Four Winds Interactive is having its first big conference in Denver next week – an event called Forward that is something of a departure from typical software company events that are mostly about product education, sales and contract retention.
The agenda for this event is instead populated mainly by outside speakers, albeit most of them partners or major customers.
I’m going – eager to see how this approach comes off, but also very interested in seeing the company’s new downtown digs. I’ve been to the previous HQ several times, and while the old brick and wood warehouse space was cool and fun, it was crammed.
I asked FWI CEO & President David Levin, ahead of the event, if I could do a Q&A with him about a few things, like the conference but also where the industry is at.
Q: You are a week or so out from your company’s first conference. What was the thinking behind Forward, versus the more traditional user conferences your company has done in the past?
Our user conferences tended to be more technical, focused on software functionality, use cases, and roadmaps. The conferences were great, but we thought we could fulfill that need in other ways. One of the common challenges we heard from our end users is that they needed to better engage their executive leadership in the discussion to raise the importance of this technology. That’s when we had the idea to do a conference that brings both our end users and executive thought leaders together in one place for idea sharing, education, and community.
Q: How are things looking for the event?
The conference is exceeding our expectations. I think we’ll end up with close to 250 attendees. We have an impressive list of speakers – Google, Microsoft, Accenture, EY, Bank of America, The Colorado Rockies, and more than a dozen others. They all have really compelling stories about how they are using visual communications to transform the way they do business. We also have some terrific sponsors who will be participating and showing the latest technologies. It’s going to be a fantastic event.
Q: When I talk to industry crowds, I tend to say the big year the digital signage industry has been looking for and expecting finally happened in 2014, and it’s continued in 2015. Has that been the experience at Four Winds?
Definitely. 2014 was a great year for us. We on-boarded more enterprise clients (Airlines, Banks, Stadiums, Fortune 500) than ever before. That growth has continued into 2015 as more and more companies are seeing how engaging their employees and customers with powerful visual technology is giving them new tools to drive performance.
Q: What are you and your sales people hearing from customers about what they need and want from a supplier? Has that changed in the last two or three years?
I think the demand for building, deploying and managing even more sophisticated applications on a visual communications network has increased significantly in the past 2-3 years. Customers want to drive as many applications as possible from a single software platform, including mobile applications. This has increased the importance of the underlying software product, which I like. Three years ago, customers had far less experience. Now I think they’re better buyers.
Q: At least a chunk of the end-user market – arguably a large chunk – is steadily pushing vendors to lower capital and subscription costs for all the technical aspects of their signage projects. Has this so-called race to the bottom on pricing pressured your company and its margins?
It hasn’t. Our customers tend to have sophisticated requirements and are looking for a solution to solve a bigger business problem. In this market, product capability and an organization’s ability to truly support an enterprise customer (which isn’t easy) weighs more heavily.
Q: You guys, from what I know, close a lot of business, big and small. What’s the big thing, or things, tilting buyers to Four Winds?
We want to stay competitive, so whether we win or lose, we always try to find out why. When we win, we most often we hear it’s the overall capability of our product, the responsiveness of our team, our professional services team, our experience supporting the enterprise, and knowledge of key verticals. Our FWI Store and apps have also been big for us this year. We started building FWI Store back in 2013 and released it in late 2014, so this is our first full year. It’s been very well received and as the volume of apps in our store increases, our offering becomes even stronger. I’m very proud of the apps we’ve added to the store this year – many are very advanced, saving our customers time and money over building them from scratch.
Q: Four Winds has either already moved to new digs, or that move is imminent. Was it just the way-more-people-than-parking-spots thing, or was there more at play? What’s different about the new space?
A little of both! We were out of space and needed room to expand. We also found a space that we could build out from scratch, as our vision for the Digital Workplace. We just moved in this week and people are loving it. Besides the natural light, sit-to-stand desks, and great coffee machines, our product is well integrated into our space with 75 screens dedicated to our internal use alone. In addition, I think our Customer Experience Center will leapfrog anyone else out there. And in a few weeks our digital carpet from Philips is getting installed – we’re very excited about this, it’s the first installation in the United States.
Q: Digital carpet?
It’s called Luminous. I’ve been tracking it for a while. It’s developed by Philips, and their guys have been great to work with.
Q: Future-casting is really hard in a space that’s changing all the time, but where do you see the industry at in three years.
I think the next three years are going to be a lot of fun. Assuming good economic conditions, I think companies are going to keep investing in the overall experiences of their customers and employees. Design and user experience is now at the forefront of priorities and I think this helps our industry overall. I think we’re going to see more and more enterprises learning from consumer technologies, and focusing increasingly on how to empower their employees to do great work. Visual communications is right in the middle of that trend. I see much more growth for the industry.