Charlotte startup AVO Insights on a Mission to Bring Augmented Reality into Everyday Use
Cover Photo by William Avery
Imagine a world where it’s commonplace for people to point their phones at objects such as street signs or menus or toasters or works of art, to immediately get the backstory and context for what they’re pointing at, while marketers get real-time, actionable data that allows them to passively remarket to those customers and others like them. That’s what Bradley Smith, founder of Charlotte-based AVO Insights, has in mind.
On a personal note, I’m not a tech person and I don’t get excited about technology-related topics. But talking with Bradley changed that – both because of the app he built, and the story behind it.
Q: AVO Insights is an augmented reality app. What’s the deeper story here?
Bradley: AVO Insights is a B2B company focusing on two verticals: enhancing experiences and lead generation.
1. Enhancing experiences. For example, you go into an art gallery and there’s beautiful art but it’s hard to know what you’re looking at. So, you take out your phone and hover it over the painting, and the app explains what you’re looking at.
2. Lead generation. In other words, bringing digital analytics to nondigital assets, like printed direct mail. Any direct mail piece, any physical nondigital asset that you want to have analytics for, have leads for, and understand who’s looking over that material – with this application, when users hover over your material we can now tell you who’s looking at it, for how long -- with all the analytics and graphs. So, the exact digital assets that everyone’s used to getting, we can now get on nondigital assets.
Q: How big a deal is augmented reality?
Bradley: Tim Cook recently said that he believes augmented reality (AR) will be so immersed in our lives that it’ll be like eating three meals a day.
There are big industry leaders who believe in AR and are betting big on AR, but there aren’t many smaller guys like us trying to push and popularize AR grassroots-style. I think there’s a ton of value in AR even outside of our application, by simply being able to be on a street and hold up your phone and have all the restaurants on the street pop out with their stars and their ratings and everything like that. It’s way more beneficial than having to do a Google search for restaurants near me, and get a cluttered list of ads – and after all that effort, you still don’t know which restaurants are the best. Imagine just being able to open up your phone, just literally point it down the street and then all the appropriate information pops out onto your display. That eliminates a ton of steps for the user and provides a much more enhanced experience.
Q: So, what’s an example of an enhanced experience?
Bradley: Right now, we’re working with video specifically because we took a dynamic approach in order to have as many people as possible use the application. We’re working within the augmented reality industry and the issue with that is that it’s still pretty hard to create 3-D models and CAD files – it takes a lot of time and it’s really expensive.
We believe people just want to know the story behind what they’re looking at, they just want the context behind what they’re looking at, they don’t really care if a 3-D dinosaur pops out at them. They just want to point their device at the museum plaque and understand more about what they’re looking at.
We just did an interactive art event with a local museum. They needed to overcome the fact that they’d been having a tough time telling people the stories behind the objects in the museum. AVO Insights is a game changer for that type of situation: If you’re visiting the museum, all you do is download the app, point your device at the plaque, the painting, the object, and then it tells you the story directly back. This can be through audio, video, or going to a website or email or phone number if you need more context. And this information saves in your history, so you can actually take the museum home with you. You can go home and say, “Hey look at this awesome painting I saw” and it will replay the video right there.
Tim Cook recently said that he believes augmented reality (AR) will be so immersed in our lives that it’ll be like eating three meals a day.
Q: Why should marketers be excited about this?
Bradley: In terms of bringing digital analytics to nondigital assets, it opens up a lot of doors for marketers to get involved because now you’re able to generate lists of data and then input that data into your CRM, your Salesforce, your HubSpot, into a Facebook or a Google, and then passively remarket to your most qualified leads. Because if you go into a restaurant and use AVO, you’re the most qualified lead. You’re there, you’re paying for the food and drinks. So now if you can take that whole customer list, put it into Facebook, create a lookalike audience and go tell Facebook, “Hey, go find everybody else that looks like this audience,” you’re now able to create a bigger pool of your most qualified leads.
So that’s where marketers really get interested because now they’re able to get leads and analytics from their nondigital assets. A restaurant menu, a toaster, a can, a table topper – all those nondigital assets, if they implement it, now you’re able to understand those leads, so you can remarket to your best clientele.
Q: How widespread is this?
