Pierina Merino is the 29 year old Venezuelan tech entrepreneur behind FlickPlay, a new revolutionary platform changing the world of social storytelling through innovative use of augmented reality (AR). At its core, FlickPlay is a gamified video-sharing social app that combines interactive game elements with social media. The app creates immersive and gamified experiences that offer a new canvas for social storytelling, allowing users to create their own content to share in and out of the app.
The first sparks of creativity
Pierina has worked across different creative industries over the past 8 years. From designing large scale architectural projects for Frank Gehry, to leading creative and design strategy for premium VR experiences for luxury fashion brands, her career has revolved around innovation and pushing the boundaries of technology to bring the physical and digital world closer together.
Her creative passion first sparked at a young age. Growing up in Venezuela Pierina was always known as the “creative one” in school.
“I was the one that designed the cheerleaders’ outfits, painted murals, and was the perfect partner to successfully achieve any creative assignment,” she says. “Most students in Venezuela pursue traditional fields, such as law or medicine. However, I decided to choose architecture when I was a little girl. Back then, I did not know where it would take me. Entrepreneurship runs in the family; it is in my DNA.”
At the age of 16, Pierina left her home country for Canada to study English and urbanism and further pursue her creative drive for architecture. From there she eventually found herself in Miami where she enrolled in Miami Dade Community College to get her start in the field of design. She worked diligently to earn a scholarship at one of the top worldwide schools: SCI-ARC Southern California Institute of Architecture, where she graduated with honors and earned a recognition as the best thesis. Pierina then went on to work for renowned Canadian architect, Frank Gehry where she gained invaluable experience and worked alongside distinguished professionals.
Starting out with her first start-up
Before founding FlickPlay, Pierina launched and led PIEMER–the first 3D-printed product line to be sold at Nordstrom, nationally. The line included jewelry pieces such as rings and bracelets and was a complete success gaining nomination for the Fashion Rising Brand Award by the renowned Los Angeles Business Journal in November 2017. PIEMER also received an invitation to exhibit in the Los Angeles Architecture and Design Museum.
While traveling nationally to Nordstrom stores for her start-up, Pierina became aware of the huge social disruption that has taken place in offline social life since the introduction of social media.
“At Nordstrom, I came across grandmas and mothers that chose my products in the department store to get sent to their granddaughters and daughters. In turn, young women seemed less interested in stopping by at the traditional point of sale and preferred to visit creative sites where they could create content for social networks. Retail stores have suffered a huge social disruption in the past 10 years. Our daily online and offline experiences are more disconnected than they should. As digital images (through our phones) feel more and more real and tangible, I became obsessed with the possibility of generating creative experiences that could help users communicate fun and interactive moments in their favorite locations. Therefore, I pursued this until I discovered its full potential and came up with FlickPlay.”
From “mall culture” to social media
In the 80s and 90s “mall culture” was at the center of social life for young people. People would go to malls to spend one-on-one time with their friends. This also greatly benefited retailers as their physical locations were the site for gathering and socializing. However, in recent years with the introduction of social networks in our everyday lives, retailers have suffered. Pierina describes that now more than ever the locations where millennials and Gen Z-ers decide to visit is primarily determined by their experiential value. The cooler and more “share-worthy” the place, the more likely they will frequent that location.
Social media and social storytelling has evolved tremendously over the past decade alone. From the 1-dimensional world of Facebook and Twitter that launched as platforms for text and images, to the 2D era of Instagram and SnapChat that focused on images and video, we are now entering a new era of 3D platforms that incorporate innovative technologies like virtual and augmented reality, immersive content tools, and even gaming elements as FlickPlay delivers. This new era of social storytelling is weaving a web between our physical and digital worlds, bringing them closer than ever before.
How FlickPlay is revolutionizing social storytelling
Layering gaming and immersive content tools, FlickPlay is leveling up the way we tell and share stories. Described as a combination of Pokémon Go, TikTok and Snapchat FlickPlay uses gaming and augmented reality (AR) content tools to power a new canvas for social storytelling. At FlickPlay, users can access creative AR experiences through their interactive map game and camera. Once videos are shared, they get gamified for the community to unlock points, and engage in content and leaderboard challenges with their friends and FlickPlay community.
