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Mister Beacon Episode #88

Full Stack Beacon Solutions

March 12, 2019

Imagine a full solution, created with such ease of set up that businesses big and small alike could have a proximity marketing campaign set up in minutes - This has been Mobstac’s guiding principle. This week on Mr. Beacon, Ravi Pratap, CTO & co-founder of Mobstac, talks to us about why he believes that Bluetooth beacon applications are led by software. Ravi explains that proximity marketing, indoor location, and way finding will only be as successful as the quality of the software that is available to leverage the technology. Mobstac’s track record is a testament to this, with one of the largest beacon deployments in the world and working with customers such as T-Mobile, Google, Amazon, and Unilever. In this episode, we also get Ravi’s opinions on the state of the beacon industry, as well as the decline of Google Eddystone’s Nearby and Samsung’s Closeby.


  • Narration 0:07

    The Mr. Beacon podcast is sponsored by Wiliot, scaling IoT with battery free Bluetooth.

    Steve Statler 0:16

    Welcome to the Mr. Beacon podcast this week, we are talking to CTO, co founder of Mobstac Ravi Pratap. Thanks so much for joining us on the podcast.

    Ravi Pratap 0:28

    Thanks, man, Steve.

    Steve Statler 0:30

    So you guys have been part of the beacon ecosystem, really from from the beginning? Can you tell us a and give us a very short summary of what you do. And now I want to talk to you about how you got to do what you do?

    Ravi Pratap 0:47

    Sure, we were essentially a proximity marketing solution, an end to end proximity marketing solution that is built on top of Bluetooth beacons, essentially, we offer the complete hardware and software integrated as one solution in the cloud, you know, essentially delivered as just all pre integrated. So that's, that's what beacon stack, which is our product, and the name of the product line beacon stack. That's what it does. It's an end to end beacon based proximity marketing solution.

    Steve Statler 1:27

    So I can buy a beacon stack, Bluetooth beacons, you've got pictures of them on your website. But where you differentiate because there's lots of beacons out there is the is the services and stack. How has that evolved over the years? Tell us that story.

    Ravi Pratap 1:47

    Yeah, that's that's, that's, that's a that's an interesting story in terms of just so you're right, you're absolutely right, our differentiator. And what we have always focused on from the beginning has been the value that the software layer adds to this fantastic thing, invention in technology called Bluetooth beacons, or BLE, throughout all of all of this stuff, the ecosystem is doing in the BLE space. So when we started off, the history of the funny thing is, we raise capital from Cisco. A few years ago, this was one of our a series B round and Cisco invested in us. And at that time, we, we were actually looking a lot more on Wi Fi. This is the funny thing. So we, because of Cisco, I suppose to some extent, we're looking at Wi Fi for indoor location, indoor, location based content, and all of those kinds of things. And beacons, of course, were exploding at that time. And we saw a clear opportunity for all the software platform that we already had already built. So we essentially said, this is, you know, this is great, the invention itself, hardware Bluetooth space with no energy beacons and all that. But if the world is going to leverage this for indoor location services, and proximity, marketing, and indoor Wayfinding, if you will, and all of these different applications, those applications are going to be led by the software and the quality of the software that is available to never start technology. And so we basically from the beginning, even when we started out and started selling our stack, that's how the beacon stack, right, we basically always sold it as a SaaS platform. So it's that's kind of been been there. From day one, we've always believed that it was important for the software to deliver the value on top of the hardware. And so everything that we've always done has been around this, the value of the software, the platform, all of that deliver through a SaaS subscription model. And that's kind of what we have focused on. And so that's been, I guess, the differentiator, even in our approach to to this whole the whole space.

    Steve Statler 4:23

    Okay, so full stack. But you basically started off before beacons, because your company is almost 10 years old now. Right?

