Main metaverse swivel

Swivel co-founder and CEO Scott Harmon (iStock, LinkedIn)

True to its name, Austin-based proptech firm Swivel is about to pull a major one-eighty.

The company, which creates digital twins of offices for remote touring and floor planning, let go an undisclosed number of employees this week as it transitions its business to focus on designing commercial space for the metaverse, co-founder and CEO Scott Harmon told The Real Deal.

Swivel will “help clients build and deploy” digital office and retail real estate in popular “public” virtual worlds like Decentraland and in the myriad private “walled gardens” corporations like Facebook and Microsoft are constructing for their own employees and customers.

“We think it represents potentially the largest generational shift in the commercial real estate asset category in 50 years,” Harmon said. “Basically we think it’s a new asset class. People might say I’m being hyperbolic, but I really don’t think so.”

The company laid off sales and marketing staff associated with the legacy business earlier this week, and it has commenced hiring for metaverse development. Harmon declined to share specifics, but said the number of layoffs and new hires will be about equal. No executives were let go.

The company’s website identifies 24 employees, including four “architectural designers” and two “technical artists.” The company will scale its new sales and marketing team later this year, Harmon said.

Swivel’s pivot is significant insofar as a technology firm that is anchored fundamentally in brick-and-mortar real estate is moving fully into virtual property. The digital twins the company produces typically have had a real-world counterpart. Come June, it will be designing virtual spaces in an emerging economic sphere with unproven commercial prospects.

While companies have successfully built out virtual offices for their own employees, no one has made a buck renting it, and it’s not clear what products retailers will be able to sell out of virtual storefronts.

Swivel’s move could signal the arrival of other players in the brick-and-mortar world. Its clients have included Brookfield, Tishman Speyer, Colliers, JLL and many public REITs.

The company, which was founded in 2017, will continue to offer digital twin services for existing clients, but all new hires and client acquisitions will be on the metaverse side. “Our new customer efforts, our growth initiatives and our people will be focused on these new opportunities,” Harmon said.

The company raised an undisclosed sum to effect the change and is currently beta testing its new services, with plans to fully roll them out in June, Harmon said.

Swivel’s backers include Floodgate Fund, Breyer Capital and First Round Capital, major Silicon Valley-based tech funds that have invested in the likes of Lyft, Warby Parker and Spotify.

Serhant, the technology-focused New York City brokerage, said this week that it will build out its own proprietary metaverse for employees and agents called UNIVERS, following in the footsteps of eXp Realty, a brokerage that conducts all agent training and back-office functions in its own virtual headquarters.

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