How Jon Cheney Founded Ocavu
The Founder Series is a column by and about Utah founders and how they got to where they are today. Click here to read past articles in the series.
Iwas born and raised in Houston, Texas, until I was 12 years old. Growing up, I enjoyed learning new things, like gymnastics and music. In fact, I became one of the top gymnasts in the state! I caught onto the piano at an early age, and it became a big part of my life. I also love the outdoors—hiking, exploring, mountain biking, and skiing, anything that gets me into the mountains. But all of those activities paled in comparison to whitewater kayaking. That’s where my true passion lies, and I cherish every moment I get floating down a river.
At the age of 12, my father was called as a mission president for the LDS Church, so our family moved to Paraguay for three years. During that time, I learned Spanish and experienced a new culture—something I value and appreciate. Following Paraguay, my family moved to Utah and after high school, I served my own two-year mission in Taiwan where I learned Chinese, which shaped the next few years of my life.
As I returned from serving the people of Taiwan, I attended Brigham Young University (BYU) and graduated in Chinese and business. I always knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur and I didn’t wait until after college to begin my own ventures. In fact, college wasn’t the first time I started out my own ventures. At just eight years old, I began selling mistletoe door to door—it’s hard to say “no” to kids selling mistletoe for $5!
In addition to sports and finding new business opportunities, the piano also played an important role in my life. I began playing at the age of three, and still play to this day. I began composing my own music at age 15 and I have since published seven albums. I love my time spent in black and whites. One of my dreams is to compose a soundtrack for a motion picture someday.
After graduating from BYU, I opened Craigslist and searched in the “Jobs” section for “Chinese and business.” I came across a fast-growing startup, where both my Chinese and sales talents could be a fit, as a liaison serving the US education market, building relationships with Chinese students. I quickly learned the ropes and within three months, worked my way to a senior sales position.
The leadership opportunities really affected my career here. The CEO was gone a lot, and so was the EVP—I called most of the shots. I was able to help build new products, bring on new customer lines, and really see what it’s like to create something out of nothing. After that company was acquired and later went public, I joined another education tech startup called English3, which sold language training software primarily aimed at international students wanting to study in the US. While I enjoyed the work, it was time for a change and on January 3rd, 2016, I made a resolution to focus on creating far more than I consumed.
Getting inspiration from Pokémon GO
I had a lot of ideas, like publishing a new album, writing a book and starting a company. Taking my love of the outdoors, I started a company called Treasure Canyon. The idea was to put on treasure hunts as events for the public and businesses as team-building activities. We wanted to bring technology into the treasure hunt to give it a unique spin, so we designed clues that required a phone and collaboration from friends at a computer. My co-founder, Mike Snow, and I dove in and loved it!
I am a pianist/composer and I’m good at sales, so I actually worked at Summerhays Music up in Murray selling pianos during that time. The CEO of the company knew I was building a company while I was there. He said that as long as there weren’t customers in the piano store, I could work on whatever I wanted. As soon as someone would walk in, I would go make the pianos sound beautiful, close the deal, and then get back to work. My co-founder would even come and spend hours with me at Summerhays and we built the business out of there until we had enough income to go full-time.
At the same time, we committed to our business in a big way—we set a date for a treasure hunt with a $10,000 grand prize (which we didn’t have at the time). The date was nine months away, and we knew we could build the brand up and sell enough tickets to cover the prize money. On the way, we hosted smaller treasure hunts with prizes. The day came for the big event and we pulled it off! It was incredible and the excitement was beyond what we can describe. Thousands of people participated in the treasure hunts and we were able to secure sponsors like Goal Zero, Blendtec, Maverick, Gatorade and more.
Meanwhile, we were already cooking up our next big thing. We decided to make an app that would allow us to scale our business and bring value to people all over the world through treasure hunts. While we were building the first version of the app, another app hit the market and it took the world by storm—Pokémon GO.
The first time I opened it and saw Pokémon sitting in front of me with my camera open, inspiration hit. We had to bring augmented reality into our treasure hunting app. My co-founder and I got started immediately. It was then that our third co-founder, Chris White, joined the team. We decided to call the app, “Seek.”
At the time, the app was built for end users—a fun treasure hunting game where brands provided prizes and gained exposure. The app was eventually operating in over 100 countries with a focus on two audiences: 1) users/game players and, 2) brands.
