Martin Ruffert has a gift for sensing and seizing an opportunity. Throughout his career, this serial entrepreneur from Berlin, Germany has crossed borders to launch successful ventures including producing movies in Paris, and launching innovative IT companies in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany.
Ruffert’s latest entrepreneurial endeavor led him to Wilmington, Delaware where he has established the U.S. operations of his digital signage company io projects. With a firmly established customer base in Europe, Ruffert anticipates that that the unique features, robust IT and competitive price point of the IO solution will help him to continue his successful track record here in the States.
Welcome to Wilmington, Martin! What brought you and io projects to Delaware?
Thank you, it’s wonderful to be here! The U.S. market has always been part of our strategy, and I had always known it would be the greater Philadelphia area. I wanted the East Coast because I’m in constant contact with my team in Europe, and there are several major airports close by with service to Germany. I also like that it’s a quick trip to New York and Washington.
I came specifically to Delaware because with the Global Delaware initiative, for the first time, it was more than just talk and promises. They started by doing. Andrea Tinianow (the Global Delaware director) put me in her car and drove me around to show me the whole area. Her team introduced me to German colleagues who have business experience here; they connected me to local attorneys, and Andrea even brought me my first U.S. customer!
On one of my first visits, I had the good fortune to meet the Governor. A few days later at an event, he saw me across the room, came right over to say hello, introduced me to several people, and even explained my business model to them! The whole experience was just incredible.
Delaware is a small, familiar place, and it’s perfect for a company like mine that is starting from scratch. You get real help that reaches out to you. I can’t imagine a better place than that.
Tell us a little bit about io projects. What exactly does the company do?
Ah, the elevator speech! We make solutions for large digital advertising and information displays, like the ones you see in hotel lobbies, car dealerships, department stores, airports, even schools.
We provide the hardware—the media players and the video monitors—as well as the software, which is a sophisticated, highly-configurable but very easy-to-use CMS (content management system). The system is unique in the industry, it comes from years of fine-tuning for other uses and industries.
It works like this: A company, for example a retail chain, installs video displays in their stores to show pictures and videos to customers. They use our solution to customize the medias for the right audience — the customer can easily store, manage, distribute, and play the content.
We support all types of content, including touchscreen content. Individual customers can even change parts of the content, such as a price, without having to redo for example the whole video-encoding. We make it easy to manage hundreds and thousands of screens, each of which may have different audiences which requires different content.
Do you sell the system directly to companies that want to use these displays?
No. Our business model is “B-to-B-to-B.” Our clients are content companies and ad agencies who integrate our solution as a white-label product for their customers. They use our technology platform to fit the needs of the customers. The ad agency develops the content and provides the equipment, and we support the agency and the customer with our system.
Our solution does not include high-end video production or editing tools. I was in the film business for a number of years, first as a director and then as a producer, and I have great respect for the creative professionals. End users don’t need a whole suite of expensive tools to create their own content, just a way to change small things like price, or local deals.
We stuck with what we are really good at: Building a robust and reliable CMS that our direct clients and their clients can trust, no matter how much content or how many displays they have.
What makes your CMS so special?
Well, the way we handle interactivity is very cool. We can manage touchscreen content exactly the same way we manage video and pictures. That’s harder than it sounds, and we are really good at it.
Because we store all content locally on the media player that is connected to the display, we don’t depend on the quality of bandwidth that is onsite. The system constantly checks to see if there is new content and downloads it to the local player. This means the viewing experience is always great, with no interruptions or the dreaded dark screen that says “no video input.”
Another cool thing is that all information is stored in a central location in the cloud, even information that one customer might have changed at an individual store. That means we can reconstruct a local player on the fly, we can manipulate the information centrally, and we can connect and integrate with other data management systems.
Who are some of your customers? You mentioned you already have your first customer here in the U.S.?
Our first customer for this system was Mercedes in Germany. Nearly all the Mercedes dealerships in Germany and Belgium are on the system, and it was our development and programming for them that helped us build such a strong solution — and reputation!
The company’s headquarters in Berlin uses it to make sure that corporate branding is consistent throughout the dealerships, but the individual stores like it because they can customize the content shown on the screens in their dealerships to add their own local touches and because it is so easy to use.
We have several distributors in Europe, and our solution is used in 21 countries.
Here in the U.S., we have signed our first agreement with the Archer Group right here in Delaware. I met with Michael Derins at Archer when I first came here, and he was immediately enthusiastic about our solution. It was a terrific bit of luck, and I am really looking forward to working with the group. Archer is a strong ad agency and really innovative, so I think it’s a great match.
I know you’re just getting started here, but what is the next big thing for io projects?
Well, the future of our solution is clearly interaction. Right now, we are a solution that lets companies replace posters with video, to advertise products, services and to upsell.
The next step is to offer an interactive sales tool. We are working on a big innovation to make the off-line purchase experience at the point-of-sale more exciting by letting customers interact with the screens to obtain more information from individuals who actually use the items they are considering buying. Traditional stores are still where most people buy, and we are working on ways to make the shopping experience more fun and productive, and at the same time help store owners to keep their customers coming back again and again.
It is going to be really, really cool.
Right now though, I am focused on launching the business here in the U.S. There are a lot of challenges, but I’ve always loved a new challenge.
Thanks very much Martin! Where can people find you if they want to learn more?
Thank you! I am easy to find these days. I walk to and from my home on the Riverfront to my office at the Mill. I’ve only been here a few months, but I already feel like a local. To me, that says it all about Delaware!
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