12 April 2013 – Offering a truly digital-age marketing tool, Dublin company Huggity takes giant high-resolution photos of large sporting events which people can access online to identify and tag themselves after the event.
Company chief executive Mike Sikorski says this offers the event sponsor extra value for money by keeping the focus on the event after it is over by allowing the attendees to share branded messages on Facebook, Twitter, and email.
“We use the fact that photos have the highest rate of engagement on social media platforms and fans are excited to have the chance to immortalise their image in the stadium,” he says, explaining that the company uses 360-degree panoramic multibillion-pixel crowd images called FanPics.
Since starting out in 2011, Huggity has provided FanPics of about 50 events for clients such as Aviva, Vodafone, Chevrolet, Liverpool FC, Manchester United, and Allianz.
The largest event photographed to date was an English Premiership rugby game at Wembley Stadium which was attended by more than 83,000 fans.
The majority of events to date have been sports but Huggity also photographed an MTV party in Malta, the Oxegen music festival, and a Where’s Wally street event in Dublin.
The company has now photographed over 1.6m fans in total and some 212,000 of these have gone online to tag themselves.
According to Mr Sikorski, these tags have now resulted in the creation of more than 19m web-branded posts.
Completing a fundraising round with a view to expanding sales globally, Mr Sikorski is targeting a turnover of €6m for Huggity within three years.
Currently employing a staff of 17, including five part-time workers, the company has now started selling through partners in the US, Brazil, Australia, Norway, Poland, Turkey, and Belgium, and is also in discussions with a reseller in India.
At present, there is only one other company operating in this space globally, and Mr Sikorski sees enormous scope to sell to sponsors of large sporting and music events.
A Polish graphic designer, Mr Sikorski came to Ireland as an art director for an advertising agency.
When he was made redundant in 2009 due to the recession, he set up his first company, 360VR, which provides 360-degree virtual tours for the hospitality industry.
Identifying the opportunity that is offered by Facebook, he used his knowledge of photo technology and marketing to set up Huggity in early 2011.
Starting out at the Guinness Enterprise Centre, the company was funded by Mr Sikorski and by investment from Eamonn Malone, a developer who also had a start-up company in the centre.
Huggity created its first FanPic for an MTV party in Malta in Jun 2011 and a second one for Oxegen in July.
Mr Sikorski says these two FanPics demonstrated that the technology worked and also proved the revenue model.
“Sponsors pay for the FanPic depending on the size of the event,” he says.
“We have found that between 10% and 15% of fans tag themselves after an event. If you have 50,000 in a stadium, you get between 5,000 and 7,500 tags, which translates into 1.5m branded posts by fans.”
Following the success of the first two FanPics, Huggity secured €50,0000 in competitive start-up funding from Enterprise Ireland, and began targeting sponsors.
Initially it held discussions with sporting organisations but was more successful when it to talked to the sponsors, since these were the ones willing to invest in increasing brand awareness.
During 2012, business began to take off when sponsors such as Chevrolet and Aviva began using Huggity’s services. Enterprise Ireland identified Huggity as a high-potential start-up and is involved in a fundraising round with the company and a venture capital company. This will provide Huggity with the funds it needs to expand internationally.
“This year we expect to achieve a turnover of €1.2m and are on target to achieve this. Since the last quarter of 2012, we have had a reseller partner in Silicon Valley and we expect the US market to be huge.”
Mr Sikorski says that while most of the events to date have been in the UK and Europe, he expects to see growth in Australia and in India, where the company is in discussions with a reseller.
“We also see huge opportunities in Brazil, which is hosting the World Cup in 2014,” he adds.
The company is now planning to actively target the music industry and Mr Sikorski expects this to account for 20% of turnover by the end of the year.
During 2013, Huggity expects to photograph 150 events and is also planning to launch some other products in this area targeting different industries.
The company is also making plans to hire additional IT and sales staff, and increase the size of the permanent workforce to 19.
Source: The Irish Examiner – 8th April 2012