During the senior year of high school, students typically focus on college applications, eagerly count down the days until graduation, and spend time hanging out with friends before they enter their next phase of life. While Josh Fontak is a typical high school senior in many ways, the 17-year-old also runs a business he founded last spring to provide clothing with VR representation for the growing number of consumers investing in virtual reality.
The ability to see a niche market that has the potential for growth is definitely one trait of a successful businessperson and in the case of virtual reality, Fontak was spot on in regards to his investment.
Earlier this month, Facebook announced that more than 60 games available on the Oculus Quest and Quest 2 headsets had made over $1 million since the start of 2020. Six of those games topped $10 million, including Downpour Interactive’s Onward and Skydance Interactive’s The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners. Less than a week later, BigBox VR announced that their battle royale game, Population: One, had already captured over $10 million in sales since its release in October.
SuperData Research, a market analyst firm owned by Nielsen, reported over 1 million Quest units sold in 2020 quarter 4 alone and expect sales of that headset to exceed 3 million in 2021.
The rapidly growing ecosystem of virtual reality translates to opportunity for entrepreneurs like Fontak, who comes from a family of hard-working business owners.
On his mom’s side, Fontak’s grandmother and grandfather own a local carpet business in Pennsylvania. His paternal grandparents immigrated to the United States following the Holocaust, which they both survived as young adults. His paternal grandmother later pursued a career as a nurse and his grandfather owned a small grocery store in Brooklyn, New York.
“I’ve been around business my whole life,” states Fontak, who grew up in Princeton Junction, New Jersey and moved with his family to Narberth, Pennsylvania when he was 11. Not only was he around it, but he adds that he had always taken an interest in entrepreneurship.
Like many other VR enthusiasts, Fontak was introduced to virtual reality by a friend. He says he tried Epic Games’ Robo Recall and “was immediately hooked.”
He purchased a PC so he could run VR and then he bought a CV1, the original Rift consumer headset from Oculus, the headset manufacturer that was purchased by Facebook in 2014 for $2 billion. The Oculus brand was moved under the umbrella of Facebook Reality Labs in August 2020.
In addition to Robo Recall, Fontak played games like Superhot VR and in January 2020 he began playing Ready At Dawn’s Echo VR, which has one of the most active communities in the VR ecosystem. There are regular community activities in-game and on social media, and many players have had the opportunity to meet in person at LAN events and casual get together.
Fontak, known in game by his username “Phontak,” quickly realized a gap that needed to be filled.
Most of the people who talk about VR or who already owned headsets in early 2020 were already involved in immersive reality or the tech industry in general. Many of us who work to spread awareness about the overall benefits of virtual reality are trying to step outside that ecosystem and bring awareness of this amazing technology to average consumers.
“I felt like there was a lack of representation of VR outside of tech industries,” he observes. “People wear clothing that represents what they’re passionate about and I felt like that was an important niche market that wasn’t being well-represented so I took a leap and started VR Wear.”
The teen took money he had saved from working at an ice cream parlor and walking dogs around the neighborhood to invest in his new business. Start-up costs included website and logo designs as well as inventory and other miscellaneous expenditures.
The VR Wear website was first published on May 11, 2020, but feedback was negative so he took the site down.
“Hearing feedback is one of the most important ways to learn and grow as a business,” he says, with wisdom beyond his years.
After making adjustments to the site, it was re-released in June and received a much more positive reception.
Fontak states that he has learned a few things as a business owner, including how willing people are to help as long as you approach them with a positive attitude, not an entitled one.
He has also been impressed by how connected people are around the world. “It’s a beautiful thing,” he states, “that we’re all connected with this headset on our face.”
VR is definitely a bonding technology. While many early critics proclaimed that virtual reality would simply be another technology that pulls us apart, in fact the opposite is proving to be true due to the immersive quality of VR that provides a sensation of realistic presence.
For this high school senior in Pennsylvania, he found a unique way to help bring awareness to virtual reality and also connect enthusiasts with his products, which range from custom t-shirts and VR Wear hoodies to products that feature well-known VR personalities such as VENOM, a content creator that produces positive community-building videos for YouTube.
“People can wear the same hoodie and feel connected,” he declares. “That’s a beautiful thing.”