Elevator Pitch: Tapit

Elevator Pitch is a regular feature on Lifehacker where we profile startups and new companies and pick their brains for entrepreneurial advice. This week, we're talking with Jamie Conyngham, co-founder and CEO of NFC specialist Tapit.

In 128 words or less, explain your business idea.

Tapit enables physical objects to be interactive with your smartphone. People can then tap their smartphone on the object and instantly get content straight to their phone. For example, Tapit enables outdoor advertising, shelves in retail, lanyards, windows, business cards, product packaging, bus and train seats, tabletops, posters, coasters — anything really. The content can be information, a movie trailer, a map, a coupon — basically any type of digital rich content available on the mobile phone or they can tap and be taken to a payment page to buy goods or services. Tapit uses Near Field Communication (NFC) chips in and on objects which communicate with Tapit's cloud ecosystem. No application needs to be downloaded by the consumer, straight out of the box they can use Tapit.

What strategies are you using to grow and finance your idea?

Tapit has always had a global vision rather than Australia only. So we achieved growth, entering other markets through distributors in Dubai and Tokyo. We also put people in New York, Paris London and Stockholm. This put us on the international stage and helped grow the company both from a deal and perception perspective. For finance we initially used government grants, specifically the NSW Collaborative Solutions grant for mobile (CSMC). We then had a seed round from Sydney Angels and a Series A VC round from Monash Private Equity. We are now looking to finance our next expansion round and speaking to various VC's, high net worth individuals and equity brokers.

What's the biggest challenge facing your business?

Our biggest challenge is the remoteness of Australia as we operate globally. The formula for tech startups is pretty much set in stone. You capitalise rapidly to get as much market share as possible before the "me too" brands decide to copy you. The best place to capitalise is Silicon Valley where there is the highest number of VCs per capita in the world and the home to most of the biggest and most important tech companies ever. So from Australia it is a bit of a disadvantage when you try to raise capital. There are basically zero noteworthy tech VCs here.

The remoteness also affects the seniority of people you can deal with for international deals. Most of the big decisions need to come from HQ and for most brands, signoff is required from either US or UK HQ. For example, video game and movie brands we have dealt with almost always needed signoff on every change for every piece of creative. Similarly, if we want to do an NFC campaign in multiple markets with a brand that decision is rarely taken from an Australia based team, instead the global marketing or group marketing teams make those decisions which filter down. Sometimes local countries have their own autonomy but it is usually pretty limited if it is something really innovative.

How do your differentiate your business from your competitors?

We created a symbol for our product that is simple and indicates to people to get their phone and put it over the target. This symbol goes on all of the objects that we "tapify" or enable with NFC chips. This is a big differentiator for Tapit as the symbol has already become ubiquitous for NFC marketing in Australia.

The other big differentiator is that we have a strong combination of tech and marketing in our executive mix which makes us pretty unique compared to other NFC companies. We know how to speak to media / brands as well as other tech staff and partners.

In terms of tech, yes our tech is great but everyone says their tech is great. Great tech is not enough on its own anymore. The tech plus brand plus product design and quality need to combine as well as timing. It's kind of like Beta vs VHS in the old days or iPod vs other music players more recently. You might have good tech but if the brand and product design are less appealing then you will lose.

What one phone, tablet or PC application could you not live without?

I'm pretty addicted to the iPad, but I only really play live chess on it via the chess.com app, to the point where I am addicted to it. It's because the board works so perfectly with the screen dimensions and the compelling nature of live gaming. Who would have thought live chess could get your heartbeat racing and make you see red?

What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

Never give up. I think never give up is great for entrepreneurs because the ride is in most cases pretty rough with a lot of ups and downs. There are often times when entrepreneurs think all is lost. The problem is that if you give up at that point you miss out on what was potentially just around the corner. Sometimes just by being there longer and continuing with the dream or vision is enough to make the company successful.

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