Written by: Natasia Malaihollo, CEO & Co-Founder of Wyzerr, Inc.
For the last four years of our startup Wyzerr’s existence, we’ve sold mostly to retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands. This target audience has proven quite successful for us. Even as a young startup with a very ugly beta product, we were able to sign Walmart as one of our first customers. From there, Unilever, Kroger, P&G, Kimberly-Clark and others quickly came on board. About a year ago, we began a pilot with a regional airport that asked us to duplicate our work in retail for their airport. Intrigued, we took on the challenge. Our initial research in preparation for the project came up with an interesting key insight: airports were becoming the malls of the future. It made sense now why a forward-thinking airport would want the same technology that we had developed for retailers.
Over the next few months, we realized that the way this airport was using our technology was actually the way we always envisioned Wyzerr would be utilized one day. They were sending our surveys over wifi and rapidly using the data everyday to make key decisions. Based on this, in Q3 of this year we decided as a company to shift our focus completely to airports. As a startup company with very limited time and resources, we asked mentors and advisors in the aviation space where they thought we should invest our budget. They unanimously told us to attend the 2018 ACI-NA Annual Conference Exhibition, which was taking place in Nashville, TN on September 30-October 2. Below are my top 5 key takeaways from the conference:
1. Airport Decision-Makers were everywhere.
As an entrepreneur, I’ve been to hundreds of conferences. These conferences tend to have a lot of representation from a wide range of companies but they are usually salespeople or brand ambassadors — -people that don’t really have any decision-making abilities. What was quite surprising to me about the ACI-NA conference was that all of the airport attendees were actual decision-makers. In fact, many of the airport CEO’s were walking the floors visiting booths. Some actually came to Wyzerr’s exhibit directly, which was just really shocking to me. I’ve never been to a conference where the CEO of a major organization was so accessible. In terms of networking and meeting decision-makers within the airport industry, hands down this was the best place to do it.
2. Airports are currently obsessed with creating new streams of revenue
From the workshops I attended as well as the conversations I had, there appears to be a sense of urgency around developing and implementing new streams of revenue at the airport. While there were a lot of ideas floating around on how this would work best for airports of different sizes, what was most interesting to me were the references to data and successful tech companies. On more than 3 occasions, I heard different folks talk about how Amazon, Facebook, and Google’s growth all stem from their ability to collect, understand, and utilize data. Airports get a ton of data every single day so I believe we will start to see some really creative ways that airports harness these insights and use it to create new streams of revenue for themselves.
3. Airports are behind when it comes to technology and innovation
In a lot of industries, many companies are behind when it comes to new technology and innovation because executives fail to identify future trends in their customer base and marketplace. Airports are not that. In fact, airport executives are actually incredibly forward-thinking and tech-saavy, and are well aware of where their industry is headed. This made the fact that so many airports are really behind in innovation puzzling. I can only assume that the lack of innovation overall is because of the regulations and limitations imposed on airports by the government and funding.
4. Airport culture is like a fraternity
As a follow-up to #3, I also think airports may be behind in innovation because the culture is very frat-like. Everyone knows everyone, and people seem to be really loyal to each other. This is great for community and relationship-building but not necessarily for competition and innovation. It makes it really hard for an outsider or a newcomer to get into the fold. Introductions and referrals are huge in the airport space. I think most people likely prefer to work with vendors that have been validated or vouched for by other airport peers.
5. There weren’t other startup founders there.
While there was an Innovation Alley at the ACI-NA conference, it wasn’t filled with startup booths like most conferences I attend. The exhibitors in this area appeared to be leading airport suppliers and software companies that were well past startup phase. In the 5 days that we were at the conference, I didn’t meet a single other startup founder. I thought that was interesting being that ACI-NA is one of the biggest airport conferences in the world. Does that mean there aren’t many startups selling to airports? I don’t know yet. This may be a topic for a future blog.
In conclusion, the ACI-NA conference for us was well worth the investment we made to attend and purchase an exhibitor’s booth. I would highly recommend other startups and businesses that want to sell to airports to attend the next one. For more information about ACI, visit their website here: http://annual.aci-na.org/