Hongwei Liu, Mappedin

September 18, 2018
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Wayfinding is one of those core technologies that make consumer lives better and easier - helping people locate where they want and need to go in places like shopping malls, airports, health care facilities and higher ed campuses.

There are numerous software companies that include wayfinding capabilities in their platforms, but only a handful that have been laser-focused just on delivering that solution. One of the most successful ones is Mappedin.

The company started as a sideline for some students at the University of Waterloo, which most observers would call the top computing school in Canada. Hongwei Liu and his buddies thought they could solve a problem for students finding their way around the sprawling Waterloo campus, and then at a local mall and a casino a couple of hours up the highway.

There was enough there for Liu to quit school in his second year. Just a few years later, he's running a company with 60 employees, some big outside investors, and clients across North America and globally.

I spoke with Liu about Mappedin's roots, what works and doesn't, and how the big moment came when serious research showed good wayfinding can mean millions of dollars in incremental sales for shopping malls and their tenants.

 

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Henrik Andersson, Instore Screen

September 5, 2018
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Retail is one of the most-chased vertical markets in all of digital signage, but if you ask people who really know this tech, but also really know retail, they'll tell you they've rarely seen it done well, or right.

I tend to agree, and sometimes its not the whiz-bang flashy stuff that makes a difference, but the more pedestrian stuff that does the whole right message/right time thing.

A company called Instore Screen has been chasing retail for many years, and has learned what's needed and works, and developed a product that specifically fits the retailer and consumer brand ask. It does screens that fit the sightlines, limited space and operating realities of grocery, drug and mass merchandise. The high-resolution screens enable the kind of full-motion, eye-grabbing content that drives impulse purchases.

The company's core product is custom-manufactured, pixel-dense LCD screens that fit easily into things like grocery aisle endcaps. Based in Hong Kong, Instore Screen has some top tier customers like Whole Foods, which is using end-cap screens in its new-build stores to explain products and drive sales.

I spoke with Henrik Andersson, the founder and CEO of the 15-year-old company. We get into the technology, shopping dynamics and the argument for LCD over LED as shelf-edge displays.

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Kyle Pilot, iGotcha

August 15, 2018
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I was in Montreal recently and had a chance to visit the offices of iGotcha, a digital signage and experiential media solutions company that has very quietly built up a nice book of business since launching in 2005.

Working out of an old warehouse building overlooking the historic Lachine Canal, iGotcha works with everyone from banks and a lottery corporation to Cirque du Soleil.

I caught up with Kyle Pilot, one of the co-founders and the longtime CTO. He now runs the company with business partners Greg Adelstein and Hadrien Bessou.

In this chat, we get into what they do, who they work with, and get on a fairly lengthy riff about the merits of technology like System on Chip displays.

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Brett Jones, Lightform

June 20, 2018
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One of the most interesting companies I saw recently at InfoComm in Las Vegas was Lightform, a San Francisco start-up that is making the once dark art of projection mapping available to just about everyone.

It wasn't that long ago that projection mapping was all about very ambitious, very complicated, very expensive projects that only a handful of companies had the chops to pull off.

Now we have a company with a $700 device and related software that makes it possible for just about anyone to do small-scale projection mapping on things like a merchandising display or a wedding cake.

Lightform calls this Projected Augmented Reality - the idea that AR is not something that needs to be seen though the lens of a smartphone.

I spoke with CEO and co-founder Brett Jones, and we did our best to describe to listeners what we were seeing as we walked around the booth.

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Mitch Goss, Zero-In

May 30, 2018
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There are lots of companies out there that call themselves turnkey digital signage solutions providers, but far fewer who can do so with straight faces.

A company called Zero-In has been doing just that for the last decade, and has developed a nice book of business doing the whole nine yards of signage work - from creative to deployment and ongoing operational management.

The New York company's customers include everyone from big banks and retailers to Shake Shack - the burger and shakes chain started just steps away from where Zero-In now has its main office in the Flatiron district.

I spoke with company founder Mitch Goss about the challenges and opportunities of building and running networks for clients.

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Bruce van Zyl, Sellr/Bev TV

March 21, 2018
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Booze is a complicated thing to buy. All the product categories look pretty much the same, so people revert to price, top of mind awareness or labels and names that catch their eye.

One of the ways to improve that situation is by putting digital right into the aisles of liquor stores, where people poke around trying to figure out what they'll like and should buy. A company up in the north Atlanta tech suburbs, called Sellr, is rolling out BevTV displays in stores, with the aim of helping consumers make more informed choices about buying wine, beer and liquor - and hopefully influence buying decisions.

