Real Estate Will Always Be The Best Investment: Time To Augment It

Editor’s note: Jacob Mullins is a senior associate at Shasta Ventures. Follow him on Twitter @jacob.

I spend a good portion of my day thinking, researching, and analyzing our industry, our world, consumer habits, and the technology products that enhance and cause fundamental change within it. My job is quite literally to see where the puck is going and get there first. My goal is to gain insight into the direction before the shot is hit, before the trajectory is set, and if possible, before the puck is even dropped into play.

Over the past months I’ve been mentally mulling over the profundity of Real Estate. Throughout history, real estate has been the most coveted, fought-over, and valuable resource to humanity. Entire civilizations were created, and wiped out, on their level of success in securing it and the access it provided for their people. In the modern age, this has meant the creation of vast amounts of wealth for those who control and monetize it according to their needs, for both countries and individuals alike.

In our lifetime we’ve had the spectacular fortune of playing a part in the creation of an entirely new dimension of real estate – the World Wide Web.  Like it’s analog counterpart, those who are able to amass surface area and provide enough value to users are rewarded with tremendous wealth. As I look ahead with the eyes of an investor, I ask myself what is the next dimension of real estate and how can it be most opportunistically exploited?

The rapid advancement of mobile technologies over the past ten years has created a paradigm shift in user behavior, and thus consumer technology products. “Mobile First” is the strategy of the day, and the inclusion of location-aware data layers is the new fabric of real estate – one that blends physical and digital – resulting in a final product that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

We’re at the very beginning, the opportunity is fast upon us to create and own this new Augmented Real Estate, where digital landmarks exist in our physical world. There are a number of companies approaching the landscape with different perspectives, here are a few:

Augmented Reality Engagement

Companies like Goldrun and Ogmento create branded augmented reality experiences in our physical world. They’re focusing on enabling brands and media companies to reach their potential customers in a rich, more engaging way. They turn the mobile device into the viewing portal to see unique experiences. Leveraging location data, Goldrun is most famous for it’s 24-hour augmented reality pop-up stores for Airwalk that appeared in Washington Square Park and Venice Beach. Here, users could purchase limited edition shoes only available in these “invisible” AR stores. Ogmento is focused on enriching experiences with media content and most famously released an AR app that coincided with the launch of the Paranormal Activity film in 2010. This location-based mobile game turns the real world into the set for supernatural conflicts, where the user battles “demonic forces” interacting in the areas surrounding the user.

While these campaigns are lighthouse examples of the creation of new Augmented Real Estate, it’s clear that they are high-touch engagements with the brands. While they’re clearly leveraging strong technology, they may want to consider how to more productize their offering to enable AR across a mass of mobile application developers in a more self-serve model.

Digital Breadcrumbs

Pinwheel and Red Robot Labs are enabling users to interact with physical locations by creating digital tokens and memories, shareable with others. Pinwheel uses location-data as an anchor point for users to recount memories and share photos. For example, I posted a memory and recommendation at Nook, a small café in the Russian Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. As friends go near the location, they will see that I left a “digital breadcrumb” and can read my post and partake in my memory.

Red Robot Labs is activating real world locations and turning them into a game. With their first title “Life is Crime,” users are able to “commit virtual crimes in the real world,” and in a Foursquare-esque check-in process able to virtually battle over physical locations. Here, I can’t help but recall Gowalla 1.0 (ahead of it’s time) which upon check-in would enable users to obtain, carry and share virtual tokens from one place to another. (Shasta is an investor in Red Robot and Gowalla).

While there are no lack of services enabling tagging of content with lat-long data, it will be the services that enable users to intelligently discover these breadcrumbs at the right time which will come out ahead.

The Viewing Lens

For every piece of content added to the augmented landscape, it’s really only relevant if users are able to discover it at the right time. Currently, most software companies are leveraging smartphones as the lens into this world. While, more ambitious contenders are developing hardware solutions to bring the worlds together. Google’s recently announced Project Glass is a set of Internet-connected eyeglasses that intelligently layers data on the glass in front of your eyeball enabling you to walk through the world seeing relevant digital data displaying around you. Innovega, a Seattle-based startup, is taking a similar approach though by developing a contact lens able to display this information directly on the eye – providing access to a simulated 240 inch screen in front of the user.

Hardware is a difficult and expensive game to play, but Google is one of the best-resourced players to attack it. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a number of purely technical research companies that come into Google’s acquisition view as they look to bring Project Glass to market.

The market is young and the opportunity is here to start staking claims in the augmented real estate boom. These companies are the pioneers, but there’s an entire frontier to explore with incredible fortunes to be won.

[image via flickr/Justin Otto]