Inside the Metaverse and the Future of Augmented Reality
Lockdown changed a lot of behavior. And now we're seeing companies that use augmented reality in their e-commerce experience up to 40% increases in conversion. So it really makes a difference when you can look at different shades of of Apple called lipstick, Google and so forth or nail varnish and see what what it looks like on your own. Your fingers will see what that car looks like in your driveway and make sure it fits in your garage. Business casual.
What do you think of when you think of augmented reality? Probably something like Pokemon Go. If you recall a few years ago it was such a big phenomenon that there were reports of pedestrians getting hit by cars because they were trying to catch them all in the middle of the street. And you might also think of the filters on TikTok, Instagram or Snapchat that give you a sassy makeup look or allow you to share images behind you via a green screen. It sounds like it's all fun and games and maybe you don't believe we actually need any of that. But it turns out augmented reality has consequential real life applications, making it a big business across industries from life saving applications like demonstrations of open heart surgery in a medical school classroom to consumer facing use cases like being able to visualize and customize a car in your driveway before you even purchase it.
Our guest today, Faisal Galaria, is the CEO of a company called Blippar. He believes that augmented reality will be essential to our lives and what he calls the real world metaverse or putting digital content in the real world around us. And this real world metaverse might be a lot closer and a lot more practical than you might expect.
As Faisal told us, billions of smartphones today are capable of running augmented reality experiences pretty much instantaneously. And social media companies like SNAP have made air a priority beyond just those filters for your face. And they're not alone. Major companies all over the world, from Disney to Porsche, are continuing to build air experiences.
So what does Flipper do? Simply put, Blip provides companies and individuals with all the tools they need to build air experiences for any environment. And their clientele includes big brands like Pepsi, Rockstar, Hulu, General Mills. But it has not been an easy road.
Founded in 2011, Blip year was a little bit ahead of its time and faced a collapse in 2018. Faisal joined Blip in 2019 and was tasked with turning the company around. He brought execution experience from having held senior positions at Spotify and Skype to put the company back on track, leading it to a $5 million funding round in March of 2021.
A slow but steady comeback for a company that was once valued at $1.5 billion. We'll find out how Faisal is feeling this comeback and how air will actually impact our lives after the break. Financial education should be like oxygen accessible to everyone. That's why Real Vision created an on demand investing course that provides the tools and foundational knowledge you need to become a smarter and more confident investor. By the end of this comprehensive ten hour course, you'll understand how the world's best investors think and execute trades. From there, you can tailor your learnings to your own personal circumstances.
Business casual listeners get a 15% discount off real visions investing course, plus full access to their plus membership tier with promo code bru. Learn more at real vision dot com slash business casual. That's real vision dot com slash business casual. We'll Fazal welcome to business casual. There's a lot for us to get to on the air fronts.
But first, a very quick little icebreaker. It's called OG occupations. So, Faisal, what was your very first job, your first occupation? And I haven't been asked that for a long time. But as a as a teenager, I used to be really into photography. And so I worked in a camera shop on on Saturdays selling SLR cameras. And some days as a photographer.
So I had a side hustle as a wedding photographer. Oh, my gosh. That's incredible. Do you still do photography or.
That's long in the past and I. I've got three young kids who are thankfully very photogenic to the extent it's still interested it's taking, which is a bit in capturing their movements from wedding photography to augmented reality. So let's get into it.
Let's start with some definitions. We've all heard a R and VR before. So what is the fundamental difference between augmented reality and virtual reality to start? And for virtual reality, you put on a headset and that obfuscates you from the real world that we occupy all the time. So it's really good for full immersion and might be for for for a game.
For example, augmented reality is putting digital content on the world around us as opposed to taking us to a, to a third place. So it could be that you're in a in a in a lecture theater at university and seeing something in front of you that the teacher or the other quality lecturer is talking about. Imagine if you're doing medicine and you could see a heart in front of you. But whilst still being present in the in the lecture theater, all your shopping and you want to see what a jacket or all your awesome make up looks like on you in the real world as opposed to it being a virtual reality, which you can put your helmet on or your visor on, and suddenly you feel like you're in a different, completely different place. Air is a lot more accessible.
