Aequilibrium Blog

By Neha Varshneya • June 29, 2016

How Two Geeks Accidentally Built Aequilibrium's IP

[dropcap style="no-background"] I [/dropcap]was flipping channels on the TV the other day and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw a commercial air on TLC for the show "I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant." “You have GOT to be kidding me,” I remember thinking to myself. “IS THIS FOR REAL? How does someone not know they’re about to pop a kid out until right before it happens?” Beats me.

Yet… I was intrigued. The show’s premise summed up what had happened at Aequilibrium over the past few months. I know y’all probably think I’m insane (which I am), but hear me out.

Okay, let’s rewind the clocks back to December.

Two new stars just joined the Aequilibrium team, Matthew as our UI/UX Design Lead and Alex as our Developer. This was around the same time I was vying for a Marketing and Growth Hacking role at the company.

Fast forward to January 4th, 2016, two weeks after I had gotten the job. It was my first day of work, and I came in only to realize that in just two weeks Matthew and Alex had built out a mobile application that used NFC technology, created a digital wallet and a product purchase page. I’m no expert when it comes to building apps, but two weeks seemed like a ridiculously short period of time.

Me: “So… you guys just built out an app, eh?”

Matthew: “Well, Adrian said he wanted us to do something cool with mobile devices and NFC tags to produce a product info to payment flow with the least number of 'taps' possible...”

Alex: “...but we didn’t want to use NFC’s in the realm of payments since that was getting a bit too mainstream, so we decided to do things our way.”

Me: “What was your way?”

Alex: Whips out his phone...

1

This was my first look into Tappie. These two masterminds had built out a mobile app that allowed users to receive product information after tapping an NFC tag assigned to a particular item—it was legit. After tapping a tag, the product’s page pops up, allowing me to customize the product according to my preferences, select within the app which card I wanted to pay with, and even receive a purchase summary.

It was easy to use, but not perfect. There was one critical component missing: a POS was needed to complete the transaction flow. Two weeks later, Matthew and Alex came back to show me the app again.

Matthew: “Neha meet Pattie, Pattie meet Neha.”

I shook my head when I found out what they had been up to. Of course, how silly of me to think these two would just go out and purchase a POS terminal. That’s too “mainstream.” Instead of purchasing a POS terminal, these guys had integrated POS functionalities—which consisted of utilizing NFC technology to read payment information exposed by the mobile device (Tappie) or a credit card—into a Nexus 5, which they endearingly named Pattie.

I was starting to get a feel for how things got done around here.

Tappie allowed consumers to receive product information at the “tap” of their phone to a tag and Pattie allowed them to complete the transaction. It felt as if we were onto something here… but we needed validation from people who weren’t a part of our immediate families and we needed it ASAP.

When we received comments such as, “This is dope!,” “This is so sick… is this available in stores yet?,” “You mean I don’t have to wait in line to pay any more? #gamechanger” on our forms, we knew we were onto something. Okay, fine. We knew we needed to solicit feedback from someone other than me. So we did.

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We set up a makeshift retail environment at our studio and ran several rounds of usability testing with two different demographics we felt would best diversify the target audience. Each participant genuinely seemed to resonate with what we were trying to accomplish—bettering the customer journey and user experience as we gained valuable insights and feedbackWhen it comes to mobile apps, specifically ones in regard to payments, what works on one operating system doesn’t necessarily work on another. In this case, we were dealing with NFC technology. Since our kick-off initiative was Android-based, we had free rein when it came down to the functionality and communication goals we set, but looming in the background, was the sleeping giant, iOS—the other half of the potential market. NFC is only available in iOS when using the native Apple Wallet for mobile payments. We had a big user-base issue here.

The iOS elephant in the room.

NFC technology was great. At the time, we had full control over what we wanted to do, but on Android devices. We needed to address the massive iOS elephant in the room. We couldn’t use the same tap and pay flow we were using on Android for iOS because Apple, which isn’t a fan of NFC technology, very smartly, locks their NFC access and only allows it for Apple Wallet payment transactions. Hmmm. We needed a universal language to still achieve the same user experience we were striving for. Enter beacons and BLE.

 

qz Each time a user interacts with a beacon, that data can be grabbed and turned into real-time analytics for a merchant. Everything from zones entered and duration to product interactions and conversion rates.

