We’ve all seen plenty of coverage about how the Internet of Things is either here or coming very soon. And companies such as Kontakt.io, one of the world’s biggest beacon providers with 17,000 customers in over 120 countries, are leading the way with the technology to make it happen.
Beacon tech, which allows mobile apps and linked devices to listen to signals and react accordingly, often depending on the context. So, in a leisure location such as a museum it might tell you what you’re looking at and the history behind it; a retail location might send push offers of interest to your phone; while in the front room of a smart home you might be able to adjust the temperature or CCTV angle. Lyft is even planning to use them to alert riders to the correct cars in 2017.
Research shows that as many as 70 per cent of consumers still have no idea what beacons are or do, but it’s estimated that as many as 400 million of them could be deployed by 2020 - so it is clearly a market ripe for marketing.
Kontakt.io CEO and co-founder Szymon Niemczura launched the company in 2013, with the initial goal of helping a client solve problems with a project for the visually impaired. Since then the company has branched into everything from assisting Aboriginal art projects in Sydney to wine tasting in rural Italy.
We caught up with Szymon after Kontakt.io made the technology world sit up with the first ‘beacon-only’ physical showroom in Berlin.
Describe what a beacon is in 25 words
Beacons are like master translators that can turn movement into data and data into reality. They are the cornerstone of the future Internet of Things.
Have retailers taken advantage of beacon technology properly yet?
There is definitely a big change happening. Beacons in retail are no longer used solely for mobile couponing. As we see more brands jumping on the proximity bandwagon, customer expectations are rising.
We have a lot of cases that are more interesting than dropping a coupon upon entry to a store. HotSpot is using parking to engage its customers by helping them to pay for parking on their smartphones. [One use of the system allows vendors serving alcohol to ask customers to take a cab and return to their cars the next morning, preventing them from receiving a parking ticket just because they decided not to drive under the influence]
Rockbot is driving check-ins, with music by playing customers’ anthems when they walk through the door of a venue, and there are many other uses that redefine the shopping experience.
You can monitor queue length at the checkout or customer service desk, remind your best customers with incentives to visit the store by offering incentives, and many, many more features. There is literally no other marketing channel that enables brand engagement with customers while also boosting revenue quickly and inexpensively.
How important will beacons be in the tourism industry?
I’ll take a risk and claim that they have potential to fully transform not only the way we travel through airport navigation and messaging at the bus stops, but also how we explore new venues like city landmarks, museums, and zoos.
Some of our clients like Sismotour are leading this revolution. The company envisioned their newly beaconized signage network in Spain as the ideal way to welcome visitors to a destination and provided users with all the information they needed through an app named Inventrip. [Inventrip was designed to have a simple interface and be ready with answers to common visitor questions like “Where am I?”, “What am I looking at?” and “What is there to do here?” with contextual information based on location]
Beacons were the key to transforming passive signage into active virtual tourism offices. And that is just one example of how future travel will look.
As a football fan, I found the work that Kontakt.io and Thing Pink have achieved in conjunction with Porto to be incredibly exciting. How did fans respond to this, and do you have any other plans for sporting arenas?
As always, actions speak louder than words.
The FC Porto app was downloaded over 150,000 times in the first few months. More importantly, the key finding from sport use cases is that beacons are doing more than selling seats, shirts, and soda. [Beacons were deployed around the Dragon stadium, sending out discounts to fans when their favourite player scored and reducing crowd congestion by monitoring fans entrance points].
Sports brands are using beacons to transform the experience of attending a sporting event into something that is engaging and rewarding no matter what happens on the field or court. We have several more sport projects on their way, so stay tuned.
Can beacons get any smaller than cards? What does the small size of the beacon allow you to do?
Well, beacons can get as small as a coin and thin as a sheet of paper. Our card beacon is only two millimetres thick. Just imagine that.
A super-slim profile opens a world of possibilities and proximity-based applications like control access and movement tracking to businesses who may not otherwise be interested.
What advice would you give to any aspiring entrepreneurs with an idea?
The most important business lesson I have learned is that the greatest success is achieved through teamwork.
As a leader you have to understand the people you are working with, provide them with the right tools and guidance, and let them truly feel a sense of ownership.
This is what they need to thrive and help you meet the needs of your business.
When did you first become interested in technology? What were your favourite gadgets and toys in your early years?
I guess technology was always part of my life.
I was exactly 15 when I earned my first paycheck from developing a website for a local company.
This allowed me to buy tools for building a WiFi wireless network. Back then that was a super expensive, magical tool that made me practically a local hero in my neighborhood.
Which famous people, dead or alive, would you most like to have dinner with, and why?
It’s a tough one. From a personal perspective, I find Pope John Paul II truly inspiring and I guess that would be my top pick.
From the business world perspective, I value Sir Richard Branson and it would be great to meet him personally.
What are your ambitions for 2017, and five years into the future?
My main goal for the upcoming years is to keep innovating within the IoT space, introducing more and more Bluetooth technology to improve the way we live and especially the way we work.
We want to make our public spaces, offices, warehouses and factories smarter and safer.
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