During this time, we built tools that made it easier for brands to publish augmented reality experiences within the context of our app. In 2018, we realized that the more valuable side of our business was around AR technology, so we pivoted the business to become a B2B software company. At that point, our real growth started. We became (and still are) one of the top companies to provide immersive technology solutions to top brands all over the world. Then, Web3 came along, and it changed everything.
"I’m determined to give brands, influencers, athletes, really anybody with a community, an easy way to take advantage of web3 technologies."
I’ve followed crypto since 2012 and was one of the earlier people experimenting with bitcoin, but at the time, I still didn’t grasp what blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and web3 would mean to the world in the future. No, I’m not a Bitcoin millionaire. It’s even likely that I have a wallet somewhere that I’ve lost in the nether with some old Bitcoin sitting around.
It was in 2020 that I started following NFTs and blockchain technology more closely. It appeared the technology was finally starting to go more mainstream, and I wanted to see how Seek could help serve this market. Given our expertise in all things 3D, I explored pathways to how we could support 3D NFTs or enable NFTs to have 3D representation. That idea didn’t last long because I started seeing the connection from NFTs to the metaverse, and I knew we could help.
From the beginning of Seek as a B2B service offering, we focused on enabling cross-platform 3D experiences. In fact, Seek has secured many patents along the way, legally giving us the exclusive ability to display 3D models on more than one platform from a server in AR, VR, or XR. To add the metaverse to this seemed like a no brainer.
The pathway I saw was with NFTs playing a significant role in enabling different metaverses to be able to know what 3D content I owned. So if I owned a 3D Nike hat that could be worn on an avatar, for example—if that 3D Nike hat was an NFT, then any metaverse could reference a public blockchain record of that ownership and I would be able to bring my assets from one metaverse to another. We began development immediately. This is when the “Seek” began its transition to “Ocavu.”
Pivoting to Ocavu
One thing I pride our team on doing since our days of inception has been listening to the market and pivoting our solution to better match what our customers are asking for. Ocavu was off to the races with NFT interoperability. Then BYU reached out to learn more. They saw we had a great history of delivering next-gen technology solutions, and asked if we could build a custom NFT site for their athletic department and all the athletes at the school. As a longtime BYU fan and an alumni the only answer was, “Absolutely we can.”
As we began to build the platform and capabilities, we received more interest from potential customers. It became clear our expanded web3 platform was significant, so we started asking ourselves if it was time for a brand refresh. Then came Ocavu.
What we’re trying to do at Ocavu is help the world transition to web3—the next layer of the internet. The transition to the internet was obviously big. It was painful, there were big crashes and booms. I think we’re on the same trajectory here with web3—big boom, big crash—and then steady growth for companies that do it right. We’ve gone through some of those cycles with web3 and I believe we’re beginning to see solutions emerge that will become household names.
Each new layer of the internet has brought significant changes in our lives. The first iteration of the internet could barely handle text and simple pictures. The next layer of the internet brought user-generated content, streaming, security, and more. Web3 will bring innovations to the above, but also add a significant new layer of immersiveness. Most content on the internet today is 2D pictures and video. But as technology improves and cell signals turn from 5G and beyond, we will see more 3D content and ways to engage with that content.
Web3 has the potential to bring better alignment of ownership of content as a creator and a user—I care about that. I’m a musician, and after creating music, I want to make sure that my efforts are rewarded more than they are today. I want creators to be the ones who receive the lion’s share of the benefit instead of some big, centralized network receiving the majority of the money that comes from my efforts.
Ocavu aims to power the next layer of the internet—the visual side, which will be powered by cross-platform 3D content and the structural side, which will use the power of web3 and web3 principles. 3D content can be shown in augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D visualizers on 2D screens, full on metaverse applications, etc. 3D content stored on the blockchain allows disparate metaverses to potentially sync up and allow users to move between worlds with shared data—this is an exciting future.
Our immersive side of the business is a platform that allows brands and creators of any kind to create, manage, and deploy 3D content on any platform whether that’s created on a website, viewed on a phone or desktop, or put in on a social platform like TikTok, Instagram, or Snapchat. We help brands access that technology so they can come to one central place, store all their content, and then we push it out so that it works everywhere.
Ocavu brings all that Seek has to offer, and is now integrated into a more powerful system that helps brands combine the powers of both XR and web3.