What would you say is the main hardware right now through which we experience air? Is it just our cell phones still? And there are 5 billion phones today, smartphones that are capable of running augmented reality experiences. So by far, it's the is that the most popular way of experiencing augmented reality through through a smartphone. Any basically any smartphone smartphone from the last seven. That's less than seven years old, be it Android or iOS will either have a ARKit or a ARCore built in natively into the technology stack.
So air will just work in the browser spontaneously with that any without a PDA, without any further equipment or apps required. I was watching this video from a few years ago. Jim Cramer was on CNBC talking about Flipper.
He was very bullish on it and this was before it collapsed and was rebuilt, which we'll get to and he said it's really the next frontier in digital advertising. Flipper is well on its way to becoming a kind of visual version of Google. Instead of typing your query into a search engine, you point your phone at something you want to learn about.
And then in that conversation, the co-founder and the previous CEO at the time had said to Jim Cramer, he said it was more akin to a visual discovery versus visual search. So how would you describe what Flipper is trying to do with air and is it more discovery or more search blip? It pioneered augmented reality starting back in 2020 11 and created a number of technologies along the way, including augmented reality. And but we also did a lot of work historically in computer vision, artificial intelligence and machine learning.
And partly that was because it was so early that Flipper had to create all of these these technologies in the absence of being in there, being a vibrant ecosystem on which it could build its business and its technology stack. So what you described was, was visual search, and it allowed a user to download an app and point the phone at the phone camera at something and, and for the phone to recognize what that what that is principally using the the artificial intelligence and computer vision capability that that flipper built and exposes a product previous previously. And what we've done since then, since the company has been rebooted is to take a lot of that technology and computer vision capability. But we've really focused down on to what Flipper did first and has a real technology advantage. And move around, which is augmented reality. And of course, we we layer in all of the technology capabilities that we have, including machine learning, AI and computer vision.
But it's really for us, what we've done is we've productized augmented reality and specifically built tools to allow third parties to build augmented reality and publish those to any environment. Can you give me some examples of those third parties, your customers that come to Flipper, they say we have a need for this augmented reality technology. What are the use cases? What are they trying to solve for? We've got thousands of of of users and and and they come in in three major buckets nor the first one is what I call bedroom developers. And those are people in the creative community that, that are building air experiences, either because it's their small, small business or of fun or as part of part of some kind of education that they're doing.
An example of that might be people who are building greeting card applications. So you hold your phone over, over and either a physical greeting card or a virtual greeting card and things happen that could be music playing hey, could be balloons popping out. It could be photos of of you would be this other person coming out and then you can build some pretty cool augmented reality experience.
It's very simple simply using our toolset. And that's those folks are principally using our no code platform, which is called Applet Builder. It's a very easy drag and drop platform. Then we have professional users who use our Web SDK too, and those are principally agencies, brands and and professional, professional developers and creatives who are building for a client that could be a brand. And whether it's a whether that's Kellogg's, whether that's AT&T or AT&T, AT&T, Disney or Hauppauge, there are there are almost every company in the world now is starting to build air experiences and those are being built either in-house or by that creative agency.
And they're using a toolset like like our Web SDK to build that. And that's the engine in which they will build, build those experiences. And then the last category of people that need a fully managed service who come with an idea but say, can you leverage your experience of having built 20,000 air experiences and the fact that you built this this engine yourselves? Can you help us build a wow experience? And we have a studio Studio B that can do that for them and build, well, marquee type experiences, clients directly. I like your your greeting card example that's something we can all imagine. But are there any standout examples for the coolest ways you've seen people use Flipper technology to create these air experiences? I'm a bit of a merchant using that, so every time we get a Porsche or a rhino only we have a Buick as well. At the moment working with us now when you can see when it allows you to see what a new car is going to look like, and you can put that in your lounge, in your garden, in your in your drive.
