Building an AR agency from scratch

9 min read
Blog Author

Building an AR agency from scratch

Blog Author
9 min read
With the world becoming increasingly connected through our smartphones, it’s an incredible time for designers and developers to leverage AR not only as a creative medium but as a business opportunity too. To find out how the Zapworks community is leveraging this opportunity, I sat down with Milenne Tanganelli, who’s set up her own AR agency from scratch, combining her background in visual communication and design with a newly acquired commercial mindset.

Q&A with Milenne Tanganelli, Founder and CEO of Digital Pop-Ups


With our world becoming increasingly connected through smartphones, it’s an incredible time for designers and developers to leverage AR not only as a creative medium but as a business opportunity too.

Never has this been truer than in the Zapworks community, where savvy creatives-turned-business-owners are adding marketing and sales know-how to their creative skill sets with the aim of owning the AR strategy. 

One such user is Milenne Tanganelli, who’s set up her own AR agency from scratch, combining her background in visual communication and design with a newly acquired commercial mindset. To learn more about her (ongoing) journey from flourishing creative to AR Agency owner, I sat down with Milenne to understand some of the challenges faced and the lessons she’s learned along the way. 




DM: When did you first become interested in AR? What was the first AR experience you encountered? 

MT: I was very familiar with Virtual Reality, as I worked in this area many years ago. I first became interested in AR in 2015 when I saw a demo of an educational book that came to life with an animated model explaining how a heart attack happens.


DM: What was your reaction to the book? 

MT: From the moment I saw the book, I knew AR was going to be the future. I knew well how powerful it was to use animated models to explain complex concepts or just make it really easy for anyone to visualize and understand any process. You can easily grasp any content and learn from it faster. It is more interesting, more engaging and just a fun way to learn anything!

Concepting for The Aquarian Health Shop


DM: What was your experience like with VR? 

MT: I worked with VR a long time ago creating VR for the web, and more recently while briefly working with the Google Daydream headset. My main interest at first was heavily based on aesthetics and the technical bits like how to create assets for VR, low poly 3D assets, optimizing textures to think in terms of scale, distance, use of colofrs and interaction. Then my focus changed to the user experience - focusing on what the main goal for the user is, how pleasant or unpleasant this experience is, asking why create a VR world in the first place unless there is a real application for it? I think VR is fantastic for very specific and focused outcomes in a very controlled environment. 


DM: Great, and why did you make the transition to AR? What drew you to the tech specifically? 

MT: As I said - from the moment I saw AR, I knew I was looking at the future. The idea of being able to ‘see beyond’ what was in front of you was fascinating. Nowadays, we are not short of information available to us; we can find out anything we want by using our mobile devices, the question is 1) What do we do with this information and 2) How do we present it better, so it doesn’t get lost in the ocean of information? 


Storyboarding for The Aquarian Health Shop 


DM: How has your background helped you understand this new creative canvas in spatial computing? 

MT: My background in 3D and visual communication helped - I have a deep understanding of 3D virtual spaces which I then had to translate to a 2D screen or print. AR offered the opportunity to take still and moving images from the screen and put them in the real world, and that shift gives users a much more precise way to give their content more context. 


The creative process 

DM: How did you find out about Zapworks? Did you try any other tools before Zapworks? 

MT: I found Zapworks while searching for different solutions to Unity and Vuforia. I was looking for something that did not involve me developing a new app and I stumbled across Zapworks - and loved it! My primary goal was to produce content and not worry about the technical side of things or worry whether or not my material was going to work efficiently on different devices. I was focused on the result and the content creation and not really on developing apps.


Storyboarding for The Aquarian Health Shop 


DM: How did you find learning Zapworks Studio. What was your process like? 

MT: I can proudly say that I have completed all the tutorials, and that was the best way to learn. Also, the support team has always been amazing, so it was a no-brainer for me that this was the right tool to start using.


DM: Talk to me about your creative approach to AR design. How do you approach building AR experiences from start to finish? What are some example experiences you're most proud of? 

MT: Sure, I usually follow the creative process below when creating AR experiences for clients:

1. Pre-Production: Initial ideas to discuss with the client.

2. Storyboard and UI planning

3. Production: Initial Illustrations and assets development

Here are some example experiences I'm most proud of.


Organic box concept

MT: The Organic box concept was an idea I had when I was exploring new ways AR could help with personalized orders; how that could potentially help people with their nutrition and avoid waste. 

I normally get a box of organic food every week and I thought about how AR could enhance the entire experience. Letting people order only what they need - seeing the 3D vegetables that you put in the box as a personalized shopping experience. Then you'd have a video with a recipe using the chosen vegetables (in the demo it is only a general video) and then another option that shows the consumer where that food comes from and the farmer that grew it (brand exposure, brand values). So that was the concept, and I used my 3D software to model all the vegetables and create the experience.


