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Idealog—in the ideas business

On location with Snapr

Edward Talbot and Rowan Wernham, SnaprEdward Talbot (left) and Rowan Wernham are the force behind geo-tagging app Snapr

Back when Foursquare was just another fledgling startup in New York, before taking location-based social networking by storm, another geo-tagging app was brewing down under.

Conceived midway through 2009, photo-sharing app Snapr is the brainchild of Rowan Wernham and Edward Talbot.

Despite a few tough months transitioning from paid jobs to full-time entrepreneurs, the pair have done a stellar job of it – if attention from the likes of Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, The New York Observer and The Next Web is anything to go by.

Snapr was the only business from the southern hemisphere to be selected to participate in the SXSWi Biz-Spark Accelerator competition for startups; produced a Facebook app for Tourism NZ; and won an NZTE tender to launch a showcase product around the Rugby World Cup – photo-sharing game Capture the Flag, which had brands including Moa Beer, 42 Below and BurgerFuel involved.

And it’s early days yet. Wernham says the company is keeping busy with plenty of development jobs for brands with a view to making more scalable self-service tools further down the track.

Who did you take inspiration from?

We started the company when Foursquare was just starting to appear, and was only available to people in New York. It was starting to become clear that internet-enabled mobile devices were going to make a whole new type of gaming possible – it was going to happen in the real world, and it was going to involve making connections between real people.

We were also excited about the idea of collective broadcasting – what could happen if everyone’s photos could be pulled into a single channel and used as a real-time way to see what was going on in the world, and as a way for people to connect with other people who were nearby.

That idea has been the main focus of Snapr so far, but I think the gaming idea will be a big part of our future direction.

What's happening in the digital/mobile photo space right now?

To put it bluntly – the space has gone bananas in the last year. Instagram hit the jackpot by combining an online community with an app that had free photo FX. They are possibly one of the fastest growing social networks ever and picked up over 10 million users in their first year.

Other companies like Color raised excessive amounts of money (US$41 million) and had interesting ideas but didn't hit the mark. Path and Picplz raised big stacks of cash too, and for a while it seemed like there was a new photosharing app coming out on a weekly basis.

It’s been a bit frustrating for us because we were into this space a good year before it exploded. But it’s also fair to say that it’s our first company and we have had a very steep learning curve.

We are in a better position now to really innovate and we think there is a lot of room for us to carve a niche in this space.

The photosharing space is very crowded at the moment and we are focusing more on building our platform. We are selling that into brands who are building products that include social photosharing, and people who want to build their own photosharing apps and communities.

What about monetising?

We think user-generated content is going to be a big part of the future of advertising. The power of social media is that rather than brands trying to sell things to people, it’s now people who are going to promote products and lifestyles they enjoy to each other.

Brands are still going to want to be part of that process and to find ways to facilitate it. We are very much oriented towards building the tools that brands need to create and manage campaigns that involve mobile photos. There is a huge market out there and we are seeing a lot of interest.

If you’re a local business there is no better endorsement than photos taken on your premises where people are enjoying themselves, or responding well to what you are selling. As we build up the amount of location-based content on Snapr we will look at ways to help businesses showcase photos from their location and use these for promotion, and as a way to engage with their customer base.

Right now our business model is about selling white label usage of our API to brands, and licensing our technology.

Games aren't games without players – how do you reel them in? Aren’t there elements of manipulation?

No consumer product can be a success without some sort of hook. There needs to be a very clear reward for participation- whether that’s something fun, something compulsive, something useful, or something very blatant such as giving away prizes.

It’s also important for products to work on an emotional level – to satisfy some sort of underlying human desire.

We are very excited about the potential for 'real world gaming' and its potential to create new ways for our real lives and virtual lives to intersect. But trying to create completely new behaviours is never easy. It’s much simpler to find things that fit into existing patterns, or better yet, find a gap where technology can solve a current problem in new ways.

Originally published in Idealog #38, page 72

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NZTE funded this company $250k to develop a technology to showcase NZ innovation during the world cup. The Capture the Flag Game mentioned above - what coverage did that actually get in NZ and more importanty globally? How is featuring a me-too app showcasing innovation? And now it appears that the company is just moving along to the next big thing.

