Dark Humour Inspired this Augmented Reality App to Take Birth "India is ready for all things cool but Indian gatekeepers are not ready for all things cool" says the CEO of Blipppar
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Augmented reality startup Blipppar's, co-founder and CEO Ambarish Mitra takes us through Blippar's journey, which started at a bar back in the winter of 2010 in England. Blippar, now a global app, has 65 million users and more than thousand brands with 320 people out of 14 offices worldwide.
Born out of a joke
Blippar was literally born out of a joke. I was working at an insurance company AXA Insurance and went drinking in a pub south-west of England in a very remote village. The last round of the bill was 15 pounds and put 20 pounds and with my co-founder I made a joke. Imagine if the Queen of England came out of the bank note and said can I have my five pounds back. And my co-founder Omar, who has a dark sense of humour, he took the joke too seriously and he built a first protype and that's how it was formed.
When your industry is a fully blue ocean, a strategy that has never been done before, you need to have a lot of self-conviction yourself and transfer that conviction to the market and say hey what I am saying works. But I am personally a very big believer that technology isn't disruptive, business models are disruptive. When we went to the market we had a very clear business model and say that the technology is cool and this is how it's going to benefit you. I went to hundred plus businesses and all of them asked me the same question, how many users you have? I said zero. How many members in the team, I said six. How much investments you guys have, I said none, the doors just closed! The last six companies I met, who became Blippar clients immediately. So the whole moral of the story is never to give up, you never know who is going to say yes.
Getting first client on board
It was difficult because you are very scared, you listen to everything they say, almost feed them and digest it for them too. So it was a big learning experience but at that point you see it more like a blessing that you are willing to do it that extra keep mile. But getting it for the first time is very hard but once you have them onboard how you keep them is the bigger challenge.
Buying Layar was like David buying Goliath
If you have a certain journey in mind, there is two ways to do it and both requires spending. Hire alot of people or get readymade people. And the big role about acquisitions is that you get market share and at the same time if you get a direct competitor on board, you not only get the business, you also get the smart people working there. That was the big plus point with Layar, they were almost slightly "ahead" in the augmented reality side and the market was quite confused. They were thinking Layar would buy Blippar they never thought Blippar would buy Layar. It was more like David buying the Goliath. When we started Blippar, Layar was almost like a $80 million or $100 million company when we were just two of us. So it was quite fascinating when we bought them two years later.
I really enjoy speaking to young entrepreneurs and giving them direction. In my short life I have learnt so much that there is a lot of keenness from me to give it back. The whole journey itself is very exciting and when people ask if you could repeat it would you do the same thing, I say yes. Because sometimes the mistakes you make, they are so important to make it, without those mistakes you cannot have those breakthroughs. Acquisitions are never easy. I think it is giving me the experience to do bigger acquisitions in future. It revalidates the importance of culture and what happens when cultures don't mix. So something to keep in mind is that when you are acquiring a company which you want to retain and keep then you have to find a cultural fit. Otherwise you get so much headwind that your business can go back rather than move forward. It's important to keep in mind not to get excited about the asset but the people that come with the acquisition.
Chemistry with investors needs to be beyond financials
We are a very philosophical company as you can see and we are very fussy about who we bring on board. We almost feel that getting an investor is like almost getting married without a divorce clause. You have to make sure that the chemistry is beyond financial. Because a lot of entrepreneurs make this big mistake, they get excited by the dollar sign shining in their eyes. There is a big responsibility you are taking on and if the values of the business and the values of the fund are not aligned then there is guaranteed going to be friction. It's very important to set values upfront.
We are quite a mad company. You have to be mad to do something so offbeat and so futuristic. We very forgiving towards mistakes but not forgiving towards rudeness and bad behaviour. It's a strange one, where very high performing people can get punished if they are not culture fit. We are a company that does not encourage arrogance.
I don't have one dedicated chair for myself
I am minimalist myself, I would have got 14 offices but I still don't have a single chair in any of the offices. So I float around, I have a management style called management by walking around. I sit in random tables and work out of there. I actually don't have one dedicated chair or one dedicated office in any of my offices worldwide. We work in small teams but it's a very plasma organization where teams can organize and disperse and re-organize into something else. We are very project –by-project driven and the whole business works in three months close. A group of people can work together and they detach and form another group people.
I keep interviews real
I have never read anybody's CV in my career. I do not research people. Because I really believe that who you are is a lot more important than what you do. When you research people you form a stereotypical architecture of them and takes the serendipity out of people. Whenever I interview people I keep it very real. It is not a set of people, very to and fro. So if I am confident about people and the culture fit then I get clear that we can win the world together. Skills people have but the culture fit and the attitude is the key ingredient. I had the first 67 people in the company and 95 percent are still on board.
Life has been serendipitous
I am the relationship guy. I really believe in the power of relationships not to use your relationships like a ladder. It has given me a lot. My life has been very serendipitous. I feel a lot of people aren't very open because we put a lot of rules between us and life. Life has actually given me a lot in return hence I always meet everybody. I never judge people by their situation because you never know who is sitting right next to you.
I am a minimalist. Even after all these years I don't own any real asset bikes, Ferraris. I don't actually own a single property. My whole life I can pack it into three suitcases. I am on air all the time , my whole time goes in meeting, reading. I really believe in the bigger purpose of life and business is a mere vehicle to take you there. Blippar as a business will prove that it would have a lot of impact in civilization.
Blippar today has 1.5 million users in India and it anticipates that number to reach 3.5 or even 4 million by the end of the year. I think Indian users are underestimated by a lot of Indian advertisers. We find the Indian ecosystem quite slow but the Indian users quite fast. I think India is ready for all things cool but Indian gatekeepers are not ready for all things cool.
(Interview by Ritu Marya and Sneha Banerjee)