In the third episode, we are talking with Kelly Vero, the CTO at Aequaland, where we’ll dive into the metaverse world and how it’s disrupting education.
Episode 3: The Metaverse revolution in education – with Kelly Vero
During our conversation, Kelly told us about her road to becoming a successful entrepreneur, metaverse architect, and futurist with all the challenges that she faced on the way. We also discussed the circumstances that made her and her team create Aequaland, what they achieved so far, and most importantly, what are their plans for the company’s growth and expansion. Listen to the podcast to find out how kids all over the world will benefit from their platform!
The third episode in a nutshell:
- Kelly’s professional journey
- The story and mission behind Aequaland
- Aequaland – how does it work?
- Pain points of working in a fast-paced, high-risk industry
- Needs & challenges of the ed-tech start-up
- Tech choices at Aequaland/ Technology behind Aequaland
- The model of hiring external teams or a vendor from a different continent
Kelly Vero is the Chief Metaverse Officer at Aequaland, a Swiss-based startup that has recently partnered with Microsoft for Startups to take inclusion in gaming to the next level.
She’s a futurist, metaverse architect, and an experienced game developer, where she worked on such hits as Tomb Raider and Candy Crush.
At Aequaland, they are trying to change the narrative of how young people are educated between the ages of 6 and 11 years old and to build the most inclusive space for kids to learn inside the metaverse. Moreover, they are the first female-founded ed-tech startup in the world! She’s also a member of Women of Wearables, a leading global organization supporting women and diversity in tech and leadership.
Recently, we also asked her a few questions to get to know her better – read it here.
Click here to find the full list of our episodes 📋
Welcome to the “How We Innovate” podcast, presented by Applandeo, hosted by me, Wiola and my co-host Brian. On this podcast we talk with leading innovators, pull back the curtain on their industry and get to know how they use technology to achieve success, as well as share the stories behind them and their businesses.
Host – Wiola 0:23
Welcome to the third episode the “How We Innovate” podcast. On today’s show, we have Kelly Vero. Kelly is the queen of the metaverse and the CTO of Aequaland, the educational platform for kids. She’s also a writer, a huge lover of education, diversity and inclusion, and a tech Maverick. Kelly, thank you for being with us!
Guest – Kelly 0:49
Thank you so much for having me.
Host – Wiola 0:51
You’re like you’re so many things at the same time. It’s so impressive. So we are really happy you found some time, for this meeting.
Guest – Kelly 1:00
I Have to have a word with my psychiatrist though, because there’s too much going on isn’t there? Quite obviously 🙂
Host – Wiola 1:09
Yeah. So on your LinkedIn, ..we don’t want to be creepy 🙂 But on your LinkedIn profile, it says you are creative badass digital leader and NFT and Metaverse weirdo, fashion disruptor, futuregazer, game developer and tech investor. So that’s a lot already. Can you tell us which of those actually, which of those things describes you the most?
Guest – Kelly 1:39
Probably creative badass, because I kind of quite like breaking the rules to be to get closer to solving problems. And I think creativity allows us to do that. Yeah, it’s cool to have a problem solving technological mindset. But also, it’s good to approach problems from a creative perspective and just really trash everyone’s idea of what is acceptable and normal, and turn it on its head. I love that.
Host – Bryan 2:13
Do you think maybe that’s where the gamer part of you comes from? Right? It’s just being super creative, and kind of like, doing your own type of thing. Right? I think, you know, when I meet gamers, right, that’s kind of the general attitude they have, right, that, you know, they’re very unique people. And they’re just like, they they go to the beat of their own drum, right?
Guest – Kelly 2:32
Yeah, I think that plays a massive part in it, but I’m a huge pop culturist. So when I think about being creative, I actually think about all of the influences that I draw in, either for creating games games is just one of the many things that I do. But really, I’m a kind of absorber or sponge of just cultural stuff. And that helps you to be able to look at the world through different eyes and have a different perspective on how things you know, maybe should work. I guess it is like, you know, living to the beat of a different drum to everybody else. And games has really helped with that. But you know, when I was coming through the ranks of games and game development as a gamer myself, the choices of games back then was so boring. That yeah, I think that, you know, sitting there doodling as a kid and trying to create better games or better experiences was certainly where it was at. And these days, Wow, gosh, games have gone back to being boring again. Sorry, folks. I said it.
Host – Wiola 3:43
Guest – Kelly 3:45
Not very exciting, are they they don’t really follow the rules that game should have, which is maximum escapism, you know, great imagination, just, you know, that this war game won this war game to this war game through a zombie game one zombie game part 100. I mean, how many great stories can you get out of the same old war and zombie and adventure games? I keep calm. And you know, I’ve worked on the first Tomb Raider, and you should really just stop at that one. Really. Maybe three was the best. That was the one that wasn’t on.
