Meghan Athavale On How Her Company’s LUMOplay Software Makes Any Digital Display Interactive

January 3, 2024 by Dave Haynes

Interactive floor projections and video walls have been around for well more than a decade now, but  there hasn’t really been widespread adoption for a bunch of reasons – like cost, complication and the simple reality that a lot of what’s been shown to date hasn’t had much of a point.

A Canadian company, Lumo Interactive, is in a nice position to change all of that. The hardware is simple, the software is affordable and scalable, and the solution comes with some 300 templated content apps that help users tune the visual experience to the needs of the venue and audience. Instead of visual eye candy, these apps are  things like fun, engaging games.

The straightforward pitch for the product, LUMOplay, is that the software can make any digital display interactive. The top-end for the software side of the solution is $74 US a month, so it is very affordable. And the developers have put years of work into ensuring the set-ups are hyper-stable and can be managed remotely. We’ve all walked through flagship retail spaces and seen one-off experiential set-ups that were hung up or sitting unused because they were more about short term bling than ongoing usage.

The other interesting aspect of LUMOplay is that the main intended use-case is classrooms, with these interactive pieces used as a way to engage kids in schools, particularly kids who have sensory issues, autism or ADHD.

I had a great chat right before Christmas with Founder and CEO Meghan Athavale.

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Meghan, thank you for joining me. Can you tell me what LUMO does, and is LUMOplay the product and LUMO Interactive the company? 

Meghan Athavale: Yes, LUMO Interactive is the company, LUMOplay is the product, and what we do is we make it easy to scale large-scale interactive digital experiences. These are experiences on digital displays that react either through motion, touch, or gesture.

Okay, this would be everything from something on a video wall to something on the floor, and a lot of digital signage people, if they’ve been around this space for a good long time, they may recall through the years seeing “activations” where there’s a floor projection. I remember there was a company called Reactrix back in the mid-2000s that was doing this sort of thing. So it’s like that, but I’m sure a lot more advanced and different, just because of the years and technology. 

Meghan Athavale: Yeah, it’s pretty much exactly like that; where it comes from the days of Reactrix and the early days of companies like GestureTek and Eyeclick is that we’ve moved more towards a software-only platform. 

When this technology first hit the scene, you needed to have special hardware. You couldn’t just go down to Best Buy and buy a 3D camera. Now that the hardware is more ubiquitous and more affordable, it’s possible to have a hardware-agnostic, software-only solution, and that’s what we are.

So this kind of, to borrow a phrase, democratizes this whole thing in that in the old days, it would have been incredibly expensive and complicated to do, and now it’s not, right? 

Meghan Athavale: That’s right, yeah. I think we also just have multiple decades of information about what people are using this technology for so we’re able to templatize a lot of the experiences so that companies don’t need to have development teams in order to make some of these simpler interactions, they can just do an asset swap. 

It’s the natural progression of a lot of these things where websites used to be hand-coded and then we went into WYSIWYG and then we went into systems like Wix and Squarespace. We’re like the Wix or Squarespace of interactive digital displays.

So if I want to do an interactive digital display, it’s like me using WordPress and buying a theme? 

Meghan Athavale: Yeah, to a certain extent, exactly. 

So you guys have done all the heavy lifting, so to speak, in terms of the backend coding, how everything maps, but also, I think I saw there were something like 200 different apps in a library? 

Meghan Athavale: Yeah. There are 300 pre-made experiences, which they’re constantly turning over. So we have some in there that have been there for 10 years that we will replace with something new. We’re constantly rolling over those apps, and we take requests from our community, and that’s one of the things that our business model gives us the freedom to do because we’re not reliant on selling hardware and our community is very vast. We represent everything from education to large brands. Our community can make requests for new apps and we’ll just make them and add them to our market. So we don’t have the restrictions of having to charge through the nose for custom content development because we’ve developed these systems that make it very easy to pump out new content, and then the other thing that we offer as far as content goes, like out of the box content is we have an SDK for the companies that do have in house developers, and then we’ve got a number of different templates. So you can just say, I want to make a Koi Pond, and I want to throw my business’s logo behind it, and you could whip something like that off in five minutes. 

