Andreas founded Ombori, which provides “digital experiences in physical spaces" and aims to change the way people behave in stores. Their goal is to be a go-to hub for clients to find whatever they need. What Apple is to iPhone users, that’s what they want to be for businesses.
Hello, my name is Andreas Hassellof, and I am the founder and CEO of OmboriGrid AB (publ), based in Stockholm.
Ombori is all about providing “digital experiences in physical spaces.” In other words, we create interactive installations and apps that change the way people behave when they’re in stores, airports, or other places - we’re creating smart stores, smart offices, and so on.
By leveraging intuitive technologies, Ombori creates retail and industry solutions that help businesses and organizations streamline their operations, provide unparalleled customer experiences, and maximize their results. Through our recent Marketplace launch, we have released our code-free Ombori solutions to help businesses and organizations with things like occupancy control, queue management, and BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store).
In my teenage years, I was an Evangelist. That may sound like an odd place to start, but much of who I am grew from that. I spent my days pitching ideas, often to people who weren’t interested, and I learned a lot about resilience in the process.
I left that world and became a tech entrepreneur. I started a lot of different companies, some of which were more successful than others. Then, I started Ombori. It was originally a consultancy company, and that facet of the company is still in existence. The profits from that consultancy piece of the business have enabled me to fund my other ventures, which all operate under the banner of Ombori Group.
Ombori Apps - which will shortly be rebranded as Ombori Grid, the name of our flagship product - is one of those. We started off trying to build a social shopping platform, then we moved into mobile apps, and now it’s evolved into this whole new thing.
The Ombori Grid took a long time to come to fruition. In 2015, I realized that building m-commerce apps was far too slow and expensive. The speed and cost of development just couldn’t keep pace with the rate of change of the industry.
What retailers needed was a simple, fast way to get hold of a mobile commerce app that would integrate with their website and back-end infrastructure. So, we came up with the idea of Web2App, a tool that would automatically create a mobile commerce app based on the customer’s existing e-commerce site, literally within minutes, with no coding required.
Then, we realized that what they also needed was a marketplace, like an app store, where they could just go and find the product they needed, customize it, and deploy it without even talking to a salesperson. We called it PresenceKit, and you’ve probably never heard of it.
In the meantime, we were building all sorts of interesting pilot projects with companies like House of Dagmar, Lindt, Telenor, and Clas Ohlson, and then, in collaboration with Microsoft, we built a talking, voice-controlled interactive “selfie mirror”, which was installed in H&M’s flagship store in Manhattan.
That led us to talk with major brands around the world who told us that they wanted fun digital things to put in their stores and transform the shopping experience.
And then…COVID. The worldwide lockdowns meant that every single project we had was put on hold, pretty much within a few days. We had to come up with something fast, or go out of business. We’d already been talking to Kjell, a Swedish retail chain, about IoT systems to count the number of people in stores, so we fast-tracked that and started deploying it to customers worldwide.
Because we’d built everything starting from a mindset of rapid and easy deployment and compatibility with existing hardware and software, what we ended up creating was effectively PresenceKit for IoT. The Ombori Grid is a unifying platform on which all of our solutions are built, and then there’s a marketplace of ready-to-use, customizable Azure IoT apps that can be deployed and scaled rapidly.
So, as well as occupancy control, we have appointment booking systems, video customer service systems, order pickup systems, digital signage, self-checkout systems, interactive wayfinders, and more. A client can come to the Marketplace and find all sorts of ways to transform their premises and the way they work, run a pilot, and then scale up when they’re ready.
It’s not just for retailers - our solutions also work for offices, healthcare, restaurants, and all sorts of other businesses.
I can’t stress enough how important our partners have been. Working with Microsoft has been incredible. When Satya Nadella showcased our H&M selfie mirror at Envision in 2018, the interest in Ombori suddenly went through the roof. We’ve also worked with Samsung, Avanade, and TechData, and, most importantly, ITAB, which invested in Ombori Grid a couple of years ago.