    Ravi Pratap 4:33

    Oh, right. Yes. Yeah. So, when we first started, as all companies have at some point in their existence, we definitely pivoted so we were a product company in the mobile space. So we knew mobile really well. I guess that's kind of the genesis of all of this, right? So we were very early in the mobile space around mobile content delivery, publishing, and so on, all the websites and all of that So we did a bunch of work in that space, we worked with some of the biggest news, publishers and content websites, back in India. But we really found that there was, there was this opportunity on on the location side, which was related to mobile. And we had a head start, just in terms of how much we are done with, with apps and all of that. So we essentially got into indoor proximities space, etc. That's how we started looking at Wi Fi and then beacons through through to that time. And so yeah, so that's how we got into the beacon space. So beacons came much after the company itself. But that is now our primary business model new business.

    Steve Statler 5:45

    And you've so you've stuck to it. And a recurring theme in my questions, when I talk to entrepreneurs, like yourself is a lot of people sell beacons of dead, but it seems like they're not dead as far as you're concerned.

    Ravi Pratap 6:00

    Well, I think as far as we are concerned, and all my competitors, all the competitors, our greatest respect for, you know, in friends as well, and we work closely with Estimote. In the early years, we worked with contacts we worked with, I mean, I, I, we probably have had contact with pretty much blue cats. I remember in Australia, we worked with a bunch of companies over the years and all in the same ecosystem. I'm pretty certain if you ask them, you know, and just based on what they're doing, the products that they're putting out the customers they're working with, I think we would all agree that beacons, I think, have not taken off some some kind of hockey stick growth, which is what you typically always want to see happen and never happens. Right. But we think we think that beacons have been in fact, very steadily growing just in terms of entering our world, right. I mean, not as rapidly as Google has granted. Right. But I think there is no doubt that beacons have been growing steadily over the years. And even in our own business, we see it. The applications are grown, the sophistication has grown all of that. So certainly, beacons are alive and thriving.

    Steve Statler 7:17

    What are you seeing in terms of customers, you've got some great customers listed on your website? I'd love to hear about some of the projects you've been doing, that you see as being representative of where the industry is going. That kind of trends, the solution patterns, as we sometimes call them?

    Ravi Pratap 7:40

    Well, I guess, the thing that we have seen a lot of us as in Beacon sack over the last few years, is we we've just been, we've just been much more focused on the proximity side, proximity marketing, applications of beacons. But absolutely more than, than our competition. And, and that's, that's one of the things that has helped us break out in on that side, especially because just as an example, I mean, I'm sure you see Google our website and see the logo, Google. And yes, we have done one of the largest beacon deployments in the world readiness model. We work with Google, and Google has deployed our platform at 117. Train stations and again, and these beacons are present on all the platforms and all the locations, and it's pretty big, it's almost 3000 or so beacons. And that is, again, a proximity marketing use case. It's tied back to a number of initiatives that Google has been up to in India. In India, of course, it's every company is trying to grow their share of the market as of course, huge number of people out there. And so what's the smartphones? That's the, I guess, hundreds and millions and billions of smartphones potentially. And so, so the work we've done with the Google, for instance, has just been, you know, all in the proximity marketing side is very, very focused on messaging, contextual notifications, driving app installs, driving learning campaigns to certainly do all of this. And of course, location based, right. So at certain specific locations at these train stations, and so on. That's just one example. We work with other companies, of course, we work with T Mobile, the US at their stores, and all of these use cases. And this goes back to really what I said earlier, which is, we found a lot of success with our focus on proximity marketing, which has really been around how do you how do you deliver these really engaging experiences for mobile app users? And of course, my Google nearby was around even without apps, but just do delivering these notifications, and what we call guest proximity campaigns or Atlas campaigns, all of this, and many ways are our mission, or what guided us from day one was, I guess this this principle of can we make our solution and our software so easy, that a small business somewhere in North Dakota, can come to our website, place an order for a beacon kit, along with the software, you know, have that FedEx to them, you know, they're receiving in two or three days, or overnight, and they unbox and dunk beacons on and basically start running approximately campaign in less than 15 minutes. That was basically the guiding principle for what we did for a lot of the last few years because we we thought that it was crucial that the technology be that accessible. And that simple for for anyone to use, of course, as always, like media agencies and Optimove, adult print shops that are thrown in the mix. But that was our guiding, I guess, light in the sense that we just wanted to make the technology that work out of the box. And that's simply that's why you'll find that in deconstructs case. Unlike some of the other hardware companies, were not so much about offering different options on the hardware configuration, for example, there are all these things that the other companies will let you do. But we think that, you know, that's not necessarily the proximity market is what you need is end to end integration, all the arbors, we can figure out your address already in the cloud already. All of this SDKs are all designed to work with the hardware. And all of that has a lot of value. That's basically what we've been doing. And even our work with all these customers that I mentioned, we work with Uber in Taiwan, which is where we're doing a lot of proximity campaigns to get drivers and their people sign up at concerts, and public events. So there are all these different campaigns that we've done. But they've all come back to Century marketing use cases where you know, they're using beacons to do location based awareness and location based marketing campaigns and so on.

