One of the big problems with advertising and marketing in the Age of Mobile – and Augmented Reality – is that the world is still pretty much flat.
And Blippar is here to change that perception. Literally.
Blippar is the world’s leading image-recognition platform and visual browser for brands, advertisers, and publishers, enabling people to bring newspapers, magazines, products, signage and merchandising instantly to life via their smartphones, and revealing stunning, interactive digital content experiences and timely information.
Pretty cool, eh, and it’s about time that mobile became more than just a flat screen experience.
“With this funding, we are closer than ever to allowing users across the globe to blipp to access instantaneous, valuable information from their physical surroundings,” said Blippar CEO and Cofounder Ambarish Mitra, who goes on to explain and enlighten:
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
We just raised $45m in funding in a Series C round. Unfortunately, we are not disclosing investors at this time. It is primarily a strategic deal, and the investors wish to remain confidential for now.
Tell us about your product.
Blippar is the leading mobile visual discovery platform, with over 50 million downloads worldwide. With this funding, we’re using our proprietary image recognition technology to become the first visual world browser. There are already over 2 billion blippable products to date – by the end of this year, Blippar will recognize and engage with millions more as our visual search database increasingly expands.
Blippar envisions a future where all the touchpoints that we interact with on a daily basis are blippable. We’re now taking the next step in making our visual browser a reality – a lens capable of bringing all the products and media around us to life and allowing people to draw relevant, timely information directly from the world around them.
What inspired you to start the company?
Blippar’s founding story is a unique one. Essentially, our founders turned what was originally a throw away comment in a pub in London into a global business. The idea for Blippar was sparked by a conversation over drinks when I remarked how great it would be if you could bring the Queen’s head to life on a banknote. Co-founder Omar took on the challenge and soon after asked me to hold his phone up to the banknote, only for me to see his own animated head appear over the Queen’s on the phone screen. For the first time, they had created this tangible link between the physical and digital worlds, using image recognition technology. Soon after, they acknowledged the enormous potential for this technology to enable people to interact with the physical world in an entirely new way, via their mobile devices.
In the years since, Blippar has become a globally successful company with revenues in the tens of millions and has expanded its operations across ten offices, including India, Turkey and other major US and European cities. With our 2014 acquisition of AR pioneer Layar, we became the world’s largest augmented reality platform. All of this has given us the unique ability to leverage our technology and network and become the world’s first visual browser.
How is it different?
A key differentiating advantage of Blippar’s technology is that it does not require a standardized marker. Instead, it is entirely in the hands of the marketer to choose what will trigger the blipp experience – this could be a logo, an image, an entire magazine page or even a product itself. This creates a more seamless, frictionless experience and one that ideally lends itself to our broader mission of creating a visual browser for the physical world. We are no longer tied to specific markers. People will soon be able to blipp anything in the physical world, simply by opening the Blippar app and holding their phone up to it, to activate a digital experience and instantaneously access relevant information sources.
What market you are targeting and how big is it?
With Blippar’s variety of content and pull-based engagement, our audience is essentially anyone with a smartphone (roughly two billion people around the world). A common misconception that we faced in the past was that AR campaigns were likely to only reach certain demographics, similar to a TV spot or print advertisement. Blippar was able to broaden the potential reach to an audience anywhere that they are with their smartphones, by taking advantage of the immersive user environment and eliminating dependence on markers.
What’s your business model?
Up until now, we have worked primarily with publishers, brands and agencies to develop engaging augmented reality experiences. Clients include the likes of Conde Nast, General Mills, Nestle, Anheuser Busch, and many more. In this way, they are creating an entirely new means of communication with their target audiences, and can glean valuable information about user behavior and purchase intent. These clients pay for this service.
We also have a self-publishing tool, Blippbuilder, which enables anyone to create their own augmented reality experiences. Companies, agencies and business owners pay for access to this platform.
Our recent foray into visual world browsing will open various new revenue streams that will support this existing model and Blippar’s entry into several new industries such as healthcare and education.
What was the funding process like?
Like any funding process, it was time consuming. The upside was getting to meet leading world thinkers, who gave me priceless feedback. Some of the feedback from such a diverse group of people is more beneficial than taking money from them.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
The biggest challenge was raising awareness of a rising industry where we were facing barriers, such as low awareness, experience and investment history.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
The rapid user adoption of “blipping” as a behavior supported by the revenue momentum of the business was most attractive to investors.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
In the immediate term, we will be demoing our new technology – a visual browser for the physical world – at SXSW later this week, and then launching it widely to users sometime next month. We anticipate that this will lead to a surge in downloads and interactions via the Blippar app as we continue to increase the number of items, objects and images that people are able to engage with in the real world. We will also be using the recent funding to build out our team, investing in great people, who can further help us realize our ambitious vision and continue to create high quality digital experiences on a global scale.
We’ll also be continuing our global expansion as we further our work in South Asia.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Keep working on the product or prototype – every penny spent toward product refinement is justified. Once product hits 65% point of its intended spec, start showing it to your intended clientele. Don’t wait to build a perfect product – iterative development with market or expert feedback is the way to do it. Investor fit is the second most important criteria – a good culture fit can’t be overlooked. Raising money from the right fit investor is key – it’s worth taking time to find the right one.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
We are about to enter a new and exciting phase for the company and are bringing an entirely new capability to users around the world. Until now, we have been focused on creating high quality, engaging, branded augmented reality experiences. We have worked with thousands of the world’s largest brands to do so, generating billions of interactions from our global user base of over 50 million. In the coming weeks, we will be expanding our horizons and taking a huge leap forward in our greater aim of creating a visual browser for the physical world.
At SXSW, we will be demoing this new technology to a select group of brands, publishers and media, and then launching it broadly to our full user base the following month. We are really excited to be launching this new technology and introducing a new way for people to draw contextual, snackable information directly from the objects and images in the world around them. Sight is arguably our strongest sense, and transcends the limitations of language and literacy, so with the introduction of this new technology, we are opening up a whole new world of discovery and means of accessing information.
What’s your favorite NY bar, when you need to kick back and relax?
My favorite would have to be Top of the Strand at Strand hotel midtown.