Like many successful entrepreneurs before him, Dino Demetriou’s decision to found a start-up was born out of frustration that there wasn’t a better way of doing things.
Finding himself lost in one of Dubai’s vast shopping malls for the umpteenth time one morning, Dino gave up his shopping expedition and headed to the airport to catch his flight home. Having been thwarted once already, in the departure lounge he once again found himself surrounded by high end stores and products; Dino was ready to spend but short on time, as most passengers usually are. But with limited room on the plane, and no easy way to arrange overseas delivery, in the end he decided to keep his money in his pocket; at the same time the businessman in him sensed an opportunity.
Firstly, he realised, many people’s high end shopping requirements could be satisfied once or twice a year, at the airport, whilst waiting for the flight home after a business trip or family holiday, but that the hassle and time pressure combined was a major turnoff. A missed opportunity for consumer, brand and store.
Secondly, he knew that consumers who make a habit out of shopping for higher end goods want the experience to be carefully planned and pleasurable, not traipsing from store to store staggering under the weight of bags bulging with clothing, or fragile, bulky items. Increasingly demanding, consumers expect a fully optimised, multi marketing channel experience that places the onus on brands to satisfy their customers’ every whim.
Finally, he concluded, stores and shopping malls are complicit in wanting to deliver the best experience possible for their clientele. By applying common sense and technical nous to both the shopping experience and the delivery process, he could create an efficient and unforgettable experience, whilst capturing valuable data about consumer’s shopping habits to help brands serve their customers better and make more sales.
Dino began by looking at the delivery side of the problem. So you’re stuck at the airport: imagine if you could shop duty free from your tablet or mobile whilst relaxing in one of the departure lounge’s cafés or restaurants, or even on the plane, instead of joining the stampede of duty free shoppers, and have your purchases waiting for you when you landed at your destination?
Or what if you could arrange for reliable overseas delivery of goods through your mobile device, fully integrated with the store so there is no need to lug any goods anywhere; it could all be left to a concierge service.
If you are out on a shopping trip at the local mall, how about an app that allows you to simply swipe and purchase products on the spot using your smartphone, and have them waiting for you at a designated pick up spot when you are ready to leave, or delivered straight to your home at a convenient time?
For a skilled development team, implementing these kinds of features is in theory not too complex a challenge, and yet it’s surprisingly difficult to find a decent “mobile concierge” service, even in some of the world’s most renowned shopping districts; Milan, London, New York, Dubai. Why has nobody thought of providing these kinds of services before? Well, Dino thought, now somebody has!
Taking the decision to go into development almost immediately, and focusing on the business opportunity rather than dwelling on the case against, as any true entrepreneur knows, is how Dino succeeded in gaining a first mover advantage in a market that is intensifying as brands scramble to deliver a fully integrated omnichannel shopping solution that will keep customers happy.
So Dino, who has a background in the hotels industry as well as in marketing, customer service and sales, began to get funky with his newly appointed development teams. As the digital infrastructure was being built to support a delivery service for airport shoppers to easily arrange home delivery, a dedicated platform for inflight shopping, and a mobile app to help stores communicate with shoppers via their smartphones, the opportunity to add more features and develop the core offering was tempting.
Besides ecommerce and delivery, it’s in store where Mini-Me Labs feel they can make the biggest difference. Perhaps its Dino’s Yorkshire education that has equipped him with the practical insight to succeed where many big brands have failed, or have not even begun to try to succeed, by fully exploiting the internet of things.
Mini-Me labs are using beacon technology and NFC tags similar to those used by Apple Pay to allow stores to swap data with shoppers’ smartphones, provided they give their permission. The beacons can be easily installed in shopping centres, and use Wi-Fi to transmit messages about deals and offers, throwing up all kinds of opportunities for brands and stores.
Imagine you are shopping on your birthday, when a store’s staff member approaches you with a glass of champagne and a gift voucher. It would be a nice touch, certainly, if staff were better informed about your shopping preferences. A route planner that works out exactly how you should divide your time on your shopping trip, even suggesting where and when to have lunch, for example, is also in development.
These are the kinds of areas where Dino will look to maximise his market opportunity, through the provisioning of app or platform based services with monetisable features, such as competitions, premium listings, ads and ecommerce for customers, and practical real time analytics for stores, via integration with their legacy systems. His revenues are derived from the successful integration of the software, with affiliate purchases adding an additional stream, alongside the capturing of consumer data.
Dino has been looking at 2 alternative ways of partnering with the shopping centres themselves: the preference is for joint ventures, but he is also looking at an alternative subscription model whereby stores purchase the right to lease the technology and beacons.
He is being clever by developing an open source API that can be easily adopted by most in store operating systems; many of the products and services he plans to offer are in fact spin outs from the core technology that solves the delivery problem, it’s just that they have been very well thought out, with an impressive understanding of the target market.
Now that the product is practically ready to go to market, it’s time for Dino to start speaking to investors, as he looks to raise £1m plus of funding. The first pilot deployment will be in a major luxury Mall in the USA, estimated launch in June 2015, with the release of the 3 main products; the Mini-Me Labs mobile app, an online platform, and in store partnering with brands, stores and malls, to follow.
So there you have it. A founder solving a problem for the benefit of a clearly defined and lucrative target market. Although he never expected the project to become as all-consuming as it has done, or to solve as many problems, Dino now finds himself about to enter a new market with a robust product. There are many, many successful entrepreneurs out there who will know exactly how he feels.