More evidence of NZTE wasting money, someone should ask NZTE to justify the investment they made.

Bitter much, Frustrated?

How about giving the lads kudos for having a crack? Clearly they went through a tender process and won the NZTE funding not mention the other recognition they've received…

Typical NZ 'tall poppy' syndrome.

In response to Juice - bitter no frustrated that NZTE continues to spend money on “pet” projects with no accountability.

Frustrated because I know of a number of other companies that perhaps could have demonstrated innovation to the world in a simialr field and in others - why are they not getting $250k.

What I would like to see is some accountability. If I was in charge of NZTE and someone had spent $250k of money I would be asking what we got for the money. If I was a shareholder (and as a taxpayer I am) I am asking the company to explain what they got for their money.

Maybe it did not work - fine no need to kill anyone but was it the right decision in hindsight? Should people have been able to do a little research and figure out that a photo sharing app was not new.

So nothing against Snapr and if that is how my message was taken, then I am sorry, everything against NZTE and the lack of accountability and to be honest basic business acumen.

Without knowing the full details, I tend to agree with Frustrated. As they say, this product is not highly innovative globally, however within NZ perhaps it is.

I'd like to know what plans they had in place to 'show case' the product. Without an active audience what is the point in handing over 250k? To recoup the investment people need to interact with the product.

I'm reasonably tech-savvy and have my ear to the ground. Hell even gave suggestions to someone from the govt involved in the RWC about how they could use digital platforms to engage with patrons. Heard and saw nothing about it - absolutely zero.

So while this product may be fantastic, they have done a major disservice to themselves and key stakeholders if they have failed to properly market the opportunity.

One thing that does frustrate me are people who want to discuss things in an open forum but do so behind masks of anonymity.

The NZTE funding was $200k with the goal to build a mobile technology with sustainable value beyond 2011.

There were many challenges involved with the project. It was a tight turnaround time (to conceive, design, build, and launch a product on multiple platforms), and although it was to be launched around the Rugby World Cup it could not be marketed as an official Rugby World Cup product.

We did receive significant international coverage - including being featured by 'The Next Web' (twice) & The Webby Awards, and mentioned in The New York Observer, the Guardian UK, and many others at home and abroad.

The mobile game Capture the Flag was created as an example of the kind of mobile social apps / games that could be built off the wider technology platform by third party developers, including as a way for brands to run contests and manage campaign content. We built up this platform significantly during the course of the project and are currently generating sales in international markets that will easily bring a return on NZTE's investment.

There aren't many options for small New Zealand companies trying to break into the international social media space - so winning the NZTE tender was a big break for us, and without this we would not be in the current position where we are able to commercialise the technology internationally.

We currently have an iteration of Capture the Flag in the works that will be targeted for an international market. We have a strong belief in this space and are investing all the licensing money we receive from brands / marketing agencies in this direction. To Frustrated's comment that “now it appears the company is just moving along to the next big thing” couldn't be further from the truth, as we believe what was started with the NZTE project is in fact the next big thing.

It's not lost on us that the funding received comes with the responsibility to deliver long-term value for New Zealand and we are absolutely focused on that outcome.

Great to see Snapr in Idealog and I totally disagree that it's a 'me-too' app as it came out long before Instagram. I was involved in the very early stages of Snapr and it's good to see where Eddie and Rowan are taking it. This is just the kind of thing that NZTE *should* be funding. I'm more concerned about the millions of dollars paid by the government to people for doing sweet FA.

Reply to Snapr, thanks for the update. I agree it is very hard to start anything from NZ and the help NZTE provided is invaluable. it is a pity that NZTE does not do more.

Rob Scovell when NZTE funded Snapr to do the Capture the Flag game I think you will find that Instagram was already under way. In fact in December 2010 (not exactly sure when the funding was approved by NZTE but it was around that time) Instagram announced 1 million users.

As Snapr said their frustration was they were 1 year ahead of others, but in the internet / mobile technology space that is not a long time.

So if NZTE wanted to fund something that was truely innovative (as they said they did) then I think Capture the Flag was not that.

But well done to the Snapr team they played by the rules of the process and secured the funding and looks like they have made use of it.

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