Liz has quite a background. She tells about her experience starting, running and selling an IT consulting firm. That led to running a multi-billion division for CDW. After CDW she started SOLOMO and then later Meeper. Her insights on living on the cutting edge of technology is interesting. It’s not always easy.
She provides a nice background and future for location intelligence. Liz and SOLOMO were well ahead of the curve when they started. They had to deal with privacy issues and then how to integrate with client systems.
Then we talk about Meeper, which is motorized toy, compatible with legos that you control with your smart device. Cool. She talks about how the company was founded, and launched its first product. This is a software and hardware product, the hardware bringing more complexity to the project.
I hope you enjoy.
Hey everyone. This is our second interview on Flyover Labs. Hope everyone is doing well today. Today we have Liz Eversoll with us. She is the CEO of Solomo and the Chairman of Meeper. Thanks Liz for coming on this show.
Liz: You bet it’s a pleasure to be here.
Dave: And so I asked Liz to be on the show, because she is quite a good entrepreneur and she is at the heart of location intelligence and the programmable robotics wave, so I’ll let her tell you more about that of course. Before that, she also has a very strong consulting background, so she is the perfect interviewee here at Flyover. So, maybe I’ll just get right into it, but first we’ll talk about Liz’s background a little bit and then talk about her experience at Solomo and more recently at Meeper and just about innovation, how she looks at it and any other amazing points Liz can bring up.
Liz: Hope you’re right, and we’ll do our best.
Dave: Yes, no pressure. So yeah, Liz, do you want to give us a little background, how you got to where you are now, maybe you know not from birth, but post college.
Liz: Yeah, maybe just my career, yes.
Liz: I am a computer science major, so I did start out in a technical track as a programmer with DuPont and Conoco, so I got lots of good experience with large corporate IT and methodology and process and also worked for other large companies like TDS, so I spent a good part of my career in internal ITs, understanding methodology and process and operations and all those kinds of things, but I have always been fascinated by technology and how you can apply it to business, not technology for technology sake, so in 2009 I started my first consulting business, but ended up selling that a couple of years later to Berbee. Berbee is a regional value added reseller located here in Madison and branched out to most of the Central Region and I built their Microsoft business and then Berbee was sold to CDW. During that transition, then I took over the CDW software business, which was almost a trillion dollar business, $800 million in Microsoft, and then another $600 million in other software, so I took over that business and built that to about $3billion in 4-1/2 years and then sort of got the entrepreneurial itch again and this was about the time 2008 to 2009 when cloud and mobile and social technologies were all just really sort of taking off and it seemed to me sort of a perfect storm in technology and time to look at opportunities and when you handle those kinds of things there is a lot of disruption and innovation and opportunities that can present themselves and I certainly didn’t want to miss that wave; I had accomplished a lot of things at CDW and Berbee and it was time to now go back and start my own business again. So, I stayed a little bit longer at CDW, because they asked me to, but then I finally left at the end of 2010, started Solomo in the middle of 2011 and I started really doing just custom consulting, trying to figure out the mobile space, then what companies needed, there was a lot of consumer activity at the time, but not a lot of real enterprise platforms around mobile and companies were hesitant to implement location technologies and they really didn’t know how to manage sort of social identities and information and so those were kind of two corner stones that we set out to solve with our platform. I have stayed pretty true with that as far as our location based marketing insight platform, we spent a lot of time on privacy and trust and all those things in our technology platform, but I have really taken the data to the next level and provided really great marketing insights for companies. So then, about a year ago I started a couple of other small companies out of Whitewater with some economic development plans when at Meeper, which is a Lego compatible toy, a motorized toy that connects via Bluetooth to your smartphone and so you can drive it around and control it and do all kinds of cool things on it, so kind of an internet of toys type solution and then a couple of other companies down there too, one is a mobile gaming company that you know sort of connects all you devices rather than you playing independently and __4:56___ which is a fantasy game, so if you play fantasy football, it’s actually in a fantasy world, so think about drafting goblins and dwarfs instead of football players and then playing leagues and games and so those are some of the things I am involved in.
Dave: Wow, that’s quite a background. I mean, I knew some of your background, but I didn’t know all of that with where you started you career and what you did at CDW, that’s pretty impressive, so…
Liz: Yeah, that was really the foundation, the corporate world that I came from, really good foundation for running a business, being physically responsible, building teams, and all of those kinds of things were really great background for me.
