Jess Butcher is the CMO and co-founder of augmented reality app Blippar. She is an entrepreneur, evangelist, and chief proponent of the verb “to blipp.”
1. First and foremost, what is Blippar?
Blippar is the world’s leading mobile visual browser (aka augmented reality app). It uses image-recognition technology to bring the physical world to vibrant digital life through smartphones, tablets, and wearables. Users download the free Blippar app, fill their screen with blippable images (found on print pages, product packaging, adverts, signage, screens, artwork, etc.) and blipp to unlock exciting mobile content. Interactive features can reveal web-links, image galleries, games, videos, 3D graphics, photo booths and opinion polls. We currently have over 1,000 clients and partners including Pepsi, Coca Cola, Conde Nast, Warner Bros. and Jaguar. And in June we acquired Layar, a pioneering AR company founded in 2009. Our combined user base, data, and technology makes Blippar the world’s most influential AR company.
2. What is the founding story behind Blippar?
Omar Tayeb (Blippar’s CTO) and Rish Mitra (CEO) were in a pub joking about the Queen’s image coming to life off a £20 note; 2 weeks later, Omar demo’d to him a homemade application which showed Rish’s head augmented ‘over’ the queens when viewed through his mobile- and the idea was born. Realizing how powerful the potential of this technology was, the pair quit their jobs and recruited two former colleagues and friends; Steve Spencer, CCO, and me! Together we founded Blippar.
3. Tell us more about Blippar for wearables and Google Glass.
Wearables are coming, fast, and we’re perfectly poised to harness their power. Our tech is the ‘eye’ needed to unlock the physical world around us, currently harnessed within the mobile’s camera, but potentially an even more natural fit with the wearable hardware trend. We have been working on applications for wearables from the moment the hardware was open for programming and were the first such platform to demonstrate image-recognition AR on Glass, followed closely by another first, AR gaming for Glass. We’re excited about the future for wearables – but remain agnostic to individual hardware providers. Our priority is to build a consistent, intuitive behaviour to blipp–which can be harnessed within devices from all hardware providers.
4. Where is the world of image recognition and augmented reality headed, and how does Blippar fit in?
As new wearable and AR-enabled devices come to market – from interactive apparel to smartwatches – and AR continues to swell as a mass media channel, consumer adoption will rise and global revenues will skyrocket. AR has already proven itself a multi-million dollar industry – with 60m users and $0.5b in global revenues in 2013. It’s expected to exceed $1 billion annually by 2015, according to the Juniper report. Combined with a Google Glass-type device, AR platforms such as Blippar could eventually allow individuals to build vast data libraries–the foundation for finding any 3D object in the physical world. This 3D search engine will ‘learn’ how we describe and visualize different items. With smart design in mind, we’re learning how to provide the tools for people to most efficiently find and digest information. Augmented reality will play a major role in new forms of communication, and in a few short years, I predict we’ll have a Wikipedia for 3D objects for everyday use.
5. What has been your biggest challenge in developing Blippar so far?
Staying true to our single-lens, single-verb vision and business model, particularly in the face of lucrative financial opportunities to build our technology into other applications and white-label it for the market. It would have been easy to take the low-hanging, bigger-cash deals in the early days, but we refused to. Nonetheless, our bullish model has been vindicated through success with high-profile clients, including Pepsi, Coca Cola, Warner Brothers, Conde Nast and F1, featuring our name and logo on their products, boosting brand recognition and further driving the creation of a new consumer behaviour: to blipp.
6. What are 3 skills that every startup founder should have?
A true vision. An obsessive work-ethic. Balls of steel.
7. Any advice for aspiring founders?
Don’t pay yourselves until you have to! And hire a good finance director. This isn’t always possible for a startup, but having that skill set within your founding team seriously helps. If you’re fortunate enough to have a product or service that you can trade for another, then ‘in kind’ deals can help a lot with cash flow in the early days. Also, maybe a strange piece of advice, but if you haven’t already got one, find a good ‘better half’ or at least draw closer to those real friends in your life whose support you’ll need. The life of an entrepreneur is all-consuming, with a poor work-life balance and a roller coaster of highs and lows. Having one personal, special cheerleader who celebrates your highs with you and brings you out of despondency during the lows makes all the difference and keeps you focused and balanced.
8.What traits do you look for in potential employees?
A true belief in and passion for the Blippar vision; we look for forward-thinking people who see the technology’s extraordinary potential and have creative ideas about how it can be applied all over the world. An entrepreneurial aspiration is key, and they must be able to both collaborate as part of a team and a true self-starter who doesn’t wait to be asked before getting on with something.