Conversation with Threedium CEO Mike Charalambous on 3D and AR for Commerce
In this interview Darius speaks with Threedium CEO Mike Charalambous on 3D and AR for Commerce.
Welcome to the retail tech podcast where we speak with leaders and entrepreneurs involved in all aspects of retail and commerce and various philosophy, their host and producer. This interview is being recorded on clubhouse and will be published on retail tech podcast.com. After the first set of questions, we'll be answering audience audience questions, so please stay on and raise your hands if you're interested and holding you up on the stage in a few minutes. Today, I am speaking with Mike charalambos, CEO of a company called 3d M, which is in the 3d and AR space for e commerce. How are you today? Mike?
Mike Chara 0:53
I'm doing good. Doing good.
Thank you for joining me. Yeah, thank you for joining me. So you are calling from London. So the company is based in the UK? correct?
Mike Chara 1:08
That is correct. We were UK based company. And we have our smaller subsidiary office based in in Serbia, where the magic happens from the tech team.
Okay, cool. So let's start by an intro on maybe a little bit about yourself and how you got to start the 3ds. And then we'll get into what the company does.
Mike Chara 1:36
Yeah, fantastic. Well, I mean, we've been one of the crazy stupid guys, back in 2016, when we started exploring with 3d and AR, and we decided to stop our full time jobs to do that. So people were like staring us, you know, like, some crazy dudes trying to do something that nobody cared about. But we were very loyal to the cause we religiously believed that 3d art could potentially become a frontier technology into into the future. So we started a small agency doing very bespoke 3d configurators for very high end, luxury automotive brands and your brands. And it was fun, it was very painful. Back in the days, the browser's were not even willing to support like 3d Technologies. Half of the browser's were not even loading them on time. We know, they were not half of the tools that we have today to compress this 3d executions. So it was painful, but it was fun. And then, the more the more time we were spending in this space, the more we were experimenting and doing r&d around it. That's where we started realizing that there's a lot of potential, that's where we started finding different compression processes to to make the whole experience much faster and much more lightweight. And that's where we started trying to find a way to democratize the whole experience for for everyone. So, without further ado, you know, fast forward in 2018, two years later, we decided to shift that agency kind of model. And we decided to go into the SAS world. And we wanted to introduce a platform that enables anyone basically, to, to use our art technology to build 3d configurators, 3d viewers, ar viewers, 3d Interactive banner ads, you name it with a low code, no code kind of approach and with minimum modeling required. And that's where things started to pick up quite intensively. We had a lot of demand a lot of companies that were willing to listen more closely to what we're saying what we're doing. And without realizing it, we started onboarding a lot of brands from all these different sectors from fmcg to luxury to automotive. And then one thing led to another, we raised a couple of millions from our seed round from, from our existing VCs. Yeah, and we are where we are today. with offices in the UK, Serbia, Germany, in the US, and with some of the biggest brands in the world already on boarded on our platform, including the idea of Mercedes tow We've got a JD sports, you balance and the list goes on and on.
That's wonderful, great job. I know it sounds, You make it sound like really smooth and straightforward. But I know you've, you've worked really hard to get to this point. That's typically the story.
Mike Chara 5:23
Well, I started with much more hair. And I ended up with only having to go to the hairdresser, like once every three or four months, because there was nothing to save that. So yes, definitely. You know, as they always say, there was an intense emotional roller coaster, we were literally we were inventing a whole new world, a whole new industry that people didn't know anything about. So we were really pushing hard to educate people pushing hard to explain to people what we're doing is going to have tremendous value for them. Now, but also for the future. We've had a lot of of people's, you know, sometimes when you're innovating technology can be a very brutal enemy. So we had a lot of debugging that we had to do in the platform, you know, all this standard stuff that any successful startup is proud to to experience. Yeah,
yeah. So well, you know, I've been through that myself. And I'm still, you know, going through that the life of, you know, startup founders. And it's a it's the bug, you know, once you catch that bug, even if you make something big, you want to do it again.