So are the templates purely done in-house or do you have third-party designers who are contributing?

Meghan Athavale: That’s a great question. At this point, they’re all done in-house. We are working towards outsourcing a lot of our content development just because it’ll give us a wider breadth of content and make that content more available. We’re just at the very beginning of seeing rollouts that are large enough to make joining a third-party content development team attractive. 

We see this in gaming consoles all the time, where you’ll have a new fantastic console that comes out, it’s low cost, and they’re trying to get game developers to create games for that console, but unless thousands and thousands of people have that console and are buying games for it, it’s not really worth making a game for it so we’re at the stage where we’re starting to see enough of a widespread and permanent deployment of systems running on our platform that it makes sense to have those conversations with third-party development teams now and we’re starting to have those conversations.

Yeah, I wanted to ask you about scale because one of the particularly compelling things about your company and your offer is cost, in terms of, it’s not very expensive at all to use this. 

Can you walk through that and not really how the financials work, you’re not charging a lot per instance of this on a monthly basis, so you need to have a lot of them out there, right? 

Meghan Athavale: Yeah, that’s right. We still make a percentage of our revenue on five or six big custom projects a year. I would say that our MRR represents about half of our revenue. The goal is to reach a point in scale where we can just focus on the platform, but I do get asked pretty frequently why it costs so little. 

There are a couple of reasons for it. The biggest one, I think, is just we want to make this, as you mentioned, democratizing the technology, we want to make this technology available and affordable to schools, that’s our primary business goal. I and my business partner, our moms were both special needs teachers, we’ve seen firsthand the struggles that teachers and educators have in getting technology into their classrooms they need it for kids with sensory issues or children with autism or ADHD, and we’ve seen how effective interactive digital displays can be in those environments, particularly for things like increasing social skills. A lot of these kids come in, and they’re really stuck on screens. They’re very stuck on virtual experiences, and so it becomes a bridge, where they can engage with one another and with their teachers socially while still having that digital feedback.

It’s just very important to us that our pricing reflects our values as a company and that’s one of our core values is making this accessible for education, but the other is that we really don’t need to charge a lot for what we want to do. So at this point, our company’s main work on the platform is around supporting hardware. So, as new devices come out, we’re adding support for them so that you can download our software and you can plug in any of the commercially available 3D cameras, and it’ll automatically recognize and calibrate that camera for you and take out the computer vision steps and specific requirements for each individual device, like DirectX. I think that would probably be the closest analog, you want something that you can plug and play regardless of which device you’re using to achieve the tracking. So we want to focus on that. 

We also want to focus on the tools that allow people to scale these projects to multiple locations. If you have an interactive display in a flagship store and you want us to put it into all of your stores, the step from running your proof of concept to scaling it to a hundred locations is very simple using our platform, and it’s because we’re constantly pushing updates and we do health management, we have a content management system, and those are the things that we want to focus on the long term. We don’t necessarily want to focus on developing the individual games. We want to make the game development stuff as easy for other people to do as possible because we don’t have all the ideas in the world, but we are really good at making sure that other people’s ideas continue to run and don’t go down. 

Just so people understand, your top end cost is, if you work it out on a monthly basis, it’s $74 a month, right? 

Meghan Athavale: Yeah, that’s as high as it gets. 

If I’m an agency and I decide I have a beauty brand client that wants some sort of activation that’s an interactive floor or wall or whatever, that’s going to cost like five-six figures probably, right?

Meghan Athavale: Yeah, I mean, the part that determines the cost of any of these installations is the hardware you choose to use. If you’re a brand and you’re developing the content from scratch, maybe hiring our team or hiring a third party to develop custom content for you, there may be 3D modeling involved, there may be compositing, you might have multi-level programming, you might have second screen experiences, so all of those things add up. 

