Jessica Maslin is the president and co-founder of Mieron VR, a virtual reality company based in Long Beach, California that has created a unique NeuroTherapy device that doctors and medical practitioners are using to help rehabilitate victims of spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, as well as those who suffer from cognitive diseases, like Parkinson’s.
Maslin’s background is a unique blend of science, technology and creative arts. Prior to joining Mieron, the New York native and Binghamton University graduate spent more than a decade working in medical research and technologies, including extensive research in bone growth mechanisms and pain management.
Where did the idea for Mieron VR come from?
First off, thank you for the opportunity to chat with you about Mieron.
So, before we created Mieron, I was working with Josh (Mieron co-founder Josh Dubon) at his creative agency, DayDreamCinema.
We had just recently created a VR experience with a well-known graffiti artist named Greg “Craola” Simkins. We had done an interactive narrative VR experience with him creating a mural at a local restaurant here in Long Beach (California). Using VR, we gave viewers an opportunity to experience what it was like to be there with Greg as he created the mural and shared some of his artistic inspiration. It was a very moving project.
About six months after we finished that project, Greg reached out to us and shared a story about his five-year-old niece who had suffered a spinal stroke while doing a backbend in her living room. She was an everyday, average, active five-year-old little girl and the spinal stroke left her paralyzed from the waist down. The family had heard about VR helping people with mental health and pain management and Greg had asked if we had looked into it or if we could do anything to help. When we chatted with Greg, we told him that we had seen a lot of great outcomes with research in the medical field, and while we didn’t have anything specifically for her, we would be more than happy to meet Eden and her family to see if there was something we could do. Josh and I flew out to Kentucky where the family had moved so Eden could participate in a rehabilitation program and we spent two weeks out there with she and her family.
During those two weeks, Josh and I got to see just about everything that spinal cord injury rehabilitation entailed, including the daily struggles that Eden was going through, both physically and mentally. We also got to see the trials and tribulations that her parents were going through as well, and I’ll always remember one thing that Eden’s mom Kylee said. She made a comment that “if life was just about Eden never walking again, it would be so easy.” We continued to learn that there was so much more to a spinal cord injury, because, and especially for children, you are constantly dealing with the secondary complications of growing into an adult body, maintaining bone strength , maintaining muscle mass and managing risks of organ damage.”
Almost instantly, Josh and I were taken by the family and we decided that we would do anything we could to help. One of the first things we did was to delve into some preliminary testing after sitting in on some of Eden’s rehabilitation and locomotive-training sessions to better understand what the doctors were trying to accomplish and how they were going about it. One such exercise that they had Eden do was an assisted crawling exercise where a nurse held her hips while she tried to engage her core and draw her knees forward. Eden clearly didn’t enjoy doing the exercise as it appeared both painful and frustrating, and furthermore, she didn’t want to feel like a baby crawling around. We decided to take a chance and put a VR headset on her just to see if she would wear it and if it would make her dizzy, or uncomfortable, or even nauseous. The headset we chose had a pre-programmed VR experience that we had created of professional skateboarding legend Christian Hosoi skateboarding in the famous Vans Shoes skate pool in Huntington Beach. We had Eden watch Christian skate through the headset while she was doing her assisted crawling exercise and almost instantly she started smiling while creating her own game of trying to hit his skateboard away from him each time he skated by her in the experience. We were blown away because not only was she doing great in her exercise, but we could also see in her face that she was having fun doing it.
After she finished and we took the headset off, Eden’s parents pulled us aside and showed us the analytical results they were seeing of what had just happened. With the VR headset on, Eden’s perception of pain almost completely dissipated and she was able to exert herself with increased intensity for a longer period of time, and her overall state-of-mind and level of perceived happiness went through the roof as she smiled from ear-to-ear. Without a doubt, that right there was our ‘aha’ moment. We knew right then and there that there was definitely something we could do that could help her out.
Josh and I returned to California and almost immediately we started creating experiences that could help Eden and others like her to get through arduous rehabilitation sessions. That’s ultimately what led us to launch Mieron. Since then, we’ve collaborated with dozens of healthcare facilities around the world to create a comprehensive library of Virtual Reality NeuroTherapy exercises based on the same principles of locomotive training, physical therapy and occupational therapy that doctors and nurses use with their patients on a daily basis.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I like to wake up with the sunlight and immediately get into work mode. As the co-founder of a startup, I’d say 90% of my day is dedicated to work so I get up in the morning, I walk my dog to work, it’s about a two-mile walk, and during the walk, I use that time to catch up with my family and friends who are on the East Coast. I also use that time to work out some ideas I have in my head before I get to the office and interact with the team. It’s really just a chance to get my mind started. And then once I get into work in the morning, we always start the day with a status update meeting so that we’re all on the same page and that keeps us organized for how we’re going to tackle the day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
At Mieron, ideas come to life in all different ways. For example, we may come up with an idea randomly and then we’ll put it on the whiteboard and if we like it, our whole team will start collaborating. We’ll throw out ideas of what kind of features we’d like to see incorporated into it and how we can effectively implement those, and then we’ll get into some of the fun aspects of it outside of functionality. This is when we’ll get into things like aesthetics, creative, and production elements. When it comes to creating experiences, we kind of have a creative flow checklist that we unofficially go through. Having that kind of methodical process helps us implement and execute a lot of ideas very quickly.
