I spoke with Frans Tihveräinen, a ZapWorks Studio user and owner of FlyAR. Frans is one of our most experienced ZapWorks creatives, and has fantastic knowledge of the entire AR space. We discussed different aspects of Frans' work, including marketing and business development, his design process and the tools he uses, and the benefits and challenges of being an AR entrepreneur.
CH: Hey Frans, would you start by just giving a quick overview of yourself and FlyAR?
FT : FlyAR is an AR production agency based in Helsinki, Finland. We design and implement various types of interactive Augmented Reality solutions. We can attach practically anything digital to printed products. I founded the business around 18 months ago in early 2016, and before that I was running a creative multimedia agency. I wanted to focus more on AR, so that was why I made the switch.
CH: Your background before working was a degree in Digital Media. That sounds fairly broad, what type of things were you learning there?
FT: We learnt a little bit of everything; audiovisual production, 3D, programming, graphic design, print etc but did not dig very deeply into anything. I think the point was to get a broad knowledge of what is going on in the field of digital media so individuals can find what is right for them. Knowing a bit of everything is definitely useful for AR production, as it requires some knowledge of almost everything media related.
CH: Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
FT: No, but it came quite naturally. I wrote my thesis on the subject of AR in museums and wanted to find AR-related work, but could not find anyone to hire me to work with AR back in 2013. Then I decided to setup my own small digital media company. First years were mostly video and web-related works, but I tried to slip in some AR always when it was possible.
"Knowing a bit of everything is definitely useful for AR production, as it requires some knowledge of almost everything media related."
CH: Do you think that you could now go from being your own boss to a more corporate environment?
TG: Definitely not. I have two little kids and working as an entrepreneur suits my timetables perfectly because nobody is waiting for me to be at a meeting at 8.30 in the morning. I try not to work too much and to leave work-brain at the office. Of course there are occasional moments working late nights, but only occasionally. Being your own boss seriously rocks, but of course there is the downside of having to find your own work and getting paid enough for it. Luckily things look bright for flyAR now, we have a big project (biggest so far) in the works and highly likely even bigger projects in the autumn.
CH: Nice! So, tell me how do you go about marketing and business development? How do people find out about FlyAR?
FT: Mostly projects come through our broad network of acquaintances and business partners. I’ve also directly contacted many potential big customers and scheduled meetings with them, this has been challenging at times, but is well worth it. It is a bit hard to sell AR to people who have no idea what it is, even if I personally know that it would suit their business very well. Only after seeing what we can do and understanding the multiple possibilities of AR, can they say whether they are interested or not. We also use Google AdWords occasionally and of course have a website. I’m starting to enjoy marketing. The most fun part is showing our AR-productions to people who know little or nothing about AR and seeing their jaws drop.
"Augmented Reality is so versatile and can be used for so many completely different things like marketing, education, art or just plain funny things like my business card with me in 3D. It offers chocolate for my wild imagination."
CH: You have entered events in the past such as “Hack the Pack”, did winning that competition open any opportunities for you?
FT : Oh yes! We won this competition, Hack the Pack and the client was a pretty huge company called Stora Enso. After reading the challenge I knew that our team (me and business partner Eero) can create something that will blow the minds of the judges. And that is exactly what we did. Now it looks like we are going to continue working with them in the near future.
CH: Why AR? What do you like about it?
FT: Augmented Reality is so versatile and can be used for so many completely different things like marketing, education, art or just plain funny things like my business card with me in 3D. It offers chocolate for my wild imagination. With AR, you can have plain print and make it so much more by adding interactive digital elements. There are so many good ideas waiting to be implemented… And ZapBox is coming soon, we are eager to start creating room-scale AR with that.
CH: Why have you invested so much time in being an AR designer?
FT: We see massive potential in using AR in so many things and there is only a little competition in Finland. And most (maybe all?) of our Finnish competition have their own AR-app, whereas we only focus on content design and creation/production. Because you awesome guys offer Zappar AR-platform at an affordable price, we have a serious price advantage over many AR-companies since you handle the platform so well and we don’t need to charge clients lots of euros for that. And of course I have been really fascinated about AR and it’s possibilities since I first saw my lecturer Mr. Klemetti show us Aurasma bring a print to life with video.
CH: What proportion of your revenue is generated through selling AR campaigns to your clients?
FT : Approximately 60%-ish at the moment and hopefully 100% in the near future. I still do some WordPress projects (have done lots of them in the past) for select clients, but would like to stop doing them soon and focus on AR-work 110%.
CH: How do you decide what to charge for your work in AR?
FT: This is a hard one. Usually we estimate the amount of work that goes into content creation and charge based on that. 2D/video-based things are cheap and fast to do if clients have video material ready (thanks to ZapWorks Designer), but 3D-projects are always custom priced. Designer-projects range in the hundreds, Studio-projects in the thousands (of euros). Since ZapWorks pricing is friendly and affordable, only a small amount of what clients pay us is for AR as a technology. This is where we differ a lot from our competition who have to invest lots of time and money in developing their own software and apps.
CH: What does your toolkit look like? If you think about your entire pipeline, from design to production.
FT: Usually I start in analog mode with a pencil and paper and sketch out how the zap will be and what kind of interactions we will implement. If there are multiple “scenes” I will sketch them out too. After things are on paper, we will see what assets are ready to use and what need to be created. If we need graphics or video, we have a few extremely talented partners for that and usually will use their services or refer clients to them. Recently we’ve had a few constructions projects and we got 3D-models from architects. These massive and super detailed (door knobs and shower heads, really?!) models are useless as such for AR, but a good starting point for modeling a new low-poly and AR-friendly building on top of the CAD/BIM-model.
"Usually I start in analog mode with a pencil and paper and sketch out how the zap will be and what kind of interactions we will implement. If there are multiple “scenes” I will sketch them out too. After things are on paper, we will see what assets are ready to use and what need to be created."
CH: How much time within an AR project is working in ZapWorks and how much is in asset preparation?
FT : Depends a lot on the project, but most of the time more goes into asset preparation, maybe roughly 80% assets and 20% ZapWorks. With ZapWorks projects (and with almost anything digital for that matter) it’s a great benefit to be able to reuse bits and pieces created for previous projects.
CH: Are you using a 3D tool? Which do you recommend?
FT: Blender! I’m personally not that good at 3D-things or programming, but my pal Eero is a real ninja at those.
Frans' business partner and 3D artist/ninja, Eero
CH: What is your assessment of the current tools available for AR designers? Have you tried them all?
FT : No, have not tried them all, but have tried many. I was using Metaio Creator / Junaio-app quite a lot before ZapWorks Studio, but Apple bought Metaio and all the services closed down. That sucked really bad and I spent lot’s of time looking into and trying alternatives for AR-creation because I did not want to develop and sustain an app, I only wanted to create custom content. ZapWorks Studio was just around the corner and once it came along it really solved my problem created by Metaio going down.
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Head of Product, Zappar