But we can generally, when somebody comes to us and asks for a ballpark estimate, the only thing we really need to understand is where it is going and what kind of display you are planning to use, and we can generally come up with a range. 

But if you’re doing it, it’s going to be a fraction of what it would cost if you just went to an interactive agency and said, “Build this, please!” 

Meghan Athavale: Absolutely. But I think that something to keep in mind is that if you’re going to an interactive agency and you don’t have an idea yet, you’re likely going to pay less. If you go to an agency and what you’re paying them to do is to figure out what the activation actually should be, we’re not an agency, and so we don’t position ourselves as somebody that’s going to do a lot of things like research and problem-solving. But what we can do is scale that. 

You’re not Moment Factory.

Meghan Athavale: We are not and we don’t want to fill that niche because it’s a different skill set and it requires the ability to experiment with things on a one-time basis. 

You may develop a solution for a brand or a display for the Super Bowl or something like that, where you’re using a specific set of hardware just one time, and that’s fantastic. I love that there are agencies in the world that get to do that, but that’s not what we do. We look at it and go, how do we make this happen a thousand times, and that’s a very different way of looking at things. So I think, if you want something that already exists, and you just want to put your stamp on it and create something that gives it a unique feel for your brand or experience, that’s where you come to us. If you want something that’s never been done before in the entire world and uses new technology that hasn’t been proven long-term in the industry. TeamLab, and Moment Factory, are where you would go, but it is a lot more expensive for sure.

You’re starting to use things like LiDAR and everything else.

Meghan Athavale: Yeah. The risk is just so much higher, and you need people on the ground. You need to roll a truck if something goes wrong. However, with our systems, we’re way past that point. 

Yeah, because you’ve got the device management designed for scale and everything else, right?

Meghan Athavale: Yeah, we don’t release anything into the market that hasn’t been tested thoroughly in our labs for months and months at a time. We have the ability to guarantee things, whereas in some of these riskier projects, as long as you hire somebody that knows what they’re doing, they’re going to find a way to make it work, but they’re not necessarily going to be able to tell you how from the beginning of the project. 

So, for something like a classroom, what’s the kit of parts, and what’s the degree of complexity to put this in? 

Meghan Athavale: Most classrooms either have an interactive floor, an interactive wall, or both. 


Meghan Athavale: No, that’s what they’re putting in, and it’s basically the same technology for either. We designed our software so it works with any projector, and a lot of classrooms already have projectors, so they’ll just use what they have. So you’ve got your display, which in classrooms is typically a projector, a 3D camera, and a Windows computer.

We typically recommend that people use the sort of baseline specification on our site as an i5 or equivalent with a decent graphics card, you don’t want something that’s not going to be able to run games because that’s basically what we’re running, and the cost is usually like for including the projector for a classroom is usually around $2,000-2,500.

To set that up, is it the sort of thing that the school district or the schools, IT person, or people have to do, or is it simplistic to the level that if a teacher already got a projector pointed at a whiteboard of some kind, they can just do it themselves?

Meghan Athavale: So teachers can do it themselves, and we often help teachers do it themselves. But nowadays they’re busy. Teaching is not an easy career right now, and we’re typically dealing with the IT personnel for an entire division when these installations are going in.

If you’re dealing with a full division or district, are they rolling out like that, or is it still onesie twosies? 

Meghan Athavale: It’s usually one per school across an entire district, is what we’re seeing, and that’s mostly in the U.S. We haven’t really seen nearly the same traction in schools in Canada yet.

I didn’t say at the outset, but you’re in Montreal. 

Meghan Athavale: Yes, that’s right.

Why do you think that is just because of the way education works in Canada versus the US? 