Having partners like these means that we can get access to C-level decision-makers at major brands like Warner, Target, or IKEA, and we go into meetings with immense credibility. Of course, it’s like adding a bunch of salespeople to the team.
In addition, we‘ve done a lot of content marketing, blogging, guest posts, and so on. Perhaps the ones I enjoy most have been our live-streamed events. We’ve had thousands of people tuning in to watch them, and we’ve had immense support from clients and partners.
To celebrate and highlight the impact of the Ombori Grid Marketplace apps, we recently held a live-streamed event, which can be viewed here:
Right now, we’re focused on building the Marketplace of apps. We’re not going to be able to build everything, so we’re creating a developer program where other people can create their Ombori Grid apps and sell them through us. That’s going to completely transform the way we operate and how we see ourselves. We’re no longer just developers, but we’re a go-to hub for clients to find whatever they need to go through the never-ending process of digital transformation. What Apple is to iPhone users, that’s what we want to be for businesses.
Oh wow, So many lessons I want to share here!
Be open to opportunities and be ready to get out of your comfort zone. I would never have guessed that our first successes would come from the fashion industry, but that’s how it happened. I remember waking up one day, and realizing that Vogue and Elle were writing about me. That was weird.
Timing is everything. So many of the things we did in the early days were fantastic, innovative, wonderful ideas, but the market just wasn’t ready for them and we had to abandon them, but, strangely, things went full circle. Some of the code we wrote for Helishopter, our social shopping app, is in use in Ombori Grid. As I explained above, the Ombori Grid Marketplace is just PresenceKit in a new - and much improved - form.
Focus on recurring revenue. Making sales and closing deals is hard, especially for a start-up. If your business model is based on one-off deals, you’re forever chasing the money to pay next month’s bills. Recurring revenue gives you a certain amount of stability. It’s also easier to close deals because there’s so much less sticker shock for the client.
Lastly, surround yourself with good people. Not just in your team, but pick the right partners. That’s everyone from outsourcers to PR companies to advisors and lawyers. After all, they’re going to be doing most of the work, not you. If they’re not the right fit, don’t be shy to let them go and find someone else.
COVID was our biggest challenge. In 2020, retailers weren’t interested in putting fancy installations in their stores. They were far more concerned about how to stay in business.
However, the other huge challenge - and where I made a lot of mistakes - was finding the right team. Like many tech entrepreneurs, I know what makes a good developer, and I like to think I’m pretty good at hiring developers. Hiring sales and marketing people, however, that’s a whole different story.
I’ve spent years with these products, and I know them intimately. I understand the customers and their needs, and I’ve gotten pretty good at selling to them. However, finding people who are the right cultural fit for Ombori and training them to sell our products has been a big problem for me. There’s so much knowledge locked up in my head, and a lot of it is almost instinctive now, and not easy to explain.
Tied in with that is something that almost every entrepreneur will relate to - it’s really easy to get burned out because you’re trying to manage everything. Writing the code, doing the selling, directing the marketing, meeting partners, raising funds, paying the bills - you have to take care of it all and it’s really hard to let it go. Then, you become a bottleneck, because everyone else is waiting on you, and you just can’t keep up.
It’s not an ego thing, where you want to keep control of everything. It’s more a sense of fear - you feel like you have to do everything because you’re the only person who knows what’s going on. At the same time, you’re so busy that you don’t even have time to delegate a job and brief someone else so that they can take it off you. At some point, you have to make the time, empower someone else to do the job, and let them get on with it - even if you could have done it better.
Here’s my pro-tip. If you’re dealing with startups and small companies, use Google tools (Docs, Sheets, etc) and Zoom. If you’re dealing with enterprise customers, use Microsoft Office and Teams. It may sound silly, but it makes a huge difference when it comes to sharing documents and collaboration.
To learn more about my journey as an entrepreneur, please visit my Medium page.
Ombori has been featured in a myriad of recent press, including this one.