Tech start-up of the week: Pulsate

12 Jul 2014

Pulsate founder Patrick Leddy with an Apple iBeacon device

Pulsate is a mobile marketing platform for the physical world headed by Patrick Leddy. The start-up focuses on bringing mobile and wireless technologies, such as Apple’s iBeacon, into the physical retail experience.

“We help retailers, venues and brands to drive more foot traffic into their business and once customers arrive, to provide compelling in-store experiences that influence at the point of purchase and increase basket size,” Leddy explained.

In April, we wrote about how Pulsate enabled Heineken to be one of the first brands in Ireland to make use of Apple’s iBeacon wireless technology.

“Our sweet spot customer would be a large retailer with multiple locations,” Leddy said.

“While we have some customers in the UK and Ireland, we see North America as being the big opportunity.”

The founder

Leddy previously started Furious Tribe in 2009, after completing a computer science degree.

“We bootstrapped from just me to over 20 developers building apps for companies globally. We dealt with some of the biggest and most demanding brands, such as Citibank, RSA, O2, Vodafone and Nedbank.”

The technology

iBeacon works on Bluetooth Low Energy, also known as Bluetooth Smart, and enables small wireless location-aware sensor beacons to pinpoint users’ locations in a store and send notifications of items nearby that are on sale, for example.

Apple devices running iOS 7 and Mac OS X Mavericks (10.9) with Bluetooth 4.0 are capable of interacting with the technology, which is seen as an alternative to near field communication (NFC). The technology is believed to be capable of detecting a device’s location far more precisely than GPS.

“We provide retailers with tiny self-contained beacons, which once activated begin broadcasting customer location and context back via their mobile device to the Pulsate cloud.

“From there the retailer can segment, automate and personalise every communication sent by the platform. Customers can even reply, forming a direct dialogue between the retailer and customer,” Leddy explained.

Leddy believes there is a massive revenue opportunity as yet untapped by retailers in terms of making use of mobile commerce technologies within their premises.

“When you think about it, a litany of tools already exists for analysing customers in the virtual world. Take retail e-commerce, for example. A single percentage increase in conversion rate can have a big impact, but this channel only represents 10pc of revenue.

“We’re taking technology that’s typically only used in the virtual world, and applying it to a channel that represents 90pc of retailers’ revenue – the physical world – and that’s where it gets really interesting.”

De-risking for investors

Leddy explained that as well as signing up customers in Ireland and the UK, the start-up team is focused on a strategy of de-risking ahead of taking on any further equity investment.

“Things have gone well since our launch, we’ve signed deals with Coors Light, Selfridges and a few more that we have not announced yet.

“I’ve just come back from a month in San Francisco, where we got a very positive reaction and some new contracts from the retailers and brands we spoke to.

“We took money out of the previous business Furious Tribe, and also got an R&D grant from Enterprise Ireland. This was kind of like our ‘seed round’ for building the product and bringing the first version to market.

“We’re now at the point where Pulsate has been de-risked for investors, we have full live implementations (not just trials) and paying customers. Now is the ideal time for us to raise capital to scale the business, we’ll have more to say on this soon.”

Lean and keen

Leddy said Pulsate has adopted the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) model popularised by Eric Ries and Ash Mayura from the lean start-up movement.

“Building a product is difficult, you can build a great piece of software only to find out that nobody wants to use it. I’ve made this mistake in the past.

“Basically, you involve customers at every stage of the product development to make sure you end up with something people actually want to use, and are willing to pay for.

“We’ve done this with Pulsate, and I think it has helped us bring in deals quickly following our launch.”

Leddy said Ireland has a growing community of great start-ups that could potentially give their US counterparts a serious run for their money.

“I say potentially because the access to funds in Ireland is pretty crappy. While there is a lot of cash around for seed stage, you’re basically screwed when you need follow on. We need better venture capitalists here, for sure.

“I think that’s the only thing standing between where we are now, and taking the Dublin start-up/tech ecosystem to the next level.”

Take positive action

Leddy said Pulsate has felt the usual pains of any lean/bootstrapped start-up: not enough people, time or money.

“We’ve embraced these constraints to innovate with less, but at times it can get you down. As a single founder, while its difficult at times, it is important to remain positive.

“My hack for achieving this is to do at least one thing every day to grow your business, something that pushes you outside your comfort zone. The start-up journey is difficult and unless you’re winning each and every day, you’re losing. It’s an important mindset shift.

“Examples of taking positive action each day could include calling a prospective customer, emailing a top blogger or investor.

“This starts to pick up momentum and before long you’re subconsciously taking all sorts of positive actions each day.

“As an example a few weeks back, one of my daily actions was to email top tech blogger Robert Scoble. This was out of my comfort zone but I did it anyway. A week later I had a video interview booked with him in San Francisco. Amazing things can happen when you take daily positive action.

“Don’t wait for an opportunity to come up, get up off your ass and go make it happen!”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years