The Future Is Now: Ray Shingler of Spotselfie On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene
It’s going to take longer than you think. This one would have helped with my frustration level at times with the market and user adoption. Sometimes your idea or product is so far ahead of its time that you need to wait for the demand or use of the product to get traction. It took years for some of my ideas to be of consumer value.
As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ray Shingler,
Co-Founder and Vice President of Product Development for Spotselfie™, with over 25 years of experience and numerous awards in developing digital solutions for online and mobile products, microsites for educational and commercial content, social networking sites, and video games. Ray specializes in digital product development with an emphasis on creative direction, management and gamification. He has a proven track record in producing, managing, and launching digital environments for Fortune 500 companies such as Intel, Cisco, HP, and IBM in both the B2B and B2C markets.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was a mechanical engineer by trade early on in my career. I was introduced to 3D CAD back in the mid 1980’s and loved the creative aspects of it, which took me to my next career phase — in 1997 I built a 3D interactive game, which I controlled all aspects of from storyline to mechanics. Called “Time Engineers,” the game was built with a grant from Eli Lilly, and helped teach science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to middle school students.
A large media company in England, United Business Media (which was eventually acquired by Informa), then heard of the game and contacted me to build them a microsite to teach technology to students. I soon became an employee of the company and worked in their new Chicago studio to build other microstites and virtual event platforms for Fortune 500 companies such as Intel, Cisco, and IBM. That is when social networks started to grow across the nation, and I built a few smaller versions for a niche field of engineers at these companies to help increase collaboration amongst the different groups.
After the dotcom era bubble burst I was laid off, and was still following the tech scene when I first heard about the new buzz of Augmented Reality (AR). It clicked with me early on that a platform that used AR alongside the concept of current social networks would create the perfect storm to help people get back out in public to socialize, while still providing them with the digital tools they love. My idea to combine the two technologies to build the first AR powered social network was incubated in December 2015, and my team launched the “TeepeedU” social app in August 2016, when our patent was filed with USPTO. Since then, we were awarded our patent in late summer 2020, and have revised the technology and rebranded the platform as the “Spotselfie App” which is now available in the App Store and Google Play.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I have had five primary careers so far in my life; a Mechanical Engineer, 3D Game Designer and Producer, Director of Development Web Studio, Director of Digital Content Simulation for Military Training, and finally, the VP of Product Development for a Social Network. There are stories from every one of these stages!
No matter how small of a team you are on or how few resources you may have, you can still achieve accolades and product development wins, just like larger companies with 100 times the personnel and resources. I have been on small teams that have won numerous awards in the video game industry and innovative web design; teams that have built one of the top used simulated training systems for the US armed forces; and teams that beat out Silicon Valley big technology companies to secure multiple patents in the next generation of social media networking through mobile devices and augmented reality. All to say, small and agile companies have the power to be more productive and inventive than giant corporations, which face more roadblocks that slow down innovation.
Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?
Spotselfie™ is the first patented augmented reality smartphone application that allows users to post pictures, videos, stickers and other digital material geotagged to locations across the country. Created specifically for social interaction programming, other users on the app can view the posted content in AR via their own phones, as they simultaneously walk throughout the digital landscape. These posts promote user engagement, with fun social interactions that subsequently take place in the real world, allowing people to connect with others faster and with more physical interaction than they normally would while using traditional social media platforms.
Augmented reality is the future of all social networking. Not only does the app connect users with one another, but there are endless possibilities for local businesses and brands to advertise to new customers in real time. Spotselfie works to unveil the future of social apps by combining emerging technologies like AR with the existing technology of social media, creating an app that is innovative and keeps all consumers at the heart of its purpose.
How do you think this might change the world?
As more emphasis is being placed on real-world interaction than strictly online relationships, consumers are becoming more aware of the amount of time they’re spending on devices each day by utilizing screen time tracking apps. With the COVID-19 vaccinations moving forward and people starting to return to a more normal lifestyle in the coming months, we’ll still see the need for both in person and online interaction. Spotselfie provides a way for people to connect online based on similar interests and then bring this connection to the real world. While the communication begins online, the level of engagement through augmented reality that Spotselfie allows enables individuals to foster relationships in real time. This is how we can help foster a hybrid environment as individuals take on their new normal.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
As with most social media platforms these days, people are worried about their privacy and want to ensure that their data is protected. To combat this, Spotselfie is giving the control back to the user. This means each individual chooses if someone can see their profile in AR, whether they appear in profile searches, and what image is displayed. No GPS data is saved or shared with others and GPS movement cannot be tracked by other users. In addition, no data is shared with third parties.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?
