Silicon Roundabout based Holition were formed as a venture start up and use cutting edge 3D digital solutions for point of sale marketing and create augmented reality apps for use in store, on mobile and online. Visited by Nick Clegg and Vince Cable we decided it was our turn to meet Jonathan Chippindale, CEO!
London Fashion Week started on February 17th and in the Evening Standard article ‘The shapes of things to come in fashion‘ (Friday Feb 3rd) US fashion blogger Anina says it will be “the style worlds most technologically advanced event yet….virtual reality technology will change the way shows are viewed, while electronic tags in clothes and
codes printed on them will give information via an iphone or ipad, or let customers check they aren’t fake….” Do you feel the fashion and retail world are now really getting to grips with virtual and augmented reality technology?
Retail, and especially premium retail and fashion, has perhaps found it harder to embrace this type of technology than other segments. Luxury has striven hard over the decades to promote the notions of quality of product, craftsmanship, heritage, service and in-store environment and it has struggled with the impersonal nature of the internet to communicate this via the web. Surely it is better to actually hold a product than to view it online?
Brands, steeped on the tradition of excellence of their advertising, PR and the beauty of their store environments, saw the web as merely a way to showcase their existing catalogues and imagery. In part this was in no way solely the fault of the brands. Agencies and content providers were also grappling with these so called ‘disruptive’ types of technology, which are after all still less than three years old and thus extremely new. As ever, the lever that has started to change attitudes to digital marketing has been money.
The dramatic increases in consumer spend on-line has forced brands to re-examine their on-line strategy and they have found that digital marketing allows them considerably more freedom to communicate in a diverse and engaging manner than they perhaps at first realised. And if they can engage consumers more effectively, then they have a far better opportunity to convert that into e-commerce revenue.
Driving this has been an ever increasing appetite for digital communication from consumers as take-up of tablets and smart-phones continues to increase and more time is spent purchasing online. One of the best customers of Boucheron, the Place Vendome jeweller, only buys online yet lives two blocks from the store.
6.8 million new Apple or Android devices, such as iPads or smart-phones, were activated in the UK on Christmas Day, and more smartphones, capable of m-commerce, are now being sold than standard mobiles. Now many, if not most, brands have a Digital Manager focused solely on generating content online and on mobile and it is only a matter of time before more brands turn that digital exposure into e-commerce revenue.
In Luxury Society’s ‘2012 Luxury Industry Predictions from the Experts‘ Tamar Kolfman, social media strategist says “We’ve seen the rise of social networks such as Tumblr and Instagram. We’ve seen a number of brands experiment with social commerce and augmented reality. And with the growing popularity of iphones, ipads, Androids, and smartphones galore, we finally begin to see a shift in attention towards mobile.”
The article suggests that Tamar believes that while experimentation will continue with technologies and social platforms ‘the onus won’t be as much on continuing as it will be on converging….it will be about building connections amongst and between the various online and offline communication channels that brands rely on.’
Does the potential ‘convergence’ and ‘blurring’ of communication channels
mean a change in how you see Holition developing as a business?
I think the ‘change’ will stem from the growing awareness that each stage of the channel is different and requires a different approach while at the same time joining them together to drive the consumer towards purchase. Up until recently, brands have seen their online presence as being in some way being in competition with their own stores. Now we are seeing one or two brands, perhaps the pick being Burberry and Louis Vuitton, realising that online and in-store should be working hand-in-hand, ‘converging, revelling in their differences, playing to each of their strengths and delivering one seamless co-ordinated message. At the moment this typically involves only the realms of in-store and online, but ultimately mobile will be woven into this convergence as well, and the fact that it has not to date is more due to the lack of computing power of mobile than any lack of will of the part of the brands.
Holition is extremely interested in convergence because our applications are used online, in stores and on mobile and often in a disruptive manner that allows technology to deliver an interesting angle on a familiar business model. An example is the embedding of our technology in pop-up stores driven by e-commerce fashion retailers keen to have some form of retail presence even though they are a pure online brand. Holition can allow consumers to virtually ‘try-on‘ product in a space within the need to actually have stock on-site.
Recruitment remains a ‘hot topic’ for a lot of businesses located in the area known as ‘Silicon Roundabout’. Charlie McGee, Carat Digital managing director said in Media Week (14 November 2011) “Its been a battle for the last 15 years and there is still ferocious competition to recruit good people..”. Worse than that Keith Rattray, founder of Dotgap.com says in the same piece that ‘the proliferation of digital media, in particular through social media and mobile technology, threatens to turn a shortage of quality staff into a recruitment crisis.’. Just how difficult is it at present to recruit the right people?
I would not necessarily say that recruitment in at the “crisis” stage, though Holition is an SME and our requirement hinges more on quality than quantity, and if we look hard enough and have the right connections, especially within the academic realm, then we can typically find the skills we require. That said, the process is hardly expeditious and one of the biggest threats we face as an organisation is to match our growth needs against the recruitment process – the two are rarely in sync.
As an SME we do not yet have an internal HR resource and sourcing staff takes up a considerable amount of management time, which is clearly less efficient. Recruiting good staff remains the highest priority but because our type of technology is not taught in schools and universities we understand that we need to provide much training support ourselves internally. We use a process of mentoring to ensure that our developers get to the stage where they can start to work on commercial projects.
The articles about Silicon Roundabout in the press are coming fast. The Financial Times had a significant piece on February 2nd 2012 ‘Tech groups take up slack in central London’….Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have both visited your own offices…..do you feel the media and political focus on the area often often underwritten with words such as
‘boom’, ‘magnet’ and ‘surge’ are always helpful in aiding the ‘ecosystem of start ups’ in the area?
The Silicon Roundabout/Shoreditch dynamic is an interesting one and clearly of interest to politicians because it created itself more as an ‘idea’ than as the result of any political initiative, and if happened here then given the right circumstances it can happen elsewhere in different categories. And the interest is not simply from home-grown politicians – we were visited by Mexico’s Finance Minister last week keen to understand what life is like in the creative crucible of Shoreditch!
But of course the irony of the politicians interest is that it was simple and effective entrepreneurship that generated this area, with the next generation of creative agencies, technologists and artists looking to start business in the most affordable area that was nearest the centre of London. People speak of the Silicon Roundabout but I feel that does a great disservice to the other business who are equally responsible for making this area thrive culturally and creatively. It is the diversity that brings companies to Shoreditch.
How this will change in the near future is a conversation that features regularly in the bars, coffee shops and galleries. Success here is starting to bring in large corporations, and their impact is as yet not understood. Shoreditch is about grouping together a large diversity of like minded souls, with complementary not competing skills. Whether Google’s new presence here will support or threaten that is yet to be seen.
Thank you Jonathan.
To find out more about Holition visit their website at www.holition.com
Alternatively, to find out more about available office property in the Silicon Roundabout area contact Kushner at www.kushnerproperty.com