Ottawa’s Point3D sharpens focus on high-tech VR tours

A marketer by trade, Spencer MacPherson was making extra money on the side as a real estate photographer when an idea for a bigger money-making venture became as vivid in his mind as a 3D video.

MacPherson noticed that more and more realtors were offering virtual online tours as a means of allowing potential buyers to scope out properties without ever leaving the comfort of their homes. When MacPherson was asked if he could provide such services, he politely said no. But it got him thinking.

“I immediately understood that this type of technology and the digital aspect that it creates can be used outside of real estate in very unique purposes,” the 25-year-old entrepreneur says.

Eventually, he and younger brother Logan, 21, a business student at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, cobbled together enough funds to purchase a state-of-the-art digital camera that uses infrared technology to scan images in 3D. Since launching Point3D Commercial Imaging almost exactly a year ago, they’ve used the high-tech tool to create virtual tours of more than 70 local businesses and other organizations, from museums and art galleries to tattoo parlours and flower shops.

The brothers have almost recouped their initial $25,000 investment and expect to start turning a profit on the self-financed venture by the end of the year. They’ve added a salesperson to the startup’s payroll and aim to beef up their team with more photographers and marketing staff soon.

MacPherson, a graduate of Algonquin College’s advertising and marketing communications management program, still has his day job as a brand manager at Goldwing Autocare – a Point3D client, by the way – but plans to throw himself into the startup world full-time in the next few months. He predicts the enterprise will be a “six-figure business” before long.

Yet as high-tech as the venture sounds, MacPherson says marketing it comes down to good, old-fashioned leg work.

“It really is a sales job,” he notes. “Nobody is coming to us and saying, ‘Hey, we want a 3D tour.’ Typically, we’re actually going to places and saying, ‘Hey, have you thought about doing something like this?’ and they say, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know that was possible, but yes, we would totally be interested.’”

After giving the Bytown Museum the 3D treatment earlier this year, the MacPhersons recently took their equipment to Watson’s Mill, a 19th-century flour mill in Manotick that’s now a working museum. MacPherson donned his waders to film the turbines beneath the building – an area that’s usually off-limits to visitors, who can now feel like they’re right in the middle of the churning waters thanks to digital technology.

“That was a cool job,” he says.

Other notable clients include Tony Graham Lexus, which hired Point3D to capture its showroom and the interiors of vehicles at the dealership. Online shoppers can check out the view from the driver’s seat, then click on a link to book a real-life test drive if they like what they see.

The brothers also do pro bono work for local non-profit organizations such as the Ottawa Tool Library and the House of PainT Festival, an initiative they call “Random Scans of Kindness.” And they say they’re more than willing to help others immerse themselves in the world of 3D imaging, providing advice to fledgling entrepreneurs as far afield as Africa and New Zealand.

“We want to become the authority within this space – not just in the Ottawa area, but elsewhere as well,” MacPherson says. “If people do have questions, we’re more than happy to try to help them out.”

With an eye to further growth, Point3D recently applied for a federal grant through the Futurpreneur Canada program. MacPherson wants the funds to buy a $40,000 camera that uses lasers to scan 3D images that are accurate to within a few millimetres of the real thing.

He says the device will open up new opportunities for the firm in the architecture, construction and engineering spaces, since its images will allow drafters and designers to take measurements of buildings without actually being on site.

And realtors? Yes, they are more than welcome to give him a call, too, he adds.

“If there is an agent that would like to use us, certainly we’re not going to turn away the work,” MacPherson says.

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