Monetising the CAPTCHA: An Interview with Howard Kingston

How many times have you come across an annoying CAPTCHA that you fail to complete because you’re unable to read the distorted letters in the box?


You’re not alone. Apparently, one in four attempts to complete a CAPTCHA fail for this exact reason. I set out to interview Howard Kingston from Future Ad Labs – the startup who is replacing the annoying CAPTCHA with a fun and engaging game for users to play while creating a new revenue stream for websites.

They are literally creating a ‘future ad lab’ with an idea he pitched at Startup Weekend London.

What was your original Startup Weekend pitch?

Replacing the annoying CAPTCHAs with a game that has a brand in it.

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Did you win the Startup Weekend? What feedback did you receive from the judges?

 No! In fact we didn’t even come in the top three. The feedback from the judges was that it’s going to be difficult to get brands on board – but if anything that became a big motivator! There was an element of wanting to prove them wrong.

Only twice in my life have I been so annoyed I couldn’t sleep. The first time was when Ireland didn’t qualify for the World Cup after a handball by Thierry Henry. The second was the night after that Startup Weekend! That would be my biggest piece of advice to anyone attending a Startup Weekend – if you really believe in your idea you can make it happen, regardless of what anyone else might be saying! Sometimes you just know you’re right. This was one of those times. We went on to start Future Ad Labs.

Future Ad Labs is on a mission to replace the CAPTCHA with something more engaging and game-like. Why does the CAPTCHA need a makeover, and can you share any market data that shows why you chose to revolutionise the CAPTCHA?

Because they suck, and most people get them wrong because they’ve become so difficult that they are not even readable. There are 300 million CAPTCHAs completed on the web everyday (110 billion a year), and one in four attempts to complete a CAPTCHA fail due to people not being able to read the distorted letters in the box.

So is there research indicating that an interactive CAPTCHA performs better than a regular CAPTCHA?

Yes, our PlayCaptchas perform better than standard ones. Standard CAPTCHAs have a success rate (ie. people getting them right) of 75%, whereas our success rate is 97% (proving people find them easier). Actually in third party research, 91% of people prefer our PlayCaptcha to standard CAPTCHA! (Source: Vizeum insights).

So the Monday after Startup Weekend you applied and were accepted into an accelerator?

I already believed monetizing the CAPTCHA would be a success so I had plans on applying right after Startup Weekend whatever the outcome was. Although we lost the competition, I met a great team – some of whom are still with me today!


We raised our first investment round of $1m from various VC’s. Since then we’ve signed with clients like BBC, ITV, Unilever, Heinz and Nestle, to name a few, and we actually launched a crowdfunding campaign last Monday to raise more funds.

We set a goal of £300k and managed to hit the target within 36 hours – one of the fastest on record – thanks to the campaign being picked up in Forbes, The Financial Times, etc.! We are now onto £400k and due to demand we’ve decided to keep the crowdfunding campaign open for another week or so to allow people to get involved. We hope to drive the total investment to half a million before we close it at the end of the month.

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It definitely seems like you are onto something big! Where do you see the business going in the future?

 PlayCaptcha is the first product – and now we are in the middle of developing two other products.

94% of online video viewers click “SKIP” after the mandatory 5 seconds of advertising. We will use the same PlayCaptcha format to advertise products via online videos more effectively. Unfortunately, I can’t really discuss the second upcoming product yet because it’s still in the early stages, but watch this space!

Thanks Howard, I definitely will be! What exciting times ahead for you. I have one final question, do I have to capitalise CAPTCHA every time?

You don’t need to in PlayCaptcha (the name of our product), but I believe the correct way to write CAPTCHA is in caps.

If you would like to take part in the crowd funding campaign please do so here at: and become a part of this exciting stage of investment for Future Ad Labs.