Q&A with Satheesh Subramanian, VP of Engineering Augmented Reality Platforms at Blippar
#Topic: How to move from a non scalable bespoke model to a SaaS scalable model, Insights on Scaling Engineering Teams, Product Approaches
About the Company: Blippar is the leading visual discovery app, harnessing augmented reality and image recognition technology to bring the physical world to life through smartphones. Blippar enables users to instantaneously pull interactive, informative digital content directly from the environment around them, their favorite publications, brands and objects via their iOS, Android or Windows devices.
The Journey Of Blippar From A Bespoke Augmented Reality Provider To A Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) Platform
➢ A Bespoke Augmented Reality Provider from 2011 to 2014
• Blippar was founded in London in 2011.
• A campaign driven revenue model.
• Delivery focused production teams.
• Engineering requirements driven by production needs.
• Steady revenue growth but margins started tapering with increasingly complex campaigns.
➢ Moving From Production Focus Sales to Product Focus Sales Since 2015
• Company growth supported by Silicon Valley expansion.
• 2 primary product focuses;
○ Visual Search Research & Development
○ Augmented Creation SaaS Platform
• Hired quality engineering talents at a low cost from areas such as Bangalore.
• Implemented Technical Product Managers to drive product requirements with commercial inputs and breach the gap between engineering and commercial teams.
➢ Tuning The Visual Search Product
• Built a scalable deep learning framework for Blippar’s object and image recognition.
• Reduced the latency of Blippar’s server-side recognition to make it convenient for app users.
• Made Blippar’s Computer Vision REST API easy to be implemented in other applications.
• Focused at becoming the leader in visual search for many verticals such as cars and celebrity faces.
• Implement compliance strategy approved by the management.
• Growing engineering teams to be flexible at delivering new apps in quick succession.
➢ Provided An Augmented Reality Creator SaaS Platform
• Moved from Flash framework to more future proof frameworks such as HTML5, React and WebGL.
• Made a Developer Portal with published and versioned API documentation and code samples for an easily accessible databank.
• Coded built-in software checks such as copywriting correction algorithms to reduce human intervention on software development.
• Brought in discussion forums and converted Production Engineers into Technical Support Specialists.
• Separated the app’s frontend UI from the AR Engine to better allocate focused teams on both the frontend UI development and core AR engine development.
➢ Orient The Company Towards Selling Software
• Train the sales team in selling software instead of campaigns.
• Production Engineers were restructured to Technical Sales Engineer.
• Developer and Creative Partner Network were expanded.
• Partner accounted for 30% of Blippar’s total interactions.
• Targeted Enterprise & Education sales channels for self-service tools.
➢ Results Of Blippar’s Conversion in 2018
• SaaS revenues tip over bespoke revenues with 3–5x higher margins.
• Growth of teams is the main cause of the company being able to output 10 products within 24 months.
• Product roadmaps are now published to the whole company which results in a higher degree of transparency for commercial teams.
Key Question 1:
We are a small team trying to look forward to a SaaS approach in delivering products. As we grow, should we keep teams separate in their target tasks or should we have them work together more in delivering products quickly?
In our organization, teams are arranged in a way that they will be able to make progress without being delayed by their dependency in other teams. This ensures that each team will be performing at their peak efficiency and specific delays would not make an overall impact towards the progression of a project. Team application progression interfaces must also be unified for making collaboration among teams easier.
Key Question 2:
Is there any particular sales advice on making the switch from a Bespoke Platform to a SaaS Platform?
In our case, we hired some new sales personnel who are familiar with software sales instead of campaign sales. Your must also define your target customers for your sales model to effectively pitch your product to them in a SaaS manner.
Key Question 3:
What are the details on creating or arranging teams in your organization that were able to deliver products successfully and effectively?
In our organization, each team has their own model which works best for them. Teams were arranged in a way that they can work at their own pace while making good progression without being dependent on the progress of a different team. We assign product managers to understand their own and other teams’ needs to make good product decisions. Our infrastructure teams, backend engineering teams and quality engineering teams prefer to work in a Kanban style project management system. Most of our frontend engineering teams prefer to use a Sprint style management system.
Key Question 4:
Was your company’s evolution from a Bespoke Platform to a SaaS Platform natural or more of a planned intervention and how did you evolve?
The evolution was natural. We determined the company’s need for scaling up to a SaaS platform due to two factors. The first factor is having more customers than what the company can handle as a whole and the second factor is production engineers from Silicon Valley assessing that the company could not scale when it was still a bespoke platform. When scaling up we hired the best engineers and set high goals for them to reach so the company can achieve a higher level of performance. We implemented a strong analytics platform to gather data on customer responses for further product improvements.
Key Question 5:
How do you spread marketing awareness and collect feedback on niche products such as Blippar?
This is where your production or solutions team come in. They have to collect feedback and pinpoint in where your product or its features comes in handy for customers to reach their goal. As a production house, your major customers are your first step in spreading awareness because they are already thinking on how to increase your product’s effectiveness for themselves.
Key Question 6:
Could we incorporate Blippar’s Augmented Reality features into our Mobile Product?
Key Question 7:
How is the partnership network in your organization working out with the SaaS model and what are the results?
We have a partnership manager that would pitch to popular agencies in different regions to expand their partner network. Today, 30% of our revenue comes from content that partner networks created. We not only achieved production scale but also sales scale through our partner networks.
Key Question 8:
Do these partners sell Blippar as a white label solution?
Yes, some of them do. You can sell Blippar as a white label solution but you may have to pay more to remove Blippar branding in the app. Initially, white label solutions are necessary to prevent Blippar branding from being diluted and this also promotes customer growth.
Key Question 9:
How do you distribute the functions and the operations of the company across different regions?
We started using internal messaging tools such as Slack to increase our cross-site productivity and we also made sure sub-teams localized within their own regions do not work across sites too much. As long as each sub-team keeps their API and common interfaces are updated, the cross-site teams would be less likely to cause a delay to the sub-teams.
In regards to sales, we have sales engineers providing sales support for the sales team in their region. Sales engineers have better insights on the product and would inform the sales team on detailed aspects of the product that they are selling.