"Now retailers understand smartphones have changed the way people shop. They are seeing customers use their phones in their shops" ... Natasha Rawlings. Photo: Louise Kennerley
You're walking down the street and feel that familiar vibration in your front pocket – you've received a message – only this message is not from one of your friends, it's from a retailer near you.
StreetHawk, which was launched in January this year, identifies where a shopper is in relation to a store and sends a notification about offers and products, based on what the person has previously bought, or "liked", or other information the retailer has about the shopper in its database.
The app uses cloud-based technology to create "set-and-forget" smartphone marketing campaigns.
Chief executive Natasha Rawlings explains "set and forget" as a marketing approach that allows retailers to target audiences with minimum effort.
“Retailers can set up a campaign plan for a month, and let it run. So for each personalised message, I select a target audience, and then when the audience trips a 'geo-fence' with date and time parameters, a notification is sent to a shopper."
StreetHawk's main point of difference from rivals is its time and location-based features. Few other digital direct marketing tools can segment data and then target a marketing message based on standard information contained in a customer relationship management (CRM) system such as past purchases, as well as the shopper's location in real time.
Manchester firm Sheridan and cupcake maker Ghermez are the first businesses to sign on with StreetHawk.
StreetHawk's relationship with Sheridan, which signed on in July, was meant to be. A contact at digital agency Engagis mentioned to Sheridan's digital manager, Marieken van Ewijk that they loved what StreetHawk was doing. On the same day, one of StreetHawk's co-founders, David Jones (not the retailer), met van Ewijk at a retail industry gathering called Shoptalk.
“It proves you need to be out there all the time because you never know who you will meet,” says Rawlings. “Sheridan's aim is to be a world-class all-channel retailer, offering people an inspiring retailing experience through their channel of choice. Streethawk's concept of right price, right product and right place offers an innovative and engaging way to communicate with our customers,” says van Ewijk.
The business earns revenue by charging retailers a set-up fee, a fee per notification sent and a fee based on either cost-per-store-per-month or a percentage of sales.
The technology behind StreetHawk was developed by co-founders David Jones and Sri Panyam, with Panyam responsible for the “heavy lifting coding”, according to Rawlings. Jones has established two previous start-ups in internet security, SurfControl (which was acquired by another online security firm Websense) and data fraud detection business, ThreatMetrix.
In contrast, Rawlings describes herself as “a career direct marketer”. She's worked at the top echelons of global businesses such as publisher Mills & Boon – where she ran the book club – Cellarmasters, International Masters Publishers and Guthy-Renker/Proactiv (the people responsible for late-night TV infomercials).
“I have always wanted to have my own business, to be able to build something and shape its destiny. At StreetHawk I am applying 20 years of learning to a brand new area,” she says. “I am also learning many new skills and being challenged in new ways. In many respects I feel as though I was born to do StreetHawk.”
Though the business has been self-funded so far, HawkSense dipped its toe in the funding pool last year.
“Investors loved the team, liked the product and opportunity but wanted to see traction in the market. We had only just built the product so we were too early for investors, but we have that traction now,” says Rawlings.
StreetHawk initially launched an aggregated model, with a view to signing up retailers to list their products on the StreetHawk fashion app.
“We realised retailers want their own solution, not an aggregated solution, [something] they can plug into their own CRM system and send customers relevant messages,” Rawlings says.
The platform is a timely development for traditional retailers, many of which are looking for new ways to drive shoppers to their stores.
“At the beginning of the year retailers' eyes would glaze over when we started to talk to them about mobile, it was just one too many things for them to think about. They wanted to get their online offering right first and fix their platforms,” says Rawlings.
“But now retailers understand smartphones have changed the way people shop. They are seeing customers use their phones in their shops. Now we're in a new financial year many retailers have the budget to develop mobile apps and solutions so it's becoming easier to talk to them.”
Rawlings says the US Location Based Marketing Association has reviewed StreetHawk and indicated it's the first platform of its kind in the world.