And it's real, real signs. It's the actual it's it's, you know, it's a full size model. And you can walk or walk around it. You can open the doors, you can change the colors, you can change the the the rims. You can spec the that you can speak the spec the car and change the the mirrors to chrome. And when you can do all of all of that and see a you know, what would otherwise be an experience that you'd have to go into a into a, into a showroom to, to, to add to experience when you can do that and see what it's going to look like in your own in your own driveway, that, for me is always a wow moment.
So I love it. I love those. And another one that comes to mind, Nora, is we were involved during lockdown of helping OnePlus, which is one of the world's largest phone manufacturers in the world, launch a new phone during lockdown. OnePlus are are a challenger valley value brand phone that particularly big in the emerging emerging markets and they're based in China and what they normally do is invite a thousand journalists to to ten TMZ or Shanghai to do a big launch with all the journalists in an exhibition center, with the CEO out there at the front, with music and dancers and all kinds of pyrotechnics going on. And they and they announce and launch a new phone. But, of course, during lockdown, nobody could get to China.
I trying to get trying to do this kind of thousand person in person. It launch was impossible so they had the idea of doing it in augmented reality and taking the CEO and that half an hour extravaganza from the exhibition center in Shenzhen to the journalists environment and actually in their office, in the kitchen, in their in their in their friends backyard and wherever. And for the first time, we did a live air broadcast where the CEO and company announced a new phone in that 30 minute long extravaganza. And and it was meant to be 2 to 2000 journalists in the end.
And such was demand from the OnePlus fans to access and be part of this experience that over 7 million people saw that experience. And we had to dimension our our systems to be able to handle 7 million requests per piece and adding we consume 27,000 gigabytes of data over the 27 minutes. Then we will live, which is about 1% of India's total bandwidth in any given year. To give you an idea of how big that was and that scale when these things happen well and they're promoted and there's a lot of excitement and people want to be part of it.
Yeah. I want to go back to the example of looking at cars, because that seems like a very practical use case for big purchase decisions. Instead of having to go in person to check something out, you can view it in detail via air. And you've said before that, you know, e-commerce is an important area where air could be very disruptive. And I used to work in e-commerce and we had tried to incorporate air and this is around 2016 to 2018. We tried to incorporate air into customers, big ticket item decisions like furniture or home goods, the buying process, but adoption we found was pretty hard because we were maybe solving a problem customers didn't know they had or didn't didn't feel like they had, like visualizing stuff in their home or even things like browsing, browsing grocery store shelves via air.
Do you think customers are ready for air in e-commerce and do you feel like the adoption has has started to pick up lately? Lockdown changed a lot of behavior. And of course, people didn't stop shopping at all during lockdown. In fact, most shopping and moved to the Internet and to e-commerce. But for those big ticket items and whether it whether it's buying a TV or buying jewelry or even clothing, when you're not able to to walk into the store and and look at something, what really took off during that period of time was the ability to visualize that TV, jewelry and item item. You know, that that that fashion makes makeup even a car and see what that look what that looked like. And so in many ways, the last couple of years has transformed people's expectations and experiences of all of of e-commerce.
And now we're seeing four companies that use augmented reality in their e-commerce experience. Now, up to 40% increases in conversion. So it really makes a difference when you can look at, you know, look at different shades of of of of lipstick or and or nail varnish and see what it looks like on your on your fingers or see what that car looks like in your driveway and make sure it fits in your garage, you know, I and when I've looked at at buying a watch or or jewelry before the ability to see what that that's going to look like on on my on my wrist is the next best thing to actually going into a store and putting the putting that that watch on my wrist regardless of when I can see it and it looks like it's actually there. It has significantly had an impact on iconic on e-commerce and has great return on investment. Definitely. I've used, you know, virtual try on for glasses, for example, to help me buy glasses online. So it's very helpful.
We are going to take a very quick break. More with Faisal when we come back. The future seems pretty cool, right? All of those amazing new inventions that are going to make life way better. Like wouldn't it be great if your car could change color to match your mood or even match your outfit? Buick is thinking about the future every day, a future built around you, a future with super smart Buick Electric vehicles that can make life even better and soothing spa like interiors that can leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed. Learn more about how Buick is thinking about the future at Buick.