The company got its start in retail hardware, but has transitioned fully into software and content - building up a massive 165,000 item library of curated information about booze that's tied to universal price codes. They make that interactive content available on commercial-grade tablets they install, on their nickel, at eye-level in participating stores.

I talk in this podcast with company president Bruce van Zyl about BevTV's experiences to date, and its plans to have 1,000 units running by this summer.

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Guy Tonti, Unified Brand

March 11, 2018
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Auto dealerships have always been an environment well suited to digital signage. There are a lot of things to talk about and sell, and a lot of interest and buying comes down to things like the visual and emotional appeal of the vehicles.

Guy Tonti's company, Unified Brand, spends a lot of its time working with dealerships developing what amounts to custom television channels that are tuned to the dealer environment. Based in Phoenix, the company has carved out a nice, steadily growing niche in the sector, bolstered by work it also does with other locations and regional businesses.

The channels, using digital signage tech, are revenue-producing, customer-centric content plays that are used as an alternative to the TVs you'll still find in many, many auto dealer service area lounges. That idea doesn't work all that well, as competitors' ads might run on a broadcast channel, and U.S. politics is getting so polarized just running CNN or Fox News on a waiting room TV may stir up arguments and complaints.

Intensely local digital signage is an interesting departure for Tonti, who joined and then bought the company after years working with networking giant Cisco, where he was director of worldwide practices for emerging technologies.

Tonti and I caught up in Phoenix, spending time talking about Unified Brand and touching a little bit on his brush with fame, when he was a four-day champ on Jeopardy. He can't be THAT bright, because hey, he's in digital signage.

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Sakchin Bessette, Moment Factory

January 17, 2018
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Fantastic creative is at the heart of any great digital signage project, and when I am asked to rattle off the names of creative shops capable of doing top-level work, Moment Factory is automatically in there.

The Montreal-based creative technology group has evolved from a small collective doing VJing and just, basically, have a fun doing cool stuff, to arguably being the premier multimedia shop on the planet for jobs that involve big screens and projection mapping.

Moment's people projection-mapped the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. That's their work in the LAX International Terminal. And at Singapore's Changi Airport. Moment Factory did the reasonably modest, but awesome, ceiling display in Oakley's flagship store in New York.

Moment does digital signage, but they also do live shows on cruise ships, light up bridges and even design multi-purpose media systems for stadiums.

Saky Bessette, Moment's creative director and one of the founders, was kind enough to take a few minutes from his crazy work days to talk about a company that now has 250 people and offices all over the world, and the thinking behind all that great work.

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Rob Gorrie, Bricks + Matter

December 20, 2017
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Rob Gorrie is among the most digitally-savvy and sharp people I know - some of that based on the DNA of a family that's been doing marketing for more than a century. But it's also based on a pile of real world experience starting and running digital companies.

The one Gorrie's been focused on for the last few years is Bricks + Matter - a Toronto-based strategy consultancy that works with retail brands and shopping centers to figure out all this emerging digital stuff - how it works, what it means and what to do with it.

Digital signage is just part of the technology stack, so to speak, and in this chat we get into what retailers are doing and worrying about, as well as what works and what doesn't. Rob's a blunt realist and he's not afraid to say how a lot of what's been tried in retail - like sticking screens all over the place - simply has not worked.

We also spend some time talking about Adcentricity, which about 10 years ago was trying to somehow organize and represent the advertising avails of the many, many digital out of home ad networks that were out there back then. It didn't quite happen, and we get into why, as well as how that's in many ways still the story.

It's a great chat with a guy who has a lot to say. Enjoy.

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Manolo Almagro, Q Division

December 13, 2017
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Just last week Manolo Almagro pulled the curtains back on a new company he's started, under the umbrella of Chris Riegel's ever-growing STRATACACHE empire.

It's called Q Division, a retail tech consultancy that in many respects is the sum total reflection of 20-plus years that Manny has been around tech, in a crazy variety of ways.

His roots go back to desktop publishing for print, but somehow or other he ended up working with an agency that had McDonald's as a client - and he was behind putting digital menu boards into the QSR chain back in the 90s, before flat panels were even around. They used Macs and big-ass rear-projection cubes to pull it off.

He's since been an early adopter and, in many respects, an evangelist and guru for a lot of emerging technologies for online, mobile and in retail.

I caught up with him late last week, and we had a great conversation that got a little out of control here and there.

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Laura Davis-Taylor, High Street

September 27, 2017
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Laura Davis-Taylor is a really well-known and much-loved expert when it comes to how digital fits in retail.

