Investment Note

Google Analytics for the physical realm: why we invested in Nola

Written by
Tom Smalley
On behalf of the Skalata Investment Team
“From malls to mosh pits, retail to raves, customers tell stories through their actions and behaviour. They’re constantly giving rich feedback - almost all of which gets lost in the crush.”
Victoria Zorin
Co-founder & CEO

Anonymously analysing customer experiences

Customer satisfaction is demonstrated far clearer through actions than words. Three years ago, Nola founder Victoria Zorin grew frustrated while stuck in an avoidably long queue at a music festival, inspiring her to dive deeper into the world of advanced visitor analytics. 

Nola is her no-install SaaS solution for retail and hospitality, that anonymously analyses live video feeds or historical footage to provide insights on visitor experience. This allows venues to plan with hard data rather than through simple guesswork, properly roster staff, optimally design a venue, and reduce wasted time and resources.

Some example use cases for the software include identifying: 

  • High and low traffic areas at events
  • Store displays people are drawn to (and ones they’re neglecting)
  • Gaps or “dead zones” in retail environments where well-placed salespeople or assistants might rescue flagging engagement
  • Footfall outside stores
  • Table occupancy in restaurants
  • Staff productivity in warehouses
  • Business lost to crowding, queue fatigue, or product overwhelm.

There’s no doubt hospitality was one of the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic. Now the country is back open for business, the market is ripe for retaking. 

Skalata has invested in Nola to help them pursue the approximate 70,000 hospitality and entertainment venues (nightclubs, stadiums, festivals) and 110,000 bricks-and-mortar retail stores in Australia that have a golden opportunity to build back better than before. 

Nola has identified an approximate $900 million market opportunity in Australia alone. But one of the things we’re most excited about is the tech’s scalability - it’s a remotely managed, plug-and-play solution that has no barriers to global expansion.  

State of the market

With increased backlash against global surveillance, Nola aims to deliver the benefits of visitor analytics insights without compromising privacy and security. Unlike current market solutions such as bluetooth or facial recognition cameras, Nola is a no-install software that is anonymous by design. As it has no end of life, the software will be able to continually evolve to meet business needs.

Most modern businesses understand that data drives success. But getting hold of accurate data and knowing how to use it is a minefield. 

Broad-scope quantitative surveys are expensive. Smaller-scope qualitative surveys are time consuming (and customer self-reporting is notoriously unreliable). 

Tech solutions put to market to manage crowds have been imperfect. Sensors are not always possible to install at outdoor events. Thermal people counters are not accurate in high-density environments like stadium shows. Wi-Fi tracking devices can be affected by humidity or lighting. Bluetooth beacons dip in and out.

Even when they work, the metrics these tools offer are often limited to a basic entry/exit count.

How Nola works

Victoria explains exactly how Nola works, in a nutshell:

“Customers are able to connect their app remotely, without installation. In the app they’ll find a real-time dashboard, a historical dashboard, and a dashboard that integrates with their POS data.”

“The real-time dashboard is for making decisions on the spot, taking courses of action to fix an issue, or taking advantage of an opportunity like someone waiting at reception.”

The system is highly customisable, allowing clients to set up alerts for relevant metrics, like when a queue hits more than fifteen people, or if no customers have visited a staffed area after x amount of time. 

Clients can also use the historical dashboard to analyse performance and understand where they're losing revenue, or where there's opportunities for sales. It also adds another layer of KPIs, including product conversion rates and average spend per visitor.

The insights uncovered can be astounding for retailers. Victoria gives an example of an Australian chain store that set up a new area for big-ticket items like jewellery. Nola revealed that only 10% of store visitors found their way into the new area. 90% of customers had no awareness of or interaction with the new bigger-ticket range. Staff on the ground never provided this insight.

Nola analyses live video feeds or historical footage to deliver powerful insights for your business.

Why we like Nola

Nola is a true answer-to-the-problem product that’s not easy to imitate. 

It’s grounded in reality, using not supposition and guesswork, but what clients can see with their own eyes. That it can track the whole customer journey, report visitor demographics, and present rich visual data to measure customer engagement and experience gives the tech high defensibility in the market.  