    Steve Statler 12:19

    So would it be fair to say that one of the differences between you and contact IO or an Estimote is their focus is to cultivate a very broad developer community on top of their beacons, whereas your beacons are really to support your full stack?

    Ravi Pratap 12:38

    That is correct, yes. So we certainly find that we are selling a lot more to end user. And like, as I said, small and medium businesses, even enterprises of many enterprises we want in fact, Amazon was our customer at one point for some project that they were doing all of those projects and everything we have done, we've, we've focused on the the business use cases and the non developers for or just, you know, just to describe that group of people because we think that there's just a plant, there's a lot of opportunity in that space, which is not developer led, which is mostly led from business decisions, business needs, for, let's say, in warehouses or in an indoor navigation, let's say airports and so on. Those are not necessarily developer LED. And so yes, I think that's a that's quite accurate. We we do it that week.

    Steve Statler 13:34

    How would you, you mentioned this railway project, which I'd like to just hear a bit more about in terms of the specific use cases? Because it sounds like it was less about proximity marketing and more kind of proximity services. But you can correct me if I'm wrong there. But before we get to that the what would you say the health is of Eddystone? Google Eddystone?

    Ravi Pratap 14:01

    Oh, so yeah, I think Google Eddystone is actually just, you know, it's doing great in that sense as a protocol. In terms of the specification, I think it's well established. And everyone has basically standardized on it. All beacons in the world today ship with both iBeacon and Eddystone. As as default, packet types of frame types and so on, for VT for BLE beacons. And I think that is doing great. Now what Google did, it shut down the nearby notification service, which is just one of the various elements in their essential beacon based API slash offering. I think nearby notifications that they turned off, the rest of it is still the same. So Eddystone as a protocol, still very much. I think alive, kicking and being adopted a lot more.

    Steve Statler 14:57

    So what happens if I go to one of these The train stations in India and I have an iPhone and you're broadcasting. Do you broadcast Eddystone UID? Or is it a femoral IDs that you're using that

    Ravi Pratap 15:11

    we use every step of the way? But but the thing is, the iPhone was always in Washington Google nearby. Correct? Right. So it was never on it. But on iPhone, you always need an app. But the thing is that iPhones and Android devices will both see both both kinds of packets, they will see the iBeacon and Eddystone. beacons, will they broadcast both cards? So the iPhone will also see the same notification and everything of course, you will need an app installed in that particular case. But you get the exact same experience on an iPhone, as you would on an Android device, there's absolutely no difference.

    Steve Statler 15:51

    So by how do you get the are you broadcasting both Eddystone UID and an iBeacon? Frame? Is that how you get the best of both worlds?

    Ravi Pratap 16:03

    That is correct. Yes. You broadcast Eddystone and iBeacon. And any other frames that you want to TLM? And so on, at least

    Steve Statler 16:13

    you what? What about? I haven't looked into this. So maybe you're the CTO, maybe I can pick your brains. What's happened with Samsung's close by Did you ever see that? Did anyone leverage that? So now that the nearby has been retired? In terms of the I still see beacons sexually and I was in Times Square, and there were physical web URLs being pinged as I walk through Times Square, but But I guess the my Android phone, if I had one wouldn't be surfacing it in either the browser or the lock screen. But what about Samsung with close by

    Ravi Pratap 16:53

    I, our experience has been that Samsung basically didn't get the kind of lift off the expected for close by, at least outside South Korea, they originally built the service for South Korea, back in the day. I don't know if you're aware, but we were a closed by partner as well. So we had, we were plugged into the close by ecosystem. So as a beacon stack customer, you were able to leverage Samsung close by, in addition to Google nearby and others. But I don't believe that Samsung close by just based on our data we just walked outside because primarily because of just how complex it was. It was tied to Samsung internet browser, which was only present on Samsung phones. And there were a bunch of settings and so on that it was buried under. So it was not as straightforward as one would hope. And so I believe Samsung close by really just didn't. Didn't take off.