Icon Slash future. That's Buick Icon slash future. So Faisal, let's talk about sort of the landscape of other companies that are operating in the world of augmented reality, SNAP of Snapchat. Of course, they said in a recent blog post that they're laying off 20% of their employees there, focusing in on three specific areas, and that includes community growth, revenue growth and augmented reality.
We know SNAP has been at least attempting to be a leader in AR for many years. At this point, what are your thoughts on Snap's continued integration and focus of air into its products and allowing developers to develop tools using Snap's Snap's programs? I think, as we discussed before the break, you know, augmented reality has gone through a through a a huge amount of growth and there's a huge amount of expectation around augmented reality. And in the in the same way as, you know, social networks have gone from the written form with Facebook to to photos with Instagram and yeah. And increasingly to video, we can see there's a natural evolution in social social media toward augmented reality. So it makes sense for companies like SNAP two to focus on augmented reality. There's a difference.
There is quite a fundamental difference between a company like like SNAP that's fundamentally a social media company that uses augmented reality and has the ability to share face filters and create some some fun moments that are shareable with your friends and followers on social media and the kind of augmented reality that typically is the way that people would use Flipper, which tends to be for more utility. And we describe, you know, creating an augmented reality greeting cards. We work with a number of educational publishers to augment the textbooks so that the content of the of the textbook comes alive off the of the page. And that could be looking at animals on safari through to explaining and sophisticated chemical equations and seeing how, how chemicals react react together to add to some of the more fun examples of of QR codes being printed on consumer packaging, whether that's a can of old mountain Mountain Dew or or a box of Coco Pops, it's quite different when you can scan that that box of Coco Pops and Coco the monkey comes comes out of the ad and the phone, and it teaches you how to do it, how to do a dance.
And that experience last 7 minutes, it's quite different from a brand, from a, you know, a fun moment on on SNAP. We tend to think of ourselves as having an more longer form content and more utility content that's built on our our platform. And we're certainly not a social media company. And we share all of our data with our our clients on device type, browser type engagement type.
And all of that data belongs to our clients. And we're not in the business of, of monetizing of our users or, or, or taking on that. Mm. So I mean the monetization model then is a customer or client pays to use your tools, is that correct? And so we have two, two product really builder, which is a completely free to build model. So for the hundreds of thousands of users that that use that they license the tool and they can publish onto Facebook, snap to Tik Tok Twitter any website and that's completely free and that's our premium product is our on ramp product. And then we have our SDK, which I described earlier as our professional development tool, which is a subscription model.
Got it. So obviously, many of these social platforms that you can provide tools to, they are working towards the so-called metaverse. And I know you've said before that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the metaverse. So what is the misconception and what is the metaverse in your own words? I think there is a lot of it there. There's a lot of hype around the metaverse, and there's no generally except definition of of what it is.
And actually, in many ways, the definition depends on on who's articulating it and for what purpose. What what I have not yet got my head around is the almost by definition, the metaverse needs to be better and therefore needs to be interoperable and the versions of the or what people describe as the metaverse is sometimes something like a Roblox or on Facebook is sort of the event or decentral. They're almost game like environments where nothing can move between you. You can't move from Roblox to Facebook into into SNAP. So I don't see what's what's matter about that.
I, I've argued that those are almost many of us. No matter what we do. However, it's a slightly different where about what I call the real world metaverse.
So putting digital content in the real world around us, more like Pokémon Go and less like less like you know, putting something into a game or a game like environment. Mm hmm. Well, what do you see as the evolution or the point of social impact of the metaverse? Because to your point, there's a lot of different definitions. There's a lot of different use cases depending on who's talking.
But when is it just going to become this totally accepted, mainstream facet of our lives as existing within this metaverse? Again, I think it really depends on which type of metaverse you're describing. I think that, you know, with AR glasses, we're going to be experiencing the world with a lot of more information. That's going to be an information rich world. You can imagine being in a card, driving with lots more information being presented to you, whether that's navigation or shopping or offers or or news or things happening and being provided to you in your in your field, in your field of vision.
