Bringing Book Covers to Life in AR, with Geenee’s Cory Grenier & Elena de Sosa

Geenee is an AR content company granting the wishes of their clients by creating new ways to market to their audiences, from interactive book covers, to hosting live concerts digitally. Geenee’s Cory Grenier and Elena de Sosa explain how those who master this new communication format today will dominate the market tomorrow.

Alan: Hey, everybody, Alan Smithson here. Today, we’re speaking with Cory Grenier, the chief revenue officer, and Elena DeSosa, director of strategic partnerships at Geenee, a platform that delivers cost effective WebAR and scalable image recognition to the mobile web, powering XR experiences with no app required. We’ll be talking about the power of the spatial web to connect us across time, geographies, and space to transform our workplaces and give us superpowers that drive commerce. All that and more, coming up next on the XR for Business podcast.

Without further ado, I’d like to introduce Cory and Elena to the show. Welcome.

Cory: Hi. It’s good to be here, Alan.

Elena: Thank you for having us.

Alan: Thank you so much for joining me, guys. Cory, we’ll start with you. You’re the chief revenue officer at Geenee. I met with one of your colleagues, Luke, a few years ago. We became friends. He showed me this Geenee platform. Maybe just give us the sales pitch on what is Geenee?

Cory: Geenee is a new SAS WebAR platform, which is– a scheme on your mind, it’s like a Wix for WebAR. So before Wix or Squarespace, there were a lot of web developers, and it was really expensive to hire a developer to make a website. And then there was these companies that came along, decades after the initial Internet, and simplified that creation process through templates and intuitive interface. And that’s what we’ve done with Geenee. And so we have years of proprietary image recognition technology and also tech IP and AR for Web browsers. And so we brought that together in a templatized form to allow anybody to create, publish, and share WebAR experiences directly to the web, without requiring an app.

Alan: You’ve created these, I guess, SLAM algorithms and image recognition algorithms. One of the things that Luke showed me before was the ability to track moving objects or videos. That was pretty cool.

Cory: Yeah. And so we’ve been leveraging that for a range of businesses across the entertainment, book publishing, and CPG brands, to promote soft drinks and so forth. And so it’s really unconstrained what vertical you’re in, how you can use the power of spatial computing to connect to your consumers and ultimately transact.

Alan: So are there examples that we can put in the show notes, that link directly to a live example?

Cory: Yeah, there’s many that we can direct your audience to. Scholastic just released a new book in the series of The Hunger Games, and we brought the cover to life in an augmented reality experience on the Web. And at the end, you can buy the book across any channel. So we actually have all the purchase sites integrated for some of the movie releases recently. Even during the time of COVID, the studios are looking to connect with consumers in the home and you can experience the film in a 360 environment through AR and learn fan trivia, but also to make a purchase. Every time we believe that AR is a feature, it’s not a product, and it’s how you use that to connect directly to the business result that the client is looking for to get ROI in that ad spend.

Alan: Interesting. It’s great. I was just looking at it, and if you want to try, then go to geenee.me, and then you can just search down the case studies and The Hunger Games one is there. So that’s pretty cool. How does it work when a customer comes to you, they say, “Hey, I have an idea for a project, I want to promote this book, I want to put a AR on the front cover.” Do you have developers you work with? Do you have developers in-house? Do they build it themselves? How does it work?

Cory: Yes, so we have a robust engineering team, primarily based out of Berlin, with a couple other engineers in Ukraine. And our CTO is here in Los Angeles, where we’re headquartered. And so we bring a lot of world class PhDs to create and deploy these technologies and make them accessible to everyday people. So there is no coding required when you work with Geenee. Oftentimes it’s the internal marketing teams that supply the assets. Sometimes they connect us to their advertising agency of choice. Once we have those assets, whether it’s 2D or 3D, a digital avatar, a movie trailer — it’s really unconstrained to the imagination — then we can leverage our CDN or Content Delivery Network, all of our back-end infrastructure and our front-end infrastructure to easily create, publish and share these experiences directly to the Web. And the turnaround time is usually less than two weeks.

Alan: Amazing. So where does the art come from? And I’m sorry, Elena, you’re on the call as well. Let’s have you introduce yourself. I’m not used to this three-way control here. Passing over the microphone, the baton to Elena. What is your role, and how did you get involved in this?

Elena: So I’m the director of partnerships at Geenee. And my background: actually, I started at Google Glass when that project was underway in 2013 and 2014. So that was my first foray into augmented reality. And I really love that experience, because I got to interface with business leaders and developers in all sorts of industries — whether it was entertainment, or music, or education, or manufacturing — and just hear the different ideas for how people wanted to use AR and what applications they wanted to build. Sort of that ultimate concept of what they could really do with the technology, because at that time it was really fresh and people had had a lot of exposure to it. So this was really people’s first time in many cases, getting to try on Glass and getting to dream up anything that they wanted to do. And while Glass ended up being a little too ahead of its time — and there’s many reasons that you can give for why it didn’t work out — it just really got me excited about the future and what was possible. And from there, I went on agency side to work on innovation teams. So I worked with companies like Warner Brothers, and Hilton, and Paramount Pictures to find creative applications of technology to enhance their advertising campaigns. When I had this opportunity come up with Geenee, I was really excited to be on the other side of that and be that technology provider, and power those experiences that people have been talking about for so long and finally get to see those come to life. And at Geenee I worked really closely with our different clients to make sure that the things that they want to produce come out to spec. We help them think through the user experience. We help them think through designing for augmented reality, because a lot of times that’s new for people. And I just make sure that nothing goes wrong. Basically, I make sure our clients are happy and I make sure that we’re making magic.

