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Gazella checks in, shares new vision of their future in wifi marketing

Founder and CEO Eric Burns (center) and the Gazella team

When Gazella launched in 2016, the company wanted to change the way individuals interacted with public wifi. While that goal still holds true, 2017 was a year of change for the wifi marketing startup.

Founder and CEO Eric Burns said the company spent the last year growing, developing a new product and educating people on what exactly wifi marketing is. After important pivots and developments in the preceding months, Gazella is heading into 2018 with a clearer, all-encompassing vision.

“The biggest thing that happened over this last year was we sat down and looked at our customers,” said Burns. “All of our marketing dollars were going to sign restaurants because that’s what we knew, but 70% of our customers were not actually restaurants.”

Burns said that realization was tough but necessary. That 70% majority turned out to be digital marketers who were buying Gazella’s software and then using it for their restaurant and small business clients.

“We decided that we were going to take advantage of that,” said Burns. “Now we white label everything for our digital marketers. If you google wifi marketing today, there are a ton of competitors. However, we have 150 to 200 digital marketers that are out reselling our product under their name.”

Burns said the shift has been a game changer. Restaurant owners can’t always answer the phone for a call during work hours, so Gazella reps have had an easier time connecting with digital marketers and offering them wifi marketing to add to their product line.

“They’re very receptive to it. They already have that relationship with the small business and it has allowed us to grow quite a bit,” said Burns. “People might not recognize our brand because they’re seeing someone else’s brand [on the product], but from a growth perspective, it’s what’s allowed us to get into so many locations.”

Gazella started with their first customer during the College World Series in 2016. Since then they’ve acquired over 1,500 clients nationwide. Burns said that between 1 in 15 and 1 in 20 people in Omaha have actually logged into Gazella’s system.

“We were very fortunate, we didn’t really have to change much in our business model aside from adding a few account options,” said Burns. “Our goal for 2018 is to hit 2,000 digital marketers with the white label platform.”

Gazella currently has eight employees working out of their office in Omaha. The company’s CTO, DJ Akers, spent nine months in Ukraine establishing an overseas development team. Burns said that Akers’s foresight and expertise in digital marketing have been indispensable.

“DJ wanted to build out a very robust API so developers and digital marketers could build on top of our system,” said Burns. “I remember looking at him and thinking there’s no way someone is going to develop on top of our system. Today there are numerous accounts that have used our API to either integrate with their current systems or integrate with their [email and messaging platforms].”

Burns said that Q1 of 2018 is going to be spent redesigning Gazella’s website to focus more on selling their white label product to digital agencies, closing a round of fundraising and launching a piece of newly developed wifi sensor hardware that counts cell devices at clients’ access points.

Overall, it was a successful year for Gazella’s tech and business teams. But Burns said there was a lesson hidden in there: What were the business’s goals as a whole?

“We were fortunate that we nailed almost all of our goals. However, they weren’t aligned with an overall team goal,” said Burns. “We’re excited going into 2018 now that we have everyone aligned.”

Gazella Account Manager Evan Masilko summed it up best with his succinct and positive view of the company’s future.

“Some stuff worked, some stuff didn’t, but at the end of the day, we’re not afraid to take risks and I believe that’s what will make us insanely successful,” said Masilko. “I love these guys because we’re all in this thing to take over the wifi-marketing world, and dammit, we’re gonna do it.”

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Christine McGuigan is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.

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