“I grew up most of my life in Switzerland; but, I started travelling at a young age because of how my parents raised me. They learnt so much when they travelled; so, they’ve always wanted me to be open-minded and explore the world.

How did I end up in Singapore? Well, my adventures – and life, really – in Southeast Asia began when I worked at a startup digital agency in Malaysia. I grew to love Asia. Things move so quickly and there so are many opportunities that converge lifestyle and business.

When I was in Malaysia, I’d work hard on weekdays and then fly off to a different Southeast Asian country by Friday. It was on a night out at a famous bar in Bangkok that I bumped into my friend – and client at the time – Lukasz. He was based in Singapore and wanted to catch up.

We met the following week in Singapore and he told me about Omniaz, his next startup venture. He was tapping on a huge market dealing with alcoholic beverages and wanted to know if I was interested in joining him. His idea involved consumer products and tech – things I love – so I was in.

Lukasz and I always thought that augmented reality (AR) was the next big thing. There was a time when Snapchat and Instagram filters started to grow quite rapidly, so why not apply AR technology to the beverage industry to help brands and consumers.

By pointing your phone camera at a bottle, brands and retailers get a chance to communicate their message to you. In turn, you get to learn about the brand’s story in a cool new way.

With that in mind, we entered a long phase of building the product from January to September of 2019. We made a breakthrough with the technology by making things scalable. So we’re not talking about a couple of AR experiences per app; we could do up to millions!

There were challenges, of course. After we rolled out a campaign for Wine Connection and augmented their whole portfolio, we achieved good numbers in terms of engagement and conversion rates. It was a validation point and we were ready to sell our AR solution to the market.

But COVID-19 happened and it was a huge blow to us. We were planning to go to trade shows as this is where deals and businesses are made and the decision makers in the industry can be directly met and talked to; but, everything was cancelled.

We realised very swiftly that we had to do something. We couldn’t just wait around until we went bust without any sales or traction. So what we did was expand our AR solution to not just beverages, but any type of retail product.

Because of COVID-19, people were forced to stay home. This heavily accelerated online ordering and interaction. Even my girlfriend’s dad who was never huge on video calls is now on Zoom, so we’re trying to tap on this shift in behaviour.

When you do online shopping, you get to see pictures of a dining table, for example. But you don’t know how the table fits in your home. With AR, you literally plug in a widget, click on the dining table on your mobile phone and see it projected at home in front of you.

You can now see how the home appliance or any other product fits in a room, how you like the colour and whether it fits through your front door. We’re letting you see before you buy. In that sense, AR has converged the offline and online world seamlessly. 

AR has seen a massive acceleration through lockdowns and beyond and Omniaz is capitalising on this market demand with the clear focus on retail. So that’s how we’ve adapted to the changing times.

In these past two years, I’ve had days where I genuinely thought ‘this is the end’. But what I’ve learnt is that being an entrepreneur requires persistence, resilience and never giving up. You learn to cope. You have to.

Even with our previous office arrangement, we realised that it didn’t make sense to pay rent for six people and not use the space because of the circuit breaker. So we cancelled our contract and opted for Workbuddy instead.

The app lets you work at any co-working space of your choosing. It’s also much cheaper than being rooted to one office that you have to pay rent for. I’ve been recommending it to many friends who are entrepreneurs and freelancers. That’s another example of adapting.

But I think what is most important is to keep in mind that you cannot be in this state of never giving up without your closest companions as support. Always be aware of the fact that you need someone else other than your business partners to support you.

Otherwise, this would be very tiring. You’ll need to pull yourself up over and over again and you’ll need outside support for this. So this goes back to family, friends and close ones.

You also need a reason and purpose to keep going, for me that is the passion for AR and the mission to make a meaningful impact.” – Marc Giovannini, 29, Omniaz Co-Founder

Interview by: Arman Shah