By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
For those of us who always worry about start-ups leaving the region, Bob Bradley, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NewsBreak Media Networks, has a message that is music to our ears.
“Our company is based here,” he says. “I’m not moving it.”
The Louisiana native with a strong background in media, entertainment and technology was commuting from Knoxville to Qualcomm, Inc., in La Jolla, working on the development and launch of a new broadcast technology platform for mobile devices called FLO TV, when he decided in 2011 that enough was enough. It was time to return to his adopted hometown.
Along the way, Bradley had become intrigued with NewsBreak, a start-up, digital-out-of-home media company founded two years earlier by two golfing buddies – Jim Grant and Dave Southard. The attraction made sense, considering Bradley had served previously as head of Content Partnerships at FLO TV and Senior Vice President of Affiliate Sales at Scripps Networks Interactive.
“At that time, the business was cast as a local advertising platform that took advantage of convenience store customers’ dwell time,” he said of the technology that many Knoxvillians have seen since 2009 at area gas pumps while they refueled their vehicles. It includes news content originating from WBIR-TV.
“I wanted to be closer to home, but I also saw a totally different model for the business,” Bradley says. So, like any good entrepreneur, he made a bet, becoming an active investor in the company.
Today, Bradley describes NewsBreak as “a fully integrated, smart merchandising platform that converts fuel-only customers to multi-product purchasers” that he expects to grow to 200 convenience stores by the fourth quarter of this year, up from 88 at the end of 2014 and 32 at the end of 2013.
In January, NewsBreak opened its first site in California, specifically in Santa Clara, a major change from its existing locations primarily in Tennessee.
“The idea is to showcase the software technology in the heart of Silicon Valley,” Bradley says.
In the three years or so that he has been with NewsBreak, the President/CEO says much has changed.
For example, Bradley participated in Nashville’s well-recognized Jumpstart Foundry accelerator in 2013.
“Being in an accelerator gives you access to mentors and thought leaders who can challenge your thinking and push you to look at your business in a totally different way,” he says of the experience and the impact that it had on NewsBreak’s strategy.
“We pivoted our business around an existing partnership with Tri-Star Energy,” Bradley says in reference to the parent company of Daily’s and Twice Daily food stores in Middle and East Tennessee. “We moved from a hardware-centric company (monitors on gas pumps) to a software-based company.”
The resulting software has many features that allow retailers to integrate multiple opportunities to market products and services at a single location. In the case of a convenience store, a customer will see merchandising content playlists that are displayed on screens at the pump, as well as screens inside the store, and on personal mobile devices.
“These playlists are automatically created and based off of key consumer buying variables that effect purchasing behaviors like time of day, household income, zip code, and weather,” Bradley said. Then, they are adjusted based on sales data analytics that constantly measure the effectiveness of the playlist.
“Sixty-three percent of C-store customers who use the pumps, fuel up and leave without purchasing merchandise inside the store,” he says. The goal is to “upsell” customers by motivating them to come into the store to purchase products and services that may be offered at a higher profit margin for the retailer.
“What a customer will see at the pump is different from what he will see inside the store or experience on his mobile device,” Bradley says of the displayed content.
The latest iteration of NewsBreak’s software is currently being utilized in 65 Tri-Star stores in Middle and East Tennessee.
“As we continue to scale, we are also in discussions with fuel pump manufacturers about the use of our smart merchandising platform with monitors and display systems already integrated into their pumps,” Bradley says in describing another planned enhancement.
Growing the number of convenience stores served and embedding monitors in the gas pumps are two of the scaling strategies. A third is a focus on introducing the merchandising platform to big box grocers or retailers that offer fuel in their forecourt.
It was just a little more than a year ago that NewsBreak closed its Series A round, something that Bradley attributes to participation in the Jumpstart Foundry accelerator.
“I’m very optimistic about our future,” he says. That and the commitment to staying in Knoxville are good news for the region.