Host – Bryan 4:25
That even I think that’s also a great question for you then what game got you hooked? Right? So what was the first game that you were really obsessed about? That huge, you know, it was just nonstop.
Guest – Kelly 4:35
Generationally, I suppose, any game. The first game that I ever played was the game that got me hooked. So it could have been Mission Impossible 4, the Commodore 64. It could have been Pong on the Atari. But actually the game that really brought me into an entire world of pop culture and understanding and really enhance my education, it was maybe Final Fantasy VII. And that’s when I was sort of much older that came out in about 1997. And that really did take storytelling to an edge, an end, where you start to realize that your own life is part story. Because of the way that you dress, you want to look like Cloud Strife or you want to look like Eris Gainsborough or Tifa, you know, or the alternative is that you just following the story in such a manner that you know, this is going to spin off into a million different IPs. I think you can’t say the same thing about previous games are from a previous generation, because they don’t really give you know, Cuba doesn’t really give you that kind of impetus to want to dress like Cuba, right? It just doesn’t unless your flavor flavor. And then I suppose. Yeah, anything’s possible. But certainly, games are about I think these days, driving culture and community, creating those opportunities to have discussions about the wider world from a cultural perspective, and not just from a very basic to the flat perspective.
Host – Wiola 6:14
Kelly, we were having this huge discussion about metaverse, and obviously, all of us are trying to, we are somehow trying to get a similar point of view on what metaverse is, but we didn’t find one. I mean, we didn’t find one in a way as there are so many different aspects of metaverse. And this topic is so huge and exciting at the same time. So we are really waiting for you here to actually school us and tell us more 🙂
Guest – Kelly 6:48
What a pressure, Wioletta!
Host – Wiola 6:51
Yeah, sorry 🙂
Guest – Kelly 6:53
I’m joking. The metaverse is really easy to understand if you come at the metaverse from the perspective of of what it is you as an end user wants to grab from it. In a in the very basic sense. The metaverse is a persistent online space. And that persistent online space the persistent part means that it’s happening even when you’re not there. And the online part is that obviously you’re online. And the space is really means so many different things to so many people. It could be a private space. It could be a shared experience. It could be a mobile experience. I do definitely believe that the metaverse is a property that belongs to mobile, because the future is very much a mobile experience for everybody. It is already if you jump on your local train network and go into the nearest big city, you’ll probably do that contactless and you need to have good apps and good connectors that are running in that space. So the metaverse is a mythical place, isn’t it, like a man Olympus or something like this right Valhalla maybe. But what it needs to get there is a series of connecting opportunities, conduit points and convergence. But it really is just a persistent space. It is a gathering of experiences that are happening all at the same time, and even when you’re not there.
Host – Bryan 8:37
Yeah, and you know, it’s really funny, because over the past few days, Disney just announced that their big thing is going to be metaverse. And then the next day McDonald’s said they’re going to be putting virtual stores within the metaverse and then you’ll be actually to order online physically, you know, so I think we’re just still in such an early phase of what the metaverse is, right? Because as you said, you know, it could mean so many things to so many people, right. So are we actually going to get into the direction where it’s just turning into some corporate blob likes?
Guest – Kelly 9:11
I think it’s happening now. I mean, I’m not really a big fan of the tech bros at all. I think their vision of the metaverse is very zealous. And I don’t really think there’s a lot of room for zealots in technology. I think that that most things that are created can be created in an open platform to allow for discussion, collaboration, etc. But certainly, it is around us already. It’s just that we’re waiting for somebody to tap into it for us when actually, as I said with that example about traveling to your nearest big city on a train, you’re already connected to a Metaverse and that would be a data. Metaverse, right? So there’s lots of transactions that are happening all at the same time and that Data Lake behaves in and of itself like a huge city. So if you were to personify or laid narrative over the top of that data, then you’ve already created this sort of matrix see a vision of what? You know, the metaverse could be like, whilst you’re traveling on a tram or on a train. And then moreover, I think the problem with the Disney’s and the McDonald’s etc, of the world is they only just got a handle on ecommerce. They only just got it. And by the time they got it, all the kids that are doing the early adoption, those dudes had already moved on. So I get quite a lot of questions outside of my work in April. And I get a lot of questions from people talking about, oh, how do we sort of Metaverse eyes, our ecommerce offering? And it’s like, well, first of all, get rid of all of those ridiculous photos of your products and start to look at your product more as a living breathing object. And less of being just a photo of something because that’s such an old and outdated concept is pretty draconian as well to sort of drive an ecommerce, even the headless ecommerce experience to the point where you just sort of say, okay, well, you know, we’re just going to use our our PIM system to drive what the products are in our channel, when actually no, you need to be way more dynamic than that you need to go back to what the product offering is first and then think about what the end user wants. From a metaverse perspective. It sounds very existential, doesn’t it and very philosophical, is really simple. It’s just take this and make it like this in the metaverse, so I can manipulate this mug of tea. I can turn it around, I can look at to see what the writing is on the other side. I can do anything. And I can know everything about it so that that object could be something I could just buy with regular fear currency, or it could eventually be an NFT. There’s nothing to stop that objects living in whatever dimension it wants to live in. And that’s the point of the metaverse, but we’re thinking about things in such a web to very old fashioned very outdated concept way and that’s not helpful. Either. Change your minds folks, get educated. Listen to this podcast and then you will be more educated 🙂
Host – Bryan 12:40
Oh, I also saw that Paris Hilton hosted her New Year’s Eve party this year in the metaverse. Were you invited? Because my invitation must got lost in the mail.
