Disney-backed Jaunt lays off ‘significant’ number of employees as it moves away from VR

One of the top-funded VR content startups, with backers including Disney and GV (Google Ventures), is laying off a “significant portion” of its employees as it pivots away from virtual reality.

In a blog post titled “The Future of Jaunt is AR,” the formerly VR-focused company announced it was leaving much of its VR business behind and shifting toward AR tech, laying off many of its employees in the process:

We will be winding down a number of VR products and content services in the coming weeks. We will work with our current clients to deliver our existing commitments and manage this transition smoothly and professionally. In addition, this unfortunately means that some of our valued and highly talented colleagues will be moving on.

“Today we had to make some difficult decisions in an effort to realign Jaunt for continued success. We are restructuring the company, resulting in letting go of a significant portion of our staff,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch in a statement.

Jaunt’s VR effort was a victim of their going full throttle on an emerging business model before enough details were clear. Months before Oculus and HTC had even released their flagship headsets, Jaunt had already raised $100 million from investors with the promise that it was going to capture and gobble up the new VR medium before people event knew what it was.

The endless potential open to Jaunt ultimately led to them losing out to other startups as they sought more areas for growth.

Startups like NextVR were able to whittle away at their ambitions of becoming a hub for live VR entertainment by steadily building up partnerships with sports leagues and entertainment companies. Meanwhile, the live-action VR space has failed to grow as much as many expected, while work in computer-generated cinematic VR content remains slow, steady and unsure as creative strides are made but the business model of the industry remains a big honking question mark. Creation tools have remained an area of focus for Jaunt, especially volumetric capture, on which they seem to have doubled down as of late.

The entire industry has progressed more slowly than fervent investors had hoped, with sluggish headset sales being particularly damaging to content companies that needed those extra eyeballs. The pivot to AR means future potential for content on AR headsets like those from Magic Leap and Microsoft, but the focus is likely structured largely on the wide reach of smartphone-based platforms like Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore.

While the early 2010s were marked by a number of media companies “pivoting to video,” Jaunt is in the unique position of “pivoting to AR,” strangely leaving the much more entertainment-friendly VR platform in the dust in favor of a medium than can run on hundreds of millions of smartphones instead.