Omma: The Turkish start-up smartening up digital signage and marketing

7 Dec 2020

Tolga Şen (standing) speaks to Emre Çorbacı (right). Image: Omma

Our Start-up of the Week is Omma, which is developing software to make digital signage more dynamic and video marketing that can be personalised in real time.

Just about everything has been made ‘smart’ in the past 10 years and digital signage is no exception. The smart digital signage market is where we find Omma, an Istanbul-headquartered start-up founded in 2015.

Smart digital signage comes with built-in hardware to give ad displays and other signage capabilities similar to a smart TV. This opens up the possibility of internet of things, software and cloud integrations to make these displays more dynamic and interactive.

Omma’s flagship product, OmmaSign, is a fully programmable cloud-based digital signage software platform that is OS-independent. With OmmaSign, smart displays can ‘talk’ to each other, allowing them to keep in sync across one campaign.

Within two years of launch, a partnership with LG saw OmmaSign deployed in a large-scale smart signage project for Turkcell, Turkey’s top mobile phone operator. For this campaign, more than 12,000 displays in more than 1,200 locations deployed the OmmaSign software.

Later, as the smart signage market matured, Omma began to develop OmmaVQ. This is a digital advertising software that generates personalised videos using data from linked sources in real time.

Both of these products are built on top of what Omma calls its Smart Display Engine (SDE).

‘When 2022 comes, no one will want to spend any more time inside their houses and digital signage will prove its value once more’

“We are proud of our 99.8pc uptime and always working to go towards more nines,” said Omma co-founder and CEO Tolga Şen. “Downtime is expensive and it makes you look bad. We make sure everything is up and running at all times.”

As well as setting high-performance goals, Omma is passionate about delivering a secure solution. “We provide tech-giant-level security for all. We bring a higher standard of security so that the data and applications are protected with complex protocols based on global quality standards,” Şen added.

Coping under Covid

The future goal for Omma is to create the ultimate display-based marketing tool, which Şen said will be powered by artificial intelligence and run on the SDE infrastructure. “This base will create a powerful platform for us to build more vertical products with built-in application stores, interactivity options and data integrations for various industries, targets, audiences, etc.”

Back in the present, though, OmmaSign is intended for use in the physical advertising space, and the rolling closures of brick and mortar stores globally under Covid-19 restrictions has had an impact.

“We handled this period pretty good,” said Şen. “It’s been nearly a year now and we signed major distributor agreements with regional giants such as Midwich, Westan in APAC, and Logic Displays in India and MENA. We also signed regional and global software and hardware partnerships with Samsung, Philips and BrightSign. We already see the pick-up trend in digital signage with those developments and believe that these strong ties with the biggest player of our industry will help us greatly when it comes to getting back on track after Covid-19.”

OmmaVQ, as a digital product, hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic, and Şen is hopeful that OmmaSign will bounce back in a couple of years. “When 2022 comes, no one will want to spend any more time inside their houses and digital signage will prove its value once more, stronger than ever. Once the supply chains and the industry picks up from where it left off, the last men standing will cherry-pick among global projects,” he said.

Turkey’s start-up scene

Şen’s background is in engineering, both in the academic and professional sense. Company COO Emre Çorbacı is an economics major with more than 20 years’ experience in sales and marketing, more than half of it at the director level. Joining them as co-founder is Mehmet Özergil, a five-time founder with one exit already under his belt.

Şen said that starting a company in Turkey, where foreign investment has been pulling away from the market over the last couple of years, has been a challenge that drove them to seek opportunities elsewhere. “We couldn’t get the financials we need from the home market and this has led the way for us to take the risk and try to penetrate new markets,” he said.

Establishing a brand in new markets takes time and, Şen said, “Australian bushfires and the global pandemic didn’t help with our overseas day-to-day operations but that proved itself to be a real learning period in terms of expense management and innovative approaches to our daily practices and product development.”

While he admits that Turkey is “not known for its booming start-up scene”, Şen believes this is a young scene that is on the up.

“The start-up culture has been around in Turkey for only about a decade. After just one decade, we now have technology transfer centers in more universities than ever before, incubation centres in university campuses all around the country, government aids for various verticals, co-working spaces all around big cities, and the biggest acquisitions have been made in the last few years.

“We started to hear success stories of this generation, especially in the delivery and gaming verticals. The purchase of Yemeksepeti by Delivery Hero in 2015 was one of the biggest stories of our time as well as the story of Peak Games’ acquirement by Zynga, Series C funding of Insider by a number of global investors and so on,” said Şen.

“The Turkish start-up ecosystem has its ups and downs, as the country itself is a mix of the East and West and struggles to stand on its own feet. 2019 has been a good year for everyone here but now we can see some dark clouds above.”

To weather any storms that may be yet to come, Omma is focused on preparing for a new investment round, particularly to support development for OmmaVQ. “We are on the edge of a breakthrough and we need a little push for that,” said Şen. “We need to focus on scaling up as sustainably as we can and we need to balance this growth with revenue and investment.”

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.