Howler Targets a Variety of Business Sectors for Its Beacon-Based Services

By Claire Swedberg

The startup has deployed 600 Kontakt.io Bluetooth beacons at 150 stores and other sites in Boston, so that Howler app users can receive location-specific content tightly focused on their interests.

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Boston-based startup Howler Apps is pursuing a national client-base for its new beacon-based advertising solution that allows Howler app users to capture location-specific content tailored to their interests and behaviors at stores, hotels, restaurants and hospitals. Initially, the company has installed 600 Kontakt.io Bluetooth beacons at about 150 businesses, including Orange Leaf a frozen yogurt store in Boston (approximately 60 percent of the businesses are restaurants, while 40 percent are other retailers). In addition, several doctor’s offices are now using the system in trials involving the tracking of equipment and personnel.

Howler is also launching its solution in Las Vegas, where the company will market the technology to casinos, hotels, coffee shops, stores, restaurants, bars and other businesses. To date, the beacons have been installed at about 12 locations throughout the Nevada city, where several thousand users have downloaded the app.

The Howler smartphone app

The system allows businesses to push promotional data to app-using customers in the area, and also collects data about shoppers and their behaviors for analytical purposes. While other companies offer similar beacon-based solutions, Howler is different, says Hunter Gaylor, the firm’s co-founder and CEO, since it is intended for users nationwide for any sector—for instance, hotels, stores, stadiums and health care.

Howler’s cloud-based software collects analytical data that can be of use to beacon-using businesses, as well as future customers. For instance, the software knows how much time an individual spent at a specific store, and how many app users did or did not respond to a particular advertisement. As the software collects more specific information, it will be able to provide demographic data regarding those who are interested in that ad. Because a user signs up for the app via the Facebook Login service, the app pulls information such as age and gender from that person’s Facebook account, and then uses his or her postings to glean behavioral details, such as the fact that the individual doesn’t eat certain foods, or prefers a particular kind of drink or clothing item. For example, Gaylor says, the app software might determine that an individual is a vegan, and would consequently not deliver any ads for steak dinners.

Over time, as more people download the app, Howler also intends to collect analytical data regarding neighborhoods (there have been about 10,000 Howler app downloads in the Boston area so far). For instance, Howler knows how many of its users walk down a certain street, as well as what their interests are, and can provide that demographic and traffic data to a business before it opens up a new store or restaurant on that street.

The company was founded in 2014 by Gaylor and Joseph Viscomi, now Howler’s software builder. Viscomi is also the founder of Illinois-based company Greplytix, which offers personnel-evaluation software for education, health care and other markets. In the case of health care, Viscomi says, Greplytix offers a solution known as the Automated Duty Hour Tracking system, consisting of Greplytix’s MedInsight app and Howler beacon technology to help hospitals automatically collect the work-time hours of its employees based on their locations as they work.

Boston Children’s Hospital intends to trial the Greplytix-Howler solution from June to December of this year, in order to determine whether it can provide an accurate record of which residents are working what hours, thereby preventing the tendency of residents to work excessive hours in a given week, while also creating more accurate electronic records.

“Not surprisingly, fatigue on the part of residents in training has been shown to lead to medical error and poorer patient outcomes. The ACGME—the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education—has, therefore, required hours of duty to be limited,” explains David Urion, Boston Children’s Hospital’s director of behavioral neurology clinics and programs, as well as its director of education and residency training programs in child neurology and neurodevelopmental disabilities. Manual record keeping can be time-consuming and inaccurate, Urion says, so he hopes that the Greplytix-Howler solution will prove to be a worthy automated alternative. “As program director, this will allow me to detect problems—such as an intern working too many hours—as they are happening, and make appropriate accommodations.”

Hunter Gaylor

Howler’s app for retailer and restaurant deployments is currently available at iTunes website, for use on iPhones and iPads, Gaylor says. However, he adds, the company expects to release an Android version within the next 30 to 60 days.

“Our vision is to create an entire connected community,” Gaylor states. Such a community, he says, would span the United States and encompass multiple business sectors, ranging from health care to hospitality.

After downloading the app, a smartphone user must agree to receive push notifications upon coming within range of a beacon installed at area businesses. If the content sent to the phone via the app does not interest the user, he or she can simply press a prompt indicating that fact. Conversely, the individual may instead enter the store or restaurant, and that action will also be stored in Howler’s cloud-based software. The software can then monitor that user’s interests, based on earlier responses and behavior, and consequently tailor the notifications sent to that individual.

Based on the GPS location of a user’s phone, the Howler app pulls relevant content, such as a list of restaurants in the area, from social networks LivingSocial, Groupon and Yelp, and displays that information on the user’s handset. The content becomes more specific, however, with the use of beacons, since they can provide content specific to a store in the user’s immediate vicinity.

Howler reports that the system is currently gaining 50 percent conversion rates. This means that individuals who downloaded the app have responded to offers sent to their phones 50 percent of the time.

Joseph Viscomi

Howler is currently charging $150 for a one-year subscription to its service. The subscription entitles a company to a Kontakt.io Smart Beacon (it can also purchase more beacons as needed), which a Howler representative installs for that customer. The customer can integrate the Howler app into its own app, or use the Howler app itself, to create advertising that will then be displayed for smartphone users based on their proximity to a specific beacon. Stores can install just a single beacon at the door, or deploy multiple beacons—for instance, within different store departments.

The Kontakt.io beacons can transmit a signal up to about 60 feet away, and have a battery life of several years. That will change soon, the company reports, as the latest version of the Smart Beacon was released to coincide with Earth Day of this year, in order to reduce battery consumption. The new Smart Beacon’s software allows users to set the times at which the beacon should be actively transmitting, and enable it to go dormant outside of those times (such as at night), according to Trevor Longino, Kontakt.io’s head of PR and marketing.

In the near future, Howler also intends to offer its own “Howler Review” feature that will allow consumers to comment on their experience, similar to Yelp reviews. The advantage of the Howler feature over Yelp, Gaylor says, will be it’s ability to verify that a reviewer was actually at the site, and not merely writing a bogus review about a business he or she didn’t visit.