Guest – Kelly 12:49
No, the guy who did my NFT actually does all of Paris Hilton’s NFT’s so I’m pretty surprised that I didn’t get invited to the party.
Host – Bryan 12:58
I know. I think you should check your spam, anything from Hearthstone, we would probably go straight to spam.
Guest – Kelly 13:04
Also, I mean, this vision of what the metaverse is, I think, I think she hosted it in Roblox right or something like this. Again, you know, some days, you’re gonna walk through Roblox and there’s gonna be 3 million people in that space. And some days, you’re gonna walk down the same spot in Roblox, there’s gonna be nobody there. And that’s the point about persistent shared spaces, you can kind of come at it from the Paris Hilton perspective, oh, my God, I have to get 300 million people in my room,
Host – Bryan 13:37
That is a terrific accent by the way 😉
Guest – Kelly 13:41
I totally know it! Or alternatively, what you do is you just sort of, you just have an empty room that you have to constantly generate content for. And that’s a real challenge for companies that just don’t have the people or the automation in place to be able to do that. Thank God for technology, because if we didn’t have technology as kind of edgy as we have it now, we wouldn’t be able to solve these Paris Hilton problems. And even though it’s kind of a bit sort of stupid, lame to say it’s a periscope from it is because everybody’s gonna want 300 million people at their party. It just has to be that way. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Host – Wiola 14:27
Right. So on your LinkedIn page it is said..
Host – Bryan 14:31
..your linkedin profile is such a source of information 🙂 By the way, I’ve never seen someone with such an extensive LinkedIn profile, Kelly, like it just keep going to your experience. It just keeps scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. And I’m like, is there anything Kelly has not done?
Guest – Kelly 14:47
Yeah. I’ve never played racquetball with Paris Hilton.
Host – Bryan 14:53
Maybe you’ll get the opportunity next.
Guest – Kelly 14:54
I hope so 😉
Host – Wiola 14:58
Okay, getting back to the topic, you said something like ‘Aequaland is the most exciting Metaverse platform, you’ve never heard of’.
Guest – Kelly 15:08
Hmm. I know you want me to tell you know what that means? 🙂 Well, I think, you know, we came up with the idea really from.. I sort of forced our CEO Alma to think a little bit more outside of the box in terms of children’s education. Because yeah, sure, it’s one thing to create a series of story books, and educational tools to be able to drive up 21st century skills, to allow children to learn everything from money, to cooking, to all that kind of stuff. But actually, it’s a whole other thing to create a platform for that where children can feel safe. That’s the most important thing. And that parents trust us. That is also super important. And currently, any kids game doesn’t 100% have that parental trust involved in it. What it has is a bit of, okay, Bryan, here is like $10, you can go and buy yourself a nice t shirt in Roblox but don’t spend it all at once now, and that kind of thing. And then as soon as your mom’s backs turned, you’re like running up massive bills on her credit cards through your, you know, transaction, and purchases. I think that what I want to be able to do with the metaverse platform is educate, instill that trust, give children a safe space that they can learn where they’re not being sold a million different brands and things all in one space. Because I just think that is so kind of negates the whole purpose of what it is we’re trying to do with education. And also inclusivity is really important. Now there are 1000s, and hundreds of 1000s of kids that didn’t learn a thing during the pandemic, because teachers just stopped what they were doing. They didn’t know how to teach kids anymore. That frightened the life out of me. And I’m not even a parent. So I can’t imagine how parents felt during the pandemic that their kids were just sitting around on YouTube, watching like nothing at all, and just filling their brains with mush. I wanted to be able to create an experience along with Lucia, COO and Alma, our CEO that brings education into an inclusive view in a place where kids feel safe. But they can also play that they’re not being like sold the world for sort of $99 You know, and I want kids that don’t have that regular accessibility and access to be part of that technological movement of the future to be part of the metaverse. And if they do only haven’t bulkier, then they should still be able to get into the metaverse with a Nokia, you know, if they’re still on 2g, which some countries are in the world. And let’s please try and find a way to get them in and share the experience with everybody else. That’s what the entire Metaverse is about that persistent shared online space. And so that’s why we did it. And we launched in, we’ve launched like, so quickly, we’ve kind of started in October, we’ve really officially launched in December, we’ve now got our first client by the end of January. And so we’re building a couple of properties for that client currently. And and it doesn’t change, RIP is RIP. And RIP is focused on very inclusive characters in very inclusive worlds that are recognizable. You can recognize them as being part of planet Earth or Mars or the Moon or whatever. But the characters represent kind of all of us and are not gender bias. So there aren’t boys versus girls. There are characters in our universe that have disabilities, there are characters that are rulers that happen to be of different diversities. So we’re trying to keep everything totally inclusive in a way that we know that children don’t see the world the way that we do. They don’t have that bias. They don’t look at people by the color of their skin or the way that they speak or how they look. And we want to keep that moving.
