Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Interview with Ali Diab, President of Products and Technology, Ripple
Ripple (www.rippletv.com) is a El Segundo-based startup which is developing a network of information displays which are installed at local coffee stores, shopping malls and other retail locations, to provide news and information to consumers. We spoke with Ali Diab, Ripple's President of Products & Technology, about what the company is working on, and how it compares to other broadcast and information displays you see at retailers. socalTECH's Ben Kuo spoke with Ali:
Explain to us a little bit about Ripple--what is it you are trying to do?
Ali Diab: Ripple, in a nutshell, is trying to deploy a network that provides information to users when they're way from their PCor TV. The way we do that is by installing large HDTV displays in public places where people naturally congregate or linger, including retail locations where people spend the their time standing in line. The real premise of the business is to inform, entertain and educate users in public, and allow them to do that in a holistic manner. Obviously, people have cell phones to check for information on the web, and get their email. We've got a holistic offering that is much like My Yahoo! on the go--it's not there to allow you to access your PC or watch television.
What kind of information do you provide?
Ali Diab: We provide anything that is relevant to a user, when they're out and about. We provide local information like weather, traffic in an area, and national and international news headlines. Those headlines include entertainment headlines, to keep people entertained, movie and event show times in the area. The programming of content on the network is dynamic, and it's unique to the people who are in that location that it is being broadcast to, based on the time of day. What you see on a Friday afternoon is distinctly different from what you will see on a Tuesday morning.
What's the model behind the deployment--who installs the displays?
Ali Diab: We hear from retailers and consumers alike that there is a lot of pain when waiting - in a food court, or in a shopping model. We're there to entertain and inform them about what's going on in the world. Our distribution partner is the retailer, but we install and own the network in their location. We program the content in collaboration with them, and we share advertising revenue from the display in that location. There's no upfront or out of pocket expense for the retailer, plus there's the revenue share kicker.
I understand you're VC funded?
Ali Diab: We raised $5 million from Trinity and Draper Fisher Jurvetson in the middle of last year. We chose them because of the combination of early stage technology and Internet expertise and early stage retail venture expertise. In particular, Draper Fisher Jurvetson has funded a company called Focus Media, that does something quite similar to us, and has been quite successful. Trinity’s substantial retail experience--they were the Series A investor in a number of very successful retail businesses, including Starbucks, Jamba Juice, P.F. Chang’s, made them a very attractive investor to usgiven the physicality of the business.With Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Trinity Ventures, we felt we had the advantage of two strong firms both in the Internet and in the retail space.
It seems like a business like this is fairly capital intensive?
Ali Diab: Our business is somewhat capital intensive, but our investment is quite efficient. We have 400 locations, predominately in California, and Southern California in particular. We also have locations in the Bay Area, Arizona, and Las Vegas and Hawaii. We're also expanding to other markets.
What's the difference between what you have and all the information kiosks you see at grocery stores?
Ali Diab: Other people have put displays in retail locations, but we're different in a number of ways. The first, the most obvious, is that others are advertising driven, not content driven. The premise is more about advertising and reaching consumers, and spamming them with ads, versus providing something of value to consumers. We serve consumer needs first, versus advertiser needs first--though we obviously want to provide value to everyone. The second, is that our targeting is much more advanced and developed. We can target content and advertising down to a specific location and down to a specific part of the day. We have a very high level of granularity, which doesn't exist anywhere else in the market. Content providers and advertisers are both trying to reach those users, and are looking for a better, finer, and more precise way to target the audience and demographic.
You were called ActiveMaps earlier, why the name and name change?
Ali Diab: That was our initial name, when we were just focused on building the product and not on marketing. Now that we're mature and publicly deployed, we wanted a name around a brand that was more consumer friendly, and more fun. The genesis of the name ActiveMaps was that we were displaying traffic maps on the screen as our first product--that was just one of the things we were offering.
What's next for your firm?
Ali Diab: As I said, we now have 400 locations. We're continuing to build, are getting deployed more widely, and are signing up more and more distribution partners and more advertisers. We're just continuing to execute on the success we've had. Will also be announcing a number of high profile distribution partners in the next stage you'll hear about.