There is no denying VR and AR is having more of an impact on our daily lives, perhaps more than we are consciously aware of. Whilst this technology is being widely adopted by many industries; film, music, healthcare, travel, sports, it is the gaming industry that remains at the forefront. One company has successfully leveraged the technology to build a bridge between gaming and brand marketing with a highly addictive app called Snatch. We spoke with Founder & CEO, Joe Martin, to find out how the idea originated, its journey to date, and where the company plans to go from here.

Can you give us an overview of Snatch, and how the idea originated?

Snatch’s aim is to disrupt two worlds; mobile gaming and marketing. The idea for the business came about as an answer to mine and my co-founders’ frustrations with both worlds.

As casual gamers we were frustrated at the amount of time, energy and money we found ourselves spending on mobile games, without any real world benefit. While as marketers, we were frustrated by the inability of many advertisers and brands to move with the times. Instead of inviting consumers to engage with them, advertisers are still talking at consumers, often failing to pay attention to what they actually want to hear.

Worryingly, with the rise of ad blockers, and other ways of silencing ads, the broadcast approach simply isn’t working anymore. Consumers no longer tolerate being intruded upon and advertising budgets are being wasted on disengaged audiences.

Our solution is a mobile game that is the world’s first virtual treasure hunt with real prizes from brands which is also at its heart a completely unique marketing platform.  By using the latest augmented reality technology, we encourage our players to go out and explore as they collect parcels, allowing them to interact with participating brands on their own terms.

What is your own personal background?

While at university, I studied Forensic Science with a specialism in Behavioural Engineering. After I left, I began working with underprivileged and disadvantaged kids; using my experiences of forensic science to teach core academic subjects both in the UK and then in New York. I used innovative teaching methods, like using blood splatter analysis to help pupils understand fundamental maths and physics.

On my return to the UK, I wanted to apply my knowledge of forensic science to new ideas and sought to explore why some people respond to certain ads, brands, or products when they chose to ignore others.  And that’s when my path crossed with that of serial entrepreneur Jamal Hirani, my eventual Snatch co-founder, who I met at an event. In June 2015, I told Jamal the idea behind Snatch and he loved it. From then, we began developing the concept and Snatch was officially founded in January 2016.

I’m not a traditional CEO in any sense – you’ll more likely find me in a bomber jacket than a suit. And because I’m not traditional, I have a different approach to business because of my interest in human behaviour. People aren’t just someone to sell to, to use your service – they are people who should be empowered to be more discerning and to make decisions on their own terms. And that’s what Snatch is about. Our users choose what brands they want to interact with and engage with creating a new journey and a new way of engaging with their favourite brands.

There seem to be many similarities to Pokémon GO, however Snatch has also partnered with several leading brands to offer real life “prizes”. Was it difficult to get these brands on board, and are you looking for additional brand partners going forward?

People sometimes make a comparison between us and Pokémon Go because we are both rooted in AR and are both mobile games. But, it’s important to note that as smartphone users, we’re on the verge of a new wave of AR app adoption following the recent launch of Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore for developers. With recent software updates and handset upgrades, millions of us are now AR aficionados without even realising it.

Between Snatch and Pokémon Go, there are actually a number of major differences. While Pokémon Go is all about virtual reward, our work with brands means our players get real world rewards for their virtual efforts.

We’ve found the response from brand partners has been overwhelmingly positive, because they see Snatch as a unique platform. Marketing teams are constantly looking for ways to make their communications more efficient by speaking to truly engaged users, but so many existing channels ultimately involve interrupting consumers while they’re doing something else; whether that is watching a show, scanning their newsfeed or going for a walk. Regardless of how good a brand’s messaging or content is, if they want consumers to engage, they have to divert attention away from something those consumers have already chosen to do.

Snatch is different because it’s a platform built with brand interaction at its heart. Snatch players are not just open to hearing from brands; they’re actively moving across an augmented landscape seeking them out. So far we’ve partnered with over 120 different brands on a variety of challenges, from driving awareness to footfall, and we’re always looking for new brands to introduce to our players.

What’s been the company’s journey to date?

From the initial concept we built a beta version of the game, the first iteration of which was debuted this time last year at WebSummit. The attention Snatch got at WebSummit 2016 lead to our first round of seed funding including an investment from Unilever Ventures.

Following that, we launched the app as a beta in the UK in February, with a view to building and refining the technology ahead of a hard launch. Since then, the company has grown from just two staff to more than 40, across two offices in London and San Francisco. We’ve refined the technology and added a wealth of new features to make the player experience even more compelling.

We’ve also just completed another round of seed funding involving First Minute Capital, CrunchFund, Simon Equity Partners, Cassius Family Fund, Hanson Asset Management, Velocity Technology Fund and Silicon Valley Bank.

Despite the frenzied initial response to Pokémon GO, there was a subsequent big drop in uptake, how will Snatch avoid a similar fate?

Our game is constantly developing and changing. The way the game works means we can add in mini-games, new game mechanics, new AR features and new technology, as well as, crucially, working with new brand partners – all of which keep players coming back.

As evidence of how rewarding Snatch is to play, our D30 rate (daily retention rate over 30 days) has seen steady improvement, increasing from the mid 20% to the mid 30%. This means that more and more people are playing the app for an extended period of time.

You are backed by some prominent investors, First Minute Capital and Unilever Ventures, what have they brought to the table and how have they helped your growth?  

The investment brings with it two main factors. The most obvious benefit is that the capital allows us to grow as a business. We can start planning campaigns and look at expanding our workforce – as well as growing into new territories. It also brings with it access to great advice and guidance. Unilever Ventures have been brilliant for us and we are excited to work with First Minute and Brent Hoberman CBE.

And finally, what does the future hold for Snatch?

The future is very bright, with further investment comes growth. We’re working to grow our UK player base to 250k daily active users while at the same time developing the game and adding new features.

We also have plans beyond the UK, with a US launch planned for Q1 2018 and additional markets set to follow next year. Ultimately we want to become the go-to platform for brands who want to engage customers in an authentic way, changing the dynamic between brands and advertisers for good.