A Q&A with Augment co-founder and CEO JF Chianetta. The Paris-based company closed a €220,000 Seed funding round in mid-April from Paris-based Angels.
SUB: Please describe Augment and your value proposition.
Chianetta: When you want to buy a physical object online or on a catalogue, you are never sure of what you will receive. This uncertainty limits the conversion rate and causes many expansive returns of people disappointed with what they received. By allowing customers to visualize directly in their environment what they buy, we remove this uncertainty, increase engagement, multiplying the conversion rate and reducing the returns. Augment is a mobile app, available on iPhone, iPad and Android that lets people preview how an object would look in their environment by embedding it directly in the real world.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Chianetta: Augment is providing a platform for product visualization in augmented reality. Our markets and users are the ones trying to sell something which is not physically in front of the customer. It can be an ecommerce website selling shoes or electronic devices, a vendor selling furniture in a paper catalog, or salespeople selling a kitchen or a swimming pool.
We also have users that were not initially intended but came naturally to our solution: 3D printers wanting to preview how an object will look after being printed, teachers looking for ways to show students things that could not be brought into the classroom, or artists trying a new way to do art.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Chianetta: Our most direct competitors are companies providing augmented reality experiences and applications like Aurasma, Blippar or Metaio.
SUB: What differentiates Augment from the competition?
Chianetta: Our differentiator is that we provide the easiest platform to visualize your own 3D models in Augmented Reality. We let people register to our upload interface, upload their models and share them right away. We also provide the best app to visualize the models as you can tell by our rating in both iTunes and Google Play.
We don’t do games, dancing characters, or advertising campaigns—we are focused 100 percent on providing Augmented Reality to help sell more and better.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Chianetta: Augment was started in 2011 as a side project, just to play with the idea of Augmented Reality. The company was incorporated at the end of 2011, and the three founders started full time on the project in June 2012. When it started it was an app; I put it on the Android Market to see how people would react. The feedback was so good that I started to think about the ways to turn it into a real company. The ideas on how to monetize came quickly and I quit my job to start the adventure full time.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Augment? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Chianetta: I wanted to make posters out of photography but I had no idea about the ideal size for my wall. It crossed my mind that this was the perfect use case for Augmented Reality. I looked around to find if there was an app to do that but nothing was available at the time. So instead of using a meter, I started to work on Augment.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Chianetta: I wanted a name that starts with an A, to be on top of the alphabetical lists. ‘Augment’ came quite naturally, it expresses exactly what we are doing—Augmenting the world with objects that are not physically present.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Chianetta: The technology is really complex and finding good engineers that can do the most out of it has been the main challenge. Hiring is hard, even in a dynamic ecosystem like Paris.
SUB: You just raised €220,000 in Seed funding. What are your plans for the funds?
Chianetta: The money will be used to develop the business in the U.S., get integrated in 3D software, big ecommerce and 3D printing websites, and grow the revenue.
Augment USA has been incorporated in March and our first American employee has started to do business development and sales there. We start with the U.S. market because the penetration rate of tablets amongst sales people is a lot higher than anywhere else in the world, making it the best market for us. Today most of our users are already Americans.
SUB: Why was this a particularly good time to raise outside funding?
Chianetta: I don’t know if there is ever a good time to raise but it was indeed quite challenging this time. All the new tax-related laws are making any investment complicated and uncertain. But there are always people who want to help new entrepreneurs and grow great technologies.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Chianetta: When a 3D model has been uploaded to our server, the user can take advantage of it in several ways: share a link by email or post it anywhere so that someone else can visualize the model in augmented reality on his device; embed a button on a website, when people click on it, it will react appropriately depending on the platform to launch the visualization of the product; have all his models available offline on his device, in a gallery containing only his own models; the augmented reality model in a paper catalog, a brochure or a magazine—by scanning the page with Augment, the model is loaded and appears on top of it.
In those use cases, we monetize on the button embedding, the offline mode and the print integration. We provide augmented reality as a service so our customers don’t need to do big upfront investments to benefit from it.
SUB: What are your goals for Augment over the next year or so?
Chianetta: We put a lot in the product this last year. Now the goal is to monetize the platform and generate revenue out of the tens of thousands of monthly active users that we have. We know that we can bring a great value and improve the way they are doing business. We’ll continue to do our best working on the app to go even further in this direction.
Augment – www.augmentedev.com