One of the great hopes of the UK tech sector, Blippar, has collapsed into administration over a funding row.
The augmented reality firm was co-founded by Ambarish Mitra, and its technology was used in a partnership with the BBC’s Planet Earth II series.
Blippar was one of the UK’s tech “Unicorns” – start-up businesses that are worth $1bn or more.
Mr Mitra became a brand ambassador for the UK to promote British innovation around the world.
He claimed to have founded his business from a Delhi slum, leading him to be dubbed a “real-life Slumdog Millionaire”.
However, the Financial Times ran a profile disputing many of Mr Mitra’s claims about his birth and his business development.
It seemed to be one of the brightest stars in London’s tech firmament, raising big sums from American and Malaysian backers who bought into the message that augmented reality was the next big thing.
So why has the Blippar bubble burst? A few years ago it did appear to have something groundbreaking – you could point its phone app at everyday objects and they would animate into action, give you useful information or serve up an advert.
But the business appeared to depend on a very fickle set of customers – advertising agencies wanting to use its augmented reality tools in their campaigns.
Not only are much bigger firms offering similar technology but big brands seem to have concluded that it’s a gimmick whose time may already have passed.
What’s more Blippar suffered from a lack of focus, trying out a range of ideas – making an app for Google Glass, opening a Silicon Valley office, launching a facial recognition service.
One comment on the Glassdoor site where staff review employers sums it up: “Find a niche and commit to making Blippar the expert in that niche, rather than trying to be and do everything. It’s changed strategy so many times it’s hard to trust what they believe.”
Some brilliant people worked at Blippar developing really clever technology – but eventually investors, customers and staff lost faith in the vision of its leaders.
Blippar was founded in 2011 by Ambarish Mitra and Omar Tayeb.
They say they came up with the idea for the company after sharing a joke about the Queen coming to life out of a £20 note.
At one stage, the company said it employed more than 300 people, although that number is believed to have sunk to about 75 at the time of its administration.
Mr Mitra raised money for Blippar from major investors Qualcomm and a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.
However, joint administrators Paul Appleton and Paul Cooper of insolvency firm David Rubin & Partners said Blippar had fallen into administration “effectively as a result of an alleged dispute over continued funding”.
“Following their appointment, the administrators are now exploring all possible options for the future of the business for the benefit of all stakeholders.”
The company’s Twitter feed said: “We’re saddened to announce that Blippar has gone into administration today.
“We’re eternally grateful to all our team members, customers, partners, our board and investors who have been with us on this incredible journey.”