Sainted Media’s Global Treasure Apps | Francis O’Neill



Frances O’Neill set up her company, Sainted Media, two years ago to create innovative digital books and apps.  Following strong demand and growth has developed two strands to the business: Sainted Media which looks after the digital books and Global Trails which produces the travel apps.

The company’s award winning Global Treasure Apps covers 80 trails across six countries and is constantly being updated with new trails and countries being added all the time. These interactive trails include location-based multi-choice questions that take you on a tour around a city or attraction leading to a reward at the end. And, it’s a real world reward. For example, you can go into an attraction’s giftshop to claim a money-off voucher or reward badge.

A former teacher, Frances made the leap into the world of mobile app technology via a career in filmmaking, coming up with the simple concept through a combined love of teaching and story-telling.

“I came up with the idea when I was in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and noticed that everyone was looking at their mobile phones and no one was paying attention to the beautiful surroundings. So I thought wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could harness people’s addiction to their mobile phones and turn their mobile devices into an educational tool.

“I wanted to make an app that was fun and interactive and had already downloaded a travel app which was location-based but text heavy and quite dull. It seemed to me that it would be much more fun if you could have a more interactive experience whereby you had to look around your environment and answer questions. In short it is an experiential learning app, where you learn by doing.”

The education element wasn’t just confined to the questions in the app, there were also key learnings for Frances as she set about developing the app. “I was basically bootstapping the entire project and couldn’t afford to go through a big agency and had to find some young talented developers to build the app as cost-effectively as possible, I just kept asking for help and advice and was lucky enough to find some fantastic freelance developers in Glasgow who are still with the project today.”

Frances cites her former career as a huge influence as she continues to expand the app reach and capabilities. “Because I was a teacher for a long time I still have good contacts and it is teachers in fact who have helped to write most of the content for Global Treasure Apps. Primary school teachers are particularly good at interactive quiz-style content, so they have helped enormously in pitching the questions at the right level”

“I’m now looking to expand globally and so I’m looking into establishing a network of international teachers who can write great content. Writing content for the app can also be an educational project for school pupils as well. Recently we ran a pilot with Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, who got a school group involved in writing content for a younger cohort and this trail within the app has been particularly successful.”

To date the Global Treasures App has had more than 20,000 downloads and that is just in Scotland. Frances was able to call on the help of Scottish Enterprise, who were able to help her with advice to take the company to the next level. “I got involved with Scottish Enterprise after filling in a form online and mentioned the app I was working on. Before accessing their Innovation Fund, I worked with them for nearly a year to develop a monitisation and international strategy for the product.”

“It was initially a very simple app so we decided to internationalise it by adding twenty different languages as well as audio, video and GPS. We do have competitors and imitators in the Game Based Learning on Location market, but the recent upgrades to the app have put us way ahead of the competition.”

Traditionally the tech sector is stereotypically male, but Frances believes these stereotypes are slowly being challenged. “I started with the UP Accelerator scheme, a programme and investment fund focused on nurturing and driving the growth of early stage technology businesses. Out of the intake the overall majority of businesses are run by women or have female co-founders. It’s perhaps unusual but it shows that women are making an impact in the industry.”

The app is constantly evolving and has led her to use her film background to develop the world’s first interactive movie trails app Global Movie Trails – part-funded through Creative Scotland’s Innovation Fund. “I’ve been able to use my screen writing skills to develop the Global Movie Trails app, which encourages visitors to explore the film locations of Scotland and England. For instance we’ve got three trails from Disney Pixar’s Brave based here in Scotland as well as many other Scottish favourites from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to Trainspotting. I’ve also been talking to the likes of Warner Bros about doing something for the Harry Potter films which is really exciting.”

Frances is also developing an app based on the books of Edinburgh-based best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith who has sold 47m books worldwide. “Sandy writes incredibly location specific novels and he is particularly interested in the fact that the app will help increase footfall into local businesses. We will be creating an app with location based trails based on the characters in his books, and at the end of each book trail you will end up in a café or a bookshop to claim your real world reward.”

“Along with visitor attractions, films and books, music is another area we’d like to move into. Scotland has got such a rich, cultural and vibrant living heritage and we’re keen to grab these opportunities.”