We Developed A $120K/Year Augmented Reality Solution For E-commerce

Marco Messner
Founder, Mazing
$10K
revenue/mo
3
Founders
3
Employees
Mazing
from Vienna, Austria
started April 2020
$10,000
revenue/mo
3
Founders
3
Employees
6.16M
alexa rank
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We Developed A $120K/Year Augmented Reality Solution For E-commerce

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hello, my name is Marco, founder of MazingXR (alongside my two co-founders). I’m 27 years old, born and raised in Austria – no kangaroos – it is a small country in the center of Europe. You might know Arnold Schwarzenegger, he is Austrian.

Our goal is to transform online shops and websites into an immersive experience. In today’s online shops one can only see 2D pictures, sometimes advanced renderings that look very sharp. We lift that experience into the 3D world and allow website visitors to view the product from all directions. Afterward, customers can view it without additional apps or hardware, just by smartphone, in their own space.

Most of our customers can be found in the field of e-commerce, that’s what we used to say. However, the function is so simple, and unexpected areas like physiotherapy and a car repair shop have implemented it. No, we did not expect that.

We started about a year ago with an MVP (minimum viable product) and our first curious customer. Now we are a team of 9 people. So how much do we make 1$, because we reinvest every $ we make.

we-developed-a-120k-year-augmented-reality-solution-for-e-commerce

we-developed-a-120k-year-augmented-reality-solution-for-e-commerce

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

The story of creating goes back to my childhood, as I always loved building things. As I grew older I had to decide what I want to be in the future. Engineering it must be. So I went to a University in Austria to become an industrial engineer, did my first internships at corporates, and got my first job, working as a project manager for manufacturing. My first project was an IoT (Internet of Things) project.

This was my starting point, to look into new (advanced) technologies. It was a challenge and it was associated with a lot of reading and try-and-error. Imagine we wanted to get data from 30-year-old machines to a cloud platform to perform machine learning and tell when machine tools are about to break. Ok sorry about the engineering topics, back to what you are more interested in, back to the startup story.

One day I went to a startup event looking for new ideas, ideas that we can apply in manufacturing. I did not find anything manufacturing-related It was mostly about social media, bitcoin, and online shopping. But I met somebody very essential to this story. A guy named Stefan, he’s an extremely talented software developer. He was just building his first startup, a social network to connect people through self-hosted events. This was 5 years ago.

Since then Stefan and I have touched base now and then, to check on each other’s accomplishments. I got hooked to the startup world and wanted to create something on my own. Those events might not always be super related to what you do at the very moment, but if you want to become a founder it's a fantastic source for ideas, connections, and a way to broaden your horizon. Ps: on this event, I heard for the first time about NFTs ;) the rest is history.

Tip#1: Keep eyes and ears open, go connect with people.

I had several ideas ranging from an “UBER for packages” to a “Smart Doorlock”. Most of it was associated with “too big of an investment”. We brainstormed and found NFTs non-fungible tokens, something new at that time and still not that explored topic. So we created our first NFTs with a little investment, back then gas and ethereum were low, so we started with 100$, little knowledge about marketing and sales. Why am I telling you this story, you’ll hear later - time passed by and nothing significant happened.

Then, COVID hit, in Austria, we were in full lockdown for about 5 months, not much work on my day-to-day job, I found time to look into new fields. Guess what, I got stuck with Instagram filters and bloggers. Something that was still quite new in Europe in February 2020. With limited knowledge of programming, 3D modeling, or graphic design - most of that I learned by doing youtube videos - somehow I did manage to make some money. Creating and designing though was fun, I felt it was not my passion and others are way better at that.

Tip #2: Don´t do everything yourself.

My brother and cofounder were back then working on 360° tour pictures, a competitive market. One day we were sitting together talking about visions and dreams. a common understanding: we are both tied to certain platforms. That was when the one and only developer came into place.

I picked up the phone and said Stefan, we are convinced augmented reality will take off. Do we have an idea? It took us about 2 months of intensive research and reading as well as doing development drafts to find out the balance for a product-market fit. (We did not want to develop for 2 years and then find out this has already been done by Google or Facebook).

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

So, we were trying to focus on making the usability as easy as possible. This involved “customer surveys”, in other words, we sent out the first versions of the products to friends, family, work/school colleagues, and asked for feedback. At some point, we reached out to our network and asked if they would like to use our product on their website almost for free of course.

After many emails and explanation rounds, we could find a company. It was not very easy without any references, but persistence counts. The first company that we signed, was not even our ideal customer, but it helped us in two ways. First, we got real-world insights about the usage and second, we were able to show a third party implementation in our future sales process. References are key to success.

Tip#3: Just start.

With our first customer, we did not only make money but we got very valuable information on how we could improve our product. Whenever you are starting something you are a newbie, your customers have their own goals, you need to understand what they care about. Yes, customers can be a pain and sometimes very picky. It pushed us to work harder. We added features to improve the usability and user experience to increase the process and the stability and quality of the software.

There are times when it's frustrating, where you question yourself if you are doing the right thing? Don´t give up, and even if you get 10 NO´s out of 10 sales talks. But listen carefully to what the customers want.

At the same time, we were also setting up our website, sales manuals, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook. We set up everything where we thought we could reach people. I mention this because it was a big learning for us. You will read more in the lessons learned.

we-developed-a-120k-year-augmented-reality-solution-for-e-commerce

Describe the process of launching the business.

So now of course we were excited, we had a product, a first customer, and a website. We thought that's it, now everyone wants our product. In reality, the leads and sales do not come automatically. Keep in mind the most important part of any business is sales. What we had to learn, we learned the hard way. With very little sales experience we grabbed the phones and started dialing.