“From Pokémon Go, we have all the gaming interactions and we capture the city spaces. In terms of content distribution, we resemble TikTok in how repetition is used to boost vitality. In terms of creative inclination and technology, we are like Snap,” says Pierina.
FlickPlay App is the first digital platform that allows users to get into a content game in the city. Users gain relevance through these experiences because they are based on two pillars:
- Scores, rewards, and goals that allow to reinforce the interaction of content with the user
- Brand interaction in relevant locations and highly creative content that drives the users to share it
Fans of experiences and creative content can gain access to the creation of and participation in interactions with game dynamics that enable them to access creative experiences that are not open to everyone. Augmented reality videos generate a cerebral impulse that enhances the retention of the shared visual content. Any event, object or person that goes through the camera in this app becomes memorable.
Facing obstacles as a female tech entrepreneur
Despite the success of FlickPlay, Pierina still faced obstacles throughout her journey with the project. One of her biggest obstacles was acquiring funds and investors to back her venture. As a woman entrepreneur in the tech field, Pierina was part of the 2% of women founders and CEOs of technology companies in the U.S. This meant she had to prove herself.
“To pass the test with Venture Capital, I had to face more than 100 meetings and screenings with my project pitch in my portfolio. I made a lot of pitches and can barely remember how many industry events I have attended to introduce myself and to try to raise funds,” she says.
However, eventually she gained her first investors, Muse Capital, led by two women. This drew the attention of other executives in the technology industry and Pierina was able to finally secure the rest of her investors to bring her project to life.
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To other minority women who are thinking of starting their own business Pierina says, “It’s time to take space. We cannot change the past or what leaders used to look like, but it is our responsibility to break the biases for us and future generations. Building a tech company from scratch is not easy for anyone no matter gender or ethnicity, it requires a lot of mental and emotional strength. The moment you let biases crush your goals you are proving them right. Find your true believers and have enough drive and determination to get what you want when you want it. You will probably have to prove more along the way but that will only make you stronger and a better leader.
The future of social storytelling
Augmented Reality (AR) is transforming not only the way we communicate and tell stories, but also the way in which brands interact with their consumers. It is projected that by 2022 AR advertisements will lead 15% of brand publicity strategies. Therefore, it is key that leading brands include AR as soon as possible to secure a competitive advantage over the others.
FlickPlay is already taking that step forward with its innovative technology.
New and old activities find the way toward reformulation. Political campaigns, daily life stories, interactions with distant worlds, brand content creation, treasure hunts in the city, challenges among friends, virtual competitions and much more is in store.
“This is a novel platform in the app market. Our focus is not on ‘selfie mode’ -as Instagram- but on the physical space and relevant locations for users,” says Pierina. “Our strength lies in the introduction of game mechanics so that content creation and consumption become more entertaining. Rewards get users excited about getting benefits. Some users engage in the competitive aspect and want to make it to the top of the list, while others only seek to produce high-level creative videos remaining outside of the game dynamics. We want to reach one billion users and still focus on the consumer. We want to be fun and interactive. FlickPlay is making room for a new social segment to tell the best stories in their favorite places.”
On the subject of Covid-19 and how it has impacted our perceptions of our physical world and our relationship with social media, Pierina says:
“After the shock associated with cultural and social changes in the world due to the pandemic, I’ve noticed that everything we can touch is getting closer to everything we cannot see in the real world. Therefore, while virtual reality becomes the only tangible way to view the world, what we cannot attain in a real way will become part of the digital world. No matter where you are, two realities coexist across the globe, the one you reach through your senses and the one that defies them, that you can find looking through FlickPlay. The magic of this app makes this happen.”
FlickPlay is currently available in the Apple Store in the U.S. and Canada, and will be launching soon in Spain as the first European release.