How Moonpig's video greeting cards came to life

March 30, 2023

In this Legislate Podcast episode, Caspar Thykier, CEO of Zappar, talks about his mission to democratise augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). Caspar shares some use cases of AR in retail, consumer-packaged goods, and licensing and intellectual property as well as his pet peeves when it comes to legal contracts. 

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Charles Brecque: Welcome to the Legislate Podcast, a place to learn about the latest insights and trends in business, tech and contract drafting. Today I'm excited to welcome Caspar Thykier on the show. Caspar is the co-founder and CEO of Zappar, an augmented reality platform and creative studio rolled into one on a mission to democratise AR and MR. Caspar, thank you for taking the time, please can you introduce yourself and share a bit of background about Zappar? 

Caspar Thykier: Yeah, absolutely. Well, maybe just to give a bit of background on myself, you know. Grew up in the UK, specifically in London, my parents were, sort of, Scandinavian, Danish and Swedish and a bit of Hungarian mixed in there. Studied social anthropology at Edinburgh University, a truly wonderful city if no one's ever been there, I highly recommend it. And, then got into advertising actually in, in the mid-'90s working at Abbott Mead Vickers, which was a pretty incredible time to be in the industry and a great agency to be at. I got to work on great clients, like Guinness and Volvo and Pizza Hut and Capital Radio. And from there as many people in advertising do as an account person then went on to, sort of, help set up an agency called Campbell Doyle Dye in, in 2001, and there worked as a managing director for seven years and through the early noughties, and then we worked with brands like, I guess, Mercedes-Benz and Adam's Bitters and Christian Aid and Macallan whisky. 


And that was then followed by an eighteen-month stint as COO at the leading PR agency Freud Communications, before then starting another new venture called VeeMee, which stood for make me virtual with my good friend and business partner Kirk Ewing. VeeMee was a game studio based in Edinburgh, and we were creating branded content for PlayStation Home which was Sony's virtual world for PlayStation 3, and that was for the likes of Aldi and Diesel and Wrangler and Game. And also made some first party content for PlayStation itself across Europe, America and Japan. And, and, and I guess it was during that time, so this is around 2010 now, that Kirk and I, sort of, broadened our interest out of virtual worlds into augmented reality, which lead to the formation of Zappar with two absolutely incredible people that we've met by absolute chance called Dr. Simon Taylor and Connell Gauld. And they were at the University of Cambridge in the engineering department, and Simon was actually completing his PhD on fast object localisation for mobile augmented reality. 


And, and so, fast forward from there to I guess the present day, so twelve years on, and, and I guess we're now a team of 70 people. We've got offices here in the UK and the US. And as you say, I mean, since day one, you know, I, I guess our, our driving mission has all been-, has always been about democratising AR and really allowing developers and designers and businesses alike to, to capture value through the use of spatial computing. And, and they're effectively four different aspects that make us unique in that regard, in that we have an award-winning creator studio that helps I guess our partners ideate and execute their augmented reality activations as part of their camera strategy. We have a ZapWorks content authoring and publishing platform for AR, so, sort of, SAS model there, and so that was built from the ground up very much for mobile, and then it has a suite of developed tools, and that caters for everyone from people who have no-, low-code abilities to experienced developers. Then we also have a piece of hardware that we're just about to launch called Zapbox which is meant to be the world's most affordable mixed reality headset, and for about $80, and that's coming out in April. And finally, we have a thing called Zapvision, which is our solution to bring a new breed of accessible QR codes to product packaging and make information on pack available to the blind and partially-sighted community, because access to product information frankly should be available to everyone everywhere. And we now have that sort of technology, you know, to solve that problem that affects millions of people around the world and genuinely make an improvement to their daily lives. 


So, there you go, I mean, that, that, that's Zappar, we, we, we cover a lot of different bases. I guess, you know, a firm belief that computer vision and the idea of spatial computing can add, sort of, this new content as a layer on the lens of your device to make improvements to daily lives. 

Charles Brecque: Congratulations on your success so far and having such a wide range of products. Can you share some use cases or, or examples of the impact you've had on, you know, AR and, you know, more broadly speaking the adoption of AR? 