Host – Wiola 19:34
And with with Aequaland – it’s created for children starting at like six-year-old to eleven, is that right?
Guest – Kelly 19:42
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.
Host – Wiola 19:44
This is this is a big age range. Actually, like taking into account the cognitive skills the learning curve, the brain how is developing so, what’s the progression of the storyline?
Guest – Kelly 20:02
It is created by the children, the progression of the storyline. So they choose the direction with which they want to go in. When I was a kid, we had a choose your own adventure type thing.
Host – Bryan 20:12
Yeah, to make your own adventure, right? You choose your path, go to point eight that leads to point B
Host – Wiola 20:18
You have a different levels..
Guest – Kelly 20:20
Yeah. And so from a cognitive experience that is also progressive. So in games, we use this technique called rubber banding where we balanced games based on the learning curve. And so the same thing follows pretty much in what it is that we’re doing with our colon, because of, of those reasons, because it’s, you know, an 11 year old kid is not going to be interested in what a six year olds doing. But by the same token, a 6 year old, can’t understand what an 11 year olds doing that these points have very kind of focused on cognitive development, personal development, it’s so super important that we nail that stuff, it is a very crucial area of education, the ages between 6 and 11, because kids are about to jump off and be adults, or young adults, and the kiddie kids of age 6. They’re just too old, at that point for the sort of waterproof books and the, you know, sort of really brightly colored apps and stuff. So we wanted to be able to give them something because I think they’re pretty underserved, Wioletta, really,
Host – Wiola 21:34
And what parents think about it, in general?
Guest – Kelly 21:39
Safe. And that makes me feel like I’ve done my job. Because they’re not being fed a bunch of adverts. They’re not being told to spin a wheel to look at, you know, tobacco products or whatever, in between games, which is what happens at the moment when kids play games, they get given this stuff, and what do you do with it, when your age between 6 and 11, your mind is really focused upon learning, understanding the world and understanding yourself. And if people are sort of giving you the wrong messages at that time, then you’re going to come out as a different person. And we don’t want to do that. So the feedback we’ve had on parents has been incredibly positive. And also kids have learned.
Host – Bryan 22:28
Yeah, and I think that’s really important, right? It’s just that feedback loop, right? Because obviously, you have the teachers, you have the schools, you have the parents, right. So and you know, all three are important ingredients, right? To make sure that the kid is being successful. And all that, right.
Guest – Kelly 22:44
It’s been well received, I think, because of that reason, because it’s just too easy to fall down that trap of oh, well, we created a game and now we need to monetize it. So we’re going to monetize it by putting in loads of in game, advertising and stuff. And the same with apps. You know, a lot of free apps these days, because we know the percentage of apps that are available on various app stores is massive, because they’re free. And you know, we don’t want to, we don’t want to focus on the low hanging fruit, we really want to go for creating a kind of environment of trust, and security, and never actually reinforced learning. So one of the unique systems that we have Aequaland something called metacognition, apart of metaverse, and really, it’s what happens outside. So screentime is important. Yeah, there’s too much screen time isn’t healthy. And so what how is learning taking place outside of the app? How is learning taking place outside of the game? That’s what we really want to know. And that information is data. And we know that that information is very valuable in terms of building the future of education for young people.
