Making the business case, face to face

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This is the 10th article in a continuing monthly series chronicling the growth path of Screach, a startup based in Newcastle upon Tyne in England’s North East. Screach is an interactive digital media platform that allows users to create real-time, two-way interactive experiences between a smart device (through the Screach app) and any content, on any screen or just within the mobile device itself. We invite your feedback.

By Leo Valiquette and John Hill

They say the world is more connected than it’s ever been. You can push software to a global audience with the tap of a key, and serve customers worldwide from a desk in your living room.

Of course, the trade-off is that it’s loud out there. You’re immediately competing with the world, and you’ve got to be disciplined, dedicated or clever to be heard. So how do you go about building a market in a new country when you haven’t got millions of dollars to throw at it?

Last month, Screach arranged a week-long trip to the U.S. The aim was to drum up interest for its plug-and-play box ScreachTV, which puts relevant, engaging, local and interactive content on bar and venue TVs when they’re not being used to show events like live sport.

Screach has already had some success in the U.K. with gaming machine firm Bob Rudd, and is well on its way to its first 100 locations. To make headway in the U.S. market, however, there was still no substitute for meeting face to face.

“You can do a lot on the phone or via Skype, but now and again it pays to go over and talk to someone face to face,” said Sam Morton, Screach’s chief partnership officer. “It shows you’re serious about working with them. In return, they know you’ve made a long journey and they appreciate that.”

Lay the groundwork

This isn’t Screach’s first visit to the U.S. It launched at DEMO in Palm Springs in 2011, took part in a trade mission to San Francisco with exporting support organisation U.K. Trade and Investment, and spoke to tech journalist Robert Scoble at Austin’s famous South By Southwest conference.

“It’s been obvious from the very start that this is a global product, and the U.S. is a natural place to go for technology start-ups,” said Sam. “We spent a lot of time trying to get our name out there and get some experience in working over in the U.S.”

The most important step Screach took was to set up a New York office 18 months ago, fronted by David Weinfeld. He is well respected in the digital signage industry and has helped to spread the word about Screach. The company’s projects in the U.S. since then have included a second-screen experience with NSCAA soccer, and a March Madness Pick ’EM experience in over 120 venues, where punters picked the winners of each tournament round. David has already managed to get a few ScreachTV boxes set up in New York.

“Obviously, it would have been more intimidating if I was trying to do it on my own, but David knows the city,” said Sam. “He can reach out to people, have initial conversations and then I’m essentially over there to meet people and talk about the deal.”

Focus, focus, focus

Screach was keen to meet certain people in the U.S. It wanted to talk to bar and restaurant chains, friendly independent venues, and potential distribution partners that could help roll out the ScreachTV box nationwide. As a result, David was making contact with people weeks before the trip, setting up meetings and arranging potential trials.

“It would be madness to go door-to-door with something like this,” said Sam. “You’ve got to be sure you’re meeting with decision makers. Don’t just fly there, say you’re going to speak to a few people and then leave.”

Sam and David met with potential partners in Manhattan, New Jersey and Minneapolis during the week. An independent bar in Manhattan agreed to trial the product, while another well-known chain is test-running boxes in some of its bars. Screach is also speaking to a distributor with a strong national supply network of bars and restaurants.

Sam stresses it’s important to know what you want to achieve, and be clear about that.

“If you walk into a bar and say ‘here’s a system’ and it looks cool, they might go ‘wow’. But then they might forget about you once you leave,” he said. “You have to tell them what you’re there to get.

“We were looking for partners, and were interested in letting people trial ScreachTV for a month or two. We’re looking to get volume, so we want to prove the product adds value and go from there. So we made that very clear to people from the outset, and they were more relaxed as they weren’t waiting for a big punch line.”

Personalise

Once you’ve identified the people you want to talk to, how do you make sure they know how you can help them?

ScreachTV solves a problem for a certain type of bar. These are venues with a number of screens to show live sporting events, but what do they put on them when there’s nothing on? ScreachTV provides content that customers can interact with using their smartphones, whether that’s playing quizzes, taking up special offers or posting messages.

As a result, in the run-up to the visit, Screach mocked-up “playlists” of content for their target bars and restaurants so owners and managers could see how a box might look in their venues.

“What people really liked was that we went to them with personalised content,”, said Sam. “We visited their websites, looked at their hashtags, and arrived with tailored elements such as branded adverts and Tweetwalls. We put something together so it was ready to plug in and go.”

Learn and adapt

A crucial part of the trip was to learn a little bit more about the U.S. market. ScreachTV already had some boxes live in the U.K., but would anything need to change in the U.S.?

“We wanted to establish where the U.K. and U.S. bar markets were similar, where they were different and how we might need to adapt the content to better suit the U.S. market,” Sam said.

“People were pretty open with feedback, and you adapt based on what you see. For example, some sports bars in the U.K. show around four games or so a week. In the U.S., there are some dedicated sports bars with 24/7 sport on hundreds of screens. I went to one with four American football matches live and three basketball games. Those places didn’t have the problem of screening relevant content, so we decided to go for different bars first, ones that weren’t showing all those games at once.”

But once you have identified and proven a market, the challenge still remains to ensure that you can provide the product in the numbers the customer wants, that it is at a price point they are willing to take, and that it will perform as advertised.

“Get the right meetings lined up, and make sure you’ve got the right resources to follow up,” said Sam. “If you tell people you’ll do something, make sure you deliver on it. Don’t go out there when you’re not ready to do business.”

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