In a lot of ways, it’s like Google Analytics for the physical realm. Ecommerce is already an unstoppable force and stiff competitor, with a huge added advantage of being able to track shoppers’ every move. Nola offers a windfall opportunity to IRL retailers by enabling them to rival this level of merchandise engagement tracking.

For retailers who operate across both the physical and the digital (which includes most retailers), Nola can generate an omni-channel analytics report which compares specific product engagement in physical stores vs. ecommerce stores to weigh up what’s working best.

It's also been able to do the previously undoable. Nola can track ROI of sponsorship, beyond the vagueness of ‘brand awareness’. Event organisers can actually provide metrics to sponsors around how many people have engaged with their brand at an event, proving they’re worth the investment.

In the founders’ words:

“Nola is constantly evolving to the changing needs of customers. There's no end of life.”

Why clients like Nola

Nola comes with several cherry-on-top benefits for customers: 

  1. There are no install costs or downtime - the plug-and-play model uses existing CCTV - and ongoing costs are low (per video feed, per month)
  2. The technology is ever-evolving, able to be adapted into tailored solutions like software that recognises PPE wearing or counts products on shelves.
  3. It doesn’t use biometrics, and is bound by compliance to privacy and data protection laws.
  4. With no identification to resell, Nola provides a zero trust architecture (traditional IT network security trusts anyone and anything inside the network, while a Zero Trust architecture trusts no one and nothing).

Nola democratises the benefits of computer vision for businesses of all sizes.

“Nola is anonymous-by-design. We don't track or store any form of unique identification, managing risk for organisations and protecting customers”.

For smaller clients, one video feed can help them figure out their visitor count, passerby traffic, drop in rate, and visit agenda. For larger clients, 10+ video feeds can give full coverage of all their shelves, product engagement, passersby, traffic, staff count, occupancy, queue wait times… there really are no limits.

Successes so far

Last year, Nola partnered with environmentally conscious music festival Yours & Owls in NSW. 

Although months go into the planning of large-scale festivals, an “it’ll be alright on the night” mentality can emerge when the short two or three day timeframe bursts into reality, 20,000 guests arrive, and best-laid plans go out the window.

It only took Nola 8 hours to set up for the event, using temporary cameras to monitor queue length, queue wait times, and queue speed. The client had all real-time data and a live traffic map available to them via an app, and could move staff reactively around the venue to better manage customer flow. 

Victoria is rapidly expanding their client base as they become the lower cost, ethical alternative to what’s in market for companies that value privacy of their customers.

Old tech, ultramodern use

Nola has achieved something SaaS startups rarely even consider - finding a use for a decades-old technology to deliver high reliability, an inventive new purpose, and extremely low barriers to entry (or even - for the majority of businesses who already have cameras installed - no barriers).

Having been continuously developed and iterated since the 1940s, CCTV is cheap, globally adopted, and highly mature. This solid and widespread foundation was one of the things that instilled strong confidence in our investment team. Nola is powered by AI but built on brick - not the sand of fledgling or unproven technologies. 

It’s also a very human proposition. It reconnects the ancient roles of seller with buyer by considering the experience as well as the numbers. 

It’s given way to fascinating psychosocial observations like:

“If everyone's queuing on the left side, everyone else follows and the right queue ends up with no one. People will just go where other people go! Clients are getting their security to shift people over in real time.” 

What’s next for Nola?

With every new client, Nola gets smarter by training itself on data feeds. 

The result will be ever-increasing accuracy, enhanced insights, and automation. Nola plans to constantly improve the customer interface – assessing how best to deliver data, whether through visualisation or sending push notifications. 

Predictive capabilities are the future. Nola will soon be able to tell you how many visitors are going to visit your store next week. It will also integrate other external data like weather and public holidays to predict behaviour and help businesses plan for spikes or dead days.

Founder’s last words

In Victoria’s words:

“We were looking for a collaborative investment partner that could not only enable us to grow exponentially but assist us in overcoming common startup challenges, rapidly.”

We are extremely excited to start delivering that rapid and sustainable growth, be among the first supporters of a new breed of customer analytics, and to be connected with the industry that’s making Australia fun again.

Inspired by Nola's story?