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For Sensors Focused On Local Commerce And Loyalty, Privacy, Battery Life, And Location Accuracy Are The Top Concerns

Former Thinknear head Eli Portnoy’s company Sense360 is working to balance three needs that are often in conflict.

Sense360's Eli Portnoy
Sense360’s Eli Portnoy

Sense360 kicked off 2015 with a $2.75 million angel funding round with the premise of helping app developers realize more usage by “unlocking the power of sensors.”

Since then, the Los Angeles-based company has sought to align data sources (GPS, wi-fi, cell phone towers, Bluetooth signals, ultrasound waves, et al.) along with context and place on behalf of app developers and local businesses.

Activities like automatic check-ins, tracing customers’ wider geo-patterns to build better ad profiles and targeting opportunities, is how Eli Portnoy, who previously started and ran mobile location ad platform Thinknear, sees his new creation serving businesses beyond mobile marketing push notifications over the course of this next year.

GeoMarketing: It was a year ago this month that you left the hyperlocal ad platform you founded, Thinknear, to start Sense360. How did 2015 turn out for you and the new venture?

Eli Portnoy: It’s been a really fascinating year. What we’re doing is a much bigger technical undertaking than at least anything I’ve ever done before. In the ad tech world, there is not a lot of feedback loops, meaning that the bar has to be high, but it doesn’t have to be “super-high” just because people don’t end up actually touching or feeling or knowing how good you are. However, in the sensor-inteligence world consumers touch and play with your technology every day which raises the bar to an already very difficult problem. Thats why solving the challanges we have this year has been so rewarding and exciting.

Sense360 started off trying to solve the engagement issues that afflict apps after they’ve been downloaded and quickly forgotten by consumers by giving them more “anticipatory power” via location-based sensors that increasingly surround the consumer experience, from the GPS experience to the use of beacons on store shelves. How has Sense360 evolved from that large idea?

It changed a little bit. We decided to broaden it out from just trying to help apps increase engagement via push notifications to become more of a developer tool focused on sensor-inteligence. If you think about that engagement idea, it really has two components. The first component is being able to understand where someone is and what they’re doing, and the second is to use that information to deliver a push notification.

What we realized was that the application of understanding sensor data was much broader than just notifications. So we have built a developer tool that helps apps understand sensor data and then lets them build whatever experience they want with that information. Sending a notification is a use case of what someone might do with Sens360, but we’re also seeing a lot of other use cases.

 

What are some additional use cases?

Some use cases for the enterprise include things like fraud prevention and dynamic authentication. For consumers an example might be an app that tracks how many times a week you go to the gym and lets you set goals. The app can then use our technology to track and see if you are actually going to the gym.

In terms of clients, what areas do you expect to see most of Sense360’s growth coming from?

The vertical where we see the fastest adoption is in the local commerce and loyalty space. Obviously, there is an increasing amount of apps catering to those needs and around that space, and there’s a lot of exciting things we can add to it in terms of connecting consumers and businesses’ apps. For instance, we’re seeing apps use our technology to improve the rating and reviews they give local businesses based on how many of their users actually go into the business. Another cool application is automatically punching a loyalty card every time you go into a store without requiring the user to do anything other than have the app on their phone.

Sense360 is still a small company. Any major hiring plans in the near term?

We’re hiring pretty aggressively so we’ve got a number of job openings that we’re looking to fill. Mostly on the technology side. Marketing and sales will come later.

As you celebrate the company’s first birthday, what are the chief goals before the second year arrives?

The goal for next year is to really product-ize some of the use cases I mentioned earlier around loyalty and local commerce. It’s been really interesting to see how many hundreds and hundreds of developers have embraced our platform. Now, we’re trying to figure the wider possibilities out and we’ve been saying, “Okay, how can we take another step and really think about how to build the modules and the products around the use cases that we’re seeing?”

We want to move quickly past the theoretical and concentrate on what is usable today.

As you talk with new clients, what are the main ideas you still have to explain, even as you say you want to address practical needs in the here and now?

The main point I keep hearing over and over again is about privacy. It’s really important to clients — and it’s really important to us. They want to understand how we’re handling privacy and all those things we’re doing there.

The second thing we get asked about is battery life. Businesses want to make sure that all of their really cool and interesting technology that we’re building that relies on sensors doesn’t drain battery and that it’s battery efficient. That’s another area we spent a lot of time focusing on and we have a really battery efficient solution.

The last thing is accuracy. They want to know that when we think something is happening, it really is happening exactly where we say it is.