Bradley: In terms of bringing digital analytics to nondigital assets – this is something very new that hasn’t been done before on a large scale. It’s important for marketers and advertisers to understand that print is kind of back, the nondigital assets are kind of back. You can put a video on a postcard, you can put video and digital content on all your nondigital assets and then get leads and actually get analytics on what’s working and what’s not.
“With AVO you’re able to get real-time, actionable data from your nondigital assets.”
One company we’re talking with sends a million direct mail pieces a month. But it takes about three months to understand conversion. With AVO, they’re now able to know conversions in real time, which saves them money because they can cut a campaign in the first month and not have the campaign run for three or four months and then go, “Oh wow, that did not get us the returns we wanted.” With AVO you’re able to get real-time, actionable data from your nondigital assets.
Q: Who is your customer?
Bradley: the companies pay for the technology that users want to use.
For example, that museum paid for the technology that would give their customers an enhanced experience. Obviously, the companies that are using it for lead generation pay for the service, they pay for having a dashboard, for the software – so we sell the software to companies and then companies implement the application in their marketing, or their event or trade show or whatever and they push the app onto their customers.
Our pricing breaks down per target. We go B2B, businesses buy the software, and for the app user it’s 100% free.
Q: What’s your reach in terms of where your customers are located?
Bradley: Right now, we’re focused in Charlotte because it’s hard to explain the application – it makes no sense until you see it. I learned that the hard way trying to cold call and cold email – it was impossible to get across: “No, I promise, you just point your device at something and digital content plays.” It was like, “What are you talking about guy, you’re crazy.” So, it really needed a grassroots approach, which is why we’re building this Charlotte ecosystem of interactive opportunities. We have a great marketing agency, C21, out of Atlanta and they’re pushing AVO. So, we have an Atlanta presence and a Charlotte presence, and conventions and trade shows will take us to places like Las Vegas and California – but, right now, we’re keeping it pretty localized because it’s super hard to get the concept across unless you see it.
Q: Did you go to school for this?
Bradley: Actually, I spent four years in the Air Force. And the joke is, as soon as I joined the Air Force, I knew I didn’t want to stay in the Air Force.
So, I had four years to figure out what I wanted to do, and I taught myself how to program because I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. But I had no money to invest in a brick-and-mortar store or product or anything like that. When I learned that I could actually engineer my own product, I taught myself how to program and code, and started building my own application and website.
Then I realized, “Okay I have this product, and now I need people to get to it – I need to learn how to market.” That’s when I taught myself digital marketing. Near the end of my career in the Air Force, there was actually an internship you could qualify for. I submitted my application to go and work for an ad agency instead of going to work for the Air Force for the last six months. But that got denied, so I asked my boss, “Sir, can I work nights in the Air Force, so I can still do this agency gig because I need to know if everything I taught myself over the last four years is legit or not. Can I get a job with this stuff that I taught myself?” I needed to know if what I taught myself was actually valuable. That’s when I went and worked for the ad agency during the day and then worked for the Air Force at night for a few months to validate everything that I taught myself. It went great and they wanted to hire me full-time, but I was just there to validate what I was doing, because I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur.
After that, I moved to Charlotte and started what we see now. It actually started as more of an ad agency and instantly pivoted into what it is now. I wanted a company, I wanted a product in an emerging market, wanted something I could sell as soon as it was created.
Q: How long did that take?
Bradley: I moved to Charlotte in June of 2018 and got directly to work building what AVO is today. Since June, we went through development, engineered everything, and started pushing it into the market. In a startup, everything moves at hyper speed.
Q: What happens next?
Bradley: There are four of us on the AVO team. Michael Orell has 25+ years of experience in marketing and advertising, and he leads the ship, he keeps us millennials in line. Marcus Nixon is the software engineer. Yash Mistry creates the content. And there’s me, of course. After the application was made, it was my job to start pushing it into the market, so I’ve gone into full sales mode, that’s pretty much all I do these days. My job is to make our marketing efforts and our sales efforts and our engineering efforts and our content team all talk to each other so we’re all going in the right direction. My job is just connecting the dots, making sure everything is pushing forward.
About the author:
Deborah Klaus is a freelance writer based in Winston-Salem, NC. Connect with her at LinkedIn.com/in/DeborahKlaus .