She was a consultant for many years, but more recently has worked for some very large agencies - dealing with equally large retail and brand accounts.

Now she’s back doing the consulting thing, by her choice. She’s started High Street, a retail experience collective, with a couple of old friends and now business partners. Though just up this summer, the boutique consultancy has already bagged some major accounts.

In this episode, Laura talks about the challenge in retail in the age of Amazon, and how getting people in stores and prompting them to buy stuff is not solved alone by sticking in screens or other kinds of tech.

If you sell to or work in retail, you’ll want to have a listen …

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Rick Mills, Creative Realities (CRI)

June 6, 2017
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If you have followed the digital signage business for a few years, you have probably seen stories about the financial tailspins of a set of companies that eventually got blended together as Creative Realities, or CRI for short. Sitting in the cheap seats watching it all go down, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking, Well, this won’t end well.

Then the company merged with another company, ConeXus World. Which had me thinking, Who? And then, Why???

Turns out there was a master plan here, started years earlier. Rick Mills, the CEO at ConeXus, had long had roll-up plans in the digital signage business, and picking up CRI was his first, but not his only move.

He brought some structure to the business, calmed things down, including clients, and in the last couple of quarters, brought a company that had been hemorrhaging red ink into the black.

Now he’s aggressively hiring people, looking to expand, and planning to acquire some smaller competitors to become one of the big boys in the digital signage solutions business.

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Lee Summers, Reflect

May 9, 2017
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Lee Summers is only a few months into his job as CEO of Reflect, but neither the industry or the company were unfamiliar when he took over at the company’s Dallas head office earlier this year. In an unusual twist, he’d been on the other side of the table, as one of Reflect’s highest profile clients.

Summers came out of the retail agency business and actually got his start as a creative, but in recent years he’d been the digital innovation guy looking at how to kit out the mammoth Nebraska Furniture Mart in Dallas.

As the saying goes, they do things big in Texas, and this store is a monstrous 600,000 square feet, or about four Ikeas tied together. He was also in charge of the vast multi-tenant retail space around the store.

We get into that project, but talk more broadly about the challenges and opportunities of being a CMS software and services company squarely focused on retail, when bricks and mortar stores are under siege from online.

We also talk about Ad Logic, an advertising and targeting platform that was built for a client and is now being extended for any retailer that can’t find what it wants from ad platforms which are almost all built with online - not stores - in mind.

35 minutes flew by.

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Jose Avalos, Intel

March 8, 2017
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Jose Avalos has been leading Intel’s digital signage practise since 2009 - evangelizing for the use of Intel chipsets and related technologies for the devices that play back content. When he got started, he says Intel was inside about 10 percent of the boxes used in digital signage. Now it’s more like 75 percent, he says. So from that measure, it worked.

But since 2009, smartphones and then smart TVs really bubbled up, and Intel has seen low cost ARM processors being touted and used inside set top boxes and sticks and smart displays as media players - cutting out the need for Intel CPUs.

In our chat, we talk about Intel’s role in this sector, the implications of ARM processors and system on chip displays, and what they’re doing about it. We also get into Intel’s dabbling in the software side of the business, and talk about IOT.

Jose’s a talker, but I did get a few words in here and there. Enjoy.

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Chris Riegel, Stratacache

February 22, 2017
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I have been trying to get Chris Riegel for an in-person interview for almost a year, but the CEO and sole owner of STRATACACHE has been a busy guy in recent months, expanding his business organically, but also through acquisitions of competitors like Scala and Real Digital Media.

We couldn’t make it happen when he was on one of his frequent trips through Toronto, but we managed to carve out time in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago, at the ISE trade show.

Riegel gets into a lot of things in this podcast - notably how his company got to north of $500 million in sales in 2016 and how he plans to double that within a couple of years. We also talk about how he got started and how he manages a high-growth company that now has some 400 people, but is very much centered around him.

This is a seriously smart, ambitious guy. He's also a smart-ass and doesn't bother using much of a filter when it comes to things like talking about companies he sees as the real enemy in this business.

Here's a snippet of our talk, with me asking who he sees as the competition ...

Riegel: I would say without sounding crass or arrogant about it, the companies that we regard as competitors are the guys who really understand marketing and marketing in retail, so you take, potentially, an Adobe who understands that market, specifically. In sector, I don't really see much competition there. Really for two reasons. One, this kind of deep retail practice that we built around PRN, the expertise that we have there, is really unique in the industry. Number two, when we go into provide solutions to customers, we'll go into very large retailers. We're building that network, financing that network and doing a managed service over the course of 3 years, 5 years … there's not a competitor in the space that will do type of financial models that we will.

