Innovation comes from the most unusual places. When Cameron Tanner was inundated with customer requests to ‘charge their phone’ while working in a bar in Sydney, he realised that there was a demand for public device charging facilities. Teaming up with his brother, Jonathan Tanner, he launched Chargebar .
The concept is deceptively simple and apart from serving a public need it also offers plenty of potential to commercial entities keen to partner with the Tanners. Chargebar offers public venues (eg: cafes, shops, pubs) with smartphone/tablet charger units that give visitors to that venue a free value added service, which in turn increases dwell time in store and brings in foot traffic
What we have here is a great example of a company partnering with other commercial entities in order to offer a service that’s free for consumers. The good news for Chargebar is that it is also turning a lot of corporate heads.
Earlier this year, Sydney Ferries signed a contract to install a Chargebar in each of its ferries on the Manly route. Meanwhile, Commonwealth Bank is looking to partner with Chargebar to help roll out the service as a form of advertising. A CommBank spokesperson told Technology Spectator that they are considering placing CommBank branded Chargebars at a variety of public venues, not just those that have CommBank EFTPOS terminals or ATM’s.
How it got started
Jonathan Tanner says that the history of this industry started in Asia about eight years ago with a company that charged a few dollars for people to recharge their phone.
"We thought this should be free, so my brother and I started the business initially as a digital signage play and we got to about 40 venues,” Tanner says.
"However, If you’re going to do something like that you have to 300 or so out there across Australia to get the reach advertisers are looking for. We also realised that our 19” touchscreens were competing with larger TV and other screens in the venue.”
Brands could advertise on each Chargebar to a captive audience of people waiting for their phones to charge, Chargebar has run campaigns for advertisers such as Peroni and Centrebet.
Through its brief history the company has not been afraid to adapt quickly in the face of change, avoiding the tendency for many companies to protect existing revenue models even if newer models could be much more successful.
When Chargebar was contacted by existing pub and caf partners asking if they could get more of them for the rest of their venue network, they unfortunately had to say no because they’d invested all the money upfront in buying hardware and selling associated advertising packages.
The brothers realised that a better business model was to get venues to pay for Chargebars and in order to do that they had to get them to a pricepoint where the hardware was accessible for everyone. Partnering with a US company, they came up with a new simpler, cheaper Chargebar product that has since been sold to many venues, who also pay an annual network fee that covers the mobile app listing, technology licensing, etc.
Tanner says that they’re "building a family of products because what might suit a caf might not suit a library and as a hardware provider you don’t want to lose a sale because you only have one size available".
Chargebar’s knows that every phone or tablet has different power requirements and that when the operating system talks to the charger, if it doesn’t have the right setting it will charge at a slow trickle rate.
Chargebars are designed in conjunction with the manufacturers so they charge mobile devices as fast as the native wall charger. Less advanced products from competitors supply all plugged in devices the same amount of power, which results in a slow trickle charge.
Power to the people
In terms of benefits for venues Tanner cited a three-day survey they conducted at the Clock Hotel in Surry Hills. The resulting data showed that about 89 per cent of people who came in to use the Chargebar bought something, with about 12 minutes average dwell time and $5.85 average spend.
He also pointed out that there are other benefits besides increased foot traffic and dwell time, saying "there’s definitely an increase in goodwill from users towards the brand and or venue which provided the Chargebar service to them in their hour of need. Also it’s perfect as a platform to promote new mobile apps or services with a targeted call to action”.
At present Jonathan and Cameron Tanner own the company along with a few seed investors. Chargebar will be announcing a capital raising today, seeking funding in the vicinity of $1 million to $1.3 million, the majority of which will be used for working capital to get a dedicated sales force, marketing and operations staff.
Jonathan Tanner expressed confidence that the company would be successful in gaining this funding, citing his prior experience working for private equity players such as Crescendo Partners.
"Our core focus has pivoted from being a media company to a company that’s a hardware supplier setting up a network because if you get to the size where our service is demanded by users of public venues then that network becomes more valuable down the track”.
At that stage Chargebar could consider going international, as they have exclusive rights in Australia and New Zealand as well as first and last refusal rights with their American partners to sell the hardware into Asia.
Chargebar locations can be found using a free iPhone app or through a search on the company website, they also have plans well under way to release similar apps on other major mobile platforms such as Android.