    Steve Statler 17:51

    I'm very conscious. For some people. This is all very understandable. Other people may be thinking or even shouting, what the heck are you talking about? So just maybe recap in terms of for the for the newcomer to this ecosystem. So we have different kinds of beacons that are broadcast formats that are broadcast by beacons, there's the apple standard, there's the Google standard Apple came first with iBeacon. Google then followed up a couple of years later, with a much more complete Eddystone portfolio. Part of it was your beacons would broadcast a URL that's now been retired. But what we're saying is that both at the heart of the Android operating system, the heart of the Apple operating system, both operating systems still have the foundations for these beacon applications that we've been talking about. And close by was basically my understanding was same your beacon broadcasts physical web URL, it's just integrated into the Samsung browser. Was there anything else other than say you were a close by partner? Was there anything special that you had to do on the beacon front or on the browser front? To work with that?

    Ravi Pratap 19:08

    Yeah, so basically, both Google so just just to add to what you just describes, so yes, Eddystone iBeacon, these are the standards. And those are all just, you know, the same, nothing has changed there. Those are all at the hardware level. So the beacons transmitting those, those packet types. What Google nearby and Samsung close by what they did is Iran cloud based services where you could register your beacon and certain notifications, certain content that you wanted delivered as a notification on their devices, I mean, on all Android devices and all Samsung devices. So yes, there was a cloud component. So there were servers that they expose their API's, and you had to hit to register your beacons and do all of that. It's actually almost the same. Google has a bunch of API's you have to do I work with, excuse me. And Samsung also had a bunch of API's that we had to hit. And so technically, the hardware essentially did the same thing. It was transmitting iBeacon and Eddystone. URL Eddystone UID. You can do all of them at the same time, if you want. And if I guess what I beacons? Do they go asin, URL Eddystone, UID and iBeacon. And what do you have to do additionally, is you have to have all the software side of the platform, working to ensure that all your beacons are registered on both platforms, you make all API calls correctly, you have all of those messages and their content and all of that setup. Excuse me. So you still come back to your question, yes, you have to do a bunch of work on the server side to make sure your beacons were registered correctly, with Google nearby with Samsung close by so that a notification could be delivered to a random Android or random Samsung device that was in range of the beacon turned on. So

    Steve Statler 21:08

    it's interesting, you know, Google can the Physical Web Eddystone URL notifications? And the explanation was, it's too spammy we and I kind of get that okay. No one wants to be constantly pinged with adverts that are wasting your time. But nothing. I mean, there was a registration process that you're describing that could have been used to weed out the spam? Not

    Ravi Pratap 21:35

    exactly. So? Well, do we honestly, we, we worked, we worked closely with pretty much everyone who was in the space and doing this work. And of course, with Google itself, we don't understand why Google had to shut it down. To be honest, Google is Google, it can do anything at once using AI and machine learning. And pretty much all of the technologies available to it, there was probably, I would say, less than a month of work that will essentially lead to a spam free notification environment for everyone. much superior user experience, all of the things that Google didn't monitor, the network would have been weeded out. I just didn't think that they wanted to do it. They absolutely can do it. They wanted.

    Steve Statler 22:22

    Interesting. So let's go back to these railway stations in India. What What's the user experience that you get from your application that