Mike Chara 6:43
Yeah, exactly. I mean, my fiance turns to really disagree with his opinion. But yeah, it's hard for people that are not like, similar to us to understand what, what kind of addiction we're having. Right? Yeah,
yeah. So All right, cool. So So let's talk about the platform. Let's go through the process and see how how you work with, let's say, a typical one of your customers.
Mike Chara 7:15
Yeah, so as I mentioned, we are like the Robin Hood, for 3d and AR. For years, all these agencies we're trying to like super profit maximize on immersive technologies, and VR and 3d and AR and modeling this and launching that will typically cost you an arm and a leg. So with our technology, we're just trying to make this very simple, very cost efficient, very smooth, for any brand, any any e commerce agency or any Shopify WooCommerce WordPress Pankaj, to use our platform and build those highly engaging, super powerful 3d and AR viewers and solutions that can enhance your product display, and an overall online shopping experience. So as I mentioned, we have super low code, no code platform, and you do not need to have any 3d modeling experience to use. So you just sign up for your platform, you can either choose to upload images, where you can submit them to the created pull models that we have. And it works like a normal like connection where based on what products you want to turn key from images into 3d. The modelers are gonna come in, take them prepare everything on the platform, and you will be notified that your images are now fully turned into 3d ar within a couple of of days, based on the number of volumes that you upload, you go on the platform, everything is there, you can manage the company accordingly. So you can add different animations on the product. Like if it's a bottle, you can get permission to open or close it. If it's a bag, you cannot get identification or pumping or closing it or if it's a client to show you can spin the wheels and so on and so forth. And then you can also add different hotspots around the products so that you can elevate the the educational and product experience. So with the hotspots, you can add any kind of icons around the products you want. You can add any kind of sound videos or, or or content inside that once the users click them, they can experience information and content about the product beyond the 3d experience that can really enhance the user interface, the user experience and then once you All set, you're happy with what you build and everything is perfect, you just click to publish the solutions on your preferred digital or Omni chat. And you don't need to do anything other than just copy paste an iframe into your placeholder, or just click to publish it, as I mentioned, cannot link or click or publish it us as a really 3d Interactive banner content which can distribute programmatically. So yeah, it's it's very easy, it's very smooth, and gives lots of of different possibilities to the brands to agencies to go crazy with their creativity to, to literally use the same assets across an array of different solutions, and really do anything that they would potentially could do with images or videos.
So are you I'm assuming you're on the Shopify App Store, correct?
Mike Chara 11:05
Yes, and no. So we're fully compatible with all these, all these e commerce platforms, we are in the very last step of being fully approved by Shopify, so we can launch our plugin onto Shopify. And so intensely, we're gonna launch the same plugin on on WordPress, and big commerce. All these things are supposed to happen in the next month.
Okay, all right. So So right now you do integrate with Shopify, you just do it like manually under with their API connections on the back end, correct.
Mike Chara 11:45
That is very correct. So we build a very simple business logic where any kind of, of brand or agency, they can just copy paste that API of platform. And they can integrate in the in the source code of their supply page, or our WordPress page, and then instantly, everything will load, and they're going to be connected with the platform. And you can start publishing all these different product displays seamlessly.
Okay. Now, I'm looking at the the website, and there's definitely the, you know, the quality of the images that are shown here are pretty good. What does the customer actually need to provide to you, dude, do they send you the product? Or do they actually take the photos and upload them,
Mike Chara 12:43
we have pledged our oath for sustainability. So anything that has to do with shipping products to us or trying to, to send physical products to us, is something that we always avoid. And we tried to make it a very simple process. So if, if a brand wants to, to utilize trilliums platform and services, all they need to do is just upload images, or technical drawings, or existing large 3d files like CAD files onto the platform, and then automatically, we can connect with the moderator who they're gonna optimize them and put them on the platform. Or we can use our artificial intelligence photogrammetry process where we can stitch the images together in a super lightweight manner, and publish them onto the platform. And the 3d and AR versions are ready to use. We typically are able to, you know, do this at scale. So right now we have the possibility to serve up to 500 products per brand per week, regardless of the amount of brands and regardless of the amount of requests that we have every day. And if you ask me again, this question next month, or in the next quarter, probably this number will grow bigger. So we constantly push to optimize the scalability, and this kind of stuff.
