Purple WiFi, a social-led hotspot service, is expanding fast. Last month the Manchester, U.K.-based firm secured a $5 million funding round led by Sir Terry Leahy, former CEO of retail giant TESCO. It was the first outside cash the company had received since its inception in 2012: until then all investment had come from CEO Gavin Wheeldon, who in 2011 sold a translation startup called Applied Language Solutions to Capita for a performance-related $92 million.
Purple WiFi users log in to the network using social IDs from Facebook, Twitter, Google or Instagram. Soon the company is adding Weibo, of China, and Russia’s VKontakte. Businesses can monetize the connection by way of Big Data analytics and communication with customers. USPs include a dashboard filled with information such as age ranges, types of browsers and operating systems. A premium option adds categorized web filters.
To date the firm is present in 7,500 venues across 60 countries. But while Wheeldon is sure of the disruptive qualities of his brand, he recognizes its crowded marketplace. Thus the need to expand was urgent.
“Because global take up in this new technology has been fast paced, we’ve had to expand quickly to solidify our foothold in the market,” he says. “We have an aggressive expansion plan. We already have venues and technology partners across the world and have recently achieved significant investment within the business, which we are using to recruit sales staff to aid global expansion, targeting EMEAR (Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Russia), APAC (Asia-Pacific) and the Americas.”
In a bid to aid that expansion, the firm hired Allen Pan as VP of Asia-Pacific last August. Pan had worked previously for hotspot specialist Boingo, adding experience to a team that already includes Iain Jewitt, the company’s head of technology who held the same role prior, at fellow Mancunians Fast Web Media. In a WiFi market that is set to reach a global value of $26.9 billion by 2019, the rewards could be huge.
Wheeldon is happy with the progress Purple is making, despite its weighty opposition. AT&T, iPass and Boingo have all been present in thousands of locations for many years. But the CEO hopes one key factor will be Purple WiFi’s take on customer loyalty cards, and disruptive ways to change the retail experience.
“The traditional loyalty card as moved on some way, and we believe that the future lies in real-time promotions,” he says. “While customers are actually present in the venue and making their buying decisions, Purple WiFi allows venues to influence customer behavior.
“For example, the retail sector has seen the rise of ‘showrooming’, where customers use their device in-store to check competitor pricing,” adds Wheeldon. “Our technology gives the retailer the ability to hit back by sending promotional messages there and then, not after the purchase has been made with a competitor, and potential loyalty lost.”
Purple WiFi has, until now, conducted its business relatively below the radar of media attention. With a sizable chunk of investment and a knighted business guru on board, that is set to change. Wheeldon will hope his expansion plans will keep up with a furiously-paced landscape.