Caspar Thykier: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, gosh, and there's been so many different use cases over time. I mean, a lot of the work that we do tends to congregate around, sort of, three different sectors really. A, a lot of work in retail, a lot of work with consumer-packaged goods, and a lot of work with, I guess, license and IP. And so that can be working with everyone from, sort of, Unilever or Nestle to Britvic, work we do with retailers like Countdown out in New Zealand, 7-Eleven in the US. And IP with everyone from Rovio to Warner Bros, Disney etc. So, lots of different types of businesses, all who are, I guess, trying to understand, again, you know, how do they make this additional connection with their customers between the physical world around them and the digital overlay that could exist there. And that could be on anything, it could be on products or places, at point of sale, on print etc. So, it's really about how you add that, sort of, value-added digital layer to, to increase engagement, immersion, sort of, conversion if you like. 


But, as I say, you know, perhaps one of the most satisfying is, kind of, I guess, the, the, the work that we are beginning to do around Zapvision, and as I mentioned before is that idea of, kind of, making product packaging accessible to, to blind and partially-sighted people. And, you know, we managed to do that through, you know, I guess, Simon's experience in computer vision around making and being able to see codes when they're very small on the camera view. So we, sort of, created this new pattern that exists around the current QR code, which we're all so familiar with post-COVID, but allowed that then single accessible QR to be able to be scanned by everyone who's, who's, who's sighted to be taken to a website, but where our SDK is housed in an app that caters for the blind and partially-sighted people, it means that they can scan that same code and receive that information through text to speech and larger font etc. And really it's that-, you know, that, that ability to make a small quality of life difference to, to millions of people.I think the stat is that in the world there are about 280 million people who are blind-, registered blind or partially sighted. In fact there are 2.2 billion people who are farsighted or, you know, need glasses. There's a wonderful phrase of the long-arm brigade of which I am definitely one, you see us in restaurants, holding our arms out, trying desperately to read the menu. 


And so, that ability I guess just to use cameras, computer vision, you know, clever ways to build that, that layer of information, I think that that's where the real value is. And, and AR has gone on this journey, we've only been in it for twelve years, it's been around for 50 years, but it's really about, you know, how do you go from toy to tool, and, you know, from, sort of, surprise and delight experiences to instruction and information and that being something that, that people use more readily. 

Charles Brecque: Yeah, that's a really innovative use case and, and definitely not the first use case which comes to mind when you think of AR. So, good luck with the roll-out of that. Since, you know, being on this long journey with Zappar, what's been your favorite moment so far? 

Caspar Thykier: I mean, it's-, it's-, it's always one of these interesting questions because our technology moves so quickly, it's almost interspersed with and it's almost the latest thing that you're working on that seems your favourite if you like. But, I do remember back when we started, there was a use case that we had with Moonpig, who were, sort of, the card manufacturers. And again, it was a slightly different use of AR in that often it's, sort of-, I guess, it's about creating an experience that is one to many. So, you know, the way that it's being used for face filters and, sort of, those sorts of fun things, but there's something really interesting about the use of AR when it's one-to-one. And so, the notion here was that in the same way you could personalise your Moonpig card and, you know, decide what goes on the front and write your message in, and, you know, great technology at the back because you kind of, produce that on your desktop or your mobile and it's, you know, sent the next day. 


And so what we managed to add in to that flow was the ability to create your own personalised video, which would also then create a code that was printed on that card so that when the receiver got it, they scanned their card, it would come to life with whatever that personalised video that, that, that you'd brought to life. And there's something-, you know, it was inspired really by, by Harry Potter and the wonderful posters in there. I think it was the Azkaban posters where the character comes to life. And there's something very simple and magical about just that happening and being able to think about, you know, working with Moonpig to integrate that into their infrastructure and find a way, you know, to properly, kind of, commercialise that and make that into consumer products. I think those sorts of things are super interesting, you know, about how you actually, you know, generate that, that value for everyone in the chain, and that notion of that, kind of, one-to-one interaction. I thought that was pretty-, you know, looking back that was one of those moments where we were like, 'Oh, you know, there's something in this.' 

Charles Brecque: No, that's-, that's fascinating. And what, what do you wish you'd known before starting Zappar? 