How many images do so Okay, so let me ask you another question. And I'm, I'm learning more and more about this process. And I actually might have a use case that we might want to test for one of our products, but is it do you do Do you have actually people that do some of the modeling or is it all automated?
Mike Chara 14:51
It's the answer's yes and no and it always depends on the product. So for very high end luxury products, that They require a lot of attention, a lot of love, we always want to involve human beings to, to, to optimize the modeling process, especially for the rich models and the Gucci's and the Burberry's of the world. They still require these manual touch to give that session as that room to product displays, so that they have that ultimate for realistic quality that they're after. But for the littles and the and the average Shopify ecommerce of the world, we can definitely use photogrammetry and artificial intelligence modeling to really model the products and images with zero human intervention. Of course, this will always depends if the product is has a super transparent surface, or it has a very shiny surface, then again, it might require a few, manual touch, touching and rigging to to optimize them. But we can definitely do everything through artificial intelligence for for this kind of products that they that they're closer to be more basic, more everyday use.
Okay, so the customer goes and signs up, they go, they start uploading products. And depending on the plan that they're on, and we'll talk about that shortly, then they will start to receive the 3d ar images that are basically going to be used and then me so do you, do you host the 3d images yourself? Or do you put it on their system?
Mike Chara 17:01
So tons of the first part of your question, yes, depending on the platform subscription package that the brand or the entity will choose to, to sign up to, they will have the available number of products that they can upload from, from the starter kit, you can upload up to 30 products, and you can go all the way to the enterprise package where you can upload unlimited products onto the platform and publish them on your web or across any other childhood to ones. And, and basically based on, on on, on what kind of solutions you're after whether you want to build a 3d ar viewer or a 3d Configurator, or you want to launch specific units, you can opt to, to enter into a bespoke package where you can decide how you want to construct the services and what kind of add ons and features you want to add in the platform to really make the entire platform experience a very bespoke experience to adjusting your workflow. And remind me again, what was the second part of the question
where the images are hosted?
Mike Chara 18:16
I yeah. So right now everything is hosted on our servers. But we always have the flexibility, especially for our enterprise partners, to host them on whatever server that they want to especially the brands that are typically selling these kind of 3d displays in Asian markets because of different firewall situations. Or because you know, enterprise brands tend to have their own kind of preference on specific servers, we always give them functionality to migrate into their own server.
Okay. So let's talk a little bit about your different plans, I see that you have a free version. And then three other options. So let's talk about what what people get with the free version.
Mike Chara 19:10
Yeah, so we, the free version is kind of aligned with our whole strategy of democratizing this for everyone, right. And so we want to make sure that even if you are just about to to get your hands dirty with VR, and you don't want to commit any budget, because you don't want to or because you're a small startup, trying to set up your first online shop selling your sneakers. You can go into that package, you can upload images, they will be turned into 3d and AR you can just paste them into your site and boom, you're live. No, no expenses, zero costs. But then, as soon as you get their hands dirty, and you want to, to dive deeper into the whole immersive display because you want embedded in To your core commercial strategy or operational strategy, that's where we give you the different packages. And the starter kit package is the most in demand for the Shopify kind of guys, then we've got the agency package, which is the one that we typically see a lot of our agency partners and a lot of our marketplaces tending to start with. And then we've got the, the bespoke enterprise package where all the major global brands, which they are launching 1000s of products across 15 different territories, they choose to go on that. The important thing about our platform is that we have zero restrictions on the number of seats. So whether you go and start your key or enterprise package, you can have as many people from your team, as you like, co tastily going on the platform, accessing it collaborating together, doing all sorts of, of important stuff that they want to do to optimize your workflow and get things published across the channels.
