Web-browser focus helps Blippar put woes behind: CEO Ambarish Mitra

After a spate of negative publicity in 2017, Blippar co-founder and CEO Ambarish Mitra says the company's focus on Web-based AR and emphasis on working through agencies are paying off.

Ambarish Mitra
Ambarish Mitra

2017 was not the most stellar of years for Blippar CEO Ambarish Mitra. The self-styled technoprenuer faced a Financial Times exposé about discrepancies in his CV, most notably a false claim that he had attended the London School of Economics. Meanwhile, former staff members told Business Insider that the company was burning through $3 million a month and had inflated its active user numbers for the Blippar app.

Appearing recently at the Great Festival of Innovation in Hong Kong for a panel discussion on city mapping with AR, Mitra seemed to have put the past behind him. Asked about Blippar’s financial state, he maintained that the company did well last year, with new ventures and significant growth in its R&D.

“When you’ve become a company of a certain size, there will be a lot of speculative articles,” Mitra told Campaign Asia-Pacific.

Despite closing down offices in Tokyo and San Francisco last year, Mitra said Blippar now works with partners in more than 50 countries, including over 70 partners in Japan to resell its AR techology through self-service platforms. He added that licensing revenue accounts for 50% of its businesses now. “In the earlier days, you have to go to those markets and explain what you do," he said. "If you don’t…then people won’t care.” The preferred model of geographical expansion for the company currently is through partnership with agencies, he added.

“The biggest friction point for us is talent in the market," Mitra said. "By making our code reverse-compatible with HTML and JavaScript, all the skill sets in the market can use it. It is one of the main reasons that more and more agencies are working with us, because they have those skills.

Meanwhile, Blippar recogised that its initial business model of running AR campaigns for brands through it own app was stymied by problems such as distribution, reach and low retention rate for its app. Since a year and a half ago, the company has been focusing on its AR digital placement (ADRP) unit, which allows brands to create AR experiences on web browsers, he said.

Blippar's Singapore office (see more).

“We have reached 1 million devices by using the web AR alone," Mitra said. "The web AR is beginning to take off as the reach of technology becomes horizontal through different offerings.”

He claimed that a recent work carried out by Blippar for Unilever’s ‘Make My Magnum’ campaign using its ADRP had outperformed all other medium.

“We have decided not to be a blocker of our own technology," Mitra said. "We have built such a good structure, the best way to spread it is to empower other environments and to fulfill their needs."

Meanwhile, Blippar has developed its city AR app, launched in beta form last year with Apple’s ARKit. Mitra emphasised that AR platforms rolled out by big tech players such as Apple is an enabler for Blippar rather than a threat.

“It’s not like Coca-Cola decides to use Apple or Blippar, we are a middleware platform," he said. "If a brand is serious about AR, not for one-time use but over long-term, we are almost like WordPress, WordPress is not a competitor to Safari or Chrome.

“Because of the iOS support now, we are a better bridge in CRM and content management. Whether iOS or Android is an issue for the developer. Brands cannot have an iOS or Android strategy, they need to have an AR strategy, and they need to use a middleware platform to create a campaign that can be published on both iOS and Android."

Even so, Mitra insisted that AR belongs to the first half of the company’s chapter, while AI is the focus of its second chapter. However, that side of business, with its computer vision products including APIs for facial, logo, object and car recognition, are not directly related to advertising. The latter, Mitra said, finds application in insurance and car production.

“The Blippar app itself is a visual browser, that remains the primary goal," he said. "But we are also being very practical. The technology for computer vision hasn’t reached the level of maturity where I can trust my mother not to ask others how to use it.”

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