Two of the cofounders of augmented reality startup Layar want to buy the company back from its current owner, Blippar.
Business Insider understands that cofounders Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald and Raimo van der Klein have broached the idea informally with Blippar but have not made a formal offer.
The pair currently run another startup together called Teamily. Layar’s third cofounder, Claire Boonstra, does not appear to be involved in the talks.
A source with knowledge of the matter told Business Insider that the two cofounders believe they have “what Blippar lacks — vision and strategy.”
The source added that Blippar’s chief executive, Ambarish Mitra, turned down the initial enquiry.
A Blippar spokeswoman said the company “has not received or rejected an acquisition offer for Layar.” She added that Layar’s technology had been integrated into Blippar’s wider augmented reality service for some time.
Layar was originally headquartered in Amsterdam, and was sold to Blippar in 2014 for an undisclosed amount.
The company was an early mover in augmented reality, launching an AR mobile browser, which used your phone’s GPS, camera, and compass to give you information about your immediate surroundings. It also specialised in interactive magazine covers, where you pointed your phone at a magazine cover to see extra content on your screen.
The Layar app achieved reasonable user numbers, partly because it came pre-installed on smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S. According to Business Insider’s source, the company had 45 million overall users and 1.2 million active users when it was bought by Blippar.
At that time, Raimo van der Klein had already left to pursue other projects. Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald and Claire Boonstra remained involved, but left Layar shortly after its acquisition.
Layar was an important buy for Blippar, which had been relying on AR technology built by Qualcomm called Vuforia. Layar gave Blippar its own in-house AR tech, and user numbers.
A second source, a former senior Blippar employee, said Layar had been a “good business” with a “good audience” but that Blippar had “run that into the ground.” The Amsterdam office closed last year, with some employees moving to London and the rest leaving.
A former employee previously told Business Insider that the number of active users for Blippar’s app is close to 500,000. Blippar has refused to share its active user numbers.
There are several reasons that Mitra likely rejected Layar’s cofounders. One is that it may be technically impossible to uncouple the two firms. A second is that, according to multiple sources, Layar has historically provided the bulk of Blippar’s active users. Another is that Mitra remains convinced that Blippar can establish itself as a platform business.
The competition is growing, however. Google Lens, like Blippar’s visual browser, identifies what it can see through a phone’s camera. Apple’s ARKit lets developers build amazing augmented reality on iOS. And Samsung’s Bixby Vision similarly has augmented reality functionality baked directly into the camera of its latest smartphone, the Galaxy S8.
It might help if Blippar white-labelled its platform, but the company appears reluctant to do this. For example, Blippar’s Blippbuilder service lets you build augmented reality experiences yourself, but only through its own branded app. As one former senior executive put it: “Rish is very sure the Blippar brand is he most important thing.”
Blippar has closed several offices over the last two years. The Sunday Times reported earlier this month that the firm had closed its San Francisco office, which is mostly staffed with engineers. Blippar later said it had moved “some” (but not all) of its San Francisco staff to its Mountain View office.
Other office closures previously reported by Business Insider include Japan and Turkey.
The company’s long-serving chief financial officer, Andrew Graham, also retired this summer, though he remains an adviser to the company.