Investment Note

The antidote to ad fatigue: why we invested in Doohly

Written by
Tuong Tran
On behalf of the Skalata Investment Team
“We want to change the way people display ads in the real world. What the iPhone did to photography, we want to do to the DOOH industry.”
Sean Law

There was a time when online ads seemed like they would replace physical ones for good. 

But thanks to digitisation, we're no longer talking about neglected paper billboards peeling on the highway. 

There's so much more going on behind the scenes - interactive displays, augmented reality, Anamorphic 3D and 4K video, and animation are helping to fuel growth in the digital out-of-home (DOOH) market.

In the not-so-distant future, facial recognition and AI could even create personalised experiences for each passer by.

Out-of-home advertising is alive and kicking. It’s being used in nearly 50% of marketing campaigns, 23% of ad execs are planning to double their DOOH budget, and around 75% of retail advertisers are either running or considering DOOH campaigns in-store.

Movement, footfall, and eyeball tracking are helping brands to get granular, turbocharging their capabilities for data collection, and proving the ROI of each ad dollar spent.

With the pay-per-click heyday behind us and TV ad spend down by 15%, the digital billboard is on track for a CAGR of 9% from 2022 to 2026

Doohly’s software is currently running content across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the UK.

Meet the problem

DOOH advertising refers to the onscreen ads you see in shopping centres, gyms, airports, and public transport. Think Times Square or Shibuya Crossing on a smaller, everyday scale.

It’s managed by two main groups: venue owners (supermarkets, service stations, airports, gyms, retail stores) and media owners (those who own the screens and infrastructure and sell it to advertisers, like oOh! Media, QMS and JCDecaux).

In some cases, venue owners will pay a network operator to manage their digital content. Those operators supply the supporting hardware and software and either manage the content themselves or provide it to their customers to manage in-house.

Ancient infrastructure

All these manual processes for managing, scheduling, and changing over ads are built on old architecture.

If you’ve passed the same old out of date billboard on your commute for months, you’ll know.

They’re time-consuming, error-prone, and don’t allow for collaboration with other ecosystem stakeholders (i.e. no friendly APIs available for integration).

The lack of integration with external data (e.g. weather data that might trigger cold drinks ads in a heatwave) means the potential to scale, optimise, and monetise is severely restricted. 

One media owner said:

“We were using one of (now) competitor’s products on a daily basis. It was incredibly outdated, hard to use and restrictive. But there was no alternative.”

Competing solutions require significant training for owners and operators, specific hardware for venues (e.g. compatible media players), and around 3 months to integrate. The average cost is $50-$150 per screen per month, and the typical deal lengths are around 3 years. 

Small players locked out

This means they’re a time and resource drain for big venues, smaller venues can’t afford to set them up (and so miss out on the potential of the valuable data they hold), and it’s underutilised by pretty much everyone in the space.

With costs of DOOH software and hardware are dropping, Doohly co-founder Sean says: 

“We want to change the way people display ads in the real world, making it a tool that not only the big guys love to use, but a tool for everyone. Our vision is to do what the iPhone did for photography, but for the DOOH industry.”

Meet the product

Doohly is a complete end-to-end ecosystem for digital out-of-home (DOOH). It brings together a truly independent content management system (CMS) with native integrations to Third Party Programmatic and Verification platforms – something that’s never been done before. 

The result: data-driven, automated and measurable DOOH advertising.

Doohly enables new users to master the platform in minutes, for faster campaign deployment.

Doohly charges on a flexible per-screen basis. It’s faster to install and hardware agnostic (skirting the blocker of a customer’s existing hardware contracts), typically being integrated into a new customer’s system within days. 

Some of Doohly’s customers - both venue owners and network operators - have reported being able to train staff and clients to use the platform in 10 minutes (compared with the hours it takes on traditional CMS software).

Doohly’s product roadmap is a suite of media owner functionality, such as dynamic smart pricing based on demand and “just-in-time” screen placement. This will drive operational efficiencies, meaning internal teams can spend more time selling their network rather than making manual adjustments due to unforeseen circumstances.

Changes to content can be made in real-time, and a “share of time” logic is in the works, enabling users to schedule content based on percentages (e.g. 10% of airtime between 8am to 10am) rather than 2 out of 6 slots on a loop. 

With Doohly, creativity can soon be crafted to suit the context of a particular audience.

A potential use case is advertisers targeting summer-travellers in airports with items such as bathers, sunscreen, clothing and travel deals before their trip.

Data-driven advertising

Naturally, this smart version of billboard advertising also collects data. Doohly’s CMS is able to provide precise analytics to give a deep level of insight into performance.

It integrates with third-party verification platform, Seedooh – which gives advertisers independent confirmation that their ads are being shown (and to whom).

Doohly will soon be able to ingest real-time audience measurement data via tools such as the LENS platform.

Meet the founders

Co-founder and CEO Sean Law is a from-industry founder, with over 5 years experience managing DOOH at Vicinity Centres – the ASX 100 retail property group (ASX.VCX).

It is here he met co-founder and CTO Tom Sawkins, a seasoned software engineer.

The pair quickly realised they had complementary skill sets, worked well together, but could also challenge each other. Sean says:

“Tom and I would spot a problem and then quickly go out and build ad-hoc products to solve it. We’d then convince the higher-ups to roll it out in the field.”

Sean went on to start a consultancy providing digital signage solutions for customers. But quickly found that existing CMS solutions lacked automation and integration, and that the same problems cropped up regardless of which CMS he was working with. 

“We knew we could do things better – so here we are!”

DOOH heavyweights

Doohly is advised by a man whose reputation as the “godfather of Australian outdoor advertising” precedes him - founder of oOh! Media Brendon Cook - as well as oOh!’s previous Commercial Director John Purcell, who has spent 20 years in DOOH. 

Network effects 

Doohly is already securing paying customers and several valuable partnerships. 

One is Auckland-based DOOH provider LUMO. The team helped LUMO to develop a custom solution for managing its roadside network and streamline the buying experience.

GM of Programmatic at LUMO Jack Plowright said the partnership is “allowing us to embrace innovations in the programmatic space without the integration siloes that exist amongst players.” 

“Doohly is a key part of that with its ability to drill down to the integrations across the different platforms that we use.”

Doohly’s software is currently running content across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the UK, featuring names such as Mobil, Rebel Sport, KX Pilates, Briscoes, Four Square, Liquorland, Lendlease, SkyBus and Barwon Health.

There’s a couple thousand more in the pipeline, and as yet… zero(!) churn, which is a very good sign of early product-market fit.

As resellers, it’s logical for operators to recommend Doohly as a cheaper, easier, end-to-end alternative as they come off their current DOOH platform arrangements.

Who’s looking?

Our chronically-online nature means DOOH is perhaps a surprising choice. But we’re so used to ads (and seeing fewer targeted ones thanks to changing privacy laws) that we’re subject to “banner blindness”.

We’re so good at tuning out ads on our screens, we’re now more likely to notice them when we’re off them. We’re naturally drawn to text, colours, and movement, so a 30 minute commute can engage us with more advertising than 30 minutes of scrolling.

Nowadays it’s also very easy and common for audiences to circumvent online advertising with ad-blockers.

Pay-per-click advertising is now unaffordable for many small businesses. Streaming services mean it's increasingly difficult to get eyeballs on TV advertising. The logical conclusion is to go where the eyeballs are… 

…and those eyeballs are all walking around outside. 

On the decision to work with Skalata, Sean says:

“We’re excited to work with Skalata to grow our team and focus on the GTM and commercial side of the business. We have built a great product to date and can’t wait to ship it to clients all over the world.”
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