Richard Corbett is the Founder and CEO of Eyetease. I recently had the opportunity of speaking with him a while ago especially to find out more about his startup, Eyetease.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
My name is Richard Corbett and I am the Founder and CEO of Eyetease.com – a tech start-up based in London. The sole purpose of Eyetease is to develop innovative and disruptive propositions to the global marketplace. Our first product, the iTaxitop, is ground breaking in every respect, enabling each taxi to become the most targeted advertising medium in the City!
What made you decide to start the company?
Quite simply, I had a burning desire to do more than your average job. No job comes close to the intellectual, creative, ground breaking life of an entrepreneur’s life. It is the best feeling knowing that everyday is another opportunity to make a real difference in the world.
What were you doing before you started the company?
Since leaving University, I began to work as a Business Strategy and New Venture Consultant. I learnt a great deal working with the best in the business launching new propositions for Fortune 500 clients. If anything, this fuelled my already strong desire to set up my own company.
What is Eyetease.com?
Eyetease.com is a technology company focussed on developing exciting new ground breaking technology that delivers tangible value to the public. Sounds kind of cheesy, but its true! I set up Eyetease.com to develop products and solutions to problems in the market. It’s about making the world a better place!
Our first product, the iTaxitop, is the first of its kind and brings digital advertising to the roofs of taxis. Inspired by trips to New York, it was clear to see how taxis dominate the cityscape. They were the ideal platform to advertise from, however grossly untargeted and inefficient. And so the iTaxitop was born! It’s basically an evolution to the traditional taxitop concept you see on taxis in the USA. The difference here is that through utilising the latest GPS technology, wireless connectivity and software, we can deliver the right adverts (or messages) to the right people and the right place and time.
Within seconds of scheduling the adverts on our software (from the comfort of your laptop), you can deploy adverts to thousands of iTaxitops remotely via 3G (or 4G in the USA). Within 2 minutes of receiving the advert it’s already deployed to thousands of vehicles driving on the street. Imagine Starbucks ads for coffee in the morning, lunch time specials at Pret at 12pm or theatre shows at night. Or better still imagine FT.com playing the latest news stories driving through Canary Wharf and Liverpool Street, or car rental companies and hotels advertised outside Heathrow Airport.
The iTaxitop will be a game changer in the out-of-home (OOH) sector enabling brands to add relevancy and immediacy to their campaigns. It will also give media owners the ability to multiply their revenue potential per taxi by 4 to 5 times above current print or vinyl advertising, whilst reducing production costs and lead times to almost zero. With the ability to play adverts wherever there is a road, the iTaxitop will open up new corridors of communication between brands and consumers.
We have dedicated over 2 years of R&D to develop the iTaxitop which is now the world’s first digital taxitop to pass all EU and UN-ECE technical and safety standards. Interestingly, although we’re based in the UK, trials are set to commence first in several major cities in the USA!
Has your initial vision changed since launch?
It’s important to have what I call a ‘planned vision’ and an ‘emergent vision’. When I started Eyetease.com and developed the iTaxitop concept, my planned vision was to not simply manufacture the technology but own the media network. This was further reinforced by the demand from advertisers to use the iTaxitop once launched. Since gaining full approval for the technology in over 56 countries, we’ve realised there’s an easier way to scale the business through partnerships with market leading media companies. Of course, the greatest value of the product is its ability to generate recurring revenue from ad sales on the screens. However, one must also appreciate the work required to launch a media sales team, installation facility and manage taxi driver recruitment – a massive process. By partnering with market leaders with existing networks and infrastructures, we are able to get much greater scale and focus more on what we do best – the technology!
What has been the most challenging scaling issue you’ve come across?
The Capex requirements to manufacture the iTaxitop are certainly one issue we have needed to address. The key to overcoming the issue of Capex is a clear (and more importantly ROBUST) financial model. The revenue potential per iTaxitop far exceeds the Capex, so it’s a sexy financial model! When value exceeds cost, its no longer about the money, it’s about finding the right customer!
What are you most excited about at the moment?
Where do I start! We are now signed up with a market leading Media Company in the USA and will be conducting trials in New York and Las Vegas shortly. We are in the final stages of approval of the iTaxitop in London by the Transport for London and should be trialling the technology by the end of the year! The Middle East is also opening up to the technology with up to 1000 iTaxitops set to hit a major city over there next year.
As the only supplier of this technology in the market, we’re focussed on maintaining our first mover advantage and building strong partnerships with major players.
What did Eyetease Media do to gain traction?
For any start-up, gaining traction can be difficult. Aside from the technology, we have worked hard to get to know the key people in the industry who can make this new media happen. From media owners and media agencies to high net worth individuals and VCs.
We have also invested in attending trade shows where key decision makers attend. These events have worked really well for us as it is hard to be heard in such a competitive / fast moving marketplace, like digital out of home (DOOH).
Once the technology was fully certified and approved and passed all international technical and safety standards, we began to focus on a low cost / high impact marketing strategy – from tweeting, to sending out press releases to applying for awards! We’ve done it all. Its important to think creatively when working with a limited marketing budget. Two years of R&D spend had zapped a lot of my money, so the ‘free way was the only way’ until we had secured more sales.
How have you been able to fund it?
Eyetease.com has been funded 100% by me, friends and family. Nothing has made me work harder than knowing that the people who have invested in the company are the people who are closest to me. It’s like a strong coffee every morning and certainly inspires me through some of the tough times!
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
Getting the technology right was tough and required several iterations over 2 years. Now we’ve cracked it! Don’t forget, we’re the only company globally who can make this product…if it was easy we’d all be doing it! Overcoming issues such as vibration from the road, solar absorption, thermal absorption, water ingress, limited power supply, weight restrictions, screen brightness, was no easy task! Perseverance and a belief in the value of the product kept me going!
What’s your business model?
1. Sale of iTaxitop hardware with monthly subscription to management software
2. Advertising revenue from media network.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Get your name out there and be seen! Spend time using social media – ‘tweet about it’! Attend networking events – follow up with contacts. Find people on LinkedIn and get a meeting. Write press releases, send them out! Apply to awards, be a member, attend networking events…if they can’t see you, they can’t buy from you!
What should be expecting from yourself and Eyetease Media for 2012?
Eyetease is in the process of raising its first round of VC funding, which it aims to complete within the next 3 months. We are looking to aggressively expand in high growth markets including the USA, Middle East and Asia.
Closer to home, we intend to to begin London trials imminently pending approval from the Transport for London. We have already had a taxi running for a year now with an iTaxitop and we’re in the final stages of securing a trial. It’s a tough process, but we’re confident we have the right solution for London – and we won’t stop until the job’s done! I must admit, introducing a completely new advertising medium to a great city like London would be an amazing achievement and we’re almost there!
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. If you try something new, you risk failure. If you don’t try something new, you’re guaranteed failure. So try it!
2. When developing a new concept, think objectively, do your research and be clear on where you make money. Adopt a ‘stage-and-gate’ process to funding, whereby for every validation in your product / service, you invest more. Set these checkpoints early on and make sure you keep to it!
3. Get your value proposition and benefits case right from the beginning! If you can’t sell it in one sentence, move on! If you can’t identify a clear benefit to a clear customer group, move on!