And that's one way of conceptualizing what the metaverse is and with with our glasses, you know, that's that's going that's probably a couple of years is years away. But you can see early examples of that already. And there's a type of of metaverse which is more game like where rather than in the real world around us, the metaverse is something that you go to on your laptop or your or you or your phone and you have an avatar and you move around and you within you, when you attend concerts or goods, go to go to work or on that experience. And I just you know, you can see that happening already. And there's already you can use BitMEX as Horizon products and be a virtual meeting or go and use Roblox and Decentraland sandbox and buy land there and have experiences there, but that they're fragmented.
And at the moment I don't see a way where in the next 3 to 4 years there's a way to to bring those experiences together. No more than you can't bring World of Warcraft and Zelda or GTA into the same experience that they're different experiences. The difference in the environments when it's big is difficult enough to use.
And you know, but the Microsoft product that was floating recently in Massachusetts. Yeah, yeah, for sure. So I mean, we're in this environment where we're already glued to our phones all the time.
You mentioned AR glasses and seeing things and your field of vision for people who argue that we have no need to bring technology or physical technology more into our lives, give us more reason to pull up our phones. We're getting into this almost apocalyptic state where we're just attached to technology all the time. What do you say to those skeptics who maybe don't believe that air is actually beneficial for us as a society? I would reflect on my own career in technology, which really started in Skype, and I remember then describing early, early Skype where I said to people that people wouldn't make telephone calls in the way that they used to with a fixed line or a mobile call. And that time and distance would make would be irrelevant to to a phone call and we'd be able to see each other like this.
And this would be the way that people would do do phone calls. And, you know, they were everybody was a skeptic. No. Why would I speak to my laptop? I'd have to plug in headphones when I could just pick up my phone and and phone calls are getting cheaper off on me. But if you think about the arc of technology over over the last 20, 25 years in phone calls have become significantly cheaper and continue to get cheaper.
But the advent of video calls and now free for free calling prison accelerated and really got its start with what we did in Skype where we made time and distance disappear. And I think it's those kinds of of them when when technology makes our lives better. And now I can speak to my my grandma in Pakistan for as long as I as long as I want. And she can be connected to my children and see them in a way that I was never able to see might grandma growing up.
That for me is magic. And that's the that's the the real potential of of of technology, the ability to connect people even further. That is that is the hope.
All right. Let's talk about the history of Clipper. The company went through the administration process in 2018, which is basically pretty similar to filing for bankruptcy. All the employees were let go and then they brought you on to fix everything. What was that like at first? What is the first step you take when you're tasked with turning a company around after it's after its collapse? Now it's looking at that at the team. And what we had back then really reminding me of early Skype and Spotify.
When you look at the team that's that's that's been there, the experience and knowledge that they have, the technology that they built. And you think there's something really quite special between them, the technology and the team. And then you layer upon that where is technology going and what's been missing? Because clearly it was in we we had we had a great team and great technology and we that's what I that's what I inherited. But what was really different about 2011 when when when team started and where and 2019 where I, I joined was really the the ecosystem coming, coming together.
So 5G being being rolled out and globally the fact that there was a market in our core being installed onto an every smartphone, the fact that our glasses were being being developed and that whilst they're still not have been the we're expecting them out shortly. But the fact there was 5G and it you know the accessibility of millions of phones to be able to use augmented reality the advent of glasses. And then finally and there were some very big moves by companies like Google who started integrating air into service so that when you search for, let's say, let's say a giraffe phone from Google, you could see that giraffe in augmented reality on you using your phone. There were a number of indicators that suggested to me that the time for air and for a easy to use content development that democratized they are making accessible to anyone even without it extensive coding skills was was coming and that's what made me excited about joining. MM Did you feel like Flipper was a little early to the market because there's this discussion happens all the time. Does it help to be the first mover? Does it help to learn from the first mover and then introduce a technology after people have sort of done the trial and error process around it? Do you feel like Flipper was a little early at the time and that contributed to some of the issues that it had down the line? It was definitely too early.
