Mark Rolston, the legendary ex-chief creative officer of Frog and the head of Argodesign, is betting big on flipbooks. Along with several other Silicon Valley veterans, he’s working on a new startup called Wrap that is adapting the old concept to a newfangled world of smartphones and tablets.
The company, which quietly launched earlier this year, creates a content system that lets corporate customers quickly build mobile-centric mini sites that can only be browsed page after page–like a book.
Initial use cases for Wrap’s platform, CEO Eric Greenberg says, include everything from building product catalogs to event guides. And while admittedly strange, building flipbooks for smartphones works much better than one would think. One of the samples I was given, a digital catalog for wedding-centric e-commerce outfit Loverly, works similarly to its paper equivalent. You flip from page to page sequentially (but vertically), seeing all the company’s options in a book-like fashion. However, there’s one critical difference between a traditional tome and this digital flipbook: Wrap’s platform lets companies embed video, e-commerce, geolocation, and customer support content in the page. Using Wrap’s analytics system, brands can see exactly where in a flipbook users stop reading and leave–information that will surely help companies revamp their flipbooks and retain users for longer periods of time. In exchange, though they lose some browsing autonomy, the reader gets what is arguably one of the smoother content-browsing experiences HTML5 can offer for mobile users.
Wrap was initially funded with $2.5 million of Greenberg’s own money (the founder of Acumen Sciences, Scient, and Viant, he was one of the best known names of the initial 1990s tech boom) and recently concluded a $3.5 million series A. The company’s on-record clients include CBS’s CNet, Loverly, Raen sunglasses, StumbleUpon, and Hint Water. Wrap is believed to be actively pursuing clients in the media and sports spaces, as well.
When I spoke with Rolston, he was excited about future sports uses for the platform. The example Roston (a good Texan) gave me was generating guides to football games for ticket purchasers: “I need to know where the game is, I need a ticket, parking assistance, maybe to buy some shirts or swag at the game, and look for my seat. I flip the page and there’s my ticket; I flip again and there are seating instructions.”
Another case study Greenberg and Rolston are pushing heavily is digital receipts. In their vision, companies will send Wrap-generated URLs to customers that include both receipts from the e-commerce site or POS, product and warranty information, and even coupons for related products.
But there’s a challenge Wrap has to tackle first: The dominance of one-shot content publishing platforms like Snapchat and Tumblr among the companies they’re courting, along with popular content production platforms like Squarespace and WordPress that feature responsive designs that suit both desktop and phone screens. It’s unclear how the company will sell clients on a content management system (CMS) that produces web pages with less functionality than a standard web page.
With that said, however, the odds are decent that Wrap can thrive and build a niche for themselves on the digital web. Eschewing a standard web page format (not to mention trendy UI/UX conventions of 2015 like the hamburger icon) requires no small amount of chutzpah, and there are certainly opportunities in creating a unique form of narrative for smartphones. For ordinary web users, it means a new way of looking at webpages–and a potential design trend we’ll see a lot more of in the future.