Inside a white, one-story office building, a handful of Enplug employees sit typing on laptops as they work at folding tables that serve as temporary desks.
The interactive digital display company in Culver City moved into its new office space two weeks ago, but gained its popularity in the L.A. ad tech world for its six-bedroom, live-work space in Bel Air – where some of the workers really lived.
In fact, Nanxi Liu, co-founder and chief executive, said living together with the other co-founders and staff was so much fun, some of them stayed on.
“We still have the house and people still live in it,” Liu said, “But by this summer, we realized we quickly outgrew the home … so we needed an office space.”
Enplug owns and operates a network of interactive digital screens inside 200 stores, restaurants and bars across 30 cities throughout California and in Las Vegas.
The large television screen is mounted on a restaurant’s wall and displays its social media feeds, such as Twitter and Instagram. Customers can tweet or upload photos to Instagram with a restaurant’s hashtag and see their photos and tweets displayed. Industry executives said they didn’t know of another company providing interactive social media screens for restaurants.
The bottom of the screen is reserved for advertisers. Enplug makes its money renting the screens and the technology to restaurants and bars and selling the ads and ad services.
Enplug client King of New York Pizzeria had a screen installed in its two Koreatown restaurants six months ago. Each features a live stream of its Twitter and Instagram feeds with an advertisement from one of Enplug’s advertisers such as Dell Inc. and Cathay Bank.
Peter Choe, owner of the pizzeria, said the screens have led to more interactions with customers.
“It gives them a reason to tweet because they want to see it on the board and that’s the original purpose,” Choe said. “It helps me reach out (to customers).” For example, if he sees a customer tweet a picture he can respond with a tweet of his own.
Enplug buys the TV screens wholesale from various manufacturers such as South Korean companies LG Corp. and Samsung Group. However, the company places its own logo on them.
Clients pay a subscription for the screen and service starting at $99 a month.
The company also offers services such as creating campaigns for advertisers. Enplug also developed its own software to make it a self-service tool for venues and advertisers.
For example, an advertiser can go to Enplug’s website, upload its advertisement and choose the venues where it will be displayed. Advertisers pay 1 cent per 15 second impression or view and Enplug receives that money. Advertisers can book campaigns for as little as $250 per month and as much as $10,000.
Founded in May of last year, the five founders in their early 20s were brought together mostly by chance. Chief Financial Officer David Zhu, who was a professional poker player, created the initial concept of Enplug with a high school classmate, Navdeep Reddy, now head of programming. Liu founded biotech firm Nanoly Bioscience in Boulder, Colo. and met Zhu during a trip to Hong Kong. She quickly agreed to help launch the company.
Then, during Zhu’s flight back to Los Angeles, he was seated next to Zach Spitulski, now chief product officer, whose background was in app development. Spitulski agreed to join the Enplug team, along with his roommate Alex Ross, now chief technology officer.
By July, the five moved into a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in Koreatown to develop a prototype. Three months later, they moved into the Bel Air home.
The staff size is now 35 and the company has received funding from several investors. Liu declined to name them or specify how much was invested.
The team is now looking to add a new system that will allow third-party app developers to design apps for venues to purchase. For example, a bar can buy a game app and then stream it on its Enplug screen. Customers can play the game through their mobile phones. The company also has plans to expand in cities such as Chicago and San Francisco next year.
Nick Gawith, creative director at digital ad agency SapientNitro’s L.A. office, said the success of Enplug’s screen will depend on the execution.
“This will become a trend only if they are used smartly,” said Gawith, whose firm specializes in creating campaigns on multiple platforms. “Well executed, social integration can be effective in that it can bring a personal and memorable lens to any experience.”
Chief Executive Matthew Olivieri of AdSemble in Los Gatos helps businesses buy and sell ads on digital billboards and screens in the Bay Area and Chicago. He said Enplug’s social integration is a new approach in digital displays and one that could interest more advertisers to the business.
“The social interaction is something that I’ve never really heard of before,” Olivieri said. “That might be what sets them apart from everybody else and could be a way to get a lot of advertisers willing to pay…because nobody has taken that on themselves.”
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