Dave: I know, I bet. So, how is Solomo going and can you just describe, you know, briefly kind of the technology behind it and maybe your initial vision and then where is it today, so that is multiple questions but…
Liz: We will bring it all together, so Solomo is doing really well. There is now two sides to our technology, one is analytics, which tells you about what’s happening in our location, how many people are visiting, repeat visits, logs, etc., and then there is the engagement side and this side actually targets a little more __6:22___ than what you are familiar with, so when you walk into, you know, the women’s department, you are prompted with women’s offers or offers in your favorite color or what have you, we have platforms for both sides of that equation, but what we found is that you have to start with the analytics, you have to start with understanding what is happening in your location. We sort of went back and forth, we started out with analytics, then engagement got hot, then people realized that you can only reach a small number of people via mobile application versus understanding all of the behavior in your location with analytics and so we stayed true to our initial vision, which was to provide location intelligence and enable location-based experiences, so our platform provides both what we want is we, have really in the last probably a year and a half focused a lot more on the marketing insights that come out of that, so you can make real business decisions and then enhance the experiences, and then an underlying piece of that is sort of the identity management, the privacy and the trust and my background in corporate ITs was some of the really important and also as a parent, you know, we are giving away all of our identity information and not really getting value for that and not really knowing what’s happening with that information, so we tried to build in those things from the beginning into our platform as well. It was pretty close to our initial visions, I think one of your questions you asked me and the pre-questions as well what we have done differently, this may be, you know, stuck to our initial analytic staff and insights and made that really rich, robust and sort of not followed the market wave of engagement so heavily.
Dave: That make sense, and where do you kind of see, you know five years down the road where do you see this area headed, kind of what you guys have been working on or just even, maybe even more deployment, because people have been talking about this for a long time, but there is not a lot of deployment out there, yeah, where do you kind of see this area?
Liz: Yea, we believe that every location will have intelligence, everyone will want to know what is happening in their location and what’s the behavior in their location, and you want those insights and we provide those now and we tie those back to event marketing, did someone go to events and then come to your location or we tie that back to some of your online or your offline marketing, I sent out a mailer and does that drive people into the pet food department or not. Marketers want that intelligence and they are going to want it in every single location and then come an operational standpoint just staffing and efficiency and those things. We sort of caused the Google analytics for the physical world today we don’t build a website without that intelligence and understand the behavior and do AV testing and all those kinds of things and that’s what we enable in the physical space.
Dave: Yeah, that makes so much sense. I feel like every physical place should have this. What do you think are the biggest barriers have been to adoption and do you see those going away? Is it more technology oriented or business oriented? the barriers …
Liz: Yeah. You mentioned one of them, which is the infrastructure and just getting people to buy into the infrastructure, but there is actually not a problem getting volume into the infrastructure, if you have ROI and so that’s a lot of what we have spent time on, especially marketers that, we can do AV testing that when you go into a mall we can actually tell you if you are getting the amount of traffic that the mall is telling you that you are getting. So that we can finally put real ROI in dollars behind the marketing insights and how some make real business decisions that either will give cost or can improve sales, and so ROI has been really the biggest thing that it has taken time to measure in this space and once you have that, I mean, I have been in corporate IT a long time, the cost of the infrastructure doesn’t matter if there is a business justification, so I think, first we are finally seeing the benefits of that, having the ROI and then people don’t question so much the cost of the underlying infrastructure.
Dave: Gotcha, okay, and to show that ROI, have you been working with pilot customers? Any chance you can share any of the results ? I am curious in what you found.
Liz: Yeah, well I probably won’t name names, but working in, you know, traditional retail in the event space, you mean, those are kind of tied together because many retailers or brands are doing events that drive you into your location, so in the event space, we have been able to measure and report back to exhibitors or back to show managers the actual traffic that they are getting to their particular exhibits. We can show them the actual traffic within the whole show and that you could sell certain spaces for more money than you are selling them today, because you are getting more traffic in those locations, so they can start to monetize their space and their show a little bit better in the retailer space and we worked with a number of marketing agencies, we were actually able to give them hard dollars, one example, you know, a bank ran a campaign to put pop up stores in malls. The mall told them they would get traffic of 400,000 people over the weekend and we were actually able to show them they only got about 60,000 people to their location, so that is definitely something they can take back and say, you know, we need a better deal on the space that we are getting or we need to adjust this, but then we were also able to tell them that, you know, you ran that campaign for 4 days in each of these locations, if you ran them for 3 days you would essentially get 97% of the results that you got, so reduce your cost of your campaign by 25% and still get 97% of the benefit.
