Brandon Angelini (MBA ’22) shares about his startup, Ariya Labs which is working to place instructional content in the physical world and remove the tether we all have to our screens.
Tell us more about your background and what inspired you to be an entrepreneur.
Growing up, I watched my parents run their own architecture firm, and my interest in entrepreneurship stems directly from them. It was a wonderful way to grow up. I got to see the way they dedicated themselves to their business: talking through issues at the dinner table, stopping by job sites on weekends, and even giving me my first job (a custodian for their office space). Pairing that experience with that of coming of age at the same time as the internet, where I benefited from being able to supplement my formal education with instructional YouTube content, I have been borderline obsessed with the idea of using the internet to get access to more of the information that is trapped in all our heads. I love the idea of getting typical consumers the chance to share their own wisdom, knowledge, and skillsets, and perhaps tap into a knowledge base that is not touched yet on other user-generated platforms. Initially, starting this business was a direct response to bridging that knowledge gap, but I never would have considered trying to start it myself without watching my parents’ small business from such a young age.
What is the problem that you are trying to solve?
I narrowed my focus from that original idea of bridging the knowledge gap on the internet, to specifically solving how to learn skills in the physical world, while still drawing expertise out of the internet community. Today, you can learn almost anything from the internet (namely YouTube), but as soon as you move away from a screen, all access to that information disappears. Creators like Sal Kahn (MBA ’03) have done a tremendous amount of work making educational content accessible to the masses on YouTube, but there still exists a gap in learning skills in the physical world. There’s a huge amount of friction in trying to learn via these platforms in the real world (a golf swing, walking tours, fixing your car) that would be better served in a hands-free and visual way.
What is your solution?
Ariya is building the Augmented Reality platform that enables us to learn by doing. We are placing instructional content in the physical world, making learning more effective by creating muscle memory and retention from the first attempt, and breaking free from more inefficient screen-based methods. Users will have audio that provides the instructional narrative, paired with augmented reality elements (visual aids, checkpoints, instructions, timers, etc.) to help provide examples and clarity along the journey. To deliver that new type of instructional content, Ariya as a platform must not only host this content but also provide an interface for users to discover and play the content, as well as provide tools that help creators place these 3D objects into physical space with the corresponding audio.
How did you get started?
I have spent the last few years thinking about how to allow more people to contribute to the knowledge base of the internet, and feeling pained listening to startup podcasts (like Masters of Scale—a classic recommendation of the HBS entrepreneurship faculty). Listening to the startup stories of others made me feel guilty because I wanted to be working on solving the problems I cared about in the world, but I just didn’t know where to begin.
After taking The Entrepreneurial Manager in the RC year (taught by my awesome professor, Christina Wallace (MBA ’10)), HBS made founding a tech company seem like a more accessible option—providing a playbook, giving support, and reminding me that entrepreneurs are real people (including some of our inspiring classmates) just trying to solve a problem or make cool new ideas a reality.
I spent this summer as a Rock Summer Fellow, which provided dedicated time to work on the problem, as well as access to experts in widely varied industries. This summer allowed me to pick the brains of entrepreneurs, VCs, and lawyers in a risk-free setting, and provided the time for me to reach out to my own existing network of former colleagues, classmates at HBS, and family members to refine my ideas.
Continuing my efforts within the HBS entrepreneurship model, I tested my ideas with prototypes. My first test was to study how people learn from different formats, so I created a tutorial to teach how to make paper cranes, and had volunteers learn with either the video, audio, or AR formats. After seeing how powerful AR was in providing visual aids and helping retention, I created a 2-minute Augmented Reality walking tour in Harvard Yard, and took 20+ tourists through the experience wearing an iPhone on a hard hat. Testing volunteers and speaking with new users outside of my comfort zone was a huge and positive step for Ariya (and me!), and the perfect way to wrap up the summer and open the doors to continue these efforts moving forward. I was able to see first-hand what elements worked well, what people struggled with, and what elements to prioritize in building the platform.
My priorities for this fall are to do more testing in order to better quantify how much better learning with augmented reality is than other formats, and to build the beginnings of the technical platform for users to knit these AR experiences together. While my initial testing showed promise for the format, and there is academic research supporting the benefits of learning with VR, I want even more concrete proof of what a valuable experience learning in AR can be. Additionally, I have been building a small catalogue of user-generated AR experiences (the walking tour of Harvard Yard, soccer training, running, art tour, percussion lesson), but have not yet uploaded them into a singular platform where you can search for content and navigate between the experiences. My next technical challenge is testing how best to search for and discover content in Augmented Reality.
Brandon Angelini (MBA ’22) is the founder of Ariya Labs, a startup using augmented reality to bring instructional content to the physical world. While at Harvard Business School, he has served as co-president of the Entertainment & Media Club and is head senator for the Student Association Senate. He previously worked in Corporate Strategy for a Media & Telecom company and is an alumnus of University of Notre Dame.