Business Monday

YouVisit expands from virtual college tours into hospitality, real estate

YouVisit CEO Abi Mandelbaum poses in the lobby of the Dream Hotel in Miami Beach with his virtual reality headset and cellphone that can to used to view YouVisit tours. YouVisit, which was started as an online college tour company, is expanding into many industries including hospitality and travel.
YouVisit CEO Abi Mandelbaum poses in the lobby of the Dream Hotel in Miami Beach with his virtual reality headset and cellphone that can to used to view YouVisit tours. YouVisit, which was started as an online college tour company, is expanding into many industries including hospitality and travel. Miami Herald staff

Six years ago, Abi Mandelbaum, Taher Baderkhan and Endri Tolka, while international students at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, were frustrated by the lack of affordable options for international and out-of-state students to get a better sense for what it is like to live and study at different college campuses.

“We had friends that ended up at colleges that weren’t the right fit for them,” said Mandelbaum, a native of Colombia. He and Baderkhan of Jordan and Tolka of Albania thought they ought to be able to take walking tours and explore the campuses as if they were there. That inspired them to launch YouVisit in 2009.

YouVisit started out enabling prospective students and families to tour colleges and universities around the globe for free from the comfort of their own homes. In 2012, YouVisit’s proprietary Virtual Guided Walking Tour technology had proven so effective that institutions in other industries started asking YouVisit to build tours for them, said Mandelbaum, the company’s CEO.

Today, YouVisit, now based in Aventura with offices in New York and Los Angeles, is a technology company that develops Virtual Guided Walking Tours complete with rich media, video content and 360-degree panoramic views for companies and institutions in varied industries such as education, travel and leisure, hospitality and real estate.

“We have also built a number of tours for Fortune 500 companies that want to showcase their factories and facilities to prospective clients. YouVisit has built thousands of virtual tours across five continents,” Mandelbaum said. Clients include Hewlett-Packard, Rio Tinto, a mining conglomerate, New York Central Park and Nizuc, a luxury resort in Cancun, Mexico.

The company, now with 50 employees, has helped more than 10 million high school students visit college campuses via Virtual Guided Walking Tours on YouVisit.com. A new website was launched late last year, which in addition to the education section, includes virtual tour sections for restaurants, travel, hotels, real estate and venues. While Mandelbaum works out of the Aventura headquarters, his two co-founders, Baderkhan, the chief technology officer, and Tolka, chief operating office and chief financial officer, work from YouVisit’s New York office.

Last year brought two more big milestones: YouVisit dove into virtual reality technology in a big way and also enabled its customers to build their own tour if they preferred.

The virtual reality move was propelled by market trends. According to a 2014 market research report published by MarketsandMarkets, the global market for virtual and augmented reality is predicted to rise at a 15 percent compound annual growth rate from 2013 to 2018 and reach $1.06 billion in 2018.

Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset maker, in early 2014 resulted in a new energy around virtual reality headsets and enthusiasm about market potential. “Mobile is the platform of today, and now we're also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said of the Oculus at the time of the purchase. Facebook is reportedly developing apps for VR.

Yet, Baderkhan and Mandelbaum saw this trend beginning to emerge before that. In late 2013, the YouVisit team began developing 3D content for those platforms.

“Virtual reality devices are a perfect fit for our technology because our media is very immersive,” said Mandelbaum. “If you are in a virtual reality headset, it really transports you. You are bringing that hotel or that university to you.”

Last year the company’s virtual tours launched on many of the new virtual reality platforms, including Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard and Oculus, allowing users to get an even more immersive experience on YouVisit.com. YouVisit also developed its own headset called YouVisit TourBox, and clients often use it to offer virtual tours at their trade show booths.

In addition to Facebook, Google, Samsung, Sony and most recently Microsoft have made big moves into VR technology. “They are all creating the hardware, we are creating the content users will want to use those devices for,” Mandelbaum said.

YouVisit TourBuilder allows anyone to go on YouVisit.com and build a virtual tour themselves that will work on computers and tablets as well as VR devices.

Brokers use TourBuilder, particularly in places like New York where the market moves very quickly. “What brokers have been doing is creating a virtual tour they can send immediately to their clients to allow them to walk through the homes in 3D,” Mandelbaum said.

YouVisit has made a free version of its technology available, allowing users and companies to easily create virtual experiences and share them with prospects, clients, friends and family. Premium versions offer options such as professional on-site shoots, analytics and lead generation services.

The premium virtual tours are designed to the client’s specific needs, and YouVisit’s prices start at $4,980. Since the company launched in 2009, it has experienced revenue growth averaging 115 percent per year, Mandelbaum said, but the company would not release revenue figures. As a result of placing a YouVisit virtual tour on their websites, clients have experienced up to a 30 percent increase in physical visits, the company said.

TomorrowWorld, a three-day electronic music festival on 8,000 acres in the Chattahoochee Hills outside Atlanta, is one of YouVisit’s clients. In its first two weeks live, TomorrowWorld’s virtual tour powered by YouVisit received more than 50,000 total visits. Visits have come from more than 150 different countries, and the average browsing session is five minutes longer than most any page visit time (according to HubSpot the majority of browsers spend less than 15 seconds on a page). “About 20 percent of the users are on the tour engaging with it for more than 10 minutes, which is just crazy time considering average time spent on a web page,” said Joe Silberzweig, marketing manager for TomorrowWorld.

“The 360 tour is a great parallel to our popular after-movie. Our venue is one of our greatest assets and one of biggest differentiating factors. It showcases the grounds, the rolling hills, the stages, the festival,” said Silberzweig. “What I love about it the most it captures the emotions of fans at the festival — as you walk the tour, you see happy people, people dancing, people setting up their camp sites.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

YouVisit

Business: Develops Virtual Guided Walking Tours complete with rich media, video content and 360-degree panoramic views, for companies and institutions in education, travel and leisure, hospitality, real estate and manufacturing.

Launched: 2009

Management team: Abi Mandelbaum, co-founder and chief executive officer; Taher Baderkhan, co-founder and chief technology officer; Endri Tolka, co-founder and chief operating office and chief financial officer.

Employees: 50

Offices: Headquarters Aventura, with offices in Los Angeles and New York. Smaller teams scattered throughout the country.

Website: www.youvisit.com

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