Watching my teenage daughter and her friends with their heads down into their phones at dinner one night and noticing how detached they were from what was going on around them, combined with my recent research into how Augmented Reality (AR) could help. I knew we could never get rid of their devices, but knew I could transform it into a more face-to-face experience. These two goals created the perfect storm for a vision to build a new social platform powered by AR.
What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?
Spotselfie fosters social engagement on new levels for individuals, brands, and local businesses. During a time where individuals cannot always connect with others due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, this augmented reality connection is necessary to create and maintain social relationships. To reach widespread hybrid adoption, Spotselfie needs to continue expanding its user base through in-person community connection.
What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?
By using an open beta, our team at Spotselfie has been able to update the application based on user feedback. We began inviting both individuals and organizations to participate, allowing for a broad range of user engagement. We also included a ‘feedback’ button directly in the application so users could provide their suggestions quickly and efficiently.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
As a child and into my teenage years, I came up with several different ideas that I wanted to do, and my parents were very supportive and did not stop me from pursuing them by saying, “How are you going to do that? How are you going to pay for that? Do you know anything about how to do that? Try something easier first.” I read everything I could get my hands on about each subject matter, and my parents never got tired of my dreams as a young man. I wasn’t raised to think, “Can I do it?” but more, “I CAN do it.”
Since then, I’ve built complete processing plants in 3D on CAD systems before it was mainstream to use 3D engineering and design. I designed and developed my own 3D educational video game that beat LucasArts and Walt Disney productions in game design at the Bologna New Media Awards for Time Engineers. My game was in the finals against Nintendo and a few other large gaming corporations for the award. I also won numerous awards in web microsites design at UBM Studios for tech Fortune 100 companies such as Intel, Cisco, and IBM. I had the vision and directed the development of an AI-powered video concierge that would lead you to content on their websites based on the information you already had consumed off their sites. It was a new way to immerse web visitors into the site’s content.
I have been part of a team to rethink military training into a simulated digital environment to protect our Armed Forces in battle better so they can return home safely from defending our country and our way of life. Currently, I’m working on a new experience in social networking powered by augmented reality (AR) to facilitate more face-to-face interactions between users. I hold three patents in the AR social media tech industry and four continuation applications.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My video game inspired young students to become engineers to solve problems in the world with science, technology, engineering, and math. It made engineering fun to get them on the right path to a college degree at an early age.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It’s going to take longer than you think. This one would have helped with my frustration level at times with the market and user adoption. Sometimes your idea or product is so far ahead of its time that you need to wait for the demand or use of the product to get traction. It took years for some of my ideas to be of consumer value.
- Marketing and PR is a must! Great ideas are just great ideas sitting on the shelf if no one can hear or read about them. Allow money and effort to market your ideas. Get a good PR firm to work with you on exposure. No matter how good the idea or product is, that alone won’t get adoption or sales. BUT, don’t let that stop you from building it! Keep the process moving forward.
- Get the IP first (patents) Cover your ideas right off the bat with a provisional patent. You don’t have to have the concept built yet before you apply for it. That cost me seven months of prior art coming up in my first round of patents and kicked my idea out. Put away money for the patent work and don’t touch it for anything else. Protect your IP.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
To bring back our society from being in their rooms by themselves, endless scrolling in their social feed, and getting them outside walking through the social feed around them with more face-to-face interactions with people from their community. I want my technology to bridge back to humans’ live interaction and stop being mean by hiding behind their digital posts, criticizing someone they don’t even know. We will always have smartphones, but life passes you by as you spend hours a day captive. We need a good mix between the two.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If that is the worst thing that can happen to me today, I’ll be alright.” Don’t take failure as the end of the world. Don’t worry about money. Don’t worry about a mistake. I didn’t get the job or promotion, my car broke down, etc. It applies to them all. That in life, something terrible could happen to you or your family, so anything other than that will be fine and will pass. Stay focused on your career goals with more positivity when ideas or products fail at different levels during development.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Spotselfie is the first patented augmented reality social platform. With the Spotselfie app’s urMojo feature, users have more control over who views their content by answering 16 questions about individual traits, preferences, intentions, personality, and interests. The Spotselfie interface then provides the user with a list of other users in percentage order of how they match up, allowing users to moderate their content/community in a safe, vetted way. In a time where security over user data is top of mind, our platform provides peace of mind. As we all adjust to life after COVID-19, Spotselfie is able to give users a hybrid environment of online interactions that can lead to in person conversations.
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Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!