Meet Zugara, a startup from Los Angeles leveraging augmented reality to disrupt and excite e-commerce all over the world. SF Fashion+Tech’s Sina sat down with Matt Szymczyk, CEO of Zugara, and talked inspiration, technology and e-commerce.
1. What inspired you to create Zugara? Tell us a little bit about your story.
Zugara was initially created in 2001 by Sony Playstation but then spun off as a separate company. My team came from across the interactive marketing spectrum. From 2001-2008, we focused a lot on the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) for clients such as Lexus. In 2009 we started looking at Augmented Reality (AR) and we really wanted to start looking at how AR could be used to solve problems. When we first looked at the online shopping experience and the offline shopping experience we saw that offline shopping had 20-30% conversion rates compared to only 3% for online shopping. Back then online shopping wasn’t very social and interactive. That’s when we created the Webcam Social Shopper. It’s been cool to see the product grow from a prototype in 2009 to an API released for e-commerce platforms just a month ago. Zugara means “Make it happen” in a certain Hindi dialect.
2. Zugara provides an augmented reality E-commerce Software platform for a variety of companies. What products and services of yours have fashion retailers, brands and startups been utilizing?
On the e-commerce side we’ve made the software quickly accessable to retailers of all sizes. Most AR solutions take only 3-4 months to build and integrate whereas we can build and integrate the same solutions in less than a week. The faster integration translates to faster conversions for our clients. Users are using the software to mix and match what garments they actually have with the ones they later buy online. So far they have found AR to be useful primarily to match colors and that’s where our UX/UI focus is right now.The main product we provide to fashion tech startups is the Webcam Social Shopper which lets users virtually try on clothing using a webcam. We’re seeing brands and retailers use it in two different ways. They’re either using it for conversions or they’re using it for user engagement. For example, we recently did an execution with Mattel’s Barbie. It’s called Barbie’s Dream Closet. They are using it for engagement. Girls virtually try on different Barbie outfits and upload their photos onto the Barbie site and becoming part of Barbie’s world.
3. Zugara has strong presence outside the United States. How would you compare the market for augmented reality in the US v. the rest of world?
Europe and Asia are difinately farther ahead in implementing AR solutions than the United States. From e-commerce to manufacturing and other industries. In the US we’re seeing a lot less engagement with AR. 80% of our clients reside in Europe or Asia. But we think we’ll pick up more US clients due to two shifts in the AR space. First the move away from AR primarily for use on PCs and social media and more towards advertising and mobile devices. Also AR companies in general are focusing more on utility-based applications that solve problems. It’s been years since the novelty of AR has worn off and we believe companies will now look to AR companies to help them solve problems.
On the commerce side, a lot of retailers are focusing on social commerce and social media through Facebook, Twitter and the like. But their has only been a little attention paid to AR in that respect. What you’re seeing is more attention on advertising and marketing. That’s where the hype is now.
4. How have fashion retailers, brands and startups helped shape Zugara’s products and services? What has been the biggest challenge for Zugara reaching out to companies in the fashion tech space?
We’ve been working on the Webcam Social Shopper for three years. In that time we’ve continually taken into account our clients’ feedback and balanced it with the feedback we’ve received from users. As a result, we’ve always been continually defining the product. The biggest challenge for Zugara reaching out to companies in the fashion tech space has been getting the companies to look beyond the old hype. When AR was first introduced, the hype over it was greater than any other technology in recent memory. We’ve been trying to show our potential clients that AR is the future of user interaction with digital information. In other words, showing them how they can use AR to solve problems. There are profound changes happening in the natural user interface (NUI) using gestures and motions.
5. Zugara layers clothing on top of an individual, do you have any plans to pursue body measurement?
Right now the we’re focusing on the mixing and matching problem of how you can judge the color and style of an item. For the issue of fit, Zugara can with a webcam approximate body measurements but the issue comes down to accuracy. Right now, depth-sensing cameras are on the market that are accurate to the inch but even that is not suitable to determine fit. I think that’s the biggest issue for AR in terms of the fit of clothing; the limits of the technology.
6. There are a lot of different companies moving into augmented reality, how is Zugara different?
Our biggest differentiator is that we have an advantage coming from a UI/UX background. A lot of the other AR companies are soley focused on the technology. They tend to fall into the trap of releasing products and services and not realizing all the hurdles someone might have to go through to use their product or service the way they intended. They tend to think that just because their product is cool users will know how to use it. Unfortunately that’s not how it works in the real world. In the real world how easy your product is to use matters. We’re in a position to capitalize on that need. We tend to take a more strategic approach while a lot of other AR companies are all over the map. They lack focus jumping from one industry to another trying to see what sticks while Zugara has remained focused on e-commerce and monetization.
7. Are you currently building any ties with other fashion tech startups? Briefly tell us about a success story or two.
We’re focused on UI/UX and we’d like to partner with companies that doing more algorythm and fit-based technology. I personally believe there is some natural synergy there. Apart from that we’ve partnered with RichRelevance in the personalization and recommendation space. Zugara has integrated our technology with them to create “Fashionista” for Tobi.com. Apart from that we’ve been talking to a number of companies that are helping us open our product roadmap to great partnerships in the future.
6. What’s on the horizon for Zugara’s platform in 2012 and beyond?
We put the social commerce aspect of AR before the technology. We feel its going to be a few years before 3D assets are practical for consumers to use and retailers to develop. One of the things we’re looking at is how social commerce will evolve around those developments. We’re also looking to develop the API for our website both for retailers and social commerce platforms.
7. Outside of Zugara, what other technologies at the intersection of fashion and technology personally excite you?
Outside Zugara, I’m interested in any technology that is using a natural UI. Everything from connect Microsoft’s Kinect to image and object recognition. One of the things we’re starting to see is that as the digital world evolves, the rest of the world follows. A good example of this is Google’s Project Glass. I think Google is on the right track helping to show people what you’ll be able to interact with. It’s exciting to picture in 5 to 10 years how all this digital information around you that is not accessible now but will be in the future. It opens up a lot of markets. For example, you could see virtual ads open up for municipalities. It’s wonderful once you start thinking about it.
Bonus: “Was there anything else you want to include in the interview?”
At the core we’re trying to use the technology to solve problems. It’s getting tiring to spend time on presentations debunking the unsound claims of other AR companies. It takes away time from explaining our platform. We’ve had deals which we’ve had to walk away from because we couldn’t promise what other AR firms claim they can. We’re not interested in building a reputation on false hopes like other AR companies have.
UPDATE: Zugara announced being granted their first patent today (several hours after publication of the article). The patent relates to the following:
- ANY VIRTUAL, WEARABLE ITEMS: This isn’t just about trying on virtual clothing. Virtual Jewelry, glasses, watches, purses, and anything else that’s “wearable”.
- SIZING & FIT: The method of using body part detection & recognition to determine a wearable item’s size and fit is covered.
- SOCIAL SHOPPING: This element is actually covered in two ways.
1) Taking photos with the virtual, wearable item(s) and sharing them via social networks.
2) Multiple people trying on virtual, wearable items simultaneously, and having a shared shopping experience within a video-chat or conferencing environment.
- GESTURE, MOTION AND VOICE CONTROL: Using gestures, motion and voice control to interact with, manipulate and purchase virtual, wearable items directly within the virtual dressing room interface.