Be steadfast in the value you’re offering and don’t give your services away. The really good partnerships will be built on the strength of relationships founded early on, and having a bit of skin in the game from day one makes a huge psychological difference.
Caspar Thykier is the CEO and co-founder of Zappar, a leading developer of augmented reality (AR) tools and experiences and whose mission it is to democratize AR. Some of Zappar’s partners include the world’s biggest brands, including Shazam, Warner Bros, Hasbro, PEZ, Nestle, Tilly’s, 7-Eleven, Manchester City and the San Francisco 49ers.
Prior to Zappar, Caspar was an adman. Cutting his teeth at AMV BBDO, he got to work with great people and great partners that helped him become the youngest board director on record at the time. Caspar went on to help found a London-based ad agency before moving into PR and then ultimately the wild hinterlands of digital prospecting through virtual worlds and finally AR.
With Zappar, Caspar and his co-founders wanted to democratise AR and enable companies of all sizes – whether small businesses or big multinationals – unlock value with augmented reality and leverage AR within their commercial and marketing strategies as a facilitating technology for spatial story-telling. The benefits of AR include a highly immersive experience for consumer engagement to both surprise and delight and instruct and inform as a day-to-day utility.
Zappar is headquartered in London with global offices in San Francisco, Boston and Sydney.
Where did the idea for Zappar come from?
My co-founders, Dr. Simon Taylor, Connell Gauld (both from the University of Cambridge), Kirk Ewing and I started Zappar in 2011 after being inspired from the excitement about the ever- important role of mobile in our lives. AR isn’t new tech, it has been around for 60 or so years but when we started Zappar we saw the potential it had for smartphones as a new way to scan (or ‘zap’ as we call it) and discover the world around you; opening up the opportunity for AR to play a different role in people’s lives (given smartphones have become an evolutionary appendage and a lens through which we live our lives) at a mass market level through spatial story-telling.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The first thing I do when I get into the office is address emails from our partners around the world that have come in overnight (after a coffee of course).
In any one day I’ll have a ton of meetings, both internal and external. This ranges from sessions with our ZapWorks team to review feedback from our users and the product development roadmap to sitting with our project managers and producers on existing campaigns. I’m also fortunate that I get to take a very active role in customer relationships also and explore how this amazing facilitating technology can help solve different problems.
I’m quite disciplined about carving out time for myself and try to keep Wednesday morning clear in my diary and make sure I get to have a sit down with Simon and Connell on Friday mornings so we can have a chance to discuss all aspects of the business. The simple plan is to keep an eye on our long term goals whilst making sure that every day we’re one day better than the day before. It’s all about the little steps on a long journey and not getting too caught up in the every swirling hype cycle in the XR space.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Bringing our ideas to life comes down to four things: our passion, purpose, people and platform. Combined we’ve been able to make the best tools on the planet for short-form content creation for the new mobile canvas.
Passion – Frankly, AR is one of those technologies that naturally inspires. It’s like magic on your phone that immediately attracts attention, which is why it’s such a powerful tool for active engagement and learning and development.
Purpose – Second is our purpose. Our mission is to democratise AR and objective is to make our tools as intuitive as possible to let anyone create the best short form, snackable AR experiences possible and inspire the world.
People – It’s the unbelievable talent and commitment of our staff. Everyone at Zappar cares about the detail of what we do. We’re learning all the time how to better tell stories in this new space.
Platform – And last but not least the amazing Platform that we’ve built from the three P’s above called ZapWorks. It’s ZapWorks that ultimately powers the content experiences that we and our growing community of designers and developers build. With ZapWorks the world around you becomes a blank canvas to tell your story.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m really excited by the trend of connected packaging and what’s happening in this space. A great example is Evrythng and its work around connected products and packaging that are ‘born digital’. Codes on product packaging can now be connected to Active Digital Identities in the cloud to deliver rich short-form content, while also driving digital product life-cycle management capabilities and capturing real-time data throughout the life of the product. Brands can then use these insights, which are accessible via Evrythng’s cloud-based data management platform to optimize their supply chain operations and strengthen customer and end consumer relationships. Basically, they create some great plumbing and foundations for connected pack from a mobile device. In combination with our tools we can then deliver fast scanning and detection of codes and bring this connectivity to life through rich content experiences made using ZapWorks that engage audiences and provide an everyday utility.
