AR specialist Blippar ran up losses of £34m before administration

Blippar's turnover was barely more than £2m in the first six months of trading last year, accounts reveal.

Blippar: worked with Jaguar Land Rover last year
Blippar: worked with Jaguar Land Rover last year

AR tech unicorn Blippar had run up losses of more than £34m in the year before it went into administration, financial accounts have revealed.

The augmented reality specialist, which had become the UK’s first tech business to be valued at more than $1bn (£765m) since launching in 2011, was placed into administration last December and has stopped trading. 

A financial statement, filed this week by administrators David Rubin & Partners, show Blippar was running at an operating loss of £34.45m for the 12 months up to 31 March 2017 – the most up-do-date full financial year.

That loss had increased by 42% from the previous financial year’s operating loss of £24.21m. 

Accounts for the next period, up to 30 September 2018, indicated that a loss of £14.26m had been incurred.

Since then, Blippar co-founder Ambarish Mitra has registered new companies that will trade as Blippar: Blippar Group Limited, Blippar AR Limited and Blippar Limited were registered on Companies House last month.

While many tech start-ups often run at losses in their nascent years, relying on investor funding as they try to reach scale and profitability, Blippar’s accounts show that its turnover was relatively small and declining substantially in recent years.

In 2016 its annual turnover was £8.49m and this was down by a third to £5.7m in 2017. Between April and September 2018, turnover was £2.35m, the accounts show.

Since its launch in 2011, Blippar had received steady investment of about $140m (£108m), the administrators said, which was used to develop its AR tech and free app. 

But last year a funding row broke out between Blippar’s major backers, Candy Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures and Malaysian government fund Khazanah Nasional. Khahaznah had reportedly blocked Blippar’s access to emergency investment it needed.

The app, which had a peak circulation of two million monthly users, featured an image recognition camera that could identify objects and human faces and relay information about the subject, as well as AR mobile games. 

Blippar primarily made money via partnerships with brands, such as Jaguar Land Rover, Cadbury and McDonald’s, which would pay the company a one-off fee to produce an AR mobile experience surrounding a featured product. 

Blippar also offered brands the opportunity to create their own AR experiences using the BlippBuilder toolkit, which enabled people without coding skills to build AR via a drag-and-drop method. 

The business then faced challenges in 2018 due to "over-expansion and competition", with Apple and Google entering the AR market, the administrators said.

However, one source that knew the business well told Campaign that Mitra had let the original Blippar business "wither on the vine, because there was a lack of funds to develop products".

In 2016 Mitra unveiled the Blipparsphere, a visual search engine powered by artificial intelligence that Mitra claimed could be "bigger than the internet itself". This was before Google launched Lens within Android and Apple mobile operating systems.