Host – Wiola 24:02
And there’s one thing that comes to my mind in terms of the digital world in general, the virtual world. We all know how the social media and digitalization – how it impacted our social life in the real world. And it’s especially dangerous for for kids are just growing and they are shaping their minds and their brains. And what we can observe like the more time we spend in a digital world, the less time we spend having actual real interaction with other people. It makes us socially awkward, to, like, some extent. What is the right balance here. Aren’t you afraid that, you know, it takes us to this stage where like we are leaving in the virtual world and the metaversee, but we are not really able to communicate with each other in real life?
Guest – Kelly 25:05
But you’re coming at this problem from an adult mind. So you’re looking at this from where you are today. And, you know, we are absorbers of information and news as adults. And we are, you know, biased towards doing the right thing. What is the right thing for kids being online is being social is being around people that they like people that they trust people that they see themselves being with in the future, don’t forget that the way that we do things as adults is totally different in today’s money than what it was like when our parents were adults, right? So we have evolved ourselves, we use social media, our parents didn’t have social media, they had, you know, analog phones, and they had classifieds in newspapers, or they would send each other letters. I mean, we’ve just moved on, and technology continues to move on. And we see that in our children, we see that they are approaching technology from the perspective of, of what they want. And I don’t think that we can really argue with them. I think it’s a very strong argument coming from young people that they’re doing things their way. And there are going to be gaps in our understanding collectively, but I just tried to get inside the minds of young people and and watch them when they play other games and other experiences from Minecraft or Roblox to havoc in life. And I think, you know, how are you communicating with each other? And how can we enhance that communication, to develop your educational understanding and learning and remember that 21st century skills are not just about doing maths, science, you know, English lessons, etc. It’s also about learning about currency, money, finances, technology, you know, coding, creating your own areas in your own spaces, learning how to cook, learning how to fend for yourself. Understanding politics even is something that young people are more interested in now than ever, I think. And we just want to be able to give them a platform and a voice to be able to explore and communicate and develop themselves in meaningful ways.
Host – Bryan 27:40
Specifically, in Aequaland, what would a 6 year old be learning? Right? So I know there’s cognitive? Are they learning anything like.. I know, we spoke about math science, is there any integration with like classic subjects? Or is it more about other type of skills?
Guest – Kelly 27:58
Yeah, the, we’re using something called the English National Curriculum, which is taught in schools around the world. And what the English National Curriculum focuses on is the usual stuff, Maths, English STEM subjects. But also, it focuses on personal development. So creative problem solving skills, and it identifies what those things are. Yes, of course, if you go into any common or garden game, you and me, Bryan, and Wioletta and Dustin, we can all go into Minecraft together, right now, or Avakin Life or even Call of Duty. And we can do creative problem solving in that space, because there will be quests and tasks that we need to figure out. But also, these are assessed at school level between the ages of 6 and 11. So what we have to present is what the argument is here for creative problem solving to happen. Cognitive development, how is that happening? And that’s what metacognition does. It says, Okay, you learned how to count these drops of ice into the bucket for this game. But then how are we going to recreate that in real life to show that you understand what the counting process is, when you’re filling up a bucket with apples, when you’re filling up a bucket with you know, whatever. And remember that in other countries, there are different counting systems, there are different ways to apply effective cognitive labels to what it is that you’re doing. And we want to be able to enhance that as well as part of the the metacognition element of the project. So it’s all that reinforcement that happens outside of class. And inside the game, which is as important as the other thing is having a great balance of those two things.
Host – Bryan 29:51
So do you kind of envision Aequaland as kind of being a supplement?
Guest – Kelly 29:54
It’s like an augmentation. So you are learning stuff in class but then you’re getting a little bit extra inside the game. And these are sort of sessions. They’re not like you’re in the game constantly living and doing all of your classes in there, but the teacher has the freedom to be able to present a class inside the game, if that’s what they want to do, and really assess the students collectively based on my experience. And also, I would say that, you know, the one thing that really drives me is that I would love for my dad and me to game together in a persistent space, so that he could see what my, my progress was as a student. And without me having to just bring home my report cards, my dad, and my mom would have a constant understanding of what it was that I was learning, just by nipping into a game and seeing that I was doing stuff and creating and solving problems and having fun. And that’s really, I think what parents need to know, waiting for a scorecard to come in every quarter is not like helpful to Bryan’s development as a student, right? Keep picking on your brain. But if your mom or dad could see you while you’re in game and do that, I get a lot of feedback from parents who say stuff like, well, I love going into Roblox with my kid. But I don’t really know what they’re doing. And they’re not really telling me what it is that they’re doing, and I can’t see what it is that they’re doing. And you know, if they feel like having their dad around is uncool, they just go off and do something else. Whereas with what it is that we’ve created, there are very specific areas for the parents, and for the teacher to assess the learning as the player plays.
