At Startupfest last week we caught up with one Toronto startup that uses location-powered mobile engagement through the use of Beacon technology. Rover‘s clients include the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ford, Staples and more.
Founder John Coombs was in town Thursday for Startupfest’s “Premium Fests,” where he saw speakers like Toby Lutke of Shopify take the stage at ScaleupFest.
“It was awesome,” said Coombs. “Conferences generally try to appeal to a broad audience so the content gets a bit diluted,” said Coombs. “But when there’s 40 people in a room and Tobias from Shopify is basically having a conversation with you about scaling up to a series A, the intimacy is pretty special.”
Coombs and his team at Rover got into 500 Startups in August, 2014. They had “an early customer, some okay revenue and the right team.”
Their platform connects brands and app publishers with customers based on location. The location can be anywhere that users are congregating: inside a stadium, outside a store at a ski resort and more. It uses beacon technology, an proximity system of low-powered, low-cost transmitters that can notify nearby phones of their presence, allowing devices to perform actions when in close proximity.
At first the business was focused on marketing its product to retail stores, but the scope soon expanded. After 500 Startups the founder was able to bring on NHL teams as clients, like the Leafs and the Penguins. They also opened an office in San Francisco.
Ultimately it’s about location being a very actionable and powerful data point for smarter marketing and smarter content, said Coombs.
“A marketer doesn’t care about the technical complexities of beacons. They want to message everyone who’s at the hockey game tonight or standing outside it. And they care that their fans are following them when they go on the road,” he said.
In the Pittsburgh Penguins Coombs said he had a particularly adept client from the beginning. The were already working with Beacon technology and they had their own loyalty program. In the team’s first year it didn’t have a great experience with an agency, so they brought Rover in for a demo. Coombs’ presentation went well.
“They resigned with us for next year and now we’re taking it further, engaging fans while they’re on the road. We’re also working with Miller on loyalty points for fans who go to bars downtown around the arena. It helps them monetize the audience and give a good fan experience.
Coombs says several other pro sports teams are in talks with the startup.
He spent most of his career in the loyalty industry where he saw an industry rapidly changing once Apple’s iBeacon technology hit.
“I recognized that context-aware, relevant content on mobile is about as powerful as any points can be in improving the customer experience, driving loyalty and influencing behaviour,” he said.
Early on, Coombs saw that retailers wanted to reward their customers through their own apps that they had invested so much in. Rover created an SDK that allows a retailer to deliver content based on where a customer is, within their own app, without having to do any development work. It’s a simple drag-and-drop within a retailer’s mobile app, and from then on they can deliver content based on where a customer is in a store.
“My mom can create a Beacon campaign using rover. It’s similar to MailChimp for email,” he said. “It’s very drag and drop that’s why brands can latch onto it.”
After his time at ScaleupFest, Coombs feels that things are looking up for Rover. The team raised $1.1 million in May, it recently launched its new product and it’s actively hiring sales and marketing people.
The founder said he thinks the Penguins won this years Stanley Cup because they’re a client of Rover’s tech. Naturally, it’s reasonable to suggest that the same success could happen to more pro sports teams who become their client.