Slumdog 'Adtech' Billionare: Bringing Augumented Reality to the World
One of the biggest augmented reality apps ever was born out of a drunken joke. Here's how:
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Had Ambarish Mitra not dropped out of his school at 16, he probably would have been an engineer living off a handsome six-figure salary, which he never wanted because of his love for the Internet. So he started with being a runaway teen, a slum dweller, a magazine subscriptions seller on Delhi streets to a tech entrepreneur at 17 in 1997. His story, now with UK-based Blippar – a global $1.5 billion valuation visual discovery app, is nothing short of a classic rags-to-riches tale.
After doing a couple of tech start-ups including an IPO in 2000, few tech jobs in start-ups and an insurance company AXA in London, Mitra's next big eureka moment came in 2010 in the form of augmented reality, image recognition and machine learning. He along with his friend Omar Tayeb (now co-founder and CTO, Blippar) were having drinks in a pub in one of south-west England's remote village when the duo came up with the idea.
"Blippar was literally born out of a joke. Looking at the £20 bank note that I put down for the bill, I cracked a joke to Omar that imagine if the Queen of England came out of it; but Omar, who had a dark sense of humour, took the joke too seriously and built the first prototype of Blippar app," says Mitra. The trick brought queen to life by rendering the image in a 3D animated form that eventually turned into a business idea – an augmented reality and image recognition-based visual discovery browser that makes images more interactive for businesses advertising their products.
The app gives information including pictures, web links, videos and games on the top of any image when scanned through a smartphone or tablet. This drastically helps advertisers and their customers' ad experience.
From Nowhere to Somewhere
However, things didn't change overnight for Mitra and Tayeb. The technology that they were thinking to be a possible disruptor wasn't enough for people to buy into their idea. "I went to more than hundred businesses but all of them asked me about my users, team and investment. The doors were just closed for us," says Mitra. Nonetheless the last six companies he met agreed to his idea.
One of the fascinating things Mitra remembers in Blippar's journey so far is acquiring its bigger competitor Layar in June 2014. The acquisition catapulted Blippar into one of the dominant AR start-ups globally. "People thought Layar would buy Blippar not vice versa," says Mitra who now has 14 offices across the globe.
The Minimalist Achiever
Despite a hockey-stick growth in his fortunes in just a decade, Mitra feels more connected to life's bigger purpose than his business and values the power of relationships and culture more than money. Business for him is just one of the ways to fulfil that purpose, and that ideology is probably a reflection of his humble roots. "I am minimalist. I don't have a single chair for myself across 14 offices worldwide. I sit on random tables and work. I don't own any real assets like bikes and Ferraris. I don't have any property. I can pack my entire life into three suitcases," says Mitra. Going forward, Mitra is certain that Blippar will have a lot of impact on civilization digitally. In terms of numbers, Blippar saw 200per cent year-on-year revenue growth in 2015 with 65 million users globally.
(Interview by Ritu Marya and Sneha Banerjee at Surge 2016, Bangalore)
This story first appeared in Entrepreneur India magazine, April 2016 issue.