Okay, yeah, I see that's, that's actually pretty unique, that across all of the four different plants, the number of projects and the color, so you're not really charging companies by the seats, it's by the
Mike Chara 21:24
lighting, that again, goes against our mission to team up to democratize this, because even though this is a nice technique for the SAS industry to, to generate nice revenue, at the same time, we start seeing this as, as a huge barrier for a lot of brands, especially especially the big guys to sign up on the platform. So we sat down with a team, we say exactly what kind of Variable And Fixed Costs we can have by providing this service. And obviously, the number of seats was nothing that could fundamentally change our, our, our costs, wouldn't harm our profitability levels. So we were kind of ambitious, and we're kind of audacious enough to, to just say, you know, let's completely remove this functionality, this feature from our pricing plans, and let's just open this up for everyone at a time size.
I like that, because it's, you know, customer focused. So and, you know, you're not some of the, you know, fastest growing companies like even slack. You know, they're, they don't charge by the number of people, they charged by the usage of the product.
Mike Chara 22:49
That is correct. And that's exactly where we want to focus on and we want to put our money where our mouth is. And we, you know, we just want people to see annex expect that, what we're making men because they're making money. So the more that people interact with the products, the more they use your products, the more they they convert, because they see the products in, in an AR environment or because they interact in an autonomous browsing experience with a 3d experience. So they build more trust. They may they they see the uplift, we see the uplift and we all live happily ever after.
Yeah, I mean, this this concept of maybe a little off topic, but very important. For all of us, I think is the customer focused format of charging customers is very, very interesting. So I think you have definitely that first part of it taken care of, there is another level, which also slack does that is that. So let's say you're charging the customer paying for an X amount usage per month, and they don't use it this month. Can they use it next month? Or do they lose it?
Mike Chara 24:09
We we do allow them to have the option to pay annually or monthly. Of course, if it's the case that they they set up the platform on a monthly basis and they launch a 3d array or viewer or a 3d Configurator. And it sits other on their on their side. And they stop searching subscribe, or pause or subscription on the platform that automatically that solution stops rendering on the side because it's automatically connected with our service. So if our service are not active, they cannot render that solution onto the side. But it doesn't mean that they did lose it. So if at any moment they want to restart the subscription, then that solution will automatically resurface and also So all those assets, all those 3d ar files that they have sitting on the platform, whether they have poster subscription or not, they belong to that. So they have a full IP ownership of all those 3d and AR assets, regardless of whether they're rendering on their side through the viewers or not. Right?
Yeah, yes, I think that's, that's good. And every product is different, of course. But I think on the customer side, we're all customers, right, have multiple tools, I'm sure you use, you know, 10s of different tools in your business, from CRM systems to, you know, email, everything. And we, you know, the best experience is that charged me for what I use, not the amount of time, you know, like, and I know, subscription is a time based thing, because CFOs, and all of us like to see that level of recurring revenue. But the usage based pricing, I think, is the most customer friendly format. And that's like one of the things that I'm trying to really go back and look at all of our products, and see where we can actually remove that. And because there's two things, you know, you can actually have customers that are subscribing, and their usage is really low. And they're paying it because they just don't want to go through the hassle. They forget, whatever the reason, that then I mean, yes, you can say that short term, there is like an LTV impact that you know, you have more revenues from that customer. But really, the customer that is not using the product is eventually going to go away. And if you are like really customer friendly, I think you really impact the amount of retention by letting giving the customer freedom to just pay for what they use.
Mike Chara 26:58
Yeah, that that's a very good point. And that is something that we we always keep questioning ourselves, are we pricing it the best and most optimal way to keep it very friendly to our customers? Is this the right approach? Should we consider any additional touch points before we give the final price to our subscription packages, and so on and so forth. But the interesting thing is that, because 3d and AR is such a new technology, and all these different people, they start slowly or rapidly recently engaging with it. They don't know what price tag is best to put an in, they don't know what kind of subscription means what kind of value they cannot extract from from the subscription that they're going to have. So this is why at least for the foreseeable future, we're going to keep this build your own kind of package approach until we also understand how the industries and how the demand has been kind of streamlined, so that we can streamline our practice, too. But I again, having having mind this customer centric approach that we want to always have, we prefer to give them the option to save up packages in their own way.
