(This article originally appeared in The Guardian)
The metaverse. You’ve heard about it. You’ve read about it. But do you really understand it? Unfortunately, most small business owners I know don’t. They should.
The metaverse is virtual. But it’s also real. It’s an online world that might generate its own economy. So far it’s been mostly created and championed by Mark Zuckerberg, who literally changed the name of one of the most familiar brands in the world to match its future promise — Meta. But the big brands are jumping in … and in a big way.
Microsoft is positioning its products for better business collaboration in the metaverse. Google is building a more-user friendly and less cringe-worthy version of its failed Google Glass so that people can use a new wearable device to access the metaverse without looking like a complete fool. Other companies like Magic Leap are building similar devices. Gaming company Epic Games has raised$1bn to support their “vision” for the metaverse.
Walmart has filed “several new trademarks” that apparently indicate it will be creating its own cryptocurrency and a collection of NFTs (non-fungible tokens, the unique identifiers that are being attached to digital art and products to identify them as being one of a kind and original).
McDonald’s recently filed 10 trademark applications including one for a virtual restaurant that would deliver to an actual home. Samsung recently launched a new smartphone on the metaverse — although not without some problems. Even the staid and traditional accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has purchasedvirtual property on Sandbox, a metaverse platform.
How big is the metaverse? When you add it all up, billions have already been invested, with some analysts saying it could be a $30tn marketplace within the next 10 to 15 years. By comparison, the entire US economy in 2021 was about $25tn.
For people over the age of 30 the metaverse sounds strange, foreign … and even a little sad and creepy. But for the next generation — particularly the Gen Z-types born after 1995, and the kids currently in elementary school — the metaverse will be commonplace. They’ll be used to living in both a virtual and actual world. Just like we’re used to living online. In fact, the average American spends 24 hours a week surfing the internet. The average gamer is immersed in the worlds of Halo, Minecraft and Call of Duty for close to 800 hours a year. These are all the very first virtual worlds. The metaverse will take this to the next level. Right now it’s the big brands — as always — taking the first steps. But once a path is cleared, the doors will be open for a flood of new businesses to take advantage. How?
If you’re running a small business you’ll soon be ditching Zoom and Teams and meeting with a hologram or avatar of a customer, partner, supplier or employee in a virtual conference room, discussing and reviewing virtual documents and items together. If you’re a realtor, you’ll take walk-throughs of virtual renditions of homes with your customers. If you’re in construction, you’ll do the same with properties under development. Your conferences will be virtual affairs. Your sales pitches will be in virtual locations. You will have a virtual version of yourself. Don’t worry — none of this will replace actual human contact. It will complement it. It will make your interactions more pleasant and more personal as opposed to the detached online meetings we’re having right now.
All of this will come with a cost. You will need to buy real estate to have your meetings. You will need to equip those rooms with art and furniture. You will need to get the tools to make your presentations. But then again a lot of smart entrepreneurs will be selling this stuff, providing the infrastructure and offering hot real estate and products that everyone will want so there will be lots of money to be made too.
How will this affect your small business in 2022? It won’t. But what about in 2027? Or 2032? It will. It’s a decade since the birth of the iPad, Instagram, Lyft, Square and Slack. In 2022 Amazon’s Echo, Apple’s Watch and AirPods and 4G either didn’t or barely existed. Now they do and all have had enormous impacts on the way we run our companies.
So a lot can change in a decade. A lot will change in the next decade. That change will be the metaverse. And the smartest business owners I know are keeping an eye on how to profit from it.