Host – Wiola 31:46
In Aequaland, you actually have three different groups that you need to somehow please at the same time, teachers, parents, and children, of course. So that’s pretty complicated machine here. What’s the learning curve what’s the feedback loop here.
Guest – Kelly 32:09
Then I guess, on my side, the technology has to be like flawless, and has to work first time every time. But I think for the kid, the player, the learner, being in the experience, and being delivered, those quests that are talked about before cognitive based or stem base, that’s cool, because they’re just playing, but the assessment will take place like, so differently, because the assessment is happening from the parent perspective. And from the teacher perspective, so the teacher knows the outcomes and the criteria with which the player has to hit. That’s his basic game design. We do that every day, whether we’re making Candy Crush, or whether we’re doing Uncharted. And then on the other side, for the parent, they have to know that what is being done here is safe. And also what is being done here is progressive, so that the child, their child, is learning at a speed that they’re comfortable with. And they can test that by reinforcing that outside of the experience, as I said before, but also seeing the data inside the experience is important. So whereas you and I might see kind of XP stats, or the amount of currency in game, the parents going to see a lot more they’re going to see session times, they’re going to see interactable data. So they’re going to see that the player probably spent a lot of time in the kitchen in the game, creating and making these things are really good, because you can test that outside of the game and say to the kids, hey, you spent an hour in the kitchen in the game. Show me what you’ve got. Give me what you’ve got, what did you learn? What did you make, and it means that you can continue that experience outside of the tech platform. And that makes for a really impressive company on our side. Because we’re making the parent super happy that for the kid, it makes them feel like they have achieved something that’s real, rather than just getting a whale item, or an extra point here or there.
Host – Wiola 34:27
By the way, you’re partnering, as Aequaland, you’re partnering with Microsoft for startups programme. How Aequaland benefits from that collaboration.
Guest – Kelly 34:39
The Microsoft for startups is just incredible. Because it already is just a great opportunity. But it’s and I didn’t really know this being a kind of, because I’m a game developer. We always use PCs and I won’t hear anybody tell me otherwise. If you told me that you’re an apple game developer, I’m just going to throw dangle you out the window. But for the most part, you know, we know that around 65% of all users are Android or PC users in the world anyway. So Microsoft, being able to present not only everything that Microsoft is about is like really great, but they’ve got some incredible opportunities for philanthropy. They are indirectly associated with the Gates Foundation, obviously, because of the Bill and Melinda Gates, that also, what I super like about working with Microsoft for startups, is, they love to draw back the curtain and show you what the inner workings of technology is. So if you have a question about using a Microsoft Azure tech stack, and you know what that involves, they will take you to the source. And they will say, look, here is our data. Here, our data points here is our data center, here is the guy that’s running it, or the girl that’s running it, come and have a chat with them and ask them anything, we want you to be able to fully understand what it is that you’re working with. And so when you get really hands on with that, that added sort of, you know, the source point of the of the tool, while that’s when you can really get under the skin and and think about the incredible possibilities that that presents to you on the tech side. And also, Microsoft learns from you. So the more that you spend time working with Microsoft, for startups as we are, the better chance that Microsoft for startups has, or Microsoft generally has in being able to understand what the future needs of new startups, or existing tech companies are. And that is so cool. So I really love it. And I don’t mean, it would be so easy for me to go with oh yeah, Microsoft. But actually, they’ve literally rolled out the red carpet for us, because they see that what it is we’re doing is something that is so relevant to the future of education and the future of young people generally. And that excites me beyond belief.
Host – Bryan 37:12
And is that is that a partnership that you guys were actively looking for? Did they come to you? Or is it kind of like a meeting of the mind sort of where it just kind of all came together and worked out?
Guest – Kelly 37:26
Well, I think it’s a meeting of the minds. Because in the world, there aren’t that many impact for social enterprises that have such an ambitious mindset. And ambition oftentimes needs more than just ideas, it needs a really good engine to power it, or a really good fire to cook it. And so, because of that what we wanted to do was find a partner that could help us and challenges to effectively create the best platform that we possibly could, we knew well that Minecraft for education exists. You know, I’ve known Mojang for a very, very long time. And the relationship that he had at Microsoft at the time of acquisition of Minecraft has been really valuable for him. But I would also go as far as to say that, you know, generally, Microsoft are not your games company. Yes, they own Xbox. But it’s a completely different business that’s totally separate. It’s just another outlet for technology development. Actually, what is happening here is that with Microsoft and Aequaland relationship, we can really drive up much more, that sort of focus and granular focus, whereas Minecraft education is a one size fits all, when looking at just 6 to 11 years old. You know, if I wanted to go into Minecraft now, I’d be able to go in it. And it would be just the same experience has been in Roblox that’s cool. But I don’t want to do that. So I want it to be much more granular, and a much more personal experience I can take with me. And Microsoft sees that. And that’s why they want to work with us to challenges and develop the best app and platform that we possibly can.
