In November, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) and first lady Tammy Murphy announced the inaugural investment by the recently launched Golden Seeds New Jersey chapter. Golden Seeds is a nationwide angel investor network dedicated to investing in women-led startup companies.
The investment was in a startup called “ROAR” (East Hanover), led by serial entrepreneur Oksana Sokolovsky, who had founded companies in New Jersey previously.
According to Sokolovsky, ROAR is an augmented-reality (AR) platform that allows businesses and solopreneurs to create a map of reality. Using the ROAR platform, businesses are able to “merge physical and digital worlds into one” by taking their digital content — such as 3D models, videos and the like — and converting them into augmented reality, attaching them to the physical world.” The platform allows individuals and brands to create AR content in three simple steps, she added.
A Huge Believer in Augmented Reality
“I’m a huge believer in augmented reality,” Sokolovsky told us. “I think that being able to converge the physical world with digital information is super exciting. And, you know, five years ago, when I first experienced the concept, I fell in love with the possibility of what it can do, both in terms of bringing the ‘immersiveness’ to the consumer, but also enabling brands, retailers and businesses … to understand how consumers engage with things before they purchase them.” When consumers engage with AR content, they are more likely to engage with the brand, and businesses have an opportunity to understand the consumer engagement with their products in more detail, she said.
ROAR isn’t just useful for businesses, but also for ordinary consumers, Sokolovsky noted. The key is that the platform is extremely easy to use. “For example, you’re sitting in your living room, and there is a painting behind you. And if you want to surprise guests that are coming over to your home, you can overlay that painting with some digital content, maybe a 3D model, or maybe a video or maybe some story. You can literally just take a picture of your painting, attach the digital content to it, and then through your phone scan the painting and bring up that digital content to surprise your guest with an immersive experience at home.”
Sokolovsky explained that there are many different uses for the technology. For example, you could be looking at a car in a showroom, and when you point to a car certain features will pop out so you can learn more about them. Or you can see how different types of hardware will look on your cabinets in your house. Or you can see how a sofa or other piece of furniture will fit into your living room. The opportunities are endless, she said.
The company maintains no content information, but only makes the Software-as-a-Service platform available online. Sokolovsky said that it took the startup three years to develop the technology, but now ROAR has more than 60,000 clients signed up for the platform.
The Funding Journey
NJTechWeekly.com asked Sokolovsky about her funding journey, and she noted that a contact of hers in California introduced her to Golden Seeds in New York. “Just before the pandemic hit, we presented to Golden Seeds at an open forum in New York. We presented in New York first because New Jersey didn’t have open houses yet. COVID hit, and it took a while for things to gel, but we continued our dialog throughout the summer. By August there were enough interested members in New York and New Jersey.”
New Jersey happened to make the first investment. Sokolovsky noted that she had worked closely with Gina Tedesco, a Golden Seeds member from New Jersey. She added that her company was also working with the NJEDA, which has been “super supportive.”
“I was and continue to be extremely impressed with Oksana and Rohit [Mahajan, cofounder, chief product officer and CTO],” Tedesco stated. “Investing in female founders is the cornerstone of my investment thesis. ROAR fits perfectly into my portfolio, a fantastic female-founded venture with innovative AR technology already being used by a myriad of customers in an industry with a large white space with incredible room to grow. Not to mention that ROAR is a New Jersey-based venture, and I am all in to support the growth of our entrepreneurial ecosystem, the tech community and female founders in our state. “
Sokolovsky said that she was heartened to see the funding and support for women-led ventures increasing over time. “When I left the corporate world in 2014, that wasn’t the case. I think things are really changing, and I’m happy to be a part of that ecosystem.”
Raising Funds During a Pandemic
Raising funds during the pandemic, especially during the first few months, was particularly challenging, she added. The fundraising had gone virtual, and “we didn’t know if people would be interested.” Also, early on, “some customers also got nervous and they postponed their projects. It took a while for people to start living in the new normal, but our team actually stuck it out. … The team didn’t doubt for a second.”
Sokolovsky said that ROAR will be using the funds to “continue to enhance our product. We want to hire people to build exciting features and accelerate our roadmap. In Q1, we will be launching the marketplace platform, which will combine the strength of our ‘easy to create AR’ and data analytics with interactive live-streaming technology. This will enable businesses, brands and individuals to monetize digitally through e-commerce. Our AR editor vision will be integrated into a streaming marketplace to empower sellers with an easy AR creation that we believe will give us a lead in AR streaming and position ROAR to expand the business model. We will also increase our market acquisition and start investing in digital marketing, while expanding our footprint and truly becoming the number-one platform” in this space.
This approach should really propel the startup to success, she stated, as it fuels passion for an economy powered by AR.