Heart Valve Voice

The Heart Valve AR experience was created for Heart Valve Voice, an organization responsible for creating awareness of deadly heart valve disease. We launched at the European Heart Valve Awareness Day in September 2018 and it’s now going out to hospitals to be given to patients. The 360 gyro experience allows patients to visit a “Cath Lab” from their phone or tablet.


Heart Valve Voice target image (scan me)


The app prepares patients for going into ‘surgery’ allowing them to see what the Cath Lab looks like, move around inside and get an idea of the sorts of people who will be involved and what their jobs are. They can also listen and read other patient’s successful stories, and then share their own story on social media with the photo feature helping to create awareness of the disease. 

Due to the target audience age group (mostly over 65), the app also aims at getting other members of the family involved. The aim is to put patient's at ease, to increase health literacy, reduce stress and anxiety and bond families together. It is a beautiful project and the older generation loved it. I have met a few patients who had already gone through the procedure, and they all said: “ I wish I had that before my heart valve replacement.”


The Aquarian Health Store

The idea for this project was to promote Suzan, the owner of The Aquarian Health Store in the Irish Village of Cahersiveen for summer 2018. Customers could pick up a postcard in the store, find out more about Suzan and play a game where you have to capture lemons and answer ten quiz questions to win prizes. 

The experience has helped Suzan to be the finalist at the Retail Digital Marketing Award 2018 during the Vitality Expo in Dublin. For every project, I spend a lot of time in pre-production, creating concepts, storyboards and sharing ideas with the client before starting full production.


Creating a viable business model around AR

DM: When and why did you decide you wanted to start selling your AR services? 

MT: Previous to Digital Pop-Ups, I had a visual communication agency. I knew that I needed to invest more in the business side of things and applied for a VR/AR entrepreneur programme via a private company in Manchester though in the end there was nothing entrepreneurial about it. So, I decided that it was time to start a new business. And the rest, as they say, is history! 


DM: What were your first steps along the road to AR entrepreneurship? 

MT: I started off by creating AR-enabled products, first in the form of AR greeting cards, then I moved across to wedding cards and developed a business plan around those products. 

I soon realized after being at a greetings card event that the volume required for such an industry in a short space of time was way too big. Creating the tracking image design, animations and 3D characters would require substantial amounts of people at a fast pace - the cards would be expensive and margins very low. I realized soon enough that it was not a viable business model to pursue.

Once I dusted myself off and regained my confidence, I realized that my experience with B2B and my whole background was there for me to use and apply to the new business. Digital Pop-Ups was born! 


DM: How have you approached business development for Digital Pop-Ups? 

MT: I have focused heavily on finding the right market. As Digital Pop-Ups is still very small, I had to really split the time between working ‘on’ the business and ‘in’ the business. It took me a while to define the market. There are so many options for AR now, it can be used in so many ways, but then you really have to understand your market and offer a business solution and outcome for your target audience. What is the problem that you are trying to solve?

Also, it is important to think about where you want to want to be and what kind of clients you would like to have and what sort of projects you would like to be involved in. It has been a journey. It is essential to work on self-development regularly, I have invested time and money with all sorts of training - getting the right support from not only the AR side of things but the right mentors, advisors and collaborators. That alone has taken almost a year. Perhaps it has been a slow process because so far I have developed most of the business myself, and 95% of the projects I have done on my own… It is extremely challenging!


UI flow for The Aquarian Health Shop 


DM: What challenges have you faced along the way? How have you overcome them? 

MT: Being a single mum has definitely been challenging! I have no family around and to put food on my daughter’s plate, I was working in a shop at the weekends. It is tough, but when you have the entrepreneurial blood, the more I do it, the more exciting it is. That’s why I constantly work on my mindset. I meditate, and I do Taekwon-Do to keep the mind and body healthy and ready for the next challenge.

Likewise, being female means that many people won’t take you seriously either, especially as tech and XR more specifically is still a very male-dominated industry. Some of the techy guys look at you like you don’t know what you are talking about. 

I’ve built a business from zero, I deal with clients successfully, I understand the whole AR pipeline and workflow, I can take a complex project from start to end so when I get someone who comes to me trying to tell me that I should use AR Toolkit because it is better I just say: “good for you” and walk away with a smile on my face. 

If someone cannot accept that I know my stuff because I am a woman, then they are not someone I can work with. As simple as that. That has never happened at Zappar - quite the opposite, in fact! All of you at Zappar have been very supportive, and that type of culture is what I want for Digital Pop-Ups!


DM: Glad to hear it! How do you manage wearing multiple hats at Digital Pop-Ups?

