Gazella Wifi wants to change the way you interact with public wifi

Eric Burns has always been a busy man. A business owner, a full-time employee, a serial entrepreneur–at one time he owned a bar and worked full time at Gallup, all while working on multiple side projects. “I really wanted to automate everything [at the bar]; payroll, inventory, everything,” said Burns. “There wasn’t an easy way…

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Eric Burns (CEO); Kevin Dowling (Operations and Business Strategy Intern); Matt Ronay (Sales and Business Development Executive)

Eric Burns, CEO; Kevin Dowling, Operations and Business Strategy Intern; Matt Ronay, Sales and Business Development Executive. Photo by Melanie Phelan.

Eric Burns has always been a busy man. A business owner, a full-time employee, a serial entrepreneur–at one time he owned a bar and worked full time at Gallup, all while working on multiple side projects.

“I really wanted to automate everything [at the bar]; payroll, inventory, everything,” said Burns. “There wasn’t an easy way to do that with marketing. I could do a lot of targeted ads with Facebook, but that was about it.”

Burns explained that the ultimate goal of his latest project, Gazella Wifi, is to relieve the burden on restaurant owners who don’t have the time for targeted marketing.

How Gazella Wifi works

Gazella is platform based on an experience that everyone is familiar with.

“If you go to a hotel and want to access their wifi, you have to type in your room number or access code,” said Burns. “We use that same captive portal technology, but instead of putting in a room number, you have to like that restaurant’s Facebook page.”

Burns said the system also uses passive wifi tracking as a way to determine how many times a person has been to a restaurant.

“Every phone has a MAC address, which is a unique ID to the phone. So every router sends these pings out to see who is out there, which is why a user can see which wifi networks are in range,” said Burns. “There’s actually really small bits of information transferred back through that router, one of which is that MAC address. So basically, within relative accuracy, I can see how many times a person has been to restaurant by seeing how many times a phone has connected to a network.”

Burns explained that the way their product is different from competitors like Turnstyle Solutions, is that Gazella Wifi gives business owners the option to put out automated triggers to past customers.

“If a visitor likes the page once, Gazella Wifi can send out automated SMS text messages or emails, such as special promotions, targeted at the visitor to bring them back,” said Burns.

Burns explained that these analytics are key to engaging customers that may otherwise go off the radar.

“When I owned my own restaurant, a lot of the time I thought I knew who my customers were, but in reality I actually had no idea who my secondary demographics were,” said Burns. “With this technology we can really track who is coming in, reward them and bring back other customers.”

The power of personalization

Burns explained that his bar had been doing a similar concept before Gazella Wifi started.

“We’d have weekly drawings where people could drop their business cards and other information into a bowl to win rewards or coupons,” said Burns. “Now all of that is automated by them just logging into the wifi.”

Many people often forget that when you log in to play a game or other application, and connect through Facebook, that you are giving that platform access to your basic demographic information. By gathering that information, Burns explained that he and advertisers can create very personalized messages tailored to the user from just that one interaction.

When asked if the personalization of messages and ads really helps increase business, Burns definitely sees it as a win.

“When people make decisions on where to go for lunch, for example, they are picking things that come to top of mind,” said Burns. “The more that person resonates with a brand and the more that person sees it, the more likely they are to visit that business.”

Burns explained that the same holds true for email campaigns.

“If I’m just getting spammed with a bunch of different advertisements, I’m not going to pay much attention to the business,” said Burns. “But if I see a message that interests me specifically, it’s going to stick out in my memory.”

Starting over from scratch

Burns explained that Gazella Wifi had a previous model that they were implementing in a few restaurants but ended up running into some issues with the product.

“We had a previous model that kind of worked; it was kind of our Tesla moment,” said Burns.

Burns explained that the team made the decision to hire out for the firmware portion of the project and ended up not being able to use any of the code that the hire provided.

“As incredibly frustrated as I was with that situation, it ended up being a very good thing because now our team knows more about firmware than we ever have,” said Burns. “We’ve rebuilt it all from scratch and are set to launch June 1.”

Future clients and the Straight Shot accelerator

The team is currently looking forward to launching their product with clients like Blimpie’s and Cali Commons.

“It will be interesting to see how Cali Commons uses the technology because they are a coworking space and art gallery,” said Burns. “They wanted to find out who exactly is using the space, and we’re excited to solve that question for them.”

When asked about what the team is most looking forward to when joining the Straight Shot accelerator on June 6, Burns said he’s looking forward to working with the other talented companies.

“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to bounce ideas off each other,” said Burns. “David [Arnold]’s connections and his ability to get things done is going to be a huge asset for us.”

What’s next for Gazella Wifi

When asked about the future of the industry, Burns shared what he thinks the future public wifi will look like.

“I think utilizing wifi for a captive audience is very underused,” said Burns. “When people are seeing that screen to log into the wifi, right now they see things like terms of service. I think on the negative side, the user is going to start seeing a lot of ads. But on the positive side, I think we’ll be able to see a lot more personalization and easier use for the customer as well.”

When asked about the big vision for Gazella Wifi, Burns said he wants to provide as much valuable data as they can for restaurant owners at this point.

“Right now we are really focusing on restaurants because that’s what our team knows.” said Burns.

But clearly the opportunities go far beyond restaurants.

“We have another gentleman that’s working out of western Nebraska that is selling our product to stadiums,” said Burns. “The possibilities are really endless for where we can use it.”

Melanie Lucks is a communications intern for Silicon Prairie News and AIM Careerlink.


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