Jason Schuman, Flashback Journey to Pompeii
Having been in the sightseeing business for over 20 years in his native New York, (his business Romancing Manhattan Tours is one of the Big Apple's favourite private tour companies), Jason Schuman had very high hopes of his first visit to one of the world's most iconic sights – Pompeii.
He had taken his family there in May 2014, a first time visit to Italy, and although they were enraptured by one of the most famous archaeological sites in Italy, Schuman was left distinctly unimpressed. “The tour left me wanting more,” he explains. “The guides were experts, but they hardly used any visual aids whatsoever. They kept saying 'Try to imagine...' but I didn't want to imagine, I wanted to see! The guide was using a flip book, but with 30 people we couldn't see it. And afterwards my dad was driving us all crazy trying to get a copy of this book and the DVD that went with it!”
But, as is often the way, this disappointment became the catalyst for Schuman's innovative new business idea and was the reason why he is now in Naples running his new company Flashback Journey to Pompeii.
Before his Italian holiday, Schuman had been thinking of new ways to attract investors to his New York tour business. He came up with the idea of a 3D headset which would add photos, movies and music to the real life experience. Then the people on the tour could see the landmark they were looking at in different eras, using the headset to compare how it looks now with how it was in the past. He had already begun researching the technology, which at the time didn't actually exist, determined to find a way to create the idea he had in his mind. The project is currently in its final stages of development.
The Big Idea
When they got back from the tour, Schuman stood on the balcony of his rented villa in Italy, buzzing with the sheer excitement of it all. “I need to do what I'm doing in New York with Pompeii,” he told his stunned family. “They all looked at me like I was absolutely nuts,” he adds with a laugh.
He began making calls and he had a sleepless night researching just how he could make his idea of a “kind of reconstruction of Pompeii” work.
Two months later, Schuman was back in Italy. For two weeks he went to Pompeii every single day, getting to know it as well as the regular tour guides, working out the most interesting parts, the best angles, the key features. He knew that most people on a tour have limited time and so often miss the best bits. That wasn't going to happen on his tour.
More trips followed later in the year. This time to make contacts with car services, hotels, cruise liners and travel agencies. As a lifelong student of people and a charismatic and empathetic person himself, Schuman was deeply conscious of not coming across as “a cocky American who doesn't speak the language,” and took great pains to always be polite and apologetic that he wasn't yet fluent in Italian.
Schuman was also heavily engaged in researching the technology. In January 2015, he attended the Consumer Electronic Symposium in Las Vegas, a trade show which specialises in breakthrough technologies and he picked up a lot of information and ideas.
Schuman was sure that he wanted his back in time concept to be fully immersive, not just slightly augmented reality. He made his headset selection and his final prototype “really blew people away.”
Getting Down to Business
In the meantime, Schuman realised he needed help in setting up a company in Italy. He contacted Ben and Ronny from Business e via Italy (BEV) who loved the concept and immediately swung into action. They handled everything from hooking Schuman up with Darius, a helpful archaeologist to setting up the company, finding him an apartment and renting and staffing the office premises. To his amazement they found him a building which was opposite a 9/11 memorial flying the US flag, something hugely significant to a New Yorker who had lived through those terrible days. “I was really glad I had these guys. I knew absolutely no-one in Italy. Setting up a business here is very different from setting one up in New York. There, you just go down to the County Clerk's Office and an hour later you have a business!”
When the attorney Schuman had chosen took an inordinate length of time to sort the Italian paperwork and business insurance, BEV stepped in and provided an Italian attorney who solved the matter in less than a day. But that initial delay meant that the launch date of mid March for his business, now named Flashback Journey to Pompeii, had to be put back.
It was at this point that Schuman learned that a compulsory software update was unexpectedly required in order to use the headsets he had bought. After a frustratingly long wait for more information, he discovered that it could take weeks or even months to get the update.
The only way round this delay was to work out how to do the update himself. It was perfectly legal to do this, but Schuman was a tour guide, not a techie. Get it wrong and thousands of dollars' worth of headsets would have to be scrapped. However, it was now mid July, he was stressed out and “bleeding money”. He needed a little miracle and a little miracle is what he got.
He recalls the morning well, because he was listening to Ave Maria in the car having just resolved that this was the day he was going to try and update the headsets himself, using the knowledge he had gained online. Taking the elevator to his office, he heard Ave Maria playing again, something that struck him as odd, because he had never heard music in that elevator before. He checked his phone in case it was coming from there, but the phone was switched off. What is stranger still is that afterwards he checked with the people who built the elevator and they told him it wasn't equipped to play music.
Taking this as a good omen, Schuman worked on the update that morning and, with his heart in his mouth, tested it out. To his amazement, it worked! He checked with several headset tech experts and they told him what he had done was absolutely correct and just how they would have done it.
The business was now all systems go. Schuman knew it was late in the season, but his website was up and running and he had already got a tremendous amount of interest from tour guides, cruise ships and tour operators, who loved the idea of stereoscopic 3D headsets with 360 degree tracking and commentary in six languages, with four more planned.
Through chatting to the archaeologists and tour guides that BEV had put him in touch with, Schuman decided the best way to incorporate the 3D experience into the existing tours was to provide each group with a Tour Assistant. “We are not looking to replace the tour guides,” he explains. “These guys are great, the real deal, highly qualified experts in European history or archaeology. They're top notch. What the headsets do is enhance the experience for the guide and the tour group, so they don't need to say 'Try to imagine,' any more, they can show them.”
Schuman and his company Flashback Journey to Pompeii are now looking forward to a successful 2016 season. He is keen to extend the experience to kids, to help bring history to life and sees his work in Pompeii as just the beginning. He is a passionate advocate for the company, motivated not by financial success, but by providing people with a great customer experience. “You should see the expressions on people's faces when they use the headsets!” he says. That, to him, is worth more than anything.
Flashback Journey to Pompeii
Tel: +39 344 286 5967