Betting on Augmented Reality

Frontier Tech

Ideaspring Capital-backed Whodat.in wants to build a technology stack to enable developers to build augmented reality apps with a lot more ease. The company saw early traction after winning a hackathon in Sri Lanka and its stint with Microsoft Accelerator.

Sriram Ganesh, Kaushik Das, Co-Founders, Whodat.In

Simply put, when you try out what a sofa will look like inside your own living room on the Urban Ladder platform, it is nothing but augmented reality. “In augmented reality (AR), digital content is added to a real image – that is, you take a photo and add digital content to it, to see what the result looks,” explains Kaushik Das, co-founder, Bengaluru-based Whodat.in. It enables you to visualize the suitability of a product – be it furniture, glass frames or dress – and is becoming popular in retail and e-commerce. Another area where AR is going mainstream is in next-generation gaming (think Pokemon Go).

Whodat.in was started in 2013 as a bootstrapped company to overcome software technology barriers in offering AR applications. “Both Sriram (Ganesh) and I started our careers in virtual reality and human-computer interface, which gave us a hand-on perspective of opportunities in this segment from a developer perspective,” explains Das. They understood the underlying technology, the market need and a belief that AR features will find relevance in several web and mobile applications. “We generated revenues in the first year itself. We raised seed funding of Rs. 3.7 crores last month from Bengaluru-based Ideaspring Capital to accelerate research and development,” says Das.

The company currently has around 15 members on its team, of which 70 per cent are engineers and scientists with specialization in core technology. The R&D team has absorbed 60 per cent of the total team, the remaining 40 divided between design and sales.

Slow and Steady

Whodat.in’s first breakthrough came in when they won a hackathon conducted in Sri Lanka and this attracted the attention of Rajan Anandan, vice-president and managing director of Google and one of the organizers of the event.  The event gave Whodat.in much needed visibility, access to early customers and, Anandan, came on board as a mentor to the founders.

Apart from Urban Ladder, the company has also worked with TakeLeap, a Dubai-based media organization that builds its own products over the platform provided by Whodat.in. “Licensing and customization is our core engagement model,” Das explains. The Whodat.in platform is licensed to developers, who then build applications or features into products. The platform is customized as per the client’s need and the company believes its primary markets for now are India, UAE and the U.S.

Das admits that tackling competition from US and European counterparts is going be crucial for the firm.  Apart from this, Facebook is also working on augmented reality to enhance the social media experience.  There is a lot of buzz, but the end user expectation is yet to set. The key for Whodat.in will be identify a set of niche use cases and build deep solutions to build AR features I those cases; think gaming VR, customer experience VR and such.


Whodat.in wants to identify a niche within the overall concept of AR, and build a platform to enable developers to build these features into apps


The Microsoft Accelerator Experience

Whodat.in was part of Microsoft Accelerator’s Winter 2016 Batch. Interestingly, this is where the company also met its investor, Naganand Doraswamy of Ideaspring, who was one of the judges at the event.

This was a six-month program aimed at entrepreneurs, during which they have access to mentoring, workshops, seminars and networking events. The aim is to enable startups with the right tools and access, to scale up globally. “We believe, our solution has global potential, and the accelerator program really helped in shaping up our thought process and it certainly helped us meet potential investors and clients,” adds Das.

The Next Step

While competition is tough, Whodat.in is also busy developing use cases for its next product, to be launched in three to four months. “Use cases enable people to understand the technology better and take a decision faster. It’s easier to explain tech, by showing rather than telling,” points out Das, emphasizing the obvious.

The company is also researching computer vision in AR, robotics and deep learning to improve context and user experience. This will lead to providing customers with suggestions and recommendations for better decision making.

“Even in augmentation, there are some unsolved problems – of occlusion and lighting. That is another area we will be working on,” Das adds. Improving realism is one of the goals of the company.

The company is also looking for strategic partners for co-development and also nurture the developer community. It will also grow the R&D team. “We may not look for additional funds for a year and a half,” he says.

Eventually, the founders would like to make Whodat.in market leaders in providing technology to enable AR apps. “We wish to build a cross-platform software solution that will enable AR app development across devices,” says the founders, as we draw this conversation to a close.


PROBLEM

The usage of Augmented Reality features is becoming mainstream in e-commerce, retail and gaming. There is opportunity in building a developer platform, to enable them to build these features into products with efficiency

SOLUTION

The Whodat.in technology stack builds into the platform underlying AR algorithms, so developers can build on top of this platform, instead of figuring out the algorithm from scratch.


Envisioning Reality

Augment reality has started making inroads, especially in retail, social media and gaming. Sriram Ganesh and Kaushik Das, who have experience in virtual reality and human-machine interface, decided to start off on their own to tap the growing AR market, and formed Whodat.in in 2013. Winning a hackathon in Sri Lanka and being part of Microsoft’s Accelerator program has enabled them to grow their business and raise capital from Ideaspring. Already used in retail and media, the duo now aim to nurture a developer community around their AR platform as well as work on the bottlenecks in this field at this stage – occlusion and lighting, among others. Competition is formidable, but Whodat.in expects to carve a niche by spotting focused opportunities and going after these.


Snapshot: Whodat.in

Founders: Sriram Ganesh, Kaushik Das

Funded by: Ideaspring Capital

Founded in: 2013

Focus: Augmented Reality

Meera Srikant has been working with publishers and publications since 1993, writing and editing articles, features and stories across topics. She also blogs and writes poems, novels and short stories during leisure. Writing for The Smart CEO since 2010, she is also a classical dancer.

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