Yeah, I mean, that definitely makes sense. And there is no simple answer for you know, a lot of these things. You know, I I'm just talking from my own experience of what we're looking at in our products. And ultimately, it may be a combination of usage press a sub like a sliding state sliding scale subscription. That might be the most customer friendly, and also makes sense for the company. Anyway, it's a it's a topic maybe for another interview.
Mike Chara 29:05
Yeah, but the one thing that is for sure is that SAS models are here to stay now whether we've done a great job fully optimizing them all together. As tech companies, I'm not sure whether there's still room for improvement, probably yes. But the most important thing that shapes up the direction that every company will go is that demand from its core users. So if you have poor users that they're not willing to subscribe because of your size model, then you know, you're doing something wrong. If your core users are happy to subscribing to whatever your pricing, it means that you're nearly nearly there. So you shouldn't worry too much about how you're pricing this.
Yeah, that makes total sense. So So what's, what's the future for right? You know, I guess that their roadmap for 3d In the you know that rest of 2021? What? What kind of dynamics? Do you see that coming up that are going to impact your business?
Mike Chara 30:10
Yeah, so we're doing some massive leaps of, of innovation in the background, we're not really announcing it to the public yet, because a lot of them are still in, like alpha version doing our final testings. But ultimately, we're pushing to, to, to really push the boundaries of scalability for 3d and AR, both on the asset creation aspect, because we want to give the chance to brands to, to really tear all their products in a digital version, because it's so useful for them in every aspect. But at the same time, we want to make sure that we really nail the distribution side of things. And we want to make sure that anyone anywhere can distribute the 3d and AR assets into any channel, both in their physical stores as QR codes or within interactive screens, or in their digital channels, through their ecommerce, through interactive batters, with it with avatars, within games, and so on, so forth. So very, very soon, we're going to be announcing our universal distribution system, basically, that makes it very easy for anyone to distribute anywhere. And, and we're looking to invest more and more in the whole AI process so that we can really speed up the process of modeling, and try to have as minimum human interaction as required. So we can scale up the equation faster and faster. And then the other thing that we we started exploring more and more is how we can embed blockchain interfaces. And we're making a lot of different roadmaps and we're synthesizing basically a strategy that will make it very easy for all the brands to use 3d only to to digitalize their assets, but at the same time, embed blockchain security around them, which will ultimately allow them to publish all these assets, anywhere and sell them with the same intensity both in the physical world and the digital world. without going through the hassle of, of having to build metal, metal wallet, and having to do all sorts of nitty gritty stuff in the blockchain world that a lot of the brands, even though they they're excited about them, they talk about them, they don't understand it.
Interesting. Yeah, maybe, maybe maybe you can talk a little bit more about that. Specifically, what would what benefit would using blockchain provide a typical customer of yours.
Mike Chara 33:08
So I'm one of the of the guys that I really believe that in the very near future, we will have the option to migrate between our physical lives to our digital lives within a heartbeat. And a lot of people will tend to spend more time in their digital lives just because they can be whoever they want. And they can wear whatever they want. And they can, you know, believe in whatever how they want, right? So ultimately, there's this huge, parallel consumer universe, opening up for the industries where all the digital mics or the digital diary users will be spending a lot of time living their dream life. So a kind of brand that uses 3d right now to digitalize their assets and elevate their online shops and, and embed interactive displays into their physical stores. They can seamlessly generate all this content, which they can amend to the metaverse and, and and make it more sexy, making more servers like and allow the users to explore it by consuming into the digital world. And it can vary from from sneakers, all the way to a very limited edition, Johnnie Walker whiskey bottles.
So you're basically thinking, we're going to go back to the matrix.