Me: So you're carrying the paper on the hardware?

Riegel: We carry the paper on the hardware, the service, everything.

Me: Okay.

Riegel: A retailer has the pockets, but little dinosaur arms, so they won't reach into those deep pockets. We call it the T-Rex problem.

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Mike Tippets, Hughes Media Solutions

February 15, 2017
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Hughes is one of those big billion-dollar tech companies that have found their way into digital signage in recent years. Most of them come in making noise and exited quietly. But Hughes has stuck around.

This week I’m chatting with Mike Tippets, who is Hughes Global Media Solutions Group, working out of Utah but pretty tightly tied to the Hughes mothership based outside Washington, DC. Hughes fates back to the days of Howard Hughes, but is now owned by EchoStar, a global satellite services company.

We have a good chat about a bunch of things - from the roots of the company as Helius, what Mike and his team have learned about big growth areas like corporate communications, and how Hughes goes to market as much more than satellite guys who also have some software.

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ISE 2017 Bonus Episode

February 13, 2017
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This is a bonus edition. I did a pile of sit-down interviews last week in Amsterdam with different execs for full-length podcasts, and you will hear those over the next several weeks. I also did some stand-ups that are already live, with four already up. These are the other four.

I normally get these things properly sound-engineered but in the interests of speed to market, I did these ones myself - so apologies if the sound and levels are a little dodgy. And there's no music.

The interviews are with RED-V from Italy, Interactivescape from Germany, AirportLabs from Romania and NodeArk from Sweden.

There will still be a regular episode up on Wednesday, with Mike Tippets of Hughes.

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Sean Keathley, Adrenaline

February 1, 2017
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This week, we’re talking experience design with Sean Keathley, the president of Adrenaline, an Atlanta-based company that’s in the business of coming up with the strategy, the content and technologies to make spaces like banks, stores and hospitals really work.

Sean talks about the process involved in putting together a successful project, and he made me happy when he said projects they do start out by asking and getting answered from clients one big question: "Why?"

We get into some of the work the company has done with clients like eTrade and New Balance, and also explore how and where digital display technology works, or doesn’t.

We did this by Skype and we were both fighting raging head colds, which will explain some scratchy voices. Enjoy.

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Special Episode - NRF 2017

January 17, 2017
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This is a special edition of the 16:9 Podcast - special because the format’s a little different and because I’m turning this around too quickly to get it polished up by the guy who sound engineers these things.

So no music. Maybe a bit more background noise. The levels are anything but level. But it'll do, in terms of timeliness versus studio quality.

I was just in New York the last couple of days, attending the National Retail Federation’s big trade show. I wanted to pass on some impressions from the show, but also run a couple of shorter interviews I managed to grab on the floor.

I’ll start with an interview I did with Ken Goldberg, the CEO of Real Digital Media. The well known industry executive was wearing a Stratacache shirt and had a Scala exhibitor badge hanging around his neck, so it was a little bit weird to see.

We talked about the news, just last week, that his company was acquired by Stratacache, on the heels of another software rival, Scala, also being acquired.

After that, you’ll hear an interview with Sam Vise of Unefi, a Toronto company that was at NRF showing an interesting product and service that’s built off off 20 years of providing print visuals for the retail industry, and now also does digital signage, off the same platform.

Finally, I’ll pass on some thoughts about NRF.

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Iles Guran, Armodilo

November 30, 2016
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Software and display companies get a lot of attention in the digital signage industry, but projects don’t happen without the gear that holds screens in place and keeps them protected.

I travelled up to St. Jacob’s, Ontario - just outside the Canadian tech hotbed of Kitchener-Waterloo - to speak with Iles Guran, one of the two co-founders of Armodilo, which has built up a thriving little business making enclosures and stands for what you might call one to one digital signage.

Guran is a graphic and industrial designer first, and you can see it in the curves, material choices, colours and functionality of Armodilo’s products. They’re anything but tablets just protected by a bit of metal or plastic. Armed with not much more than an idea and some reference samples, they booked a big exhibitor trade show when they were starting up, and hoped they’d see some interest. They ended up being swarmed at their little booth, and left the show with one of the event’s big awards.

The company has seen steady growth in the last four years, and had to relocate a year ago to a new facility. They’re already wondering if it’s going to be big enough.

Guran talks about how tablets are being used for interactive digital signage in a bunch of interesting ways, and also goes into both the opportunities and challenges.

We chatted in the company boardroom, which was concrete, metal walls and lots of echo ...

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