Imagine being able to touch a toy figurine to your phone’s screen in order to see the character transported into your video game, or touching another small piece of plastic to the phone in order to unlock exclusive content, like a new video or iTunes download. A startup called SnowShoe has developed technology that does just this – it has created clever, plastic “stamps” that interact with the touch sensors on mobile phones by way of the web browser.
Today, the company is announcing $1 million in a second round of seed funding led by Lowercase Capital aimed at increasing its manufacturing capabilities in order to meet demand from larger clients.
Also participating in the new round are Collaborative Fund and MESA+ Capital. Prior to this, SnowShoe had raised an additional $2.5 million from previous investors, Foundry Group’s AngelList Syndicate, 500 Startups, TechStars, Ludlow Ventures, Queensbridge Capital, BAM.vc, Scott Banister, Hiten Shah, and other angels.
SnowShoe CEO Claus Moberg, a former TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon winner who left his Ph.D. studies at the University of Wisconsin, says the idea for the startup actually grew out of earlier efforts to develop loyalty apps for grocery stores. The team was first trying to build a way to authenticate digital coupons outside the store’s point-of-sale system, when they invented the SnowShoe stamp.
“We invented the SnowShoe stamp to solve that very specific, sort of niche, problem, and then realized we had invented something pretty cool that could solve a bunch of other problems for other people,” explains Moberg.
The stamp itself is just a piece of plastic that’s a mix of conductive and non-conductive materials, and created using a 3D printer, he says. There’s no battery, no power, no circuitry, no NFC, no antenna, no Bluetooth, nor any other electronic bits. Instead, inside the stamp there’s a shape made out of conductive plastic that, when pressed to a phone’s screen, looks to the phone like a certain number of human fingertips touching the screen in a very precise configuration. The configuration of those fingertips is different on every single stamp.
“It’s almost like a physical QR code, but the difference is that we’re not communicating through the camera, we’re communicating through the touch sensor,” Moberg says. “That means we have access to that information through the web browser – you don’t have to have a native app installed.”
In other words, SnowShoe allows web pages themselves to interact with physical objects. And it can work with any smartphone.
The startup, which more recently participated in the TechStars Disney accelerator, has already trialed the technology with the Disney Fan Club (D23), where Mickey-topped stamps were distributed at a big event in Orlando, allowing members to unlock exclusive videos. Another test saw RedBull distributing the stamps at a concert, which, when used, triggered automatic downloads of the performer’s music. At that event, SnowShoe saw conversation rates of over 80 percent, the CEO notes.
SnowShoe only produces the stamps itself – the additional ornamentation and branding is handled by the customers, though the startup can step in and help when need be.
Today, the company has 3,000 developers building on its API, ranging from small, indie “makers” only looking to experiment with the technology up to several Fortune 500 companies, which Moberg says he’s not yet permitted to name. However, he characterized some of them as being “major players” in the toy and game space, while others are ad and marketing agencies, including experiential ad agencies, as well as e-commerce companies.
In the latter case, he explains how the stamps could be used in conjunction with a company that shipped some sort of physical item to customers. Or, for example, a florist could use a stamp in lieu of the handwritten card, allowing the recipient to unlock a personal video.
With the additional funding, the goal now is to finalize a deal that will allow SnowShoe to transition its manufacturing to Asia – right now, it only has 20 3D printers in Madison, Wisc., that can print out 3,000-4,000 stamps per month. The new facility will be able to scale to hundreds of thousands of stamps per month. Moberg says they expect to come online with their new manufacturers by the middle of Q3. This change will also help bring down the cost of the stamps, which were before $2.50 each, and will now be well under $1. (They’re targeting a price of $0.25 each).
The San Francisco-headquartered company is a team of seven today, but plans to hire a platform evangelist and VP of biz dev in the near future.