Alan: So what’s your favorite project that you’ve done so far?

Elena: That’s a good question. I really loved working on The Hunger Games project, because I had been such a fan of those books and movies when they first came out. And I also really loved It 2. We worked with Warner Brothers in the UK and you could recognize all of their out-of-home advertisements to trigger a surprise selfie experience, where Pennywise from the movie It came, jumped into your camera. At first you would see a balloon float up, sort of like in the movie. And then without telling the user, we activated their front facing camera and then it ended up taking a surprise selfie that was baked into a personalized version of the trailer. And then they could save that out. And then that also linked ticket purchases and stuff like that. So that was a really, really fun one, and a cool way to just be a little bit disruptive.

Alan: I have a question on that, actually. Have you been able to show an uplift or an uptick in sales? Has this led to real conversions? Can you talk about numbers? Do you have real numbers?

Cory: We do. And what we saw with that specific campaign with It 2, is that five percent of everybody that went into that experience clicked the ticketing link we connected to Fandango. And that’s pretty high. When you think about performance marketing and your advertising on social media, anything around the two percent is standard. So we more than doubled that by having a fun and entertaining, interactive and more immersive multisensory experience that ultimately led to higher transactions.

Alan: See, that’s awesome. That’s what people want to know, they’re like “How do I make more money with this thing?” What do you see for the next 12 to 18 months? What are people going to do with these technologies? What do you hope or what are you working on, maybe that you’re working on something that’ll come out soon, or what do you see?

Elena: I think right now people are really excited about AR, because it’s providing a bit of a stop-gap with everything shutting down with the pandemic. It’s still a way to kind of deliver these entertaining experiences at home. And it’s also something to do. I do think that that’s really been a catalyst to just drive more interest and excitement around AR and just more engagement with it in general. And we’re actually working on a project right now, where we’re replicating the listening party experience. You’ve seen a lot of virtual reality concerts. I think there’s one with The Weekends that’s coming out on TikTok in the next few days, or may have already come out.

Alan: Tomorrowland sold out three times more tickets than they would have normally.

Elena: Wow. But yeah, I mean, we’re working on this AR listening party, which is basically going to take that AR listening experience where everyone would gather in person and the musician would perform. And it would be really special for everybody who is able to be there in person, small crowd style thing. And we’re going to try and make it equally special in augmented reality, where certain industry folks can get a preview of the album that’s being released. And there’s going to be special visuals that match up with that, that are going to be really cool and different from what you’ve seen before and just augment that listening experience a lot. So you’re just not hearing that album, but you’re also seeing the vision that the artist had for it.

Alan: It’s very cool. So I guess this would be a combination of 2D assets and 3D assets visualized in the 3D world, is that correct?

Elena: Yeah, it’s going to be 3D animated assets that we’re going to pair along with the audio sound experience.

Alan: So how are you animating? Like, how are you building those experiences?

Elena: We have developers that are modeling and then animating them, and then we’re we’re placing them into the WebAR environment.

Alan: So let’s talk more about use cases. Is this a marketing play, your marketing books and movies and other things? Do you see any use cases beyond this, in maybe medical, or do you see anything else? What’s your main focus? If you were to kind of identify your ideal customer right now, what would that be?

Cory: It’s currently the top tier brands and that the industry is less important, but a company that has incredible reach and scale. And so one of the CPG brands that we’re in a late stage negotiation is, they have what they describe as more triggers in the world out there than any other company. And they said the only thing that rivals how many triggers they have is trees, is forests. And so there’s I guess there’s one hundred and ten billion impressions or brand logos out in the world produced annually by this company. And they want to–

Alan: Sounds like Coca-Cola. I can’t think of any other.

Cory: Well, I can’t confirm or deny it, but yeah. So that company has stated that they don’t want to just play in AR. They know it’s the next big platform — as Tim Cook said just a few months ago — since the smartphone. And they want to be the number one leader in three to five years in this marketplace. And so we’re working with this client to validate some proof-of-concepts that could enable the brand to have capabilities that it just doesn’t have today, and to be able to connect to its consumers at every touch point through the power of spatial computing. And there’s another company, a rival to that one, which has actually a big print business. And they want to activate all of their magazines, even books, bring it all to life in WebAR. And not only the animated experience and the immersive experience, but the audio experience as well. So they sponsor a lot of top athletes, particularly in F1, and they want to have voice overs and a connection in a more multisensory experience that’s not possible when you’re looking at a two dimensional scene behind a pane of glass. And so it’s really exciting. It’s never been a greater opportunity in terms of connectivity, in terms of the power of the client devices, edge computing, as well as having billions of connected cameras. And that’s why we built these technologies to bring that all together and then provide an easy and cost-effective way for brands to build these experiences on a mass scale.

