Well done to Lean VR, proud winner of the 2021 Tyk Side Project Fund!

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No business springs into existence as a fully formed company. Most begin from humble origins, driven by a whole heap of passion, a bit of vision, a smattering of happenstance and many long, long hours of hard work.

This was certainly the case with Tyk, which began as our CEO Martin’s side project, when he couldn’t find an API platform that met his needs sufficiently. Tyk expanded from Martin’s spare room – via Global Commercial Director Andrew’s kitchen table – to a globe-spanning enterprise. Now, it’s time for the company to pay it forward, though the Tyk Side Project Fund.

The idea of the Side Project Fund is to give other side projects the chance to flourish. Winners receive funding to cover some of the costs associated with setting up their side project and discovering whether it has the potential to become their main project.

One of 2021’s most exciting winners is Lean VR, from the talented Liyas Thomas. Here’s Liyas to tell you all about it… 

Tyk: Please can you tell us about your side project and where the idea came from? 

Liyas: Lean VR is an augmented reality/virtual reality application that you can use from any device – from your laptop, your tablet, your smartphone – through an internet cache. It allows users to create their own augmented reality things and then put that in their code. You can use it to create anything – Lean VR will bring your augmented reality ideas to life.

Tyk: What gave you the idea for Lean VR?

Liyas: I graduated in 2019 and, as part of me doing so, I had to create a project. It was something that every student had to do as part of the curriculum during my final year at college. That’s where Lean VR began – as my final year college project.

Tyk: How did you validate the idea and ascertain that Lean VR would be useful to people?

Liyas: The use cases of Lean VR are infinite, but I obviously had to start somewhere for the proof of concept. So for that I began looking at academic uses. I created an augmented reality book, where you can use your smartphone to scan each page to access interactive lessons that pop up from the static pages. For example, an augmented chemistry page can show you how molecules interact.

Validation came from my friends and classmates, as I was able to show them the project’s academic potential. I was studying computer science engineering, so had plenty of scope for validation from those around me.

Tyk: What where the challenges that you faced while working on your side project?

Liyas: There were plenty of challenges. The main one related to hardware capabilities. Even with all the tech available these days, the hardware still posed a problem. While some devices are made to work with augmented reality, they are still quite specialist – and I wanted to make this available to everyone, not just those who own a virtual reality headset. That meant looking at how rendering and other elements would work with devices that weren’t created with that purpose in mind.

That’s why I went down the route of a web application – I can do all the rendering and computation in the cloud, which deals with the hardware capacity issue.

Tyk: What stage is the project at right now and what are the next steps?

Liyas: We have proof of concept and a minimum viable product (MVP). So the ideation phase is done and we can show the public the MVP working. Now we need to work on the revenue model!

We’re in a scaling process at the moment, onboarding both developers and users. We’ve got a lot of colleges using the app too.

Tyk: What difference has the Tyk Side Project Funding made?

Liyas: The funding is going to be really helpful in working on product developments and improvements. The recognition and publicity element of the win is also going to be really useful, as it will help with building the product’s reputation and recognition. That means I can reach out and distribute it more widely, which is great. That’s what I’m concentrating on right now.

Tyk: What are the values that drive you?

Liyas: Lean VR isn’t my first side project. Nor will it be my last! I’ve been in the tech space for more than six years now. In fact, I also won Tyk Side Project Funding back in 2020 for my Postwoman project. Creating side projects is really important to me – I like to create tools that are useful. I’m a full time developer and also run a company, so I appreciate the value of useful tools! I think that’s the reason I keep coming up with ideas and creating new side projects.

Tyk: What would your advice be to someone just starting work on their own side project?

Liyas: I think a lot of people start projects but then drop them partway through. I believe you need to be consistent in working on your side projects and keep on building. You need to have that motivation to keep going. Dropping something after two months won’t result in anything, but if you stick with it for two years, you could end up with a product that has real potential. You have to be consistent.

Tyk: Where will Lean VR be in five years’ time?

Liyas: The five-year timeline is one that involves plenty more projects for me! I would like to see Lean VR win funding like Postwoman did. I hope that in five years, Lean VR will be a separate company with plenty of related exciting projects. I would like to see it making augmented and virtual reality affordable around the world. 

Tyk: What else would you like to share with the world?

Liyas: I was born in India and that’s where I’m living right now. There’s a definite barrier for students like me when it comes to accessing tech. So if you’re reading this and you’re in a position to help a student by providing them with technology to help their future, I would advocate that. I wouldn’t be where I am today without that support. Investing in our students is the way to build our future. 

Tyk: Thank you Liyas – and best of luck!