‘My title was non-negotiable’: A Q&A with Cathy Hackl, chief metaverse officer at Journey
Over the past year, a new type of CMO has begun to take hold in the C-suites of media and tech companies: the chief metaverse officer. Telefónica, the Spanish telecommunications corporation, hired a chief metaverse officer in March; Disney tapped a former theme park executive to head up its metaverse department in February; and in June, Publicis brought on a chief metaverse officer of its own — though the executive was a virtual avatar, not a real person.
Despite this influx of C-Metaverse-Os, these are still the early days of the metaverse. Few individuals understand what the metaverse really is, and even fewer are truly equipped to handle an executive role dedicated to this new sector. It is rapidly becoming imperative for companies to bring their metaverse knowledge in-house — but it’s yet to be determined whether chief metaverse officers will become widespread or go the way of other since-forgotten buzzword-based C-level positions of years past, such as the chief social media officer or chief brand safety officer.
CMO must-haves: technical understanding of enabling technologies and tools, focus on business and strategy, younger perspective; Industries investing in this type of CMO: gaming, technology, fashion, design
To explore the background, responsibilities and potential future of this new variety of CMO, Digiday spoke with one of the few professionals who is unequivocally qualified for such a role: Cathy Hackl, the co-founder and chief metaverse officer at the innovation and design consultancy Journey.
Hackl entered the metaverse business long before the term entered the zeitgeist last year. Prior to her time at Journey, she had stints as a VR/AR expert and futurist for companies such as HTC, Oculus, Magic Leap and Amazon. But her most convincing qualification for the role might be her bona fide connection to metaverse users: she’s the mother of three metaverse-native kids, including a 10-year-old who runs his own Roblox business.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
How did you become the chief metaverse officer at Journey?
I’ve been in metaverse-related industries for over eight years; I worked at HTC Vive as a VR evangelist during the company’s partnership with Spielberg’s adaptation of Ready Player One; I went over to Magic Leap and worked there as an enterprise strategist for two years. Obviously, the chief futurist at Magic Leap at that time was Neal Stephenson, who coined the term. Then I went over to Amazon Web Services, then eventually left to create Futures Intelligence Group, which is a metaverse and Web3 advisory for brands and companies trying to enter the space, which was acquired by Journey at the end of last year.
When I created Futures Intelligence Group, I decided, “I’m the CEO, the founder, but what am I really doing here?” So I chose the title chief metaverse officer. One of the reasons I use that title is to start a conversation around who is going to handle the metaverse — what does it mean? I think the people that are going to manage metaverse initiatives need to have a variety of skills, but what I have seen is a lot of debate around it. But I do believe someone in the C-suite is going to have to manage this, and I personally believe that it’s not only a marketing thing. This goes beyond that. When I got acquired by Journey, I said that my title was non-negotiable — you’re buying a metaverse company here.
So you anticipate that more companies will be creating this position, or one similar to it, in the near future?
Yeah, and I think you’re already seeing it. Does it have to be called chief metaverse officer? I don’t know — every company is going to find what feels more comfortable to them. That being said, a couple decades ago, if you asked someone about a chief digital officer or chief content officer, they would have been like, “we don’t need that, that’s ridiculous.” So I think things evolve, but someone within the org will have to manage some of the things that come with the metaverse.
What are the most important qualifications for a chief metaverse officer?
I’m very strategy-driven, very business-focused. That said, I have vast experience in several of the technologies: virtual reality, spatial computing, augmented reality, cloud computing. So I feel that the people that are going to fill these roles are going to have, on some level, a technical understanding of the enabling technologies. Some are going to be stronger maybe on the AR and VR side, some are going to be stronger on the Web3 side, some might be stronger in gaming, but there does need to be some understanding of the current tools.
Which sectors do you anticipate will hire more chief metaverse officers in these early days?
Fashion is where I’m seeing a lot of this start to happen. They’re going to come from gaming, they’re going to come from AR and VR, they’re going to come from Web3. What differentiates someone that can lead this function is being that connector, that translator of sorts between the technical and the business side.
Will we start to see Gen Z and Gen Alpha metaverse natives leapfrog the corporate ladder to occupy this type of role?
Why not? Sometimes, the smartest person in the room might be the youngest person. I’m not going to say that a 15-year-old is going to become a chief metaverse officer, but I think that there are going to be certain things that the Gen Zs that are coming into the workforce are going to understand on a very different level. My son’s first concert was Lil Nas X in Roblox — it wasn’t at a stadium, like you and me. He speaks about that in the first person: “I saw Nas, I was there.” To them, it’s not about the physical world and the virtual world. Everything is real, it’s just different. Gen-Alpha’s reality is very blurry.
I’ve got a Gen Z/Gen Alpha, and then I’ve got two Gen Alphas, and it definitely changes my perspective. I see how they engage with these technologies, what they’re experiencing, how they’re creating, how they’re world-building, what gaming means to them from a social and identity perspective. So it informs a lot of what I do, and a lot of what I do is for them because I want to create a better future for them.
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