2016 is the year virtual reality and augmented reality technologies finally broke through. Here, Zappar CEO Caspar Thykier explains why you should be excited about that.
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Caspar Thykier, co-founder and CEO of Zappar, explains how his app fits into the market for virtual and augmented reality, predicted by Golman Sachs to be worth more than $100 billion within the next decade.
Describe your business so your grandma could understand it.
Zappar in essence is the ability to bring the world around you to life when viewed through a smartphone using our free Zappar app. So it's a magic lens that allows you to unlock information from everyday things - newspapers, packaging, posters etc. - using your phone in multi media formats (animation, video, photos, links etc).
We were recently asked to work on a project with Carl Reiner - the author, actor and writer - he's 93 and totally got our technology. In fact here's Carl explaining how Zappar works to the London Book Fair:
We're always a bit critical of our grandparents generation and forget they lived through the revolution of radio, cinema and the first man on the moon. In fact Carl pretty much invented the American Sitcom with the Dick Van Dyke Show!
How did the business come about?
Our technology uses augmented reality (AR) which has been around for 60 or so years so there's nothing new there. But it's always been a great university tech solution desperately searching for a problem to solve.
When we started Zappar over five years ago we saw the potential it had for smartphones as a new way to scan and discover the world around you; unlocking content that could surprise and delight people.
Our phones have become the evolutionary appendage we can't live without. With AR we bring a new lens and function to our phones to scan and retrieve information and entertainment from everyday objects.
We already did that to an extent with QR codes but frankly the experience has always been static and lousy - have you ever heard anyone say, 'Check out this awesome QR code!'
So the idea was to create a new way to scan (or 'zap' as we call it) and value exchange for our partners and their end users between the physical world of things and digital devices. Making every touch point into a multi-media channel that could serve up relevant and engaging content.
We knew there'd be demand in the early days when every meeting we attended we saw the effect our demos had on people. We called it the Zappar Rush: the instant sense of surprise and excitement that these experiences illicit in people. We still get that today which makes it such a great business to be involved in.
Caspar Thykier: Zappar has been five years in the making
How has the business developed?
We started as four founders five years ago. We're now a team of 25 with offices in London and San Francisco and 14 authorised partners in markets around the world including Brazil, South Africa, Italy, Dubai, Australia etc.
Turnover last year nearly doubled to £1.7m.
We see our partners as an extension of the Zappar Family. We work closely with the likes of Warner Bros., Hasbro, Rovio, Pez, Crown, SIG, TCC, Stevanato, Asda, Moonpig, Mothercare and many more.
Our whole mission is to democratise AR and we're delighted to see thousands of small companies and individuals around the world take advantage of our ground breaking online tools called ZapWorks.
We're particularly excited to see so many schools and education institutions globally using ZapWorks as AR is a brilliant way to learn through visualisation and active participation.
What is your market sector like for new entrants?
It's tough for new companies in our space entering now as you need a lot of really good technical ability and also real world understanding and learning outside the lab about how best to use augmented reality.
We're fortunate that we have five years experience of working on thousands of projects around the world in so many sectors to know what works and crucially what doesn't.
There are a handful of good companies in and around AR besides us - Blippar, Aurasma, Catchoom, PTC, Wikitude. It's always good to have some healthy competition as it helps grow and establish the marketplace.
There will definitely be more entrants into this space and there's plenty of room. If you read any of the analysis reports from Goldman Sachs or DigiCapital etc. they all see AR and VR as a $100bn+ market in the next 5-10 years.
For us we see the biggest opportunity in the increasing demand for great content to support the plethora of smartphones and headsets of the future. That's why we've built ZapWorks as the best tool to deliver dynamic, expressive short-form experiences made for AR, VR and Mixed Reality catering for the new breed of digital creatives around the world.
What the hardest thing about running your own business?
The hardest thing right now is coping with the amount of inbound requests we have for our services and tools and capturing the value in AR for the business.
As we've been around for 5 years now leading the market in AR (and remembering that tech years are like dog years!) a lot of people want to get our real world experience and empirical data of how to create successful AR projects and deliver long term business solutions.
Augmented reality is not just a gimmick; it could solve real business problems
So not surprisingly the challenge is recruitment to keep up with this demand and making sure we keep the culture, quality of work and service we offer consistently high as that's what separates us from the competition.
The best thing is that as all our tech is proprietary and as we get to work with truly fantastic partners we're constantly pioneering new ideas that continue to make my jaw drop on a daily basis.
I have the luxury of working with such an amazing team of people all of whom I truly respect and like. It's just a pleasure going to work everyday and that's a pretty privileged position to have.
What sets your business apart from the rest and how have you nurtured that point of difference?
Well firstly our technology and secondly the unbelievable talent and commitment of our staff.
What sets us apart is the fact that everyone at Zappar cares about the detail of what we do.
We're not afraid to say 'no' where we think the use of AR will just be a gimmick. We want to come up with effective solutions to business problems that create genuine value for our partners and then knock it out the park with them.
It’s why we tend not to pitch as we’d rather work in partnership with people to find the right solution for their business. You can’t do that in a vacuum in a closed bid. It just doesn’t work like that.
So I guess it comes down to our people, purpose, passion (and patents) to make the best tools on the planet for content creation for the new mobile canvas.
How do you rate government support for growing businesses and why?
I've got to admit to not being an expert on this one.
I'm also lucky to have a great financial controller and awesome internal legal eagle that help with the usual red tape (which is pretty time consuming).
But, I would say that there are some unbelievable grants out there both in the UK and EU if you're not afraid of some form filling, and the government’s Start Up Loans website is very informative and worth checking out
What are your top three tips for people starting a business today?
Get a great finance director and legal counsel who you trust without reservation. Make sure you get all your paperwork right from day one. You won’t regret it later as you grow and it will save you a whole load of headaches I promise.
Get business partners who are skilled in areas you're not. Make sure you can agree to disagree and defer to the person with expertise. You need to be comfortable with that as it's the tough internal conversation when it's not going well that count. Being business partners is different to being friends.
Take what you think it will cost and how long it will take to establish your new business and double it. Make sure you've got enough cash to see you through that period.
Oh, and one more if I may: Buckle up and warn your friends and family. It's going to take over your life for the next 5-10 years!