    Ravi Pratap 22:32

    the user experience there is. So this this project is was a while ago, and at that time, the primary, the primary goal really was raising awareness of the Wi Fi services at these locations. So there are about 400 train stations in India now which have Wi Fi or Wi Fi enabled, and Google along with an entity called real talent, because the government entity, they run the Wi Fi service and all these locations. So the user experience at these locations, we're basically leveraging Google Eddystone, you know, the dark protocol and nearby, delivering notifications that are contextual to the Wi Fi. So they will encourage people to get onto the Wi Fi, connect to the Wi Fi, give them instructions on how to connect to the Wi Fi, India being a country with 18 official languages. So there is a need to offer instructions in all those different languages. And of course, that's possible through the API's that they have available on the beacon platforms. And so we leveraged all of that essentially run campaigns, which could be modified in real time. They were scheduled campaigns, it will say something from 9am until 4pm. And then say something else from 5pm, when there were cricket matches, or whatever the campaigns were very rotate. And all of that was possible to our platform, because we built this whole thing on top of the basic Eddystone and hardware. And of course, the Google nearby notifications. The beacons also cook into apps that can detect them through the SDK. All that but that effort hasn't gone live yet. So okay.

    Steve Statler 24:14

    So you're talking to me from Washington, DC, I think most of your developers are over in India, is that where your CEO is based as well.

    Ravi Pratap 24:23

    We actually both fly back and forth a lot. So our offices in New York City? Yeah. And I have a home office in DC as well. But yes, that's basically how it is. And my co founder CEO is also flying back and forth between India and your a lot. So yes, that's how we're set up.

    Steve Statler 24:41

    How do you see the differences in application trends across around the world? Because you're you're deployed globally? What are the differences between what's happening in India versus Europe versus the United States?

    Ravi Pratap 25:00

    Well, from our, from our experience or district from the data that we have, it does seem to does seem to be the case, there's, there's more deployment of asset tracking solutions in Europe, it just seems to be far ahead. In terms of just that specific use case, as a tracking seems to be just much more advanced in Europe in general. And I think that also is indicated in some of the work that contact an estimate, and all these guys have been doing. A lot of their work is really rooted in asset tracking and real time location systems. RTLs, I think, yeah. So I think we will see based on our leads, and based all of all of the traffic that we get, the asset tracking is just much more prevalent in Europe. So we seem to be seeing a lot more of that in, in Europe. In the US, it's very, very clearly proximity marketing. That is for us just been way ahead of all the other use cases. That being said, we do see, we're beginning to see now much more interest in indoor location kind of applications where there's where it finds wayfinding involved and indoor navigation, basically. So

    Steve Statler 26:21

    do you support all of those use cases? Do you do asset tracking as well?

    Ravi Pratap 26:26

    No, we don't at the moment, do asset tracking. Okay, don't. So that's the reason why we don't actually sell the stock market at all. And in fact, many times will tell, you know, people on our website, why don't you go check contact arrested, because of just because of their offering be positive. But we found that in the US proximity marketing is just so far ahead, in terms of application, second would be indoor wayfinding and navigation applications. There have been some good examples of beacons deployed, which leverages essentially, the leverage beacons for

    Steve Statler 27:04

    Wayfinding. And in that proximity marketing, is it brands or retailers that are driving it the hardest?

    Ravi Pratap 27:11

    So we get, we actually, we find that ours is a lot more driven by brands, because we work directly with a lot of agencies are essentially marketing agencies or running campaigns and working directly with big brands for different kinds of things. So yes, mostly, we have that kind of a customer base driven to and all kinds of also, it's not just only retail, specifically, I mean, we have we have some stadiums, we have all kinds of venues, essentially looking at these options.

    Steve Statler 27:44

    I'm assuming it's not you're not doing what with baseball stadiums, because that's sort of like there's almost like a monopoly that Major League Baseball advanced media have on that market. Is it more of football and stuff?

    Ravi Pratap 27:57

    No, not MLB? No, we don't have MLB. But yes, we have. So the other thing, which I just wanted to bring out is that the interest in proximity marketing is also not limited to Bluetooth beacons. That's the other thing. Right? So. So as far as we are concerned, for example, our software platform also works with NFC tags, and also works with QR codes. And those are, those are part of our offering, because it makes sense from a proximity marketing use case that those are technologies that we want to leverage beacons along with some of those things. So we are finding that some of these auxilary technologies like like QR and NFC are also somewhat relevant. But yes, beacons are primarily where, where we see on all our business, essentially growing.

    Steve Statler 28:48

    And lastly, where do you see all this going? What are the trends that you're interested in, that you think will be driving your business in the future?

