Jim Byrd, CEO and Chairman of Orlando-based Engage Mobility, Inc. (OTCQB: ENGA), talks with Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about his company’s proprietary mobile marketing platforms, its partnership with Datang Telecom and his recent trip to China.
Imagine you are walking around your city during a lunch break trying to decide what to eat. You pull out your smartphone, point it at the street and in an instant tiny icons for every business within range appear in a digital overlay right on the screen. Then you tap a restaurant icon and, voilà, up pops the menu, a list of daily specials and a video of meals being prepared. With just one more click, you can call ahead and reserve a table.
Engage Mobility has developed an app that makes all of that possible. Using augmented reality technology, the app superimposes sound, video, graphics or GPS data over images of the physical world and gives a simulated 3D perception of reality. “We call it Immersion, and it combines mobile augmented reality, cloud-based digital video and a first-of-its-kind mobile marketing platform,” says Jim Byrd, the company’s co-founder. “It will be released this week and goes live in the Apple store within the next several days.”
The company was formed in 2011 by Byrd, who is also a corporate attorney, and his lifelong friend and business partner Shane Hackett. Successful entrepreneurs who grew their former company, Fortune Financial Systems, from zero to more than $100 million in just two years, the duo saw a need for a mobile marketing solution that could help businesses acquire new customers and keep existing customers engaged. “Shane had been involved with Internet video marketing in recent years and was doing some consulting with Qualcomm on a new technology they were developing using augmented reality,” Byrd says. “He believed there was an opportunity for us to build a new company together, so we started out in early 2012 doing online marketing through his video platform and existing databases. After two years of development, we brought our mobile platform based on augmented reality and other cool tools to market in late 2013. Our genesis is in B2B marketing—that is what we know—as well as through Shane’s experience in online video marketing and database aggregation and, of course, through our business relationships over the years.”
Their flagship product called the Mobile Engagement SystemTM uses cutting-edge augmented reality content, mobile coupons, push notifications, geo-targeting and loyalty rewards programs to help businesses build brand loyalty. The system integrates with a proprietary cloud-based video delivery system, mobile CRM (customer relationship management), Dynamic DataTM delivery system and utilizes the company’s database of 40 million-plus consumers and businesses. “The most important aspect to all of this is that it’s giving the front-end user an opportunity to interact with the brands they love,” Byrd adds.
Opportunist: For those who don’t know, what exactly is augmented reality technology?
Jim Byrd: Augmented reality is image recognition software that is not altogether different from facial recognition or fingerprinting software. When you hold a device equipped with augmented reality up to a fixed image, such as a logo, brand name or picture and engage the camera aperture through our app it will scan the image, fingerprint and identify it and send it up to the cloud and associate it with whatever asset we have associated with that image. In our case the augmented reality will engage with our mobile video platform, which will then deliver it back to the handset for the user in the form of corporate videos or messaging or whatever the business wants to convey to the consumer. The interesting thing is that immediately, at that point of initial connection, that user is automatically added to that business’ database. So now they have a continuous engagement with that customer. If you’re a restaurant, for instance, and you offer your patrons access to your menu, videos, etc., you can now communicate through the mobile environment with that customer. So the engagement continues beyond the initial contact.
Opportunist: How does your Mobile Engagement System allow users to interact with their favorite brands?
Jim Byrd: Using our app on their smartphone, they simply scan an image and our system recognizes it and associates it with a particular item resting in the cloud and served from the cloud, whether it’s a coupon, 3D graphic or a video, and essentially brings it to life. It does so by recognizing the printed image and associating it with a particular asset served back to the smartphone from the cloud. We typically use video because our roots are in video. You have to look at it as a front-end user interface and a back-end mobile customer relationship manager. The front end uses a really cool augmented reality browser that is available via free download on Google for Android users and Apple for iPhones and iPads.
Opportunist: We understand you use a geo-targeting system. What does that entail?
Jim Byrd: Each of the customers using the Engage app is entered into the database and represented by a very specific user ID related to the information they entered when they signed up for an account. That is where the geo-targeting comes in. It uses a fairly common technology called location based services that basically allows the platform to identify where a particular phone is. Every cell phone is triangulated by two or three or more cell towers at any time. Let’s say you’re using the Fandango app to search for local movie theaters. It always asks to use your current location, right? Well, each phone has a unique ID and that’s how Fandango knows where you are. Your phone, which is usually with you, is locatable at all times provided location services are enabled.
Now that the consumer is databased, if you will, businesses can go on the dashboard and look at a map of their city and see a pin-dot that represents each one of their customers. Let’s go back to the restaurant for a moment. If I’m the restaurant owner I can see the dots on the dashboard representing every user within one mile of my restaurant. I can then target my marketing to people within a specific range of my business. This gives me the ability to say ‘I want a 10 percent offer to go to every one of my customers within one mile of my business at 11:30 a.m.’ I am contextually reaching the consumer at the right time, at the right place, in the right environment.
Opportunist: Talk about targeted marketing.
