[YS Exclusive] Anand Chandrasekaran, 9unicorns, Inventus lead $3.5M round in AR social networking app Flam
Flam, an AR-based social networking app, has announced it has raised $3.5 million in funding. The seed round was led by Inventus Capital SV (Manu Rekhi), Silicon Valley Quad (Raju Reddy); Kwaish Ventures (Anand Chandrasekaran, US); 9Unicorns (India); and prominent angel investors.
Raju Reddy, Partner, Silicon Valley Quad, and board member, Flam, said, “We enjoy working with young entrepreneurs and mentoring them to build great global companies. Silicon Valley Quad is impressed by the idea of Flam building a social media network for a global audience and believes in the high quality leadership at Flam. We are thrilled to be the early partners of Shourya, Malhar, and Rajat."
Based in Bengaluru, Flam was founded by BITS Pilani alumni Shourya Agarwal, Rajat Gupta, and Malhar Patil.
Building a global community of users, the startup wants to transform the way people engage and perceive memories, helping them recreate, relive, and even edit their stories in real time using its flagship product FlamCards, positioned as video on print.
With a team of 22, the founders aim to utilise the funding to launch new social network features on top of FlamCard. The funding will also be used to develop a top-notch tech team comprising Computer Vision, Graphic Engineering, GPS Mapping, Social Media Product, Growth Managers, and 3D Designers to meet the company's future needs.
The idea is to have adoption at scale while expanding globally, Shourya tells YourStory in an exclusive interaction.
“We are building from India for the global audience. By the end of this year, we should be live in the US and other countries as well. Right now, we are in the category where we can quickly ramp up the distribution and get the social media ruling on the FlamCards and reach those numbers," Shourya said.
Scan this photo with Flam App on your phone for a fun performance by the Flam team!
What is Flam?
Shourya explains: “This is similar to Instagram or any other social media. You just upload your video or you can record your video. Once that is done, you have to select which frame of that video has to be printed as a FlamCard. You can choose to print this FlamCard or share the online version as well.”
This is not the first startup for Shourya. In 2015, during his second year of college, he started with Idyll, an ecommerce enterprise solution that claimed to offer the cheapest possible price on bulk orders of customised goods.
Later, soon after his graduation in 2018, he, Rajat, and Malhar, started Homingos, a D2C startup, which offered picture postcards and then printed AR smartphotos.
“The idea of FlamCards and Smartphotos is almost the same. While Homingos was a purely D2C play, offering only printed version with AR capability, Flam is an entirely new entity, using AR to build a social network, with a much more advanced algorithm working at the backend, enabling real-time video interactions between people through FlamCards,” Shourya said.
Leveraging its expertise in AR technology, Flam is now expanding into the social media networking space by building a next-gen AR engine that will enable global cloud scalability for the very first time and allow privacy controls to users on the go.
Some of the live and upcoming features on the Flam app include Flam Rewards (to gamify the AR camera scans), FlamStories (change video on FlamCards), FlamGhost (a hidden photo/video on a blank FlamCard that is only visible to the recipient), Flam 3D filters, and privacy controls (controls who can see your media).
Flam: Decluttering media using tech
Shourya believes that media today is quite cluttered because the same images, text, and videos are shared on WhatsApp, Instagram, and other social media platforms. Also, after a few days, no one bothers to go deep into the gallery and find those photos or videos.
“With Flam, we wanted to declutter this media and build a very different sort of media network, which is not cluttered, and where people can revisit the memories easily and share videos in a tangible format,” he said.
The way technology functions here depicts a clear differentiation from other companies, which are building AR-based products.
As Shourya explains, their proprietary AR-based algorithm is solving three key problems – recognition, augmentation, and tracking.
- Recognition: When the printed FlamCard is scanned, the image needs to get detacted very quickly (less than two seconds). This is tough because it has more than 100 million images on the cloud. Also, the algorithm enables it to work with low-resolution images/videos, which may have very few data points due to bad angle, light effect, blurred, etc.
- Augmentation: The algorithm next solves for augmentation. The video is not playing on any website or app. This video is playing on the FlamCard in real time in the real world, on a real picture printed on paper.
- Tracking: While scanning the picture and playing the video, the user can move the picture in any direction, thus shifting the coordinates, but the video continues to play on bringing the picture to life.
Today, the startup’s proprietary algorithm can make one FlamCard in less than 60 seconds, and has the capability to dispatch more than a million FlamCards in a day. Currently, FlamCard pricing starts from Rs 320.
“Even if you give me a complete black image, we can track that image, which is like in principle impossible because you don't have a single data point," Shourya said.
“Since we launched in May this year, we have already done 40 million camera interactions and scans,” he added.
Flam is targeting 100 million users in the next 24 months. Presently only three companies globally -- Snapchat, Niantic (PokemonGo), and Google Lens match Flam’s scale on their consumer AR interface or camera.
Shourya emphasised that he has not seen anything worth thinking about global audiences from day one emerging from India.
“We have seen great successes like ShareChat, but that's more or less for regional India. As we move towards web 2.0, the future of the interface is going to be augmented reality.
"Everything so far is happening on the internet. We are consuming videos on TikTok and WhatsApp with smartphones playing the hardware role. In the future, hardware will shift from 2D to 3D with mixed reality in play. We believe social networks should be the first sector that should adopt new technology for massive adoption to happen,” Shourya said.