Meghan Athavale: I’m not entirely sure. I know that it’s like that in all of our verticals. So it’s not just education. I would say retail, events, and all of the verticals that we serve, we have faster pickup and larger rollouts in the US. It could be the population just much bigger. 

I think we’re just not risk takers, and I also think, to a certain extent, we’re limited by things like weather and the accessibility of venues to having these types of, there are a lot more venues in the US that have built-in walls or built-in interactive components that we can just hop our software onto them. I don’t think there are as many opportunities here. 

You mentioned, in detail, education; what other vertical markets or segments are you seeing a lot of activity in? 

Meghan Athavale: Events is the fastest growing segment, and this is like events of all different sizes and lengths, so it could be something that is like a week-long trade show, it could be like a birthday party for kids. It could be somebody who is a DJ, and they’re bringing an interactive floor to all of their gigs. 

It’s really all over the map. We just did a pop-up in Times Square for a major chocolate brand. We’ve done interactives for movie launches, so like those short-term events where they’re developing their own special content and it’s on for less than a month, I would say that is our fastest growing vertical. 

Interesting. We talked a little bit about planning before we turned on the recording, and I’m curious about how these things get planned out and how you ensure and how your users ensure that what they’re putting up gets beyond just being eye candy/wow factor stuff because I often say that wow factor has a short shelf life. 

Meghan Athavale: Yeah, and I absolutely agree with you. I think there has to be a balance between the cost and the reward of experiences like this. One of the biggest mistakes that we see people making is they’ll see something on the internet, they’ll see something in video format, and they’ll think, I need that at my event, or I need that in my museum, and they’ll skip the part of like why they need it.

It’ll be entirely like an emotional decision, and the challenge here is that there are so many more and more faked every single day. We get sent videos all the time with people asking us to do anamorphic illusions. People will see videos of that, and they’ll be like, “I want that but interactive, can you make it?” And because they’re seeing a video and the video is staged, and in some cases, the video is a complete composite. It’s not even something that actually happened in the real world, they won’t understand that it doesn’t work from anything except for one very particular perspective. So, the person who’s interacting with anamorphic content is not going to see what the person watching from across the street on a particular street corner is going to see, and the same thing with large-scale digital displays. 

People will see these huge LED walls, and I think you saw this at our booth at LDI. When you walk right up to a big LED wall, you see the individual pixels, not the same image that somebody is watching from far away, so I think that those limitations are very difficult for people to understand and appreciate unless they’ve actually seen the installation in person. So I would say if you see something and you’re planning to put it in an event, you’re planning to use it in brand activation, go see that experience in person first. Don’t make a decision about whether or not you need it until you’ve actually personally experienced it because seeing it on a video is not the same thing as what it’s going to look like in real life.

And then the other advice that I give to people when they come to me with the wow factor criteria is like, what do you want the takeaway to be? Is this a shareable thing? Do you want a hundred people to come to your event to put up a hundred different videos and tag you in them? What is your metric for success? Because if that’s it, then the content’s going to be very different than if you want a hundred people to enter their emails in order to play a game or you need to know at the end of the day what you’re walking away from after you’ve put that activation in place. 

I’ve seen different iterations of this stuff. The applications in classrooms, I think, is fantastic and it plays to kids at their whims and everything else; they want to be involved. I find it’s quite different. 

A lot of the ones that I’ve seen in public spaces like shopping malls and so on, where you see the kids running around doing stuff, interacting with it, but you don’t really see the adults, and that’s fine if it’s aimed at kids. But I wonder sometimes, when brands do these things, that the only real interest is with children and adults saying, “I’m not doing that, I’m not an extrovert. I don’t want to do this trickery in front of other people.” 