Host – Wiola 39:26
And Aequaland is very unique company as it’s actually the first women found, owned and led, which is pretty exciting. I mean, I love that part. And we know you’re also a leader of women in technology, in general. So we all know that the technology is massively underrepresented by women. It’s changing, which is a good part, but I would love to hear your perspective on that as you’ve been in this industry for a long time, and you are a technologist.
Guest – Kelly 40:08
I knew that I wanted to be in technology from a young age. But my folks wanted me to do some, something soft. So they wanted me to be a lawyer or a teacher or something like this. My career’s teacher told me to go and be a hairdresser.
Host – Bryan 40:28
I could see that.
Guest – Kelly 40:29
You can see that with my hair, right.
Host – Bryan 40:32
For our audio only people, Kelly’s got the greatest hair I’ve ever seen.
Guest – Kelly 40:38
The color changes. And the thing that I don’t know, it really kind of, I couldn’t get technology out from under my skin. Because I started playing games at a young age. And I’ve learned to code at kind of the age of 10.
Host – Wiola 40:55
Well, I can share my perspective. Yeah. Like previously, I spent many years organizing tech conferences all over the world, programming conferences. And I remember, we were really struggling to get any women attending the conferences on, for example, functional programming languages, Erlang conferences, where, obviously, it was very, very much men dominated. And we had to put an extra effort to, you know, create this environment that would be comfortable for women to present as speakers, to attend, to feel good, not because there were no, you know, talented women in the industry, because they didn’t feel comfortable enough to be a speaker, for example. And then I saw how it’s changed over the years. At the beginning, we had to put an extra effort to, to get this women, you know, mix with the crowd. And then once it started, then it was more and more inclusive and diverse..
Guest – Kelly 42:09
Agree. Yeah. So what I was gonna say was that by the time I’d left school, I wanted to go into tech. And there were no role models for me. And that’s the key focus here is that, you know, 10 years ago, you probably experienced the same thing. The role models are just not in technology. And, hey, I’ll be sort of totally frank with you. My experience of building businesses and working in technology generally is this. Most startups don’t have a tech co-founder. And that’s why they don’t get funded. Because the Microsoft’s etc, this world do not want to invest in a company that’s got no Tech co founder, that doesn’t matter whether it’s male or female. If you’re a female tech co founder, you’re even more rare. I mean, a lesser spotted Kelly Vero in the wild, you will not see, because we just don’t exist. And so what I had to do through my career, and actually, I have to be super honest with you, I never faced any sort of challenges, I was just left to get on with my job. And I had some great people who were men, by the way, who supported me in everything that I wanted to do, and how I wanted to develop myself, right. And then I had to become the role model that I needed. So I have to, I’m not like the greatest person in the world for public speaking, I’m going to level with you, I get quite shy, and I find it really sort of difficult. It’s true, it takes me like a warm up before I get going, because I get so nervous. But I will say this, there are more role models around now in technology than there were before. And I’m sorry that a lot of them have had to come from a marketing background, or a game design background to be able to be the voice of women in technology. But that’s just the way that it is. I mean, I’m sad about it, because I just wished that there was more sort of incredible, you know, data scientists, etc. A lot of whom are women that I would love to be able to say, right, you’re in the spotlight. Now, you tell us how it is that we’re going to be successful and how we’re going to have like fantastic careers, but they don’t want the limelight. They don’t want that spotlight. So sometimes you have to be the person that sort of says, look, I’m going to have to be the role model for myself. And that’s what happened. Yeah, but I haven’t really faced any challenges, really, and one of the main reasons is I guess because I’m six foot tall and I will kind of snap your neck with my hand. No problem, if you get on the wrong side of me :)) Everybody be aware. But there are some horror stories about me in the games industry because I just don’t take any prisoners doesn’t matter whether you’re female or male. So at the point when Aequaland comes along and says, hey, we really need one tech co founder, too, we need someone who’s got a strong voice and is a strong role model, I obviously jumped at the chance. And then what we’ve realized around it was that there were no other female fundeded funds or led companies, either in the ad tech space or in any other related verticals. And that just struck me as completely mad.
Host – Bryan 42:10
Yeah, that sounds it’s insane, right? It’s crazy.
