“I realized making a difference means I had to give up my day job.”
Robin Rosenberg, founder of Live in Their World, Inc.
Robin Rosenberg had a job she loved. After training to be a psychologist, she had an established and full practice and wrote psychology textbooks for college students. But Robin was now at a crossroads after successfully piloting a virtual reality based program to address issues of bias and incivility in the workplace, funded by a VC she knew. Should she step off her chosen career track and risk her financial stability to found a company focused on changing corporate cultures to embrace diversity and respectful engagement? She knew that if she could move the needle and create positive change in the industry, then she would have to take the leap.
Robin’s interest in virtual reality started over 25 years ago, based on her recognition that VR had important similarities to hypnosis, a technique she had studied and used in her psychological practice. Robin’s entrepreneurial journey began in 2012, when Trayvon Martin’s death rocked the country and sowed the seeds for the Black Lives Matter movement. Through her familiarity with virtual reality, she came up with the idea of using virtual reality as a means to increase employees’ respect for and understanding of their colleagues from different demographic groups. That concept became reality in 2017 during the #MeToo movement when a venture capitalist she had met socially years earlier approached her, interested in exploring her prior ideas for behavior change in the workplace. Robin agreed to develop a virtual reality proof-of-concept study to help men understand the impact of women on gender bias in the workplace.
When the pilot study came back with great results, Robin realized she had to make a choice – continue her career as a practicing psychologist or become a founder of a new company. While she believed in her product, she stepped back and took the time to think about how she could create a scalable business. She also considered how building that business might impact her lifestyle and practice. In April 2018, after doing her due diligence by talking with other entrepreneurs, she jumped all in, leaving her practice and working fulltime to build her company, Live In Their World Inc. Robin decided to raise a friends and family round of funding, to enable greater user growth and business impact. She also established a board of advisors so that she could get regular, timely feedback. “I feel so lucky to have my advisors. They’ve been generous with their time and incredibly helpful at every stage of our company’s development.”
Fast track to now, and Robin has created a company that aims to help large corporations and medium-sized companies address issues of bias and incivility. Her company’s unique approach is to enable participants to experience typical workplace situations in which issues of bias and incivility arise as a Black woman, a Black man and a white woman. The program uses mobile VR and Youtube 360-degree-type immersive video for remote workers, and a Oculus headset for in-office employees, complemented by an online cognitive learning module. Impact is measured periodically through employee engagement surveys. “It’s important to me that we actually change workplace behavior, increase respectful behavior and a sense of belonging in all teams. That’s why we periodically assess how employees are treating each other.”
She quickly discovered that becoming a founder who wanted to scale up her business required different commitments than being a solopreneur. For example, having that initial investor required her to incorporate her company, open a corporate bank account, hire an accountant and hold key person’s insurance. “I’ve had professional insurance since I became a psychologist, so the idea of having insurance for the company, and D & O insurance, seemed like a different variant of mitigating potential risk.”
She hired her first employee, a business development manager, only a month ago, during the pandemic, and has never met her in person. Robin is handling all the “C-suite” positions at the moment, learning along the way, but has made ample use of contractors, including a public relations team, who are working with her on her company’s July launch.
Robin worked hard to get as much insight as possible before transitioning from being a solo practitioner with a thriving practice to being a founder, but quickly realized that no matter how much she tried to prepare, she really didn’t understand what a founder’s life is like until she actually began living it. Robin notes, ”Living as a founder is really different than hearing about it or seeing it, it’s a real rollercoaster.”
To learn more about how Robin’s company uses virtual reality to help companies address gender and racial bias, visit www.liveintheirworld.com.
(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong