Simone Clow is the co-founder and award-winning CEO of the creative technology company Zebrar. Since 2017, she has been working to expand the realm of the possible.
Simone was running a Sydney visual effects company and working on VFX shots for the major motion picture Hacksaw Ridge after a lengthy career in advertising and visual effects in London and New York (Saturday Night Live, HBO). Although she had developed a great team and a great position, she felt that, as a woman in the manufacturing sector, her time was running out. Simone quit her job to produce immersive material for motor shows all over the world for a year in an effort to take control of her own departure. It was during this time that she discovered her calling and a fantastic second act.
Below are highlights of the interview conducted between Fortunes Time and Simone Clow:
Describe who you are as a person, inside and outside of the workplace.
Passion and purpose would be the best words to describe me at work and play. I am now and have always been someone with many balls in the air and projects on the go. I was a single mother from the time my children were young, so organisation and routine have always been important. My parenting style and management style are similar in that I try to encourage everyone to step into their power and shine.
Describe your background and what did you do before you started the Zebrar?
I was a visual effects producer for 30 years, working in New York, London, and Sydney. I worked on feature films, television, opening title sequences (Saturday Night Live), and even a World Cup bid.
Tell us about the inception of the company. How did it all start?
At age 48, after a long and rewarding production career in New York, London, and Sydney, I was managing a VFX studio in Sydney. I loved the team I’d built and the job, working on VFX shots for feature films including The Great Gatsby and Hacksaw Ridge. But in the back of my mind, that number 50 was haunting me—because in Australia, production is a young person’s game.
One day, during a management meeting, I made a split-second decision to just leave. I went to Italy and Greece for a month with no plan. But when you open your heart to opportunity, it comes. An old colleague messaged me on LinkedIn, asking if I’d be up for producing experiential content for motor shows. And suddenly I found myself traveling the world to motor shows and working alongside a VR team.
I wasn’t really interested in this new technology—it felt like it was for young gamers—but one day I agreed to try it. And it was transformative. I’d spent my entire career building CG worlds for 2D screens. But with VR, I was able to be immersed in those CG worlds and interact with the content. I could see so many use cases for it from hard skills training to soft skills training to immersive brand activations.
That VR team was made up of three exceptionally talented men at least a decade younger than me. They were determined to build a business, but unlike so many entrepreneurs who think they can build a business on talent alone, they realised what they did not know—the business of business. That’s where I came in.
We started Virtual Immersive (later rebranded to Zebrar) with a bang, building world-first augmented reality technology for World Square Shopping Center’s Lunar New Year activation. It went on to win several awards and is still a great example of best-in-class AR today. From there, we moved global, building immersive interactive experiences for Salesforce, IBM, Visa, Meta, and other brands, as well as continuing our local work with Westfield, Accenture, and others.
What has made you successful? What do you value?
My success has been founded on passion, hard work, and taking the time to continually learn while surrounding myself with people smarter than me and who share the same values as me! When
When I started in the industry, film was literally cut on a flatbed with a blade. I have been involved in tech since the first iterations of visual effects (Quantel Paintbox) and am now working in gaming engines (UE5 and Unity) to create content for wearable tech (Apple Vision Pro). I value authenticity, teamwork, and human connection. I care deeply about the people that work with me, the work that we deliver, and working with others in the industry to ensure the responsible use of technology.
Which are the major services of the company and how do the company to get ahead in the competition?
Zebrar combines art, technology, visual effects, and interactive design to create unique and engaging user experiences, including:
Whether it be augmented reality, virtual reality, game development, or immersive web experiences (including metaverse, web3, and digital twins), we achieve the most intuitive and frictionless interactive design at the highest level of visual fidelity.
We elevate physical installations with digital technologies and enhance the impact of an activation by creating a symbiotic relationship between the virtual and physical worlds. We achieve this by collaborating with brands, strategic events, and fabrication teams to integrate our digital activations seamlessly across guest and customer journeys, giving audiences a cohesive and consistent brand experience.
Combining our extensive experience in real-time world-building with film-quality, photo-real visual effects, we create high-fidelity environments for digital set extensions for film and TV productions, responsive environments for events and keynotes, as well as cinematic narratives for 360-degree immersive experiences.
We stay ahead of the competition as we have a unique blend of feature film VFX, XR tech, and game expertise, positioning us as pioneers of exceptional immersive experiences and keeping us at the forefront of this rapidly evolving industry. We push the boundaries of what’s possible to innovate and deliver world-class, high-fidelity virtual environments that seamlessly integrate technology with human experiences.
What are the most important aspects of a company’s culture? What principles do you believe in and how do you build this culture?
Communication is key in every aspect of a company’s culture; this is even more important in the post-Covid world of hybrid working. It is important to ensure that everyone feels respected, valued, empowered, and heard. By establishing transparency and trust, you can ensure that those lines of communication are kept open.
What is the significance of innovative ideas in the company?
Innovation is one of our core values and a key to our success. Every project has a problem to solve, and we rely on innovative ways of using technology to solve that problem.
Give us your opinion on; do organizations rely heavily on individual heroics or team processes.
Teamwork and team processes will always be more successful as they elevate all the individuals.
What are your responsibilities as the co-founder and CEO of the company? What is the happiest part of your daily routine?
While I oversee all teams and business functions, strategy is the most important aspect of my job. I need to always look forward, anticipating the market, changes in technology, etc., and course correcting where appropriate. Taking a big-picture view and taking time each year to work on the business, not in the business, is key. The happiest part of my daily routine is ‘Dailies, where at the end of each day we review, as a team, the progress on each project.
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
Lead by example (you set the tone), communicate (be open and transparent, and listen), and empower your team (delegate and allow them to step into their power).