We looked for niches in the niches and started to send emails, calls, texts, Instagram messages, Facebook messages, LinkedIn connections, we were all working on the sales part. It was tough and tiring. Once we got to the decision-maker, we tried to make a close even if it would mean we did it for free. What counted in the first stage was references.

We tried to search for smaller companies where we could reach the owner right away. Bigger companies might be able to pay more, but the process to get there is a long (several months) one.

At the same time we got turned down hundreds of times, we heard: “it's not working”, “nobody needs augmented reality” or “people want to touch the product in reality” very often. But, some loved it.

In our case, we saw the age difference that seemed to predict the behavior of our potential customers. Younger decision-makers were more supportive than older ones. Another point we applied from there, now we tried to find supporters within the company that would present our solution to decision-makers.

Niche down, try to start from a very specific group of people or companies where you test your ideas, try to get fast feedback, and if they turn you down ask for feedback all the time.

We got better at sales and got even more feedback from projects and were statically growing. At this time, we invested all of our time and energy in this company while reinvesting every income.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

B2B sales are special, in particular when new technology like augmented reality meets traditional and old-fashioned businesses like the furniture industry. Attracting customers is difficult.

What we learned is that the best thing we can do is meet people in person. The big advantage is that we can show the product and explain it directly. It is in fact time consuming, but we measured the numbers. We compared the time spent with the $ you made and then decided. We are now showing up at any exhibition we can.

How do we treat our customers? First, we are obsessed with over-deliver in quality and in time and second, we try to help the customer to add value and use our software properly. For example, we have created a marketing guide that provides ideas on how augmented reality marketing can be applied.

The second pillar, in detail, is that we want to establish and try a marketing strategy that promotes the solution in a way that customers will feel obligated to implement that software. The reason for that is, most companies only change if they have to. This need for change only applies to two drivers, one, the customer wants it, and second, the competitor has it. If those things apply, trends take off. Remember online shops back in the day? How many have said they don´t need it and are out of the market now?

Tip #4. Find people who love to talk about your product, those ads are (almost) free.

We are focusing on Google Ads, Facebook Ads at the moment, with the primary goal to educate and teach people about Augmented Reality. While our customer acquisition channels are classic sales which means going to fairs, events, calling, emailing. The other half is inbound leads, coming from other customers and referrals. Tip #5 Hold on to personal messages and don't give up if you don't get a response the first time.

we-developed-a-120k-year-augmented-reality-solution-for-e-commerce

we-developed-a-120k-year-augmented-reality-solution-for-e-commerce

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today we are a team of 15 people from freelancers to marketing experts to sales reps. We believe very strongly that augmented reality shopping will be a must-have for all shops. Some customers even compared it with the move from physical stores to online shopping.

The retailers, who said back in the time, they don´t need their online shop are now not in the market anymore. These are the days we are motivated the most. We rarely print anything but those slogans we print and put on our shared wall.

We strongly believe that AR is the future. At this time the investments of big companies such as Facebook or Google support that idea. Our goal is to continue organic growth, but not to forget we still want to have fun and an outstanding company culture with people from all over the world working with and for us.

A futuristic, but also interesting topic is AR and NFTs (nonfungible tokens). I strongly believe there is huge upside potential.

we-developed-a-120k-year-augmented-reality-solution-for-e-commerce

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Starting something is always an adventure, you learn from it every day if you want to. But my biggest learnings were to be persistent and don't give up. There are times when it's frustrating when you question yourself if you are doing the right thing? Don´t give up, and even if you get 10 NO´s out of 10 sales talks. But listen carefully to what the customers want.

In our case, it's a bit more complicated. We try to listen to the trend because sometimes your customers don't listen to their customers. You will learn a lot and adjust your business, don't be shy to step back and acknowledge that some ideas didn’t work out.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

SLACK for internal communication and project management

TRELLO for idea generation and task management (we work with sprints)

GOOGLE DOCS TABLES for documentation

INSTAGRAM and LinkedIn for content and advertising (we are still at the very beginning here)

CANVA to create content faster

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Peter Thiel: From Zero To One. I found this book specifically helpful as a guide on how to set up a startup and how ideas develop.

Gary V: Crush It. A book if you need to find motivation as well as hands-on ideas on how to start with no investment.

Robert Kiyosaki: Rich Dad Poor Dad. Inspiration about investments and to shape your finances.

Eric Ries: The Lean Startup. It's also a guide that helps you to define your own company.

Remember: Books are always best if you are also executing at the same time. Just from reading books, your ideas will not come to life.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Be persistent, whatever you start, put in all the time that you have, every minute in the restroom on the train, give it all.

Niche down, try to start from a very specific group of people or companies where you test your ideas, try to get fast feedback, and if they turn you down ask for feedback all the time.

Find collaborations and talk about your idea. Don't worry, nobody will steal your idea and if so then there is a good market for it. However, corporations help you to grow faster. Try to find distribution channels.

Start before you are ready. The quote “ if you are not embarrassed by your first product, you started too late'' is very true. As soon as something is working, put it out to the market.

Spend your time wisely. This one seems easy, but I think this is incredibly complex. Split it into two areas. Long Term and Short Term: Long Term, invest your time in topics that are strategically relevant like building partnerships. Short Term. try what works for you and fail fast, if you find something that works for you keep doing that.

Have a strategy and a business plan. You might forget that because it does not create value instantly. Having a proper plan gives you direction and sets some boundaries that help you focus.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

If you are still reading. Contact us! We will reply! Giving advice and supporting each other is a big topic for us personally. We are seeking for any cooperation in general, you have seen our website and you think you can apply that in an odd field, contact us. You read this article and thought: Hey, I can add value to that business. Contact us. If you are good at sales, marketing, or a 3D Model expert. You got it, contact us.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

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Marco Messner, Founder of Mazing
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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