Mining Global spoke with Stephen de Jong, Founder & CEO at VRIFY, discovering how the mining sector can up its presentation game in the bid for investment with interactive 360-degree walk throughs of mining sites and exploration opportunities.
VRIFY aims to simplify the headache of site visits by offering virtual mining tours from the comfort of your desktop or tablet. The genesis of the company was born from the needs of the mining professional. Stephen de Jong, Founder & CEO at VRIFY, recalls the eureka moment: “My experience with the industry is on the mining side. From 2012 to 2017, as the CEO of Integra Gold, we embraced technology innovation in everything we did, culminating in a global million-dollar crowdsourcing competition, the Integra Gold Rush Challenge. We then started the Disrupt Mining event with Gold Corp which was a call for technologies that could impact the mining sector. In the last six months before Integra Gold was acquired, we used virtual tours to showcase our project to the world.”
De Jong recalls a simple approach incorporating panoramic 360-degree shots of Integra’s site via an iPad-driven PowerPoint presentation. “We realised we were spending 80% of our time at meetings walking through our site,” he says, noting the traditional page flip through a corporate deck didn’t meet their needs. “We learned the way we present and share information isn't sufficient for the stories we're trying to tell within the mining sector, so we started incorporating various presentation slides to offer information points as you went through our tour and ditched the conventional approach.”
The whole concept of VRIFY is built on industry experience maintains De Jong who is keen to stress “we’re not a bunch of tech guys trying to find applications for our fancy technology. We're very much mining people whose experience from the industry side has identified a problem we believe some quite simple technology can fix.”It’s a technology which utilises elements of virtual reality, 3D modelling and 3D visualisation crafted by in house developers.
De Jong has been startled by the industry response to VRIFY, revealing they can’t produce the virtual tours fast enough. With 60 completed and many more in production, VRIFY is aiming to create a standard everybody can use across the industry, from exploration to investment. De Jong believes the benefits are obvious: “If you’re chasing investment and trying to explain the orientation of the deposit or where the underground workings are in relation to the deposit, the best way to do that right now is to take screenshots of a 3D model. We can incorporate interactive models and photography and other components right into that presentation. The idea is that if you have better information, you'll make better decisions. I truly believe once we give investors and other stakeholders a taste of this level of disclosure it's going to be very hard to go back to your two-dimensional deck and feel justified in your investment decisions based on drill results accompanied by a limited amount of information.”
As Chairman of Integra Resources (created after the sale of Integra Gold in 2017), De Jong himself uses VRIFY and tests new features. He points out that whenever the company issues drill results, it updates the interactive 3D model which provides a historical drill database from the project and all of the drill holes in that area. De Jong explains the practicality of this approach: “We recently put out a drill hole that was a 260m step out from the closest hole and it was over 100m, but it's not until you see it in 3D and you can see legitimately there isn't a single historic hole within 500m that you understand we truly are into a new area.”
VRIFY can drive partnerships across the sector believes De Jong, who asserts what the company are doing is essentially building a platform to house what could be the largest database of information that's ever been compiled in the mining sector. “Our platform is not just driven by the companies on it, there's also a user component to it. If we create an ecosystem where you have mining companies and users - primarily investors but also community stakeholders, environmental groups, regulators etc - then your business, be it a consulting group or investment bank, can interact with the industry to find a verified partnership within that ecosystem.We're supremely focused on primarily building that ecosystem. The first step to doing that is getting as many companies adopting the platform as possible.”
What trends is De Jong seeing across the mining panorama that could provide an opportunity for VRIFY? “It’s transparency and accountability that prompt investors to look at the junior mining space. It’s not the Wild West but there are definitely improvements to be made. We don't need more regulation, just better tools for investors and stakeholders to hold companies to what they promise and how they run their businesses. As technologies like VRIFY advance, the industry will benefit.”
De Jong is enthused by the industry response to VRIFY noting that “we've done more than 10 projects with Gold Corp and are also working with Kirkland Lake on all five of its assets. At a recent investor day, they used VRIFY for a four-hour presentation going through the entire company in an interactive setting.” He adds that in the background, VRIFY is partnering with the likes of gold royalty company Sandstorm, Wheaton Precious Metals and some of the more exciting top performing juniors such as SilverCrest while working on projects across the globe from Australia to Africa. All of this underpins work with oil and gas companies and plans to expand with renewable energy clients.
Mining needs an Uber moment maintains De Jong, who argues there is too little accountability in the sector. He feels VRIFY is poised to deliver an ecosystem that will give investors more confidence and ultimately benefit the industry as a whole by incentivising companies to make more effort with everything from exploration budget ratios to community relations.
De Jong reveals the goal for VRIFY in 2019 will be to have 250 clients by year end before targeting upwards of 1,000 by the close of 2020. Allied to this, VRIFY aims to improve the experience beyond the company/client side to focus on the user/investor/stakeholder and deliver a specific curated linear tour. “We describe this experience more like a hop on hop off bus tour where you're taken down a certain route but at any time you can jump off and interact with all of the information by yourself,” he explains.
The next big step for VRIFY will be to build on the structure of independent site visits of a company’s assets affirms De Jong: “The ‘VRified Deck’ will take all those assets into an interactive presentation making it easier for companies to present to this platform. All of their projects and company information via financial statements, management team and press releases within one setting.”
De Jong reckons he’s delivered thousands of presentations over the years to analysts, boards, community groups and investors… “I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. VRIFY is the result of that experience and offers a great opportunity to do a much better job communicating the value proposition of the mining industry.”