Mike Chara 34:46
I mean, we can name it in any way, in any way we want. But ultimately, this is where the universe is pushing us to go in combination From how technology evolves, how much money the Microsoft's and apples and Googles of the world are spending in AR and VR right now, they're being the next big, big bet being, you know, wearables and AR glasses, and the fact that, you know, pandemics are bound to occur more frequently. So the new generations are more accustomed of staying home and interacting socially with people through headsets or through their screens, you know?
I yeah, I mean, again, so technology is good, I think as long as it enhances our lives, but when we change our lives to for the benefit of the technology, I don't think that's, that's, that's where I personally want to, like, draw the line for myself. And I know we're early on right now in a lot of these things. And it's really exciting. A lot of promises. But, you know, just thinking about a world where people are just sitting at their home, they're not going anywhere. And they're just, you know, living in this virtual world completely. Doesn't sound like a very interesting life.
Mike Chara 36:23
It doesn't sound at all, but if you have the option at any time to enjoy the perks of the physical world, but at the same time you immerse yourself into a world where, you know, a possible is nothing, then that's the enticing bit. And that's where a lot of brands are coming back to us right now. They're asking this question, how can I stay relevant in that society? Right? How can my products still be engaging, and still be, you know, in demand, in a world where people can choose to enjoy them in the physical aspect, or in the digital aspect? And I think, even if we don't want to admit it, it's getting there. And brands already start to see this and feel it. And, and, yeah, hopefully, we as humanity will know where to draw the line between what is real and what is fake. But at the same time, we would like to have that. That aspect of fulfillment of all our desires being fulfilled in the digital wealth.
Yeah, yeah. I think just like, you know, what, we went through the last 25 years working with the web and mobile and everything. I think it's, it's a, really, it's, we're just starting to really learn how to live with all these amazing new technologies. And nobody knows the answer. But yeah, that's a that's, it's good to have the option. At least, I agree. Yeah. What I was thinking is that like, for you, and an idea, like could be interesting. is like, the idea that an NF T, or NF T is for these different products that are they like a 3d nF? T. of I don't know, have you looked into that? Or?
Mike Chara 38:21
We have, and we're doing some testings, but it's still very early days to be able to give any concrete feedback as to where we are in the process. But for sure, we're exploring all sorts of different NF t possibilities, and blockchain strategies that can really add strong value primarily to to our users versus us. So we're not in the space to to continue adding more artistic NFT layers, but we're more into the space where we can try and see how it can add value and on on a commercial or on the actual consumer side of things.
Okay. Yeah, yeah, that's another really interesting development from the the blockchain, I guess, technologies that I'm seeing. And we have, we have a couple of products that work with jewelry designers and artists, and I've got a lot of questions from them. What do we do with NF T's? Everybody's telling me I have to get into it, and I have no idea what to do. And so we're looking at what options we have as far as like helping them.
Mike Chara 39:42
Yeah. I mean, we're more than happy to, to sit down and really devise some strategies as to what makes sense for them, that they need to understand what they want to achieve. Who their court customers are why they would need to To get their hands on these kind of amenities, what will be mean for them in the future because of them data investment. So as every investment, it should have some sort of upside or some sort of excitement for further searing and tobacco from. So yeah, there's not an easy answer to that. But I can give, you know, one minute. Yeah, but I'm sure that if, if they really want to explore this further, we can really detect different possibilities for sure.
Yeah, definitely. On the on the 3d, just the image side itself. I like to follow up offline, because there is a project we're working on that could use utilize your technology and so awesome. Well, thank you so much, Mike. It's been a pleasure and all the best.
Mike Chara 41:00
Yeah, it's it's really been a pleasure. I didn't even realize we've been 47 minutes on the call. It was a really good chatting. I'm pretty sure that in our physical conversation, this could last longer. Yes. But yeah, thank you so much for for having me. I really hope we we cross paths variation, and congrats on the show. It's awesome.
Thank you so much, Mike. Have a great evening. You too.
Mike Chara 41:27