Meghan Athavale: Yeah. I think that’s a very fair point. One of the things that we noticed when we first started putting particularly interactive floors into retail spaces was that we still have an entire generation of adults, and I would count my own generation in there; we’ve been trained not to step on screens like it’s your impulse isn’t to go running through the light. The generations who are comfortable with that and who grew up with touch screens and expect everything to be interactive, I think they’re in their twenties and early thirties now, so we are seeing that change quite a bit. I would say that from about 35 years down, we aren’t seeing that hesitancy to interact with things, but I do think that we still have a long way to go in discovering how the content can be used. 

A lot of times, it’s to augment like physical experiences is how you get adults to engage think like axe-throwing. Adding really cool interactive graphics to an axe-throwing experience is something that’s going to really delight an older crowd. Same thing with bowling alleys, making those interactive. So I think…

So they’re becoming Wii games. 

Meghan Athavale: Yeah. I think a lot of the time, people think that there’s a choice between virtual experiences in VR and physical experiences like you would have with a traditional family entertainment center. But what our software allows you to do is combine the two, so you have a headset-free experience that does have digital interactive components, but you’re also engaging with something physical. So we do a lot of Air Hockey tables, pool tables, and things like that where you’re still playing pool and using physical paddles, but there are interactive digital visual elements on top of that. That’s where we’re seeing unquestionable pickup by older people. 

Yeah, so where there’s tangible fun or some sort of activity versus so often when I’ve gone to trade shows, if I see some sort of an interactive video wall thing, please walk up to this thing and dance in front of it or wave your arms, and there’ll be light particles and that’s nice, but I don’t see the business case here, and I don’t think it’s interesting for more than 10 seconds.

Meghan Athavale: For sure, if you’re in an environment where you’re dancing anyway, having cool visual effects while you’re dancing is like a good bonus, and I think that’s how we have to think about it in terms of engaging an older audience, is you need to be augmenting something that they’re doing anyways.

You can’t expect them to do an activity that they wouldn’t normally do just because it’s like eye candy. But if they’re doing something anyway if they’re already in a curling league and you can make their curling more fun…

We’re getting really Canadian here.

Meghan Athavale: Right. I mean, I’m available for anyone who wants to try that. I’ve done soccer, I’ve done hockey, I haven’t done curling yet. I would really like to make an interactive curling experience. But yeah, that’s where you attract adults by helping make something that they want to do anyway, much cooler.

Where did this come from, like why did you start this company? 

Meghan Athavale: This is a very existential question. It’s actually a pretty funny story. We started the company by accident. My co-founders, Keith Otto and Curtis Wachs and I, all worked at an agency together, and this was like 2010, back in the days when Instructables and a lot of those sorts of YouTube channels were just starting, and we started hanging out after work and just making stuff and it was all things that we would never get hired to make. We were designing our own touch screens. We created our own mist screen for projection. We did a lot of building projections and it was all for fun. We saw other people doing it all over the world. We thought it was really like a fun hobby. We started throwing parties to show off some of the things that we were making, and a friend of mine, Kayla Jeanson, who is an incredible videographer. She also has moved out to Montreal. This all happened back in Winnipeg, which is where my company is based. 

So we’re all back in Winnipeg. Kayla shows up at one of the parties. This was before Facebook, so it was an SMS-controlled wall where you were sending text messages, and it was making things happen on the wall. She took a video, and that video ended up going viral. We found out about it after the fact, and we started getting contacted by different businesses the University of Nevada, Reno reached out and said, “Hey, we’d really like to have something cool like this in our cafeteria.” and Curtis and I just looked at each other, we’re like, wow, people will pay us to do this. We registered a business, and we all quit our jobs. We applied for CMF funding, and we launched as an agency designing these interactive experiences and, within the first two years, realized that the biggest challenge was once the experience was in place how do you maintain it? How do you make sure that it’s going to continue running? 