And, you know, and now the ecosystem because it wasn't around and it was it was used extensively as a as a promotional tool, as an innovative tool. But there wasn't regular usage of augmented reality in the in the, you know, in the early 20 tens with 2012 to 2014. And nor was was with phones all the networks were really capable of delivering high quality air experiences. You had the way the camera phones, the cameras on phones have developed significantly. The processing power of a phone today versus a phone in 2011 is vastly different, as is the quality of the screen. And of course, we now have, you know, have very fast 5G capability.
And just to give you an idea of the difference that makes, 5G has 100 times the bandwidth of 4G and has ten times less latency, and that's a big difference. Yeah, definitely. All right, Faisal, before we let you go, we have a fun segment called Shoot Your Shot. So I would love to know, what is your moonshot idea? This is your biggest ambition, your wildest dream. It is your chance now to shoot your shot. Go for it.
One of the things that I'm most concerned about right, right now is some of the climate change impacts that are happening in countries around the world. And I mentioned earlier the need for Pakistan and some of the devastating floods that are happening in in Pakistan make you reflect on what impacts could someone like me in the UK have on Pakistan, which is the country of my parents? I've spent a bit of time over the last five or six years, mentor in an early, early companies in tech startups in Pakistan. In terms of a moonshot, I'd love to be able to work with more of early companies, tech startups in Pakistan and help one of those become a moonshot and a unicorn like very cool.
What is the tech scene like in Pakistan? It's probably underestimated. It's the fourth largest country for technology freelancers. There's a huge freelance community, and that means that there's an installed base of really, really large install base of technologies, computer science engineers and programmers, and are working in an increasingly and everyone is working remotely and they've been working remotely remotely for for for for a long time. But it would be great, wouldn't it, to to see a home grown unicorn company being built using that technology experience that they have of them. Amazing. I love that last thing for you, Feisal.
We have a very quick, fun game. It's called Two Beats in a Miss, and this is just our version of two truths and a lie. So I'm going to list three metaverse related future tech products. Two of them were actual announcements about products in January at CES, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas from January.
One of them is fake. One of them is not a real announcement. So you have to tell me which one is fake.
Okay, I'll list all three and then you tell me at the end. Number one Mojo Vision is partnering with Adidas and other athletic focused companies to develop contact lenses that provide real time performance data like your running pace or the upcoming turns on a ski slope. So futuristic contacts.
The second one is the Danish based startup that is developing a smart eye mask for better sleep. It'll help you feel temperature changes that will adjust to optimal sleeping temperatures throughout the night based on a sensor. Number three, the Spain based startup also is hiking $450 haptic jackets that are meant to allow users to feel a gunshot. The wind, someone grabbing your arm and even a hug from a loved one. So again, that's mojo vision tracked and.
Oh, whoa, what do we think is not real this tough? It is tough. And I'm going to guess it's the mask company that's not really. You nailed it on the first try. This has never happened on the first try.
You're correct. This eye mask is not real yet. But what I think is the coolest is this third thing, this haptic jacket, where you're in a video game and you can feel things like getting shot, getting pushed, running through the wind. I think that's amazing. Have you ever tried? Yeah, maybe not fully the feeling of getting shot, but maybe just like a little, little whack to the chest. Is that something you would try out in a video game? Is haptic jacket, is that appealing? I'm I'm not really much of a gamer.
I'm but my kids are. And that's okay. I'm pretty sure my my kids would love to have their friends wear jackets where they could shoot them and see like, of some damage. Yeah, totally. It looks pretty cool. There's allegedly 30 different sensations you can feel.
All right. On that note, Faisal, this was super fun. Thank you so much for elucidating the world of air and for joining us on Business Casual. Great to meet you, Nora.
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In this episode from Daniel Marcus and the mysterious Break Master Cylinder, thanks for listening to Business Casual. I'm Nora Ali. Keep it business and keep it casual business casual. If you like what you saw and you like what you heard, you can listen to the entire episode of this podcast business casual anywhere you get your podcasts and please go ahead and subscribe to the Morning Brew YouTube channel and go ahead and click on that alarm bell, that thing right there, so you can be alerted any time there's a new video.