MT: That is the most challenging bit. It is all about maximizing the use of your time, but that doesn’t come easy either. Until I have a team, this is tough, and it can be frustrating. You have to divide your time between working ‘on’ the business - such as doing your marketing, contacting people, meetings, finances, writing emails, attending events, writing proposals and working ‘in’ the business - creating assets and managing the projects, outsourcing bits of it when necessary, work on concepts, designs, 3D (which is the most time-consuming part of it). I’d also like to have more time to work on ideas, experiment, explore, research and try new things. 


DM: Are there any systems or processes you’ve put in place to manage your time more effectively? 

MT: At the moment I use a simple system in which I write down a list of things I would like to achieve in the week then each day I write down the three most urgent matters, the three most important things and the three other things I would like to do but are not necessarily essential at that point. Anything I have not done in that day goes to next day’s list. I always look at what I have done and written down, too.

Final production stages, The Aquarian Health Shop


DM: How do you resource bigger AR projects? Do you collaborate with our AR creators/Zapworks users? 

MT: Yes, I have found other Zapworks users through the Forum or from Zappar’s Blog. Some of them are on my website. I have worked with a few, made some friends, and it has been great. There is a real sense of collaboration, support and help in the forum.


DM: How do you approach pricing your own AR services?

MT: That was something that took me a while too and I’m thankful for Zappar’s tips on how to price AR properly. Now that I have a well-defined target market, I use a mix of how much it is going to cost regarding time to develop the project and the skills necessary and also the value based on the return on investment. It will depend on the market and also the size of the company.


DM: How do you go about acquiring new clients? What are some of the tips you could offer other aspiring AR entrepreneurs?

MT: I have been working on giving presentations and talking about AR and how it can help businesses at events. It is a very effective way to get to your target audience. I am in the process of booking some more seminars. 

I also exhibited at Tech XLR8 at the London Tech Show this year. It was amazing! It is all about being in the right place with the right audience. It is a really good way to create exposure for your business. I wasn’t prepared as I had found out I had a stand two days before the event. I have met a lot of people and generated quite a few leads, met investors and pitched my business in front of a big audience. I will be exhibiting again.


The Digital Pop-Ups stand at TechXLR8 2018

(L-R: Candice Costa, Milenne Tanganelli and Uzo Ijewere)


DM: Roughly what percentage of your business revenue is built around AR and Zapworks projects? Is this a growing part of the business?

MT: 100% is AR and Zapworks.


Final thoughts

DM: What’s next for Milenne and Digital Pop-Ups?

MT: The next is growth. I am looking at ways to expand the business, grow the team and also looking at investment at this point. I am very ambitious, and the vision is for Digital Pop-Ups to become the number one business for AR engagement at events where we create digital content to connect knowledge and information on specific and relevant content to solve the problems of the world.


DM: Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring AR entrepreneurs looking to monetize this new creative canvas? 

MT: Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way: 

  1. Always look at the problem first - what is the problem that you are trying to solve with AR?
  2. Make sure AR is a good fit for the project.
  3. Understand the key ingredients that go into creating successful AR campaigns. Look no further than the Zappar blog for inspiration.
  4. Remember: It is not about the tech it is about the outcome.
  5. Have a clear market and have a clear message (it took me a while). Focus on the benefits or outcome of using the tech rather than how cool it is.
  6. Learn from the ones who have done it - the Zapworks Forum is a great place for this.
  7. Be persistent - hard work pays off in the end.
  8. Think positive even when it seems the whole world is collapsing on your head (or on your bank account).
  9. Look after yourself first. There is no business if you are not at 100%.
  10. Find the right people to work with and to give you the right support. Don’t try and do everything yourself (I am still a culprit of this myself!)
  11. Get rid of toxic people. You will find plenty of people who will tell you that you should do something else as this is too difficult, too risky. If you cannot get rid of them then just learn to ignore their comments.
  12. Have a marketing strategy in place - it will save you a lot of time in the long run!


DM: Any final words of advice for the Zapworks community?

MT: It has been a learning journey, a journey not only in business but the mindset. I am very ambitious, you have to believe in yourself and move forward regardless of the setbacks. When you think big, many people wish you luck, but very few believe you can. That said, once you have that long-term vision, it doesn’t matter what others think - focus on one step each time, learn from the ones who have gone before, get the right help and then follow the dream.



About Digital Pop-Ups

Digital Pop-Ups focuses on events. We help businesses to gain more exposure, increase engagement with their target audience and accelerate sales through enhancing customer experience using AR at their conferences, trade shows and exhibitions.

Where to find Milenne: 

Forum: digitalpopups


LinkedIn: /milennetanganelli