Jim Byrd: Yes, it is the most efficient means of business communication ever conceived. Let’s say you own a store at the Mall at Millennia in Orlando and you’re having a one-day sale. You obviously won’t benefit from sending that message to someone in Daytona Beach. With our platform you can choose a specific mile radius and every customer within that location will receive an offer or other business message on their phone.
Our platform is ahead of everybody else. It’s not just state of the art—it is the art—and it gives businesses the ability to migrate their existing data into the mobile environment. For example, let’s say a company has done nothing but email marketing for five years and has acquired 10,000 customer email addresses. They can import those customers directly into our platform and immediately start transitioning them to a mobile marketing solution without having to undo what they’ve been doing for the last five years. And our fully integrated back-end allows the business user to log in and schedule their email marketing, social media and mobile marketing through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or whatever social media platform they use. It truly is the most complete business marketing solution in the world. For pennies on the dollar, they will be able to reach more people at the contextually relevant time when they have a chance to sell them a product or service.
Opportunist: How expensive are your platforms?
Jim Byrd: Our pricing model allows businesses of every size to realize a superior return on their mobile marketing dollar. The most compelling feature of our service is that we are allowing businesses to jump onto our platform at the most affordable price imagined. They can start with a 30-day free trial and then sign up for the service at only $99 a month for up to 500 users and $199 for a thousand users—with no contract. This gives small businesses a full turnkey marketing opportunity for as little as $99. It’s the best, most powerful and cost-effective solution—and every business can afford it.
Most small business cannot afford TV or radio or even print, and with any of those platforms you have no idea whom you’re reaching among the thousands of people who watch TV or listen to the radio. Our clients can literally target specific people who are interested in their brand. It’s truly the most cost-effective marketing solution and we are proud to have been able to price it affordably.
Opportunist: Do you have any competitors?
Jim Byrd: That is an interesting question. We don’t have any competitors doing exactly—or even close to—what we are doing in terms of full turnkey marketing on the mobile side. In the broader context, we do compete for marketing dollars. If a business has only has $1,000 to spend, for example, it may spend it on text messaging or print ads or emails so an email marketing company such as Constant Contact would be a competitor. In the specific context, however, we don’t have any competitors offering the exact solution we provide.
Jim Byrd: We are excited about our partnership with Datang Telecom, a Chinese multinational telecommunications equipment company headquartered in Beijing. It’s the Chinese information arm of one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world and is state owned, so we have essentially entered into a partnership with the Chinese government as well as investors in China to roll out a Chinese version across the country. It is due to be delivered on March 20, and we are on time and expect them to roll it out commercially at the beginning of April. Our most recent trip was a product launch tour where we visited five cities and spoke to hundreds of people in each one, including media, distributors and business owners. Huge crowds of people came out to see this technology, and we were overwhelmed with the response we received.
Jim Byrd: Research experts such as Gartner Group forecast that $21 billion will be spent on mobile ads by 2015. Additionally, the number of mobile and smartphone devices is expected to exceed the world’s population by 2016! Just about everybody has a tablet or a smartphone already. When I spoke in China there wasn’t a single laptop in the room and yet everybody had a least one smart device.
The whole world is going mobile and, quite frankly, I believe our company is going to lead the way. If you read some of the studies, you will see that the hottest sectors over the next few years are these three: cloud computing, mobile and big data. Our solution embodies all three. We have a cloud-based mobile delivery platform, we are clearly entrenched in the mobile space and at the end of the day we are big data aggregators with millions, or even billions, of valuable data points from mobile users.
Opportunist: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment in building this company?
Jim Byrd: Entering a partnership with such a powerful partner as the Chinese government. It’s certainly something we are extremely proud of as a young company. More than anything, though, we are proud of our product and the fact that most people who are trying to develop mobile platforms have spent tens of millions of dollars in the process. Our company has invested less than $1 million dollars and has not only produced a commercially viable product but we have started selling it—and we have succeeding in forming a partnership with Datang Telecom without having multimillions of dollars of venture capital behind us. Our sales and marketing initiatives are being rolled out across the United States as well as in China, and we already have users all over the world. We also have 800 independent reps on board and that number is growing every day.
Opportunist: Where do you see Engage Mobility within five years?
Jim Byrd: We would love to become a household name and the company people think of when they think of Orlando. Of course there are factors not within our control, but our focused plan is to become a NASDAQ-listed company and grow our value to several hundred millions of dollars and become highly profitable. At that point we will know whether we are a potential buyout candidate for a larger company.
We have spent our time in the laboratory building a better mousetrap and now we are ready to catch the mice. [Laughs] We encourage people to download our app and play with it and see the magic—and follow us and our stock. We will continue building the best company possible. I cannot say what the future holds beyond that, but from the standpoint of being a public company we feel we are perfectly positioned.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in Florida. Follow her on Twitter at @lescstone.
Engage Mobility, Inc. - https://www.engagemobility.com/
View the Mobile Engagement Platform - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GjhDuFyT-I&feature=youtu.be