Liz: So, yeah.
Dave: That’s intelligent, location, so with that one you are tracking anonymous people right, so with your technology you can track anonymous or people, lets say you have the Target app and then you can actually know this is Dave Cruz walking through Target, is that right? Is that how you did that one project?
Liz: Yes, there’s two levels and Anonymous Analytics, those are all the examples I just gave you, so we can provide all that information without having to have an application on the consumer’s phone, so there’s such rich intelligence that we haven’t even started to tap just with Anonymous Analytics and Anonymous Analytics will get you about 70 to 80% of the consumers in your location, so really high from a marketing perspective to understand that behavior from that large of a population, so that has been really beneficial where they have no insights today and they have no data about any of the behavior and application, we are getting about 70 to 80%, which then they can start making some real good business decisions on, whereas if you look at the engagement side, you are doing well if you have over 30% adoption of your application, so while you can get really rich insights and you can start to personalize information, as you were saying, this is Dave walking through the mall, we can give you certain information, but you are really getting that for a much smaller set of your customers, so we recommend you start with the inside, figure out the behavior, figure out how you want to change the behavior and then there are lots of things you can do in your marketing campaigns to do that, it could be online, it could be offline, it could be mobile, lots of ways to change that behavior and then keep measuring that.
Dave: Interesting, do you have the capabilities to send messages and tie into, let’s say, the point of sales system or the records for a company, so you can kind of tie it altogether, or is that ongoing?
Liz: Yep, we do that, in our inside platforms, so we can collect any sort of data, so we have integrated POS data, any kind of sensor data, video sensor data, year round data, and then start to do demographic data, so like in some of the events we can tell our customers how many women or how many men are there, what’s the mood of those folks and we do that by augmenting our data with other data like CRM or POS or video or what have you.
Dave: Interesting, and you say what’s the mood?
Liz: Yeah, so we have a lot of different sensors that we use ___15:55_____ BLE or Wi-Fi, they will have video on and then with video you can analyze that and get demographic data, so sex and race and mood, and those sorts of things.
Dave: Wow, okay. I didn’t know you had that too, that’s interesting.
Liz: Yeah. Basically we can incorporate any __16:20___ with any data, we could add weather, right…
Dave: So, from a technology standpoint, I mean, of course, you always want to build more, is there any other tool or innovation out there that you really need in order to kind of achieve your vision, or it sounds like it is as much a business issues that you know might roll out from a potential client, is there any other technology that you are looking to create over the next 5 years?
Liz: Yeah, so we feel really good about the platform we have. We are deploying to hundreds of locations, we have deployed it to events that have hundreds and thousands of consumers or devices, so we feel really good about the scale and the reliability and the enterprise nature of our platform and we really just like to stall the heck out of it right now.
Dave: Yup, yup. I believe that.
Liz: We feel like we are there, we have ROI, we have good customer references, we have all those good points now which is great, and then there are lots of other things that we would like to continue to build into the platform, so when you do get to the engagement side, there are really very compelling experiences and personal experiences that you can build once you have the insights to know the behavior that you want to encourage, so I think that’s really exciting. We would like to build in more tools to do these sorts of things, there are integration points that we have been asked to do for CRM or POS or things like that, so those are on our roadmap as well, it really becomes a marketing cloud, sort of, for your physical world, so it is kind of building out that vision and then marrying that up with your online cloud.
Dave: Gotcha, that’s exciting, I know it’s been a lot of work to get where you have been, but it sounds like you are in a very nice position now.
Liz: I have.
Dave: I think consumers will, they might be a little freaked out at first, but they will also be, I think, pretty amazed by what that type of engagement will bring to an experience at an event or at a retail store or at a party, wherever you might be, what you can all do, I’m excited for it, but I guess I like most things technology.