And that installation that we did back in, I think, in early 2011, in the cafeteria in Reno is still running, and part of it was just like starting by accident because a hobby that we were doing for fun led to some economic opportunities for us and the direction that we ended up taking was as a result of people liked what we did long enough to want to keep it running, to want to keep having us continue updating it. We’ve had a number of large-scale installations. There’s one in Red Rock, Ontario, where they’ve done entire refreshes. We did our original installation for them in 2011 as well and just very recently replaced and updated a bunch of the software for them. The validation has been there, so the thing to focus on is how to make these experiences last, not how to make them cool for a week. 

The company is quite small. I believe it’s just like a handful of people, right? 

Meghan Athavale: Yeah. That’s right. There are four of us. 

And that’s all you need to be because you’re not getting into the weeds with the hardware, and I think you sell the hardware that you have through a reseller, Simply NUC? 

Meghan Athavale: Yeah, we have a number of resellers, but Simply NUCis our preferred partner because they send us everything that they’re selling so we can test it 24/7. So we’re able to say with high confidence that anything you buy from Simply NUC is going to run long-term with our software. 

I would like a bigger team. In all honesty, we had to let a few people go during the pandemic. I think one year in, we were like, okay, we’re not going to be able to sustain ourselves with a larger team. So, I think we’d like to see some growth in the team within the next year or so. Because of the way that we’ve built our platform, we’re able to outsource stuff that we can’t do where we don’t have enough work to bring somebody in-house for long periods of time, and there are also just amazing resources out there for outsourcing, now that didn’t exist when we first started the company. 

It’s a small team. I don’t anticipate that we’ll ever be much more than 10 people.

But a few more wouldn’t hurt.

Meghan Athavale: Yeah, a few more wouldn’t hurt. I’d like to build in a little bit more redundancy, and I’m getting older, and one of these days, I’m hoping that there will be some sort of a succession.

Because of the relationship that we have with our resellers and our installers, there’s really not a lot of mission-critical stuff on our side. We push our regular updates. We create new content and respond to community requests and stuff. But not a lot of the work that we do is like on a deadline. It’s a pretty chill working environment where we identify things that we think are going to be of value to the customer, and then we ask our customers, and then we build the thing. There’s no pressure.

And there’s also a knock on wood at this point: not a ton of competition because it’s still a very niche market. We don’t feel the pressure to be like the trade show that you and I met on; it was the first we’ve been in business for 13 years, and that was the first time we’ve ever done a trade show exhibit.

Oh, wow, and what was your takeaway from that? 

Meghan Athavale: It was great. It was definitely time. We came away with quite a few new customers, and it was LDI. The reason we chose LDI as our first trade show is because there are so many companies that do events, and the total lifetime value of customers in the event space isn’t as high as education would be or something where it’s a permanent installation. There’s just a lot more of them, and it’s a lower-hanging fruit. We’re hoping to bump up our revenue enough so that we can start expanding our team sometime mid-next year. 

Do you have a reference case or a handful of reference cases? If people said, this sounds really cool. I can’t really just walk into a classroom, obviously. Are there museums or public spaces or something like that where I could go see this? 

Meghan Athavale: Yeah. There are quite a few.

What we usually ask people to do is if they want to see an installation of ours in real life and they aren’t able to set it up themselves, just contact us, let us know what city you’re in, and we’ll find somebody in your area that you can go visit. There are a lot of live public libraries and museums and buildings that are open to the public that have installations in them, and then the other thing that people can do is we have a free evaluation version of our software that you can just download and install. 

So, for people who are getting into this on a commercial basis, it’s a really good idea to set up a system for yourself, test it out, and play around with the tools. Don’t pitch it to your customers until you’ve tried it, please!

So we make it possible for people to just install it for free and play around with it before they make any sort of purchase before they make any representations to their customers about what it can do. 

Okay. All right. So, if people want to find you online, that’s, right?

Meghan Athavale: Yep. That’s right., and if you reach out through the site, you will be talking to me. My name is Meghan. 

All right, Meghan. Thank you very much. 

Meghan Athavale: You’re very welcome. Thank you, Dave.

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