Guest – Kelly 45:39
Why isn’t this happening? Because it was like a breath of fresh air when I started working with women. And we all had the same focus. And we all have the same goals and ambitions, we could work much faster. And as you can see, we’ve worked super fast, much faster than you know, any other company that I’ve ever worked for, really, in terms of the success ratio. So it just goes to show that a lot can be achieved. We don’t just have to attack on the women, you know, ideal, but it helps. And also, the thing that helps the most is with a startup is that we have a good tech understanding from day one. And that is sincerely lacking in a lot of startups.
Host – Bryan 46:26
Yeah, so Kelly, I think this is, you know, we’re getting to the point where we need to wrap up.
Guest – Kelly 46:31
Host – Bryan 46:33
Time flies when you’re having fun. But we usually like to give our guests some personal questions. So we’ve had a running theme on the show so far that every guest all two of them so far, have been DJs. So have you ever been a DJ? Have you ever DJ at a party? Anything? DJ related?
Guest – Kelly 46:53
I got really great story about it! Oh, yeah, yeah kind of.
Host – Bryan 47:01
Yes you get it!
Guest – Kelly 47:01
So, I like my first kind of, you know, how I get part time jobs, when you’re sort of a student or whatever. Mine was working in an LGBT bar. And this LGBT bar, you would be greeted by me, we’re in a gigantic Brazilian Rio de Janeiro style headdress, with feathers and all this kind of stuff on it. But occasionally, just for fun, they would let me go behind the decks and play some of the songs that I really liked, the LGBT audience. So all of that cool, high energy stuff, you know, really dancey amazing tunes and things. And then I made like, the big mistake of going in joining the military for three years. And so while I was in the military, we also used to have this party. And every week we’d have this party. And occasionally, I didn’t have my headdress with me at the time, but they’d let me go behind the decks and play some like really nice tunes. And they were always the same set. So from that, that those days of LGBT all the way through to my military experience, I actually took the same set with me, which is usually European dancefloor, fillers of high energy, you know, the gay clubs of the 80s 90s in New York and Berlin and whatever. And yeah, I would play those types of things. Just so exciting. Obviously.
Host – Bryan 47:02
That is amazing. Now we have our title. So ‘From from military DJ to metaverse’. This is what we got 🙂
Guest – Kelly 48:34
Host – Bryan 48:34
That’s a great title 🙂
Guest – Kelly 48:40
Yeah, I’m frustrated DJ at the end of the day, my Spotify playlists, you know, illustrate that perfectly.
Host – Bryan 48:55
Okay, and what uh, so how about favorite cocktail?
Guest – Kelly 48:59
Oh, there is no, I measured sort of everything in the world on the classic Singapore Sling. That is the the most awesome cocktail of all time. The Singapore Sling, very classic created in Raffles Hotel in Singapore in the 1900s, I think early 1900s. And then the second one is the Moscow Mulel. And I measure people on how they produce a Moscow Mule for me, so if you if we ever get together and have a real time, sit down at a cocktail bar, and I asked for a Moscow Mule. I’ll be judging that bartender.
Host – Bryan 49:37
That’s the same thing for me forn a Whiskey Sour. Yeah. Like it’s a staple. If you need, if you can’t do a Whiskey Sour properly, then there’s no point of me even trying any other coctail.
Guest – Kelly 49:40
Yeah, just get out of here.
Host – Bryan 49:50
How about you Wiola, anything else. Any other questions?
Host – Wiola 49:53
Last question. Oh, what’s the biggest challenge you’re facing now?
Guest – Kelly 50:00
Uhm, finding more hours in the day to do the things that I really love to do writing, love writing, gaming, obviously, I absolutely love gaming, traveling, you know, now that the doors have opened for us to go and travel again, I really want to go and travel. And if I wasn’t a tech, co-founder of a successful startup, then I would be on planes flying to come and see you so that we could do this podcast live, rather than just sort of hanging around on Zoom.
Host – Wiola 50:34
Next time, part two!
Guest – Kelly 50:36
Host – Bryan 50:40
All right. Well, Kelly, thank you so much. Kelly Vero, CTO of Aequaland and Renaissance woman really, right. There’s nothing like Kelly, you’re just fantastic. You’ve been a fantastic guest. So thank you so much for being on our podcast.
Guest – Kelly 50:55
Oh, I’ve really enjoyed it. Thank you so much. And everybody listens to this podcast because it’s really informative, and loads and loads of fun.
Host – Bryan 51:03
Thank you. Alright, have a good one.
Host – Wiola 51:11
Guest – Kelly 51:12
You too. Bye, folks.