Augmented reality startup Blippar is abandoning Silicon Valley after losing 2 key execs and a board member

Blippar founders Ambarish Mitra
Blippar's co-founders: Steve Spencer, Ambarish Mitra, Oscar Tayeb, and Jess Butcher.
Ambarish Mitra

  • One of the UK's best-funded startups, augmented reality firm Blippar, is abandoning Silicon Valley after shutting its third office in the space of two years.
  • The startup announced that is closing its Mountain View, California, office in order to focus on making a viable augmented reality platform.
  • Blippar has also lost two key executives in the past five months — its US commercial chief and global head of experience strategy. A board member also quit.
  • Business Insider reported last year that the firm was struggling financially, had inflated its numbers, and was yet to establish a viable business model — all of which the startup denied.
  • In a published statement, Blippar said the closure had not been an "easy decision."

Augmented reality startup Blippar is abandoning Silicon Valley after shutting its third international office in the space of two years as it struggles to nail down its business model.

The company announced it would shutter its Mountain View, California office and shift technical development to its London and Bangalore offices. It isn't clear what will happen to the 60-plus engineers the firm says it employs in California, its biggest office, and the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a published statement, the company said: "Blippar has built some extraordinary computer vision technology from Mountain View, California, and that IP will continue to power the future growth of our augmented reality platform.

"Every company that increases in scale has to make difficult decisions about the best way to realise growth opportunities — this has not been an easy decision to make and will mark a new chapter for Blippar."

The closure comes only nine months after Blippar claimed it was "strengthening" its presence on the US West Coast by shuttering its San Francisco office and moving its engineers over to Mountain View. The closure of both offices means that Blippar no longer has a presence in Silicon Valley, a competitive hub for US developer talent.

Blippar also shuttered its Turkey and Japan offices in 2016 and 2017. The company still has a commercial operation in New York and is headquartered in London.

Several key senior executives have left the startup in the past five months. US commercial chief Ariff Quli departed in January, global head of experience strategy Omaid Hiwaizi left in March, and former Nestlé executive Doreswamy Nandkishore stepped down as a non-executive board member in April. None responded to a request for comment.

Blippar is one of the best-funded startups in the UK with around £79 million ($109 million) in venture funding. The company is best known for the Blippar app, which opens into the camera and recognises and identifies objects around the user.

More than a blip for Blippar

The recent changes follow two years of upheaval for the company which was once valued at £1 billion.

Last April, around half a dozen former Blippar employees told Business Insider that the firm was struggling financially and that it had yet to nail down a business model despite its huge funding pile. The company denied the former employees' allegations at the time, and said it was not in financial trouble.

In the 16 months to March 2016, Blippar made £8.5 million in revenue, on a loss of £26 million. It had 221 staff, according to the earnings, the bulk of whom were in sales and engineering. The company was due to publish its 2017 earnings in December, but is four months late in filing. The company has not explained the delay.

Blippar made money as a kind of augmented reality ad agency, with consumers able to scan physical items, such as a Coca-Cola can, to see augmented reality content or ads on their phones. But that relied on consumers downloading the Blippar app and takeup was low, according to former employees.

The company has previously claimed it has around 65 million users but, sources said, the app had closer to 500,000 active users in 2016.

There was additional controversy when The Financial Times discovered that Blippar's CEO, Ambarish Mitra, had inflated his CV with misleading statements about his education and business history.

And in December, Business Insider discovered that FaceJam, an app developed by Blippar to superimpose people's faces onto pictures of celebrities, was populated with images of dictators, murderers, and terrorists.

Now Blippar is increasingly trying to push into the buzzy world of artificial intelligence — a trendy but capital-intensive industry. But the company faces considerable competition both in augmented reality and artificial intelligence, with the major US tech players investing in the area. Apple launched ARKit in 2017, which lets developers build their own augmented reality apps. Google released the rival ARCore earlier this year.

If you work or worked at Blippar and would like to tell us your story, email sghosh@businessinsider.com.

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