Liz: Yes, so you can do a lot with Anonymous that doesn’t threaten the consumer, collects no personal or device, just to pick data on them and really assist the business and marketing to make better decisions and help to increase revenue.
Dave: That’s a good point, and you guys even, I think it might scramble the Mac address too…
Liz: We do that to a lot of the privacy that we built in, we do have our own beacons and have it built in and patented it, some of the privacy and the algorithms that we have, so that is a corner stone of just one of our basic kind of…. built around the platform.
Dave: Gotcha, okay. So, we’ll move off Solomo here soon and talk about Meeper, I mean, the last question is, you can probably touch on this a little bit, but what has been one of the hardest parts of Solomo, you know, through your adventures in the last, I guess, is it 6 years, 5 years now … you have been working on it?
Liz: Yeah its 4, it will be 4 years that we have been working on the technology platform and __ 20: 12 ____ platform, but I think the biggest thing is to be on the leading edge is really hard, right?
Liz: There is no product that exists, there is no ROI, people don’t understand the value, it’s not a critical solution for them yet because they do not understand it, so you know, the last 3 years have really been about educating and having the market move and become more interested in and receptive to testing and trialing and seeing the value and so that’s really been, you know, the biggest uphill battle, but technology is technology and we have, you know, great engineers and technicians and I always have confidence we will solve whatever technical problems we come into, but the bigger hurdle is really just getting enterprises to move and then enterprise feels like it was long.
Dave: Yeah .. yeah .
Liz: It’s long anyway in an established phase it’s 12 months and so it becomes 18 months or more when you are talking with technology like this, so that is probably, you know, you have to have a lot of tenacity and endurance to keep after it.
Dave: Yeah, and that’s a good way to put in, so one way to argue like well, we should wait longer, but the problem is, you know, if you guys have waited longer then other companies would have passed you by, technology wise, now you are right in the heart of location intelligence because you went through the pain of having to convince people with ROI and bill out the platform and work through the privacy issues, so yeah, what you guys are doing is quite interesting.
Liz: Well, thank you.
Dave: Let’s totally move on to Meeper, we only have so much time left, but I am curious to hear a little bit more about Meeper, I know a little bit more about Solomo, so I am curious to hear about Meeper and I am also curious how you got the name or who came up with the name Meeper ?
Liz: Yeah, so one of my engineers, it was something that he had been thinking about for a long time, you know, before he joined Solomo and then prototyped some things and initially it was just __22:25___. The technology was a BLE sensor that you would give to a child and then if you got out of range of your parents then the parents’ phone would beep or meep, which is where the name came from, so pairing of a BLE sensor to the phone for child locating and so that was originally what we were going to do. It was a B2C business, which Solomo is not a B2C business and so we started that independent of Solomo and Jim, my partner got into it. One of his or his kid Will said, you know, he’s a huge Lego enthusiast, he said I wish my Lego’s would move and Jim then thought about this location technology and said I could take a BLE sensor and put motors on it and then pair it to the phone in the same way that we would do a child locating device and then control the device themselves. We talked about it and it wasn’t a long conversation because Lego is the number one selling toy in the world and it wasn’t the last out there, you know, a year and a half ago and so that’s how we started Meeper and our first product is the meeperBOT, which we did a 1.0 release on __23:45___ and just finished off the 2.0 release on Kickstarter.
Dave: Nice, I want to have you give a brief overview on Meeper and like exactly, you know, what it is, but before that, how do you come up with these ideas and then research them, kind of what’s your process to, you know, with Solomo you knew there was something, there was some potential in mobile, the same thing with Meeper, you know that Lego is a big industry, so how do you kind of take the lead? you know, is it gradual steps and then all of a sudden, like okay this makes sense or kind of, what’s your thought process?
Liz: Yeah, so with Solomo, I started the company and it took about a year of doing consulting with enterprises on just your mobile apps or some of their work in their IT shops and then, you know, found sort of these gaps and wanted to understand why they weren’t implementing this technology and then that’s what we built our platform around, so it was sort of the need there and then with Meeper, the child location, you know, at the time there was a couple of them out there, that something was going to be a little different as we would all think our innovations are, and then about the time where Jim was thinking about this Lego compatible motorized toy, there was just like a whole onslaught of lots of them coming out on Kickstarter or some of the bigger companies, the carrier companies releasing these and so it just got crowded really really fast and there was so much opportunity with the Meeper solution with form factors and digital experience and building a Meeper community. We also provide, you know, 3D printouts where you can customize your Meeper chassis, so there is just so much opportunity in a big big market and that made a lot of sense to us.