Caspar Thykier: Well, on one level I think it was just how distracted, disoriented, sort of, susceptible people are to, sort of, clickbait and, and, and misinformation generally especially when it comes to technology. You know, augmented reality is a hard-enough thing to explain to people, but with so many, kind of, one-off tech demos online and the constant digital hype cycle and frankly, some daft overselling by unscrupulous companies. You know, expectations are heightened and, and become misplaced and, and, and everyone gets excited about the next big thing rather than focusing on the here and now. And I guess that's meant that so much more education has had to be done, and, and naturally it's taken longer for, for, for the idea of AR, you know, and, and, and in fact the sector to mature and, and become commercially viable and show what it's really capable of. I think the other thing, you know, is-, and I remember this actually when I first left Abbott Mead Vickers as I mentioned, and, and, and the, the then managing director, sort of, called me and said, 'Look, you know, going on your own, fine. Two bits of advice. Make sure you get a really good layer and a really good accountant.' And, and, sounds obvious, definitely the right thing to do and, and we're-, we're certainly lucky to, to have-, to have-, to have both at Zappar. 

Charles Brecque: Yeah, I can definitely relate with the lawyer and accountant, which we've been fortunate to have had in place from day one as, as a legal tech. But, I think education is always something which, especially for novel technologies is something that when you're so close to the technology you, you, you underestimate and I've seen the, you know, education and awareness of machine learning of the past six years, sort of, improve. I imagine now that the big tech companies are paying quite a lot of attention to augmented reality. I imagine that's also helped with raising awareness and education for your customers. 

Caspar Thykier: Yes, it, it, it has, but, but it's normally very hard to see the wood from the trees, especially, you know, with all the chat about the metaverse. There are just too many acronyms, you know, there's AR and VR and XR and ML and AI, it all becomes-, you know they are all very, very interesting technologies in their own right and there're some fascinating things that can be done when they're used in combination. But, it is quite hard to, you know, get your head around it all and get the lay of the land and understand how that all, all works. And I think that's, you know, still a journey that a lot of people are going on. 

Charles Brecque: Yeah, well, I'm sure we'll get there. And with all this I guess noise around AI, obviously you've got quite a broad range of products and the latest one around improving accessibility is quite exciting, what's the vision for the company for the next five, ten years? 

Caspar Thykier: Well, I, I'll be 55 then, so I very much hope that, that I'm beginning to, kind of, almost manage myself out of the business and passing it to the, kind of, brilliant people we've got coming through the, you know, the company from a daily operations perspective. And, and I guess at Zappar, you know, we don't really trouble ourselves too much with five-year predictions because it is so nebulous and full of I guess error bars because of how quickly the technology and the landscape changes. And there, kind of, so many interdependencies around what we do in such a fast-moving and, and, and cutting-edge tech space that it's really, really hard to, to predict that and make it land right. You know, I am going to have to admit that I was the person who said, you know, QR codes, you know, RIP back in 2010. So, you know, I may not be the best person at this. So, our focus does tend to try and be on the present in the here and now, and I think we're constantly trying to almost bring people back to that idea of, you know, there's so much that can be done with tech now that trying to think too much five years down the line is hard. But, that said, I guess we'll have hoped that we will have made a real impact, you know, with accessible QRs we talked about, and possibly affected lots of people's lives and be, you know, on billions of packs and have learnt lots more from the community about how we improve that product, it's just the start of the journey. 


But, I think the other would be, you know, we really have hoped that we've helped educate and arm hundreds of thousands more, kind of, developers and designers with our-, with our tools as to the benefits of spatial storytelling. And actually, you know, really-, again, back to that education point, sort of, giving them best practice about how to make them work for them. Establishing Zapbox, you know, our mixed reality headset, would be something-, I mean, that, that really for us is a, kind of, gateway into affordable mixed reality and, and actually a way for people to, kind of, begin to get a sense of what is this, you know, immersive whatever you want to call it metaverse, you know, 3D web experiences that are coming. And so, you know, trying to I guess reduce the gap between all the-, all the, sort of, intent and, and great words and actually make that actionable and real to people. So, I guess, you know, overall I, I think probably in the next five years, I mean, we do seem to look at everything as being more of a marathon than a sprint. It will be about-, very much about how we continue to democratise XR and continue to drive that, sort of, sector, sort of, evangelism as to the benefits of spatial storytelling, and computer vision really as a, sort of, digital superpower if you like, this extension of, you know of the world around us. 

Charles Brecque: Yeah, I guess when you're working with such exciting technology it is tempting to just live in the future, but then you miss the present and the applications. 

