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Hyped AR startup Blippar crashes into financial reality

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The UK company lost $44 million last year and has now gone into administration

London-based augmented reality startup Blippar, which once claimed to be valued at $1.5 billion, has gone into administration.

The company announced the news on Monday, blaming a dispute between investors for the move. A major shareholder, Malaysian sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional, blocked an emergency $5 million round of funding for the startup, which lost £35 million ($44 million) in 2017. The funding round would have diluted Khazanah’s share in the company.

Corporate insolvency firm David Rubin & Partners has been appointed as Blippar’s administrators and will now attempt to sell the company, either in parts or as a complete entity. The process is similar to that of corporate bankruptcy in the US.

Blippar was founded in 2011 by Ambarish Mitra and Omar Tayeb. At its height the firm had some 300 employees, with that headcount reduced to 261 per recent accounts. In 2015 Mitra claimed that a buyer offered $1.5 billion for the firm, but in recent years the company’s story has been one of misdirection and decline. A report by The Financial Times in 2017 revealed Mitra had embellished his CV; the company made huge losses that same year; and at the beginning of 2018 it shut its Mountain View offices and lost key executives.

The company originally offered consumer AR products, with an app that recognized household products and landmarks, and a platform that let users turn their face into a “digital billboard.” It later pivoted to B2B, hoping to sell its technology to other firms.

This was not enough to save Blippar, though, and its fate reflects wider troubles for the AR and VR industries. Although the past years have seen numerous companies enter this space, few products and services have achieved mainstream success. Some projects have collapsed entirely, like Intel’s Vaunt smart glasses, while others, like Magic Leap’s mixed reality specs, have simply failed to live up to the hype.

Blippar may not have had an expensive hardware component to push, but its vision of augmented reality still could not prove compelling for consumers.