The really big idea here is that this totally revolutionises the whole area of packaging and print. Think about it. The billions, if not trillions of passive products and packs around the world now have the ability to be an always-on media channel you control. This owned media real estate instantly becomes your most prized controllable and accountable media space whilst also giving you massive scale and reach and a direct dialogue with your users in contextually relevant ways all the while delivering better data and understanding. The potential is huge for brand owners and it can be done today. That’s a game changer and only one way that AR has the ability to reimagine entire sectors.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Swimming & good nights sleep. Sorry, that’s two. Healthy body, healthy mind I say. It’s that simple. As an entrepreneur your work takes over your life. It takes inhuman amounts of energy and is stressful (anyone who tells you different I would question!). You need to find your own space to stay healthy and switch off. For me that’s in the pool. Having that time away from your desk also turns out to be the time you can process all that work stuff and make sense of things in a way you wouldn’t sitting staring at a screen. Without a good night sleep it’s a fog for me. I’m afraid I’ve never been one of those people who can survive on a few hours a night. It’s eight or bust for me!
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’d like my younger self to know one of the most important lessons I’ve learned: the power of ‘no’. Be steadfast in the value you’re offering and don’t give your services away. The really good partnerships will be founded on the strength of relationships built early on, and having a bit of skin in the game from day one makes a huge psychological difference.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I’m not bald.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Continue reading physical books and Sunday papers! We’re clearly in a time of information overload which has its pros and cons. Personally my feeling is that it encourages short term thinking and an age of disposability. I still delight in a Sunday newspaper or National Geographic with its editorial comment and thoughtful journalism.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Trying to build an environment and way of working that keeps our staff and our partners inspired by what we do and delighted with the finished result. We’re always trying to build a workspace that inspires people to do their best work and have fun doing it. We want our team to wake up each morning excited about going to work. The day you don’t is the day you need to find another job. With a happy, inspired workforce you getter better work. With better outputs comes greater results and a stronger business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Not so much a failure, but the biggest challenge we faced early on was being steadfast in our resolve to build a sustainable business based on strong principles, while avoiding the temptation of giving our technology away for free to ‘establish the market’ or saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity even if we felt it didn’t make strategic sense. We’re in an industry where it’s easy to get sucked in by the next hype curve and get blown off track or as with the dot com boom missell products. This meant having to take a harder road than some of the other companies in our sector, building strong foundations for our platform and ecosystem and making sure we were properly delivering value for our partners, rather than going for the short-term marketing buck. We are definitely seeing the fruits of that more measured approach from the past seven years already.
There’s still a huge education job to be done in AR, VR and MR. It’s still a very nascent market. We’re in it for the long term.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Honestly, if you’re a brand owner do an inventory of all your passive print and consumer touchpoints across your portfolio of packaged goods, print materials and places (stores, event spaces, etc). Add up the media value of those placements if you could make them into an interactive owned media channel you control to talk directly to your staff and customers. Now add AR. The potential to increase your customer engagement, satisfaction, conversion and sales through your existing owned media estate is unprecedented. You can save a ton of money on your paid and earned media spend, get closer to your customers on the device that matters more to them in their lives (their smartphones) with more personalized and contextually relevant messages, and sell more stuff. So if you’re looking for growth, start putting your existing passive print to work in the digital world.
And beyond that, why has no-one created a luxury pillow business? Mattresses get all the attention, but frankly shouldn’t there be the ultimate pillow on which to rest that brain that’s keeping the show on the road?! I’m more of a feather pillow guy than all this memory foam nonsense.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought a Crosley portable record player for my wife. Rediscovering vinyl has been life enhancing. I’d forgotten the total joy of the crackle and craft that went into thinking about a collection of songs. It’s the whole package. Unfortunately that $100 has also lead to hundreds more on building out a collection.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
We’re currently making the switch to Intercom. We’ve been big fans of their blog and podcast for some time now and are just about to make the switch to highly personalized, event-based conversations with our customers. At Zappar we truly value our customers and their feedback of, not only our products and services but how we drive the AR/VR/MR conversation forward – Intercom it turns out, is the perfect solution to meet these goals.
But a few of my smartest work related productivity hacks aren’t technology related: Exercise is one. There’s nothing like a good swim or run to crack a problem. Staring at a screen won’t get it done. Also, face-to-face meetings and the art of conversation are so important. They beat a video conference or a million emails every time. Block out your diary in advance each week for some alone time and turn off wifi. Space, peace and quiet are a beautiful thing.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
One of the best books I’ve read is Pico Lyer’s book “The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere”. It has some invaluable advice, including, ‘Don’t just do something. Sit there.’
What is your favorite quote?
A great one I heard recently at a SXSW session which stuck, which was ‘Dare to Suck!’. And another favorite is, “Only hire people you’d be happy to sit next to on a long haul flight”
- Staff happiness should be the key metric you measure success on.
- Realize the power of ‘no’. Be steadfast in the value you’re offering and don’t give your services away. Good partnerships are built on the strength of relationships founded early on from people who understand and appreciate the value you’re bringing to the table and are willing to pay for it.
- Without the three “P’s” (passion, purpose, and people) you’ll struggle to bring your ideas to life.
- To remain productive, make sure you also schedule downtime. Block out time on your calendar and use it to learn something new or get away from the office.
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