A new name, new investment and a new suite of executives – AREA360 Founder and CEO Chris Smith explains why the Wellington startup formerly known as STQRY is ready to write a new chapter.
From a start at Wellington Zoo just three years ago, newly re-launched mobile location technology company AREA360 and its most famous creation, STQRY, are set to explode on the world stage thanks to a significant injection of investment funds.
AREA360 and STQRY enable non-technical customer experience, marketing and operations staff working at large, frequently visited locations such as airports, hospitals and museums to create and deliver meaningful experiences based on location data, harnessing the power of beacons, GPS, WiFi and more.
AREA360 announced this week that it has received US$3.5m (NZ$5.5m) from Madrona Venture Group, and is opening an office in Seattle.
The move expands on the company’s already well-developed presence in the city, where the STQRY app is used by the EMP Museum, Seattle Art Museum, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Area 360’s Founder and CEO, Chris Smith, explains that Seattle was the natural choice for the startup as they sought to give the company a toe-hold offshore.
“Seattle was our first port of call in the US. I am originally from the Emerald City, so we called in favours, slept on couches, and built solid business in Seattle.”
The Pacific Northwest city’s approach to the arts and public space – key source material for Area360’s first major product, STQRY – was also attractive.
“Seattle has a huge arts scene, where one percent of public spending goes to public arts and culture. So you can imagine, with taxes paid by the likes of Amazon and Microsoft, that generates serious funding.
“Some of the arts and cultural organizations who had access to that funding really believed in us.”
The eventual result was uptake for STQRY not just in Washington State, but in the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, California and at the prestigious Smithsonian Museum across the country in Washington D.C. In all, more 400 customers around the world use STQRY, including the likes of Emirates Airlines and of course, the Wellington Zoo.
The company got it’s start in bridging the gap between cultural venues, the knowledgeable staff, and the eager visitors.
“The idea for STQRY as a product was formed while walking through the Wellington Zoo. The zookeeper had all this extra information and previously didn’t have an easy way to share it with visitors.”
The zookeeper’s knowledge had the potential to create a far richer zoo experience, but the vast majority of visitors never had a chance to benefit from it.
“STQRY was our attempt to deliver all of that information in a dynamic way, in the moment.”
Wellington Zoo signed a 4-year contract a few weeks later, and other organisations took notice to the strength of the concept.
Drawing on the company’s rich history of connecting digital content to physical locations through the STQRY app, AREA360’s advanced solutions now enable proximity based content delivery down to one to three meters, providing the tightest correlation of any beacon/location-aware platform on the market.
Smith says they also had some solid backing from the get-go.
“Gareth Morgan believed in us even though we had no product yet and few customers, and without Callaghan Innovation we wouldn’t be here today.
“When you’re a start-up, you need the type of bridge funding that Callaghan Innovation offered to have a chance to make it happen.”
“Callaghan Innovation’s project grant provided us with the time and resources to focus on building a team, IP and products, without the distractions of day-to-day survival.”
Callaghan Innovation continues to provide support as AREA360 takes off. The company is now of a scale to qualify for Growth Grant funding, which will help to expand the company’s New Zealand presence, growing it by up to 10 FTEs.
“The new funding we’ve received from Madrona Venture Group and the Callaghan Innovation Growth Grant has enabled us to welcome new executives, developers and salespeople that will help us take AREA360 to a new level of global reach and scale.”
The company is now 30 strong and continues to hire. AREA360 has just added three new leaders, joining Smith and its Seattle-based global sales lead Jennifer Smith.
These include the former GM of OnlineShoes.com, Dave Martine, who will lead operations.
The company has also added a former T-Mobile leader, Nathan J. Peterson, as its head of marketing. And finally, AREA360 has recruited head of technology Andrew Reid from Zeacom and Navman to lead the Wellington-based development team with plans to grow it to more than forty developers by year’s end.
AREA360’s aim is to be a world leading provider of location and context aware software, integrating location data with multimedia content into smartphone apps for user discovery at the right time in the right place.
The story, it seems, is just beginning.