We’re so excited to introduce you to Telly Awards Judge Fred Volhuer, CEO of AtlasV. Alongside his work as co-founder and CEO of the immersive reality studio AtlasV, Volhuer is the strategic advisor for several immersive technology companies, and has served as a panelist and a lecturer at Tribeca Film Festival, Mutek, MIT, and Brooklyn College. 

[This conversation has been edited for clarity.]

What was your first job in the industry? What did it teach you?

After my communication strategy studies, I got a job as an assistant in the strategic planning department of a major American ad agency. Of the things I learned during that [time], there are three that [remain] useful to me today: the power of ideas, the importance of reputation, and the relative impact of truth in decision making. 

Ideas are basically what ad agencies spend their time fabricating. And good ideas, the ones that make sense, attract attention, and influence customer behavior, are really hard to find. When you think you found it, in 99% of the cases, you will encounter someone in your agency or at your client office that will try to alter it. It is very hard for good advertising ideas to make it out there in a traditional agency model, but things are changing fast. Nowadays you can see how communication stunts with more creative freedom (and less corporate pressure) can become viral and impact millions of customers. Brands now have a lot more spaces to explore, new platforms like TikTok and soon the metaverse. When you mix new technologies with creative people, you can get something very explosive and enjoyable. 

The second thing I learned from one of my ex- bosses in this same agency: “There are 3 rules to accelerate as a company,” he said. “Reputation, reputation, and reputation.” Meaning, first being in control of your public image, secondly have influencers talk about you, and finally making sure clients and partners share your achievements. It is a very ‘ad agency’ principle in a sense that it implies information is above the tangible quality of a product or company. A statement that echoes a question we are all confronted with, as professionals or consumers: Am I choosing the best product or partner, or the one my environment thinks is best?

The third thing I learned is part of the next question. 

 What are the best and worst pieces of professional advice you’ve received? 

There is this statement that haunts me ever since I came across it. Actually, I would recommend that you stop reading now if you don’t want your brain to spin round and round. It’s both the best and the worst piece of advice I ever got.

I was struggling with an ad campaign for a non-profit client that deals with health-related issues. I knew that given the expectations of the audience, there was a thin line we had to walk on, and the campaign theme and tone had to be very sharp to catch attention. The client refused the approach and wanted something really bland. It would 100% go unnoticed. 

When I brought the problem to my boss he said to me, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to win?” 

He invited me to think about my objective and act accordingly. 

It may seem simple, but on many occasions we have to build towards objectives which values we do not share. This is probably why I now dedicate my life to fostering a generation of young artists with a very sharp vision and message! 

What does a typical work day look like for you?

I use every minute I have to do all the things I wanted to do. People are always amazed by the incredible number of things I can do in one day. Is it really sustainable though? There is room for thoughts here. 

What project are you most proud to have worked on?

My best project is to [have started] a company where people like to work together. As a CEO of an innovative entertainment company, [my] dream is built around entering a room full of different brilliant creative minds that are able to listen to each other, develop a common vision, and build amazing projects as a collective. 

What’s the best part of your job? What’s the most challenging?

There is no real good part of this job – it is mostly trouble all the time, a bit like climbing Mount Everest in flip flops. But there is this simple idea that makes you forget about the pressure, the risks, the questions. The fact that you can start with nothing and build an amazing creative adventure with partners you admire. It is [equal parts] love story (maybe because we’re mostly French?) and the American dream.

What makes you excited for the future of your industry?

When we started our company five years ago, we were telling everybody that [VR] glasses would enable people to jump from one world to another, and that we could [use them to] discover new worlds, learn, and socialize. 90% of people thought we were a bit crazy, but the world is changing now — what we see is a burgeoning industry [with] a lot of opportunity for artists to create new forms of entertainment. But also, the [stories, legends, and heroes] that we grew up with will also [continue] through those new formats. This is very exciting for us.