Alan: Well, there you go. I don’t know what else to say. So on that note, my friends, let’s ask the final question that I ask, and we’ll start with Elaina. What is the number one problem in the world that you want to see solved using XR technologies?

Elena: So I am, in my private life, an artist and a maker. I love DIY and that’s my hobby. And I would love to see hands-free how-to tutorials that are very visual, that you can interact with for just everything in the world. But for me specifically, I want to see that with art, and just being able to learn how to create something, that maybe feels like there’s a big barrier to entry, whether it be like pottery, or jewelry making, or weaving, or whatever it can be. And I think once you have a device that lets you have your hands free to create and play around at the same time, it’s actually learning and be really hands on and visual with it at the same time. That’s going to be amazing.

Alan: That’s super cool. And Cory, same question.

Cory: I first joined at the computer space 15 years ago at a company called Lenovo, which acquired IBM Computer and later Motorola. And the reason I joined that firm was because I believed in the power of computers to connect people, and then later on joined a startup that made computerized eyewear. And that company was sold to Snapchat and became the first director at Snapchat and saw a emerging idea become a one billion dollar annual business in AR, peer-to-peer advertising with the Snapchat lenses. And so where we’re at today is seeing entire industries leverage these technologies, even if they don’t call it AR specifically, like Pokémon Go has now made over $3-billion. And so Geenee has focused on a vertical of advertising and marketing to nail that niche. And then once we penetrate that market and have has a sizable, dominant category leading position, then we can expand to other verticals — as you said — such as health care, manufacturing. It’s really unconstrained on where these technologies can serve people and give them superpowers in the workplace. But one of the things that we’re most excited about during this time of financial recession is the ability to leverage WebAR for charity, where there’s so many important social causes that need funding. And so actually it was a Elena who came up with a concept that we’ve already validated, which is taking a stop sign and using our image recognition technology to recognize all stop signs. Which could be any species of stop sign in the UK, Germany. But we just took the US as a starting point. So if you go outside and you point at a stop sign, you can stop and donate to a charity. And there is multimedia that can be served up, which we’ve currently done, showing the video of the charity and then having the donate page at your fingertips. And we would be happy to share that after this podcast. So I think that’s one way that WebAR can really make a difference and put dollars into the hands of people that need it most.

Alan: Well, that’s a great use of this technology for sure. And I want to thank you guys for joining me on the podcast, and also thinking about these types of things there. Is there any last points you guys want to make before we wrap it up?

Cory: I would just say that millennials and Gen Z don’t remember life before the mobile phone and by contrast, the first 20 years of our lives, Alan, you and I, when we were born and until we were 20, we weren’t connected to the Internet. We didn’t have all the information at our fingertips. And today, any child that is born in 2020, 20 years from now, 2040, they’re not going to distinguish between extended reality or augmented reality, the mobile phone is just going to be their reality. And so the companies that adapt to that reality of spatial computing, using tools like MetaVRse, like Geenee, they’ll be the ones that are positioned for market leadership in the future. Well, I’m glad you said it. Elena, carry on.

Elena: Adding on to that, I do think people are really excited about AR and that by removing the barriers that we have seen so far — the cost, for example, or needing to code, or the general ease of creation — and making it as easy as possible to use it, we’re just going to start to see a lot more uses of it and also the possibilities of how it will be used. I’m really excited to see what new things come up, because it’s been the same sort of concepts in mind for years. And I’m sure there’s even more cool things out there that we haven’t even explored yet.

Alan: It’s amazing. Once you make a tool that allows people to build, you never know. When I was building DJ software, Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park actually took our software and built a complete modular keyboard that looks nothing like a keyboard on a touch screen.

Cory: That’s awesome.

Elena: That’s so cool.

Alan: Recently on our MetaVRse platform, we had somebody from Oracle — Sikaar [Keita] — he built an IoT sensor connected to the Web3D, and was able to control it real time. So you never know what people are going to invent when you give them tools that are kind of open and unlocked. So I’m really excited about what we can see coming out of the Geenee camp in the next little bit. Thank you so much for joining me, guys. And thank you, everyone, for listening. This is the XR for Business podcast. I would ask you to subscribe. If you’re listening on the podcast, hit Subscribe. And you can visit xrforbusiness.io and sign up there, and we’ll make sure that your inbox always has a new, fresh episode. Again, Cory, Elena; thank you, guys.

Elena: Thank you.

Cory: Thank you.

Looking for more insights on XR and the future of business? Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or Spotify. You can also follow us on Twitter @XRforBusiness and connect with Alan on LinkedIn.

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