 

Opportunity knocking.

Bluetooth beacons were a sweet opportunity for us to act on. Not only had we solved the universal communication language issue, but we had found a way to grab even more data points by creating a deeper, more engaging retail environment, benefitting not only the consumer but also the merchant. This changed everything. Beacon technology isn't by any means new, in fact, several major retailers are already rolling out platforms in stores across North America: Target, Woolworths, Macy's, and Nordstrom to name just a few. 

 

tumblr_inline_mqvtmyR50P1qz4rgp Estimote Beacons and stickers are small wireless sensors that you can attach to any location or object. They broadcast tiny radio signals which your smartphone can receive and interpret, unlocking micro-location and contextual awareness.

 

Matthew and Alex got to work right away. We bought some beacons, designed our own store environment, and started building on the prototypes we had already started: small iterations, learning from the last, staying agile. 

It was apparent we needed to start thinking about the complete experience now—from the customers' perspective and use case to the value to the merchant and the data. At the end of the day, the merchants would be our clients and where we needed to focus our attention when building out this application, or now, a suite of products. We had essentially created a payment application, a POS application, and a content-rich environment application: Tappie, Pattie, and Engage. From the research our team had done in regards to beacon technology, one thing led to another and Pattie allowed a POS to be turned into a valuable resource tool for merchants. It was a POS with brains!

Matthew: "We had a very powerful tool in our hands, a tablet. Why were we using it as just a point of sale device? We had an array of data sets available in real-time from all of the interaction points, everything from the CP zones, tapping products to even the in-app interactions right through to checkout. Since this is extremely valuable information to a merchant, we wanted to allow them to visualize it and more importantly, show them how to leverage the data!"

A merchant could now gather real-time data: they could break down the day’s purchases, payment types, and keep a close eye on how and when their customers were spending. Customers could also feel secure knowing that there are several layers of tokenization, biometrics, purchase alerts via SMS or email already in place. Pattie essentially turned a POS tablet into a personal business partner.

 

 

Necessity can truly breed innovation.

 

It was at this point that Matthew and Alex brought Engage into the picture. Businesses now had the capacity to create content-rich environments leveraging beacon technology—customers could now receive targeted information about the product area zone they were entering in a store. Receiving personalized content delivered to you on the fly based on your purchase history? Yes, please! I’m all for making my life easier. I loved the idea of walking through contextual zones, engaging with content on my phone when I wanted, gathering information, tapping a product beacon which opens a product page, selecting my preferences and paying. It was all so fast, secure and seamless.

 

Walk by a product with an assigned beacon and get more information, interact within the app and even purchase.

 

As you walk through beacon contextual zones, each particular beacon transmits a signal that opens a targeted URL on your phone. It could be general information about products in that zone, recommendations based on your purchase history, or even a specific item to prompt open a payment flow.

I think it’s important to mention that throughout this entire process we were having ongoing demos to C-level executives, government officials, and key decision makers in businesses. In the past few months, in particular, we’ve had a demo (or three) scheduled every single day. We were always learning, always testing, and always collecting feedback. Validation on validation on validation, amiright? A smart man once said to me "Validation comes when someone writes you a giant cheque and says, 'I need that now.'" This is what started an evolution of a prototype into a suite of products, or the birth of Omni.

 

 omni_timeline

Since I’ve been at Aequilibrium, if there’s one thing that has been made apparent, it has been our ability to get things done fast, and get them done exceptionally well. How are we able to accomplish this, you ask? Simple—by sticking with our ethos of agile methodologies and lean development. In other words, we’re BFFs with sprints. It was only because we developed Tappie, Pattie, and Engage in this manner that we’re now able to offer them separately but also as a complete package. “Booyah!” as Justice, our Director of Technology, would say.

So remember TLC’s show “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” that I mentioned earlier on? Well, I think it’s safe to say that Aequilibrium didn’t know it’d be introducing Tappie, Pattie, and Engage to the world—we were all caught by surprise. We’re not 100% certain of what’s to come… but what new parents are, right?

Welcome to the world, Omni.

We weren’t expecting you, but we couldn’t imagine life at Aequilibrium any other way now.

Have any questions? Curious to know how Omni can help level up your business? Shoot me a message or request a demo and let’s make it happen!

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