What’s one trend that excites you?
What really excites me is the wearables, the VR hardware that is becoming a lot more user-friendly. I think it still has a ways to go where people can feel comfortable with the headset on for say 30 minutes or an hour to go through some longer-form experiences or back-to-back, but seeing major companies like Facebook continuing to commit to developing wearable technology that’s wireless and is as easy to integrate as possible with the rest of your tech makes me excited
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
This is something that I work on a lot because sometimes there’s so many things to do in a single day that it can become overwhelming and you start to feel like you can’t get all of them done, so even though I try and adopt different productivity techniques, the number one thing that always helps me is creating lists. You’ll see around my desk I have lists of things I want done that day, that week and even within the hour. I create those lists for myself and that satisfaction of crossing something off that list really helps boost my productivity where I feel like I’m on a roll.
I even have a notepad next to my bed on my nightstand because if I think of something and then I start to think ‘oh, I have to remember this in the morning,’ then I start stressing out that I won’t remember it so I write it down and that way I have it and can add it to the list.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, whether it was babysitting, dog-walking, making jewelry, swim coaching, whatever it was, and I always turned to my dad a lot for ‘how can I make this equitable,’ – my dad taught me what “equitable” was. Back when I was younger, even in college I was afraid to ask clients for too much money, but what is too much money. For a college kid a couple hundred dollars seems like a lot but if you’re planning a big event, like a Bar Mitzvah for someone, a couple hundred dollars is nothing compared to what they’re spending. So, the advice I would give to my younger self is – “Value as in dollar amount is different for everyone, be sure to account for yours confidently. You know the quality of your work to back it up.”
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I wouldn’t say that nobody agrees with me, but it’s definitely a very limited number of people who see the future and think that cryptocurrency is a really effective tool. I don’t think that Bitcoin is going to exist much longer because by the time you’re able to pay for a coffee in Bitcoin, the milk in your coffee might have mold in it, but there are many interesting applications of crytpo. People are going to look back on paper money and think it’s funny. Kind of like an IOU.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Make sure that you make some sort of personal time for yourself. When you depend on you for getting paid and you don’t know if there’s a paycheck coming in every week like someone who may have a regular office job, sometimes it’s hard to shut off from work or leave the computer. But you have to. Even if just for one hour, you have to make time for yourself to go out to exercise or go for a walk, some sort of outdoor cardio activity. There’s been some periods where I’ve been extra thankful that I have a dog because otherwise I probably would have just stayed in front of my computer for three days and not surfaced, but you really have to practice making time for yourself, even if it’s just from 5-6 p.m. everyday when clients aren’t likely to pick up the phone, take that time for yourself.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Listening to our clients has been the best strategy to grow the business. Mieron entered an arena that we helped to pioneer, which is basically bringing VR onto the floor of hospitals and healthcare providers to use with their patients, because it’s not just a training tool. It’s a tool that you use with your clients that are in your healthcare settings. The best thing for us has been the direct communication we have with the practitioners that use Mieron. That’s helped us with everything from the best way to implement the program to pricing. Really listening to your clients and how they want to participate.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
There may be things that didn’t work out but I don’t necessarily look at those as failures because even in the worst situation you’ve learned something from it, and if it was a mistake, you can guarantee that it won’t happen again. And similarly, if it was something that came from totally out of left field, now you have experience with that happening. There are different situations that we learn from and it’s good to get them out of the way. The key is to actually learn from them and then implement a process to prevent that from happening again. Nothing is really a failure, it’s just a learning opportunity.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’ve heard this before, but I’ll spread it again: cereal flavored milk! But make it oat milk, sugar free and all natural!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I spent recently was on a gym class membership. Thinking about what I said earlier, I found something close to my office so that I can get exercise in that hour I take for myself, and forcing myself to get away from work for a little bit!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use Post-it notes as my go-to for immediate productivity guidance – ticking them off the do-to list. But, there’s a lot of different software that we utilize many to do things like track production and interact with our clients. These software solutions are really great for long-term productivity and turning work into systems.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I really love Ready Player One, which was recently made into a movie, but the book is way better. People always say ‘the book is better’ but really, the book has a backstory that the movie skipped, and more intense high stakes action. And especially working in VR, even though Ready Player One is about a dystopia future, it does have a lot of essential elements with where VR is going. The use of haptics and the way that VR is incorporated into learning and making the entire experience more intuitive for society. School and workouts and even interacting with your friends are integrated into VR. Those are huge new ways that people are going to be connected and VR’s going to play a major role in doing that in the future.
Ready Player One is a fantastic book. Even though it’s fiction and it has action in it, it gives a lot of insight into how VR is a powerful tool.
What is your favorite quote?
I’ve always liked this John Lennon quote, “A dream we dream together is reality” because it means that nothing is out of touch and all it takes is teamwork. All the best successes that I’ve ever had have come from being a part of a team. That quote says to me that you can do anything you set your mind to, but it’s even more powerful if you can create a team and all of you support each other along the way.
• VR already is a powerful tool and its presence is only going to continue to grow and prosper in the future. The fact that it can now help people medically besides being something that is just used for fun is a really exciting trend.
• Don’t be surprised to see more large companies like Facebook investing more heavily in VR.
• Even though we live in a technology-driven world, it’s refreshing to know that some of our brightest young minds still do simple things like keep hand-written lists and jot down notes on simple things like post-it notes.