office space. With the metaverse, motivated entrepreneurs can share their brand with customers in a detail-oriented way. It’s one thing to market your home renovation business or new, improved shoe organizer in meatspace; it’s another to bring customers through a reno in virtual space or show them how they could realistically declutter their hallway.
More abstract applications of the metaverse are also possible. Engineers and data scientists can help customers visualize a database in a new way by constructing a virtual space that details the relationships between entities, the attributes of specific items, and other data points. Experiential businesses like escape rooms and tour operators can offer customers a new experience not limited by physical space: a simple two-chamber escape room can become a full-scale labyrinth in the metaverse, and a tour of a historical site can be augmented to show representative battles, buildings, or artifacts. Capturing and marketing these experiences through videos or metaverse advertisements will entice new customers. Even conventional, earthy operations like agribusiness will no doubt find ways to blow their customers’ minds in the virtual world. It’s one thing to show a customer a picture of your orange grove, apiary, or cheese business; it’s another to bring them to the fields or the cheesemaking room virtually.
Want to invest in something other than developing a full-bore virtual space? Consider integrating augmented reality into your business. Customers are already engaged with their phones; leverage that attention to your advantage by capturing their attention in an augmented reality layer. Augmented reality layers can help consumers explore products more meaningfully. If you are selling physical products, simple augmented reality technology lets you share your creations with consumers in their own spaces. For example, shoppers on Amazon today can visualize objects in their real space using their phone’s sensor array. Like the evolution of the Amazon shopping experience, as the metaverse continues to grow and expand, consumers and producers will find new ways to leverage augmented reality to allow buyers to try before they buy. These ideas are relatively tame; the future of the metaverse is likely to evolve in surprising and fascinating new directions that will unlock countless opportunities.
With the advent of NFTs and virtual spaces comes an opportunity for a new kind of commerce. NFTs can be anything from avatars to skins, digital art, or even fully-functional digital products for gaming environments. Creators will find that the metaverse gives them a whole new way to share their work with the world: instead of selling your art at the farmers market or modding your favorite game, you can sell NFTs of your work to customers who wish to use it in the metaverse.
Metaverse technology will also be helpful for people in industries like car sales and real estate. Using a metaverse portal, consumers can explore virtual models of homes, go for virtual test drives around a track featuring real-world and fantastic elements, or explore a plot of land from the comfort of their living room. In addition, salespeople can close deals in the metaverse, shadowing consumers as they explore and even meeting in a comfortable virtual space to iron out the final details of the agreement.
The future is now
The metaverse of 2023 is still very much a young and developing technology. That said, it is growing fast, and industry titans like Apple, Microsoft, and Meta are pouring money and intellectual resources into the metaverse. We are still determining precisely what the metaverse will look like in five or ten years. Still, one thing seems inevitable: the metaverse will likely be the next significant evolution in digital technology. Those who fail to change with the times will likely be relegated to the dustbin of history. Whether you add a simple augmented reality experience to your business or build an enormous 3D location for your customers and staff to mingle in the metaverse, you should find a way to engage with this new, unique, and evolving technology.