“Just ask. What is the worst thing that can happen?” Marianne Haugland Hindsgaul says that this is her business motto. It has opened doors to amazing opportunities during her journey as an entrepreneur, for example when she pitched to a room full of VPs at Lego or Square`s CEO Jack Dorsey, or when she got to collaborate with unicorn company Medallia. Or the newest achievement – moving to New York to take Bubbly on the global market with Tapad`s accelerator, The Propeller Program.
Marianne (Image) started Bubbly in 2013 together with her husband and serial entrepreneur. – I have held different leadership positions in big companies for the past 20 years. During this time, I was helping Kim (husband) with two of his startups.
But when Bubbly came along, it was too hard to not be a part of this new venture. She quit her job and became a full-time entrepreneur. The idea of Bubbly was born during their previous startup – Abra, that they sold in 2009. Which was vending machines for the corporate market, like Nespresso.
– I love great design, and how beautiful things affect us. Creating Abra inspired me to do something that could combine design, customer acquisition and in-the-moment customer communication.
The result was Bubbly – a hot piece of hardware with intelligent software system put in a vending machine that looks like it is from the future.
– How does Bubbly work? Can you give an example?
– Urban, a part of the Varner Group used it after they redesigned their stores. They wanted to understand what non-buyers and browsers were looking for.
– We placed Bubbly in stores, and they became “the magnet in the room” for people visiting the store. Customers completed a survey about brands they liked and their store experience on the Ipad attached to Bubbly. Then they picked up a free snack from the machine as a thank you. Some also chose to leave their email address for further offers. This group received an email with a value offer.
In other words, Urban collected real-time data about their customers, and and in this way learned what non-buyers and browsers were looking for.
– Just a small adjustment of the store can lead to many millions on increased revenue, says Marianne.
From February 2017, you can also find Bubbly in some of the Telenor-stores in Norway. The goal of this recent collaboration and pilot, is learning more about customers and foot traffic in the stores in order to provide a great service and increase sales. The CEO of Telenor Retail, Eivind Larsen, says that they are hoping to gain an insight in the target group of non-buyers and browsers. Bubbly will give real time feedback, and that will make Telenor more aware of what their customers and potential customers want.
Marianne explains that there are different applications of the machine. Recently they tested it out with a global consulting firm.
– If one of their employees needed a new phone or a new set of headphones, she could register and pick it up at Bubbly. That way, employees didn’t have to seek help at the IT-department. It became more transparent who was picking up stuff and what budget bill to relate to. The consulting firm is now one of our international customers.
– Bubbly is also calculating the weight in the machine. If some products are lacking, the machine can notify the owners about need for refill.
Beacons and Tesla and Manhattan
Bubbly software is working seamlessly with its hardware to enable deep learning from the moment of engagement. Bubbly is also working with Unacast and their beacon technology. The hardware part of Bubbly designed by Kim is produced at the same factory as parts of the renown Tesla electric car.
– After we got several great customers in Norway, we wanted to scale globally. Asia is an interesting marked, but US is definitely our biggest market. Through Innovation Norway we explored New York and US for three months in 2016.
While in New York, Marianne saw an ad for Tapad’s accelerator program, created by the serial entrepreneur Are Traasdahl. His company Tapad was acquired by Telenor in the beginning of 2016, for 360 million USD, and he is now helping Norwegian startups to scale.
Marianne applied, and one of the selection criteria was a skype interview.
– I asked if I could instead just stop by and do the interview face-to-face. It turned out to be a good idea, because when I first got there the conversation took longer time compared to a Skype call. There was no harm in asking, and Bubbly got accepted!
Marianne says it’s an enormous boost to be part of the program.
– We are gaining a huge network, encouragement and constructive feedback. We sit down weekly with Are and his team and get input on our strategy and product. You get to be a part of the Tapad family, and even on your business card it says Madison Avenue Manhattan. Nice to have when meeting potential clients.
Dare to say no to working for free
Several people from their team are going to be in US and Norway. Her co-founder Kim has also moved to New York. – We are a great team because he is good at unconventional creative thinking. I am the one who is testing out products with customers and doing the sales and strategy.
That comes in handy when you are in tough negotiations with big customers, like LEGO. -We were pitching Bubbly at LEGO’s head office in Connecticut with many different VPs around the table in this impressive huge board room.
– We agreed upon using Bubbly in selected LEGO stores, and I say “let`s discuss the price”. The room goes silent, and one of the VPs says, “do you know who we are?”. He meant that we should do this collaboration for free since they are a huge and famous client.
Marianne managed to say no in a polite way, and persuade them to pay for their services. – Kim held his breath while I was talking. He would’ve said yes, just because he wanted to test the product and get LEGO on our customer list.
LEGO ended up paying, and got the founders undivided attention for the next months. – It’s not so much about the money, but about being taken seriously, especially when you are a startup. It also means that both partners are committed. Plus, it does something with the motivation of your team, when you’re not just giving away the product for free.
Marianne says that it is not always that she gets a “yes” from customers. – Each time I get a no, I always remind myself that every no brings me closer to a yes. I always try to analyze why the customer said no, or is reluctant to say yes.
-I get a kick out of a happy client!