Caspar Thykier: It is exactly that, and, and then there's a huge amount of then confusing activity with progress. In a way you never get out the starting blocks. And I think that's the thing about all these technologies, they're never perfect on day one. It's very true of, again, the stuff that we're doing around accessible QR, it's not a moment where we go, 'Oh, we've completely cracked this, job done.' It's, like, we're just beginning to understand how we can begin to make a difference and we need to really, you know, get lots of feedback from the community who, who-, you know, that we're trying to solve for and see how we can improve things, but you just can't do that in one step. You know, these things are iterative and there are things that you improve upon, and I think that's been true of everything that we've done in every aspect of the business. 

Charles Brecque: No, exactly. And as a founder, CEO, I imagine you must encounter quite a few contracts, what are the, the key ones and what can you share about them? 

Caspar Thykier: Yeah. I mean again, although with I guess whatever-, just coming into our thirteenth year, we are still fairly small, you know, so it's around 70 people and I guess with a-, because that diverse set of products and services for, for, for a business of our size-, and I guess the approach we have taken as a-, as a founding and management team is that whilst we do continue to grow, we're trying to do that careful balancing act of creating greater autonomy for the senior management team and line managers coming through whilst also keeping our oar in as a small team. So, I guess given my previous experience in advertising account management, I do still play a pretty active sales role and management oversight role within our creative studio team. I do continue to have direct client relationships and oversee elements, which I really enjoy as well. So, that's with people like H&M and Legoland and Disney, Britvic, TD Bank over in the US, Unilever, Nestle, Hasbro, I mean it's-, it's-. it's quite a long list. 


There's obviously, yeah, Zapvision of course, which I'm very passionate about and, and strongly believe in, so I, I've been leading that project. And I guess getting to work with amazing organisations like the RNIB, the, the Royal National Institute of the Blind, is, is, is a, a great pleasure and there are some really exciting initiatives that we're looking at with them also more broadly to how we change perceptions about sight loss and get people to experience it first hand. So, I guess for any business, it's so important, isn't it, even at top to, to, to still have that direct dialogue with our partners, you know, and who are looking to create value through, through the use of our technology. And you, kind of, have to have that direct and senior feedback loop to, to understand their business problems and also be able to have those kinds of conversations on, on where we're succeeding as a business and, and where we need to improve. So, yeah, you know, definitely I, I would always encourage staying very close to the day to day of the business without hopefully stifling everybody else. 

Charles Brecque: Yeah, I guess it's one of those challenges where you need to delegate to grow, but also be present and-, for the growth to happen in the first place. 

Caspar Thykier: Yeah, quite right. 

Charles Brecque: Great. Well, Caspar, I'm-, I'm conscious that I've-, I've taken a lot of your time already, so I'm going to ask you the closing question we ask all our guests. If you'd be sent a contract to sign today, what would impress you? 

Caspar Thykier: Well, I, I think it's fundamentally any contract that is built on principles of fairness and value creation through shared interests and success. I think, you know, I would also-, you know, the one-, the one I don't like is when it comes from a clearly cash-rich multinational asking for 120-day payment terms from their partners. And I think there are definitely some, you know, ways that we interact between large and small businesses that, sort of, need closer and tighter legislation around because it's just unfair. But, contracts I guess are of course, you know, great to get signed and agree and lock away in a drawer and satisfy clearly the auditors and investors, but, but more importantly I, you know, I, I think it's-, the, the, the value is in, in the relationships. And I'm, kind of, more interested in the, the, the, kind of, the joint contract of trust and respect and honesty and commitment to actually make things happen. And that requires, sort of, human capital, not just the pages and pages of the legal documentation. 


And it's really always those great relationships that underpin any truly successful partnership and, sort of, stand the test of time. I think what's interesting about the contracting process, is it tells you a lot about, you know, the partner that you're going into this relationship with, and as long as it can be done in a, a, a fair and, and clearly legal but commercially-minded way, I think everyone wins. But, you know, it's-, I tend to find that what you really want and count on and what stands the test of time is the individuals, it's not about the brand or the organisation or the trophy logo on your credentials deck. It's about the individual making the decisions, signing off the contracts and the budgets and implementing and executing the strategy. You know, that, that's-, you know, that's the important contract if you like. So, I'm more impressed by close collaboration than the contract itself, you know, although I do accept it's a very necessary part of the process. 

Charles Brecque: Yeah, no, that's a great answer and, yeah, behind every contract there are people, and ultimately they-, they're the ones you're getting into business with. I thought you might say an augmented reality contract, but I think your answer was great. Well, thank you very much, Caspar, for taking the time to be on the show and best of luck growing your business. 


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