Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Enplug: Bringing Social Media To A Display Near You
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
For the most part, the ubiquitous digital displays you now see in restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and bars are all still one way, noninteractive devices. How about if you could make those displays interactive and social? Culver City-based Enplug (www.enplug.com) is looking to change those one way digital displays into social, interactive content. We spoke with CEO and co-founder Nanxi Liu about the company's software.
Talk about what your product is all about?
Nanxi Liu: Our goal is to be the software that powers content on any kind of digital display that you see anywhere, whether that's in a restaurant, hotel, or bar. We want our software to get you to be more engaged with the content on those displays. What's unique about it, it is stream live social media, and actually puts that social media content on the display right in front of you. We've been doing this for restaurants, and just did one in Belgium where we have a gigantic, huge display right outside a shopping center which is running our software. It's the easiest and most effective way for a business to turn their TV and displays into an interactive, engaging, and interactive medium.
What's the story behind the company?
Nanxi Liu: We started the company in the summer of 2012, with five totally random people. We were actually all strangers. The initial idea, was we wanted to transform what a digital display was, after seeing that all of these digital displays in the shopping mall only showed information, but did not allow you to post information. We think that soon, all digital displays will be two-way communications channels.
Explain how five strangers all ended up starting a company together, exactly?
Nanxi Liu: I was introduced to David Zhu when I was still at UC Berkeley. I met with david after he flew up to meet me from Los Angeles. We talked for an hour, and I said, let's do it. I had no idea if he was even a serial killer, but he seemed pretty gool. He had gone to MIT, was a trained, professional poker player. So, I took a U-haul to Los Angeles after I graduated. One of our other founders, Zach, met David on a Southwest Airlines flight. Zach had built one of the top ten education apps in the App Store, and after they started talking, Zach also decided to drop out of college and join as a co-founder. Zach told his college housemate, Alex, to drop out of school to join. Our fifth co-founder, Navdep, was a high school classmate with David. We've now grown to thirty five people in our LA headquarters.
How big is this market?
Nanxi Liu: In 2010, an industry report came out that predicted that digital signage was going to be a $4 billion market in 2014. It's actually $14 billion already. That's because very retail store, every bank branch, and every brick and mortar school is creating a digital experience. That's meant a huge push for displays. However, even though hardware costs are coming down lower and lower, it's the software that powers the content. We looked at our competitors, and we saw that one was a well known, Fortune 500 company, which is selling media players that connect with displays. However, it costs anywhere from $7,000 to $20,000 to start using those products. That's ridiculous. Small and medium sized businesses can't spend that much to create engagement and create great content for digital displays like a casino can. We provide an easy and most effective solution. We put our software onto computer chips, which are the size of your credit card, and we give it to customers without charge. They just pay $99 a month for each device for the service. That means that small and medium sized businesses can use it. Our technology is advanced enough that we also have big companies using our software to power their own massive network of displays, as well. What's a unique part of what we do, that no other competitor does, is that we're built as an open platform. That means third party developers can create apps on top of our platform. Because it's open to third party developers, there are lots more creative use cases than you might see from manufacturers. We're like Android for digital signature software, which lets anyone use their own hardware and any kind of display. Our software is an open platform.
Where are you now, in terms of deployment?
Nanxi Liu: Our product is being used now in ten different countries, in shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, retailers, and banks. There are 400 different companies around the world using the software.
What's the next big thing on your list?
Nanxi Liu: Right now, we are launching one of our products, a plug-and-play product, which makes it very seamless for anyone to go online to our website, download our software to their laptop or Android tablet or smartphone. That enables anyone who wants to run an event and incorporate social media to download our software and be ready to go.