Start-Up Alley

Binary Bubbles

Binary Bubbles

Country: USA

Started: 2017

“I was always that kid who really wanted the fantasy world to be real,” says Lisa Wong, co-founder and CEO of Binary Bubbles. “If I were at that age when Harry Potter first came out I’d have been at King’s Cross trying to get to Hogwarts.”

For 25 years, Wong immersed herself in the fantasy realm working as an artist in the gaming industry, on Star Wars, NBA Basketball and Call of Duty titles. Then, last year she decided that it was time to transport the fantasy world into the real one – or at least, an augmented version of it.

She founded Binary Bubbles with CTO Richard Weeks, a former Microsoft and Nintendo engineer, and Amit Tishley, a filmmaker and animator whose clients include Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

One year in and the seven-strong company has launched its first product, the Cortex Core content management system that allows IP owners and brands to create an ‘always on’ ‘Virtual Buddy’. Through a dashboard, creatives can remotely puppeteer a digital character’s awareness.

I was always that kid who really wanted the fantasy world to be real

“I was always that kid who really wanted the fantasy world to be real,” says Lisa Wong, co-founder and CEO of Binary Bubbles. “If I were at that age when Harry Potter first came out I’d have been at King’s Cross trying to get to Hogwarts.”

For 25 years, Wong immersed herself in the fantasy realm working as an artist in the gaming industry, on Star Wars, NBA Basketball and Call of Duty titles. Then, last year she decided that it was time to transport the fantasy world into the real one – or at least, an augmented version of it.

She founded Binary Bubbles with CTO Richard Weeks, a former Microsoft and Nintendo engineer, and Amit Tishley, a filmmaker and animator whose clients include Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

One year in and the seven-strong company has launched its first product, the Cortex Core content management system that allows IP owners and brands to create an ‘always on’ ‘Virtual Buddy’. Through a dashboard, creatives can remotely puppeteer a digital character’s awareness.

The dashboard relies on several triggers – including geolocation, object recognition, audio recognition, watching a streaming video and social media connectivity.

It enables brands to create characters and stories from scratch and can also deepen fans’ engagement with much-loved characters. Wong uses Spongebob as a case in point. “Using an AR app, the fan can hang out with Spongebob while watching an episode of the show – and he’ll start commenting in real time,” she explains.

“Later that evening a fan might ask him via Alexa to sing a lullaby – he will do that and will also remember what he did earlier and comment on an aspect of the show they watched.”

Wong adds that if the geolocation tracker is turned on and a fan happens to be in New York they might receive a text reminding them that Spongebob is in a musical there. Buddies can also be programmed as virtual guides for exhibitions, scavenger hunts that promote a brand or event, or as learning aids.

The Unity-based system includes a software development kit that allows creators to tailor their characters and their stories, which are then plugged into Binary Bubble’s backend system. These experiences can either be scheduled or carried out live.

Cortex Core’s early adopters often choose to use Binary’s development services for the Virtual Buddies but Wong adds that the company doesn’t expect this to be the case moving forward.

“Customers will just pay a licensing fee and a tiered pricing model based on consumer usage of Cortex-powered products: they can use whatever developer they choose to make the buddy,” she says.

Wong adds that the CMS is simple enough for a TV show’s non-technical staff (typically writers, brand managers and social media managers) to use. “The goal is to make this easy. You should be able to log into the website and follow step-by-step directions.”

With children’s TV networks looking poised to become early adopters, is Wong concerned that the system could be hacked or the data misused?

“That’s always a concern. Any system can be hacked and any company that uses a backend system has to be high up on how they build their architecture and account management so that it can be as secure as it can possibly be, which is what we are aiming to do,” she says, and without mentioning names, adds: “We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to learn from other people’s mistakes.”

The dashboard is earmarked for an August release, with Wong confident that the first Buddies will appear by the end of the year.

So far the venture has been entirely self-funded via Binary’s consultancy work for TV networks and brand agencies. According to Wong they are now in the process of raising $500K to fund customer acquisitions and marketing.

With Marvel creating a cohesive brand universe and the rise of TV shows and fan conventions, Wong argues that people of all ages now want to be brought closer to these worlds. “But they value authenticity,” she adds. “They want that extra piece of information to come directly from the brand-source, and not just another fan.”

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