A day into PeopleFlow’s pilot run on Bloor West Village, David Howitt, chairman of the Business Improvement Area’s board and co-owner of Marlborough’s Stationery, was sifting through the data of local shoppers collected by the system. He called up Todd Lewis, president and CEO of the platform, which monitors and analyzes the movement of mobile devices within a given region.
“He said ‘hey, look, right in front of our store from six to seven your system says there’s a spike in traffic,’ ” says Todd. “So I looked into it.”
Sure enough, it showed a cluster of anonymous mobile devices in the area. So the next day, Marlborough’s stayed open an extra hour. They made an extra $200
“He had no idea,” says Todd. “It’s one of those things where you have these perceptions of what’s happening but when you have real data that’s recorded consistently it can give you a whole different perspective.”
The idea of collecting shopper data isn’t new – for years businesses have been asking consumers for their postal codes to see where they’re coming from. But PeopleFlow takes it a step beyond. It’s the sort of solution that could only exist at a time where Internet network infrastructure is improving and mobile devices proliferate.
Built by Todd’s geomatics technology company Spatial DNA, PeopleFlow is capable of treating a physical environment in the same way Google Analytics treats and collects data from a webpage. Consumers with mobile phones moving in and out of space are assigned anonymous identifiers then PeopleFlow pinpoints traffic flow patterns and users, like small brick and mortar businesses or B.I.A.’s, can get an idea of how often people are visiting and where they’re coming from.
Todd first brought the idea to Toronto B.I.A.’s in June 2015. They saw some interest, but it was hard to find a B.I.A. who wanted to move first. That is, until Todd connected with David at Bloor West Village.
“David at Bloor West prides himself on being the first mover on lots of things – they were the first B.I.A. in North America to adopt the technology,” says Todd.
They started rolling it out in August but realized quickly that there was no high-speed Internet infrastructure in the area. There was, however, a solar light system. So Todd and co. partnered up with Mississauga-based GenWave Technologies to overlay the Wi-Fi sensors and microwave relay network, piggybacking off the existing infrastructure. They went live two weeks later, just in time for the Ukrainian festival and had another chance to test it out during the Pumpkin festival in October.
“From a B.I.A. perspective, they’re doing marketing efforts and events… trying to figure out what the effectiveness of those events are,” he explains. “It’s one thing to draw people (but) do they come back to the area?”
In an area like Bloor West where segregated bike lanes have reshaped the flow of traffic, PeopleFlow has become a value tool for seeing what the longer-term effects – both good and bad – might be on the businesses. But Todd sees a future where businesses themselves start to adopt the technology or opt-in to the platform in order to garner some insight on who’s visiting the area and how to keep them there.
“(Some businesses) look at the solution like it’s going to cost a lot of money,” he says. But a lot of these solutions have fallen in cost and as Marlborough’s found out, the data pays for itself.
“It equates to one extra customer a month (to) pay for the solution,” he adds. “(PeopleFlow) quantifies everything so that they can make decisions based on what’s actually happening.”
It started with frat parties. Well, kind of. Cory Rosenfield and Harris Maxwell ran a fraternity in university together and threw parties. But somewhere along the way they developed a sophisticated understanding of social media in its early days, using it to promote the parties and ultimately pivoting into a business, InfiniteSM, built around designing custom social media campaigns for companies like Ford, Energizer and Lego.
“We were very successful -- 15 team members and a lot of really cool projects,” says Cory. “At the same time, it was a fee-for-service model, we were pulling our hair out feeling like we weren't building anything of value.”
So they stepped away with the intention to start something fresh, a spin-off company built around projecting the effects and success of social media campaigns.
“We realized brands were spending hundred of thousands if not millions of dollars on all these digital campaigns we were running for them but they had no way to really measure and gauge success and compare themselves to the industry overall,” says Cory. “It was kind of like throwing darts blindfolded.”
In 2013, they created Qoints, which draws from a repository of live digital marketing data from campaigns of many of the world’s largest brands and uses that data to set truly objective campaign benchmarks.
The pair joined Toronto-based incubator INcubes and set to building out their company. Thye also started poking around for some funding to help get Qoints off the ground.
“We knew we weren’t going to see revenue too soon,” says Harris. “I heard about the Starter Company program through Bryan Watson who is one of the lead mentors at INcubes.”
While a lot of funding programs require entrepreneurs to match what they contribute, Enterprise Toronto’s Starter Company took a different approach.
“They do their own internal evaluation and work with you to make sure you’re creating value for the region and at the same time you don’t have to match those dollars,” says Cory.
It was helpful for the pair given that they’d self-funded the company and had burned through their reserves. Harris also started attending seminars and meet-ups hosted by Enterprise Toronto.
“I went to the get together around the holidays,” he recalls. “The range of companies they had participating was wider than any other gathering like that that I’ve been through – it goes to show there’s a ton of diversity in the city, not just in terms of population but also the types of businesses that are coming out of it.”
He says he found the community helpful.
“Talking to people running companies in different industries, you get interesting perspectives because they’re looking at the world through the lens of their industry,” he says. “You get perspectives that you wouldn’t come to on your own.”
Since graduating from the Starter Company program, Qoints has continued to expand, opening an office in Buffalo and hiring the former head of advertising and online partnerships from Microsoft to lead the company’s strategy and business development team.
But as they expand beyond Toronto, Qoints has no intentions on leaving.
“Toronto is like no other city in the world – it has financial capital and the advertising and health capital all in the same market, everywhere else it’s spread out” says Cory. “We've got a really rich pool of people with which to build the team around here.”