    Ravi Pratap 28:59

    So good question. Well, there are a couple of things. But I think, from from our standpoint, we just see in all indications in the market, that the online and offline worlds are going to continue to have to be connected in some way or the other. And, you know, I think, for the smartphones and GPS, that was like the first wave, but as things are progressing, there is just a clear need for whether it's retailers trying to drive footfalls to their to their stores, or trying to retarget people who appeared in store to be you know, get, you know, get targeted for campaigns online, on Facebook, and so on whatever the use cases, right, the online or offline worlds are going to have to be connected more and more. It appears whether it's whether it's done in one year, where we have 90% coverage or it's going to take five years. We can't be sure but but I I certainly think that as a result of that, we will continue to see applications like we finding, and of course, proximity marketing, asset tracking, all of these will just continue to get more sophisticated continue to grow. And of course, it will not just be Europe, it will be the US as well. It'll also be Southeast Asia and India, we just get we're just seeing a very steady and organic growth in the demand for these systems, and essentially, this kind of these kinds of software platforms. So yeah, we were really optimistic about the future. But what we don't want, you know, we don't we don't think will happen is some kind of ridiculous, you know, explosion that and all of a sudden will, will lead to a gold rush. I don't think that's that's likely to happen. It's it's going to take the kind of slow building that I think a lot of the companies like ours in the space have been doing.

    Steve Statler 30:59

    Very good. So more evolution than revolution. Yeah. Cool. Well, this has been fascinating. I've been meaning to talk with you and your company for for years. I'm really glad we got the opportunity to do that. Ravi, thanks so much for talking with us. Well, thank

    Ravi Pratap 31:16

    you, Steve. This was a, this was a great opportunity. And thank you so much for having me on your podcast.

    Steve Statler 31:27

    Specifically, you have to come up with three songs that you would take on a trip to Mars. And I just wondered if there are three songs that you have in mind that you knew I prepared? Yes. Okay. Wonderful. What are they?

    Ravi Pratap 31:40

    So actually, I was thinking when I started thinking about the question, it was actually in terms of artists, right, because I, I believe it's unfair on the world of music to pick three songs, but I was, you know, I was I basically looked and thought about in terms of artists and my own life, as a young kid, and then college and much later. And so I would say the three artists that immediately came to mind just jumped at me. One is, of course, I'm Indian, and AR Rahman in my view, is one of the greatest artists alive ever has been for Indian music and will music in general. So era one is absolutely number one. He's actually an Oscar winning artist. I don't know if you've heard his name before. So Ara mon would be it would be the first one.

    Steve Statler 32:32

    But that must be there must be a song of his that is of note that we would you would want to listen to as part of his repertoire.

    Ravi Pratap 32:41

    Okay. Yeah. Well, there's so many good songs, so many good artists albums. I would say the song that came to mind is really the song called Dil Se, which in Hindi means from the heart. And it's, it's an ollie song of phase, which he did long ago, I think was 96 or something that about maybe a little later. No, maybe I'm getting the Euro wrong, but doesn't matter. It's, it's just such a beautiful song from that time. That age. Also, it's got to do with nostalgia, I think me. So in terms of where I was in my life and listening to that song. Anyway, so lrm on absolutely every single song of is, no cloud store is nothing, put it on a bunch of CDs and take it with you do lots, right? The second artist, or band I should say, is definitely Led Zeppelin. Yeah, I'm a huge, you know, found exactly when I was in college, I was a vocalist in a band. And so yeah,

    Steve Statler 33:43

    so Alright, cool. So you would sing lead zap songs?

    Ravi Pratap 33:46

    Well, I tried to let me put it that way. And I sang a lot of other songs as well, but we just worshiped Led Zeppelin. And, of course, we I would say, did our own renditions of those classics. Right? But my favorite Of course, I think at this point and pretty much everyone in the anyone has ever heard of Led Zeppelin knows the songs of Stairway to Heaven Of course. Although I was disappointed to read about this, this lawsuit that's going on about it. So yeah, I don't know what's going on with that. But so yeah, so Led Zeppelin, certainly, they have a number of billion songs. No quantum communication, breakdown immigrants, all of those. Absolutely fantastic.