Dave: Interesting, okay. That makes a lot of sense especially with the Solomo, you are out there getting feedback right ? … trying to see what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense.
Liz: Yeah, and this is a lot easier market to get feedback in because we just hand it to a kid and they go gaga and they fill it in about 8 seconds, and they are like, I want one mom.
Dave: Yeah, I’ve got a daughter and niece and nephew and they are all into Lego’s of course, so I can see the great appeal, even for myself, but the Lego’s, and can you just….
Liz: We did, we got lots of, I have a set of kids in my neighborhood that are good family friends and so we get them together every few months and go through the latest prototypes and watch them play and get their feedback and so having used a product development process as well.
Dave: Can you just describe to me, it attaches onto the existing Lego structure right?
Liz: Yeah, so it’s a Lego-compatible chassis, so on the chassis are just bricks and studs that are compatible with Lego Duplo or Technics or Mega Bloks, you can build anything on it, it comes with 4 wheels and motors and you snap all your Lego’s on, you pair it to your phone via Bluetooth and you are off and running.
Dave: Interesting, that sounds pretty slick. So, how did you guys design the first meeperBOT, the hardware and the software, you know, what iterates to through and what are your first products like versus the one that you are releasing, who is manufacturing like the hardware, or if you are doing it in Wisconsin or where are you doing it?
Liz: Yeah, so the first one, we called them meeperBOT 1.0, probably should have done meeperBOT 0.5 maybe. We actually 3D printed the chassis ourselves and actually designed and assembled all the electronics as well. We did a launch on indiegogo, we sold a few hundred of those, got lots of feedback from our supporters and then went into about a 6-month cycle for 2.0 and just got feedback from kids, like I don’t want to just build on the top, I want to build on the bottom, in the front, in the back and I want to change out my Lego wheels and I want a different screen on my app and I want skis and I want lights, and you know, and we just took all that feedback and went through iterations of design for meeperBOT 2.0, showed lots of people and did events and activities, we just had Saturday time last week and had probably hundreds of kids playing with the bots and just watching them play and how they engaged and what works and what doesn’t and then feeding that back into your product development cycle. So, 2.0 we actually have somebody assemble the majority of the electronics for us. We are injection moulding all the plastics for the chassis and the wheels and the tires and so it’s of much more polished, the bricks fit on perfectly, that’s really important as you are building and so then we do final assembly of those electronics and injection molded components and package it and ship it and those sort of things we will outsource here in Wisconsin initially in the next few months.
Dave: Okay, interesting. We are almost out of time, but how do you, I am curious with the hardware especially, how do you take in all this feedback about features, I am sure you have a billion features that kids want, but how do you figure out which features to add, because it’s not like software where we can, it’s easier to change on the fly, once you make a decision about hardware you kind of have to live with it for a while at least, so ….
Liz: Yeah, you do and especially when you start to build tools to injection mold some of these components. We have done a really nice job on the electronics, so the electronics are very scalable, so there are lots of different form factors for us, and then on the digital side, there are so much we can do on the digital side with those electronics, so it really comes down to the form factors and giving good design on those, because you cannot change those as readily, or it’s a little bit higher cost and so we try to build this canvas, you know, that’s sort of our concept, isn’t it? It’s a canvas for your brick block play and you can put bricks on it anywhere, front, back, you can take off the top, put them on the inside, take off the wheels, put on other wheels, so those are some of the design concepts and then that gives us a little more flexibility.
Dave: Gotcha, yep, that makes sense, okay. Yeah, flexibility helps a lot with hardware.
Dave: Well, I could talk all day about this stuff, but I don’t know if you would want to listen to it all day, so I guess we should probably end the podcast. I was curious about some of the other stuff you are working on, but maybe we will have to have you back in a year, we can get a quick update.
Liz: Yep, we will get it a little further along by then.
Dave: That’s right, alright, well we appreciate you coming on the show Liz.
Liz: Alright, thanks Dave, thanks everyone, take care.