Then NFTs started getting loud because massive amounts of money were going toward them, think $50 million. I couldn’t help but ask why. Why were people paying millions of dollars for NFTs? I kept looking to see if they were creating real value in people’s lives and couldn’t find it. I also researched how to buy NFTs via the different networks—Ethereum, Polygon, Wax, Arbitrum, etc. The processes weren’t easy, and I knew mass adoption wouldn’t come with the current systems.
Nevertheless, I kept educating myself. Amidst the madness, I saw the value of web3 and what it would mean for the world as real solutions. I’m determined to give brands, influencers, athletes, really anybody with a community, an easy way to take advantage of web3 technologies. I believe that web3 will help foster relationships for creators with and between their fans in ways that aren’t happening today. I believe that real connection will be simpler with the right scaffolding built around it, and that’s what we are trying to build.
Our goal has always been to take difficult augmented reality technology and make it easy for brands to adopt. We wanted to create tools and a platform where brands could push a few buttons and boom, they’re in 3D, augmented reality. We built tools to help them put in on their website on product pages, on social media, on packaging and flyers, and so much more. This is where we got the same kind of ethos that went into, “How do we make web3 easy?”
Creators drive the adoption of virtually all new technologies. They’re willing to work through less-than-perfect platforms to be trailblazers. I believe creators will continue to take web3 and organize their communities in new ways that will be more rewarding for them, more engaging for their fans, and better align incentives for all.
One person who has been ahead of the market is Taylor Swift. A few years ago, she decided to republish her music on her own label, launching “Taylor’s Version” of all of her hits. There were way too many people dipping their hands into her royalties and she says, “I’ve had enough!” I believe she was just the beginning of this trend. Others have followed, and this trend will not reverse any time soon.
Today, I can record a song in my home studio, upload it to Apple Music, Spotify, etc.in a day— the world has made being a creator easier than ever. Now it’s time to update the economic alignment to allow creators to make a fair living without purely enriching the few mega platforms that are out there.
Communities are also getting an update. Instead of these mega centralized platforms retaining ownership of every user, post, and comment, there is a new world where someone like Dude Perfect can offer a community page on their website that says, “In order to participate, you need a digital access card (NFT). Welcome to the club, you’re in.”
They’re welcomed into a community where the creator is in control and the community can have real connections with them and each other. The creator has a way to communicate directly on their own terms, instead of a large, centralized software giant. The Ocavu Network is a software platform, but is not a centralized network. It’s an ecosystem with no platform in between that takes cuts in traditional ways, but a network that takes transaction fees based on volume of use as it grows branches.
The Ocavu Network aims to provide tools that make publishing not an additive task and another platform that has to be managed, but that becomes a framework around which brands build all other appendages. It gives direct web3 utility to existing assets–social, website, etc. It allows gated access to premium content, gated merch shops, exclusive events and the web3 ability to trade access at whatever value the market creates.
If there are only 1,000 digital assets that give exclusive access in a community of 1 million people, who knows what kind of trading will happen over time? You can begin to see how an NFT can actually become worth something if it grants you real-life access to something of which there is scarcity involved.
Still, most people hear “web3” and they have no idea what it is. I encourage people to Google it, look up NFTs, and watch some YouTube videos. Education is fun in this space—there are so many rabbit holes to go down. But this is not how web3 will become mainstream. It will become mainstream through what I call web2.5.
The user interfaces and experiences must be familiar for people to use them. For example, an NFT-based ticketing platform (which the Ocavu Network has), should help people buy and sell tickets and get them into the event for which the ticket exists. Nobody really needs to know that blockchain and NFTs are behind the scenes. Most people just want to get the value the ticket is supposed to deliver. Repeat this across every industry, and you begin to see a transformed internet that is more open, connected, and delivering value where it’s supposed to be delivered.
The Ocavu Network powers community, and community is really about connecting. In the end, that’s what we are trying to accomplish at Ocavu. With the new ways of web3, I believe that communities can support creators in ways that can allow more and more people to make creation their full-time gig.
Ultimately, I hope that we can be a significant force in the world that allows people to do more of what they love—not more of what they have to do. Web3 will enable more people to create music, art, movies, companies, books, stories, and so much more. I believe that a new renaissance is upon us, and I hope to lead Ocavu to a place that ensures this reality is delivered.