I had the pleasure of interviewing Caspar Thykier, 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, Tilly’s, and the San Francisco 49ers. The business achievement Caspar is most proudest of is the amazing people they’ve hired. “Our ethos is ‘one team, one dream’ — because we love cheesy 80s slogans.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
My co-founders, Dr. Simon Taylor, Connell Gauld (both from the University of Cambridge), Kirk Ewing and I started Zappar eight years ago with the goal of democratizing augmented reality (AR) technology. Our mission continues to be to enable companies of all sizes — whether small businesses or big multinationals — to leverage AR within their commercial and marketing strategies and realize the benefits these highly immersive experiences offer for consumer engagement to both surprise and delight, and increasingly inform and instruct, as a day-to-day utility. Before Zappar I was an adman. Cutting my teeth at AMV BBDO where I got to work with great people and great partners that helped me become the youngest board director on record at the time. I went on to help found a London-based ad agency before moving into Public Relations, and then ultimately the wild hinterlands of digital prospecting through the virtual world, and finally AR. AR years are like dog years, so starting Zappar eight years ago now seems like a different era already!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The great thing about working at Zappar is no two days are the same and you never know what’s going to turn up in our [email protected] inbox from around the world. One of our most exciting stories stemmed from a simple enquiry from a company called Random Content in Los Angeles who wanted to talk about adding AR to their latest children’s illustrated book. It later transpired the book was written by none other than Hollywood royalty Carl Reiner and they wanted to use Zappar’s technology to create an experience that would encourage kids to delve deeper into the story, illustrations and pages in front of them, and importantly read on.
Carl was due to appear on the Jimmy Fallon show, so we set out to make a special zap for Carl featuring Jimmy from an illustration in the book to demo on the show: it was one of those throw-away ideas that you always hope as a marketing or PR person that will happen but never do. But it did, and sure enough we were on the show! Then there was the moment while Carl was waiting to go on the show and he was backstage with Kobe Bryant (naturally!) and he starts telling Carl how much he loves the Zappar technology. Kobe Bryant. A Zappar fan. Talking with Carl Reiner about our app backstage before the Jimmy Fallon Show…somebody pinch us!
And perhaps most magical of all is the product we made together. I won’t forget giving the book to my daughter who was utterly engrossed. Mission accomplished. All thanks to a random email from Random Content and the vision of Carl Reiner with a dollop of Zappar magic!
And the lesson here, treat every enquiry with the same enthusiasm, respect and due diligence however random or speculative as you never know where it might lead you.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Well firstly our technology. 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. Second is our purpose. Our role is to make the tools as intuitive as possible to let anyone create the best short form AR experiences possible and inspire the world. Last but not least, it’s the unbelievable talent and commitment of our staff. Everyone at Zappar cares about the detail of what we do. So really it comes down to our people, purpose, passion to make the best tools on the planet for content creation for the new mobile canvas!
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Yes! We’re continuing to work on making augmented reality more accessible through our content authoring and publishing tool ZapWorks. It allows anyone, regardless of budget or skill level, to deliver high quality bite-size content experiences.
We’re also supporting our partners, including Tilly’s, Hasbro, Shazam, Nestle, and the San Francisco 49ers, among others, on their AR projects. For example, we are seeing a rise in interactive packaging and recently worked with PEZ to help increase sales of its candy refill packs while engaging their audience on mobile. We created an app where users are invited to help restore ‘PEZ World’ by finding and scanning Candy Codes featured on pack inlays. This unlocks one of six games and characters, including timing and skill-based challenges and puzzle games. This always-on connected packaging strategy has provided PEZ with a wealth of insights such as the most popular time of day that people engage with its products.
We also have some exciting announcements coming up around ZapBox, our mixed reality kit, but I can’t say too much on that just yet…
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Monitor your business through the metrics of staff happiness and customer satisfaction. Tell your team to do their best! If you can go home feeling like you gave it your best shot you can’t ask for more. Also, have fun doing it! You need to wake up each morning wanting to go to work. The day you don’t is the day you need to find another job.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
There’s no greater mentor than your family! Your partner and kids will tell you when something is rubbish or when you’re being obnoxious.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
With ZapWorks we have been able to offer school kids as young as nine years-old the opportunity to create truly wonderful experiences as part of the education programs we run. With STEM in particular, innovations like AR can help involve students in a nontraditional way and foster a collaborative learning experience. We wanted to take this notion of ‘active learning through doing’ and see how we could open it up to people of all ages and technical abilities. This is part of our mission to democratize augmented reality and help encourage the next generation of digital creatives in an increasingly ‘mixed reality’ world.
Beyond that, I’m personally on a mission to see how we can help inform and instruct users about the environment and specifically sustainability, recycling and the circular economy through the use of AR on connected packaging and products. I was totally inspired by what the supermarket chain Iceland have committed to in the UK in their decision to stop using single use plastic in their packaging in the next five years. So if there are any brands out there wanting to move towards better education of their users and help solve the huge problems we face in our approach to the environment in an age of rampant consumerism please get in contact!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- The power of ‘no’. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to 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; them having a bit of skin in the game from day one makes a huge psychological difference.
- Jump in feet first at events and conferences. Everyone is there to do business so don’t be shy, throw caution to the wind and go meet people.
- Understand that your success will largely rest on hard work, luck and timing. Put in the hard graft, think strategically and be in control of the decisions in your grasp. Then hopefully you’ll create your own luck.
- Learn something new each day. For me, that’s the beauty of being part of your own pioneering tech platform! Always make sure you’re one day better than the day before — it’s all about the little steps on a long journey.
- Employ a great finance director and legal counsel who you trust without reservation. Make sure you get all your paperwork right from day one. You won’t regret it later as you grow and it will save you a whole load of headaches!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
Only hire people you’d be happy to sit next to on a long haul flight! And a great one I heard recently at a SXSW session which stuck which was ‘ Dare to Suck!’.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
Well if you really mean anyone that I’d have to say Tim Cook. I’ve been a huge fan of Apple since the very first Mac (and as an ex ad guy you can’t help but be in awe of the incredible brand they’ve built). Apple’s statements on AR and how it will become part of our daily lives are fascinating and it’d be a pleasure to speak with Tim about it (and lots of other topics!).
Originally published at medium.com