As the country eagerly anticipates a gradual easing of lockdown restriction, the prospect of day trips to visitor attractions is inching closer. But after months in isolation, the mere thought of large crowds will understandably leave many feeling uncomfortable and the challenge of managing social distancing has left venues scratching their heads.
It’s a conundrum that Tanuvi Ethunandan, Founder and CEO of Data Duopoly, has turned into a business opportunity. The start-up was established as part of Ethunandan’s Masters in Entrepreneurship through Falmouth University’s Launchpad, a venture studio part funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Research England, which brings together software engineers, digital creatives and businesspeople to solve industry challenges and develop business skills as directors of their own startups.
Ethunandan was paired up with award-winning film director Erin Morris, the company’s CCO, and tasked with finding a solution to the age-old British pastime of queuing – more specifically a way to alleviate visitor bottlenecks at the Eden Project. The solution devised by Data Duopoly uses anonymised location data from individuals’ mobiles within a fenced area to allow venues to track visitors’ whereabouts and direct them to quieter locations and routes.
“At the same time, we wanted to make sure people know what's going on and help them make the most of their day out,” Ethunandan explains. A pilot was launched in July 2019 and Data Duopoly’s first product – XplorIT, a white-label solution for venues, a free mobile app for visitors and a web analytics dashboard for venues – was born.
Using a live heat map showing where visitors are in real time, the technology allows venues to send visitors personalised notifications of relevant and targeted events or offers such as a free or discounted refreshments to lure them away from busy areas. Not only does this reduce visitor congestion, it also boosts concessionary spending while providing venues with all-important data on visitor dwell times, essential for resource allocation and helping them gauge the success of new attractions. “It really was a win-win for the visitor and the venue.”
Since then, the technology has evolved to use artificial intelligence algorithms to predict behaviours based on both live and historical data so that venues can implement strategies to prevent bottlenecks before they occur.
Despite the huge technology component to their business offering, Ethunandan believes not coming from a technical background definitely gives her the edge. “We made the tech work for us rather than thinking, this is a technical solution that can be easy to implement but isn't the best experience for the user.”
By early 2020 Data Duopoly had secured its first paying client – the National Trust Cornish Tin Coast Partnership. Not long after this milestone, COVID-19 struck. Ethunandan admits lockdown presented some challenges to the fledgling business – not least adapting to the joys of remote working and finding ways to artificially inject creative serendipitous moment.
“Moving online wasn't too bad. Being based in Cornwall it means we get to meet a lot more people as video calls became the norm and we didn't have to travel to London. However, I do miss that social element,” she admits.
However, the pandemic also made Data Duopoly’s business proposition more relevant than ever, shifting the focus away from managing queues to finding practical solutions to facilitating social distancing and knowing where visitors are on site for safety reasons.
Data Duopoly’s COVID-19 Crowd Tracker offers a visual tool for visitors, using a traffic light system to reflect capacity within the venue, using live and historical data to predict the next ‘hot spot’ for crowding. Meanwhile, the COVID-reporter feeds directly to the venue, notifying them if a visitor has tested positive for COVID-19. The alert provides information on where the person was on the site during their visit, then gives a three tiered option to respond by: updating the cleaning regime, alerting the people they have come into contact with, or notifying all visitors who were on the site that day.
“We're giving the information to the venue but we’re not telling them what to do,” Ethunandan explains. “Ultimately it’s about giving confidence to the visitors that venues have this information and are as COVID safe as possible.”
More recently, the company has landed further investment from three local business angels and a London-based investor, matched by funding from Aerospace Cornwall and the European Space Agency, after it named the business as one of its top 50 start-ups.
Ethunandan believes her ACA qualification is a definite bonus when it comes to speaking to investors. “I think they feel reassured when there’s a Chartered Accountant at the helm, because you know what's going on with cash flow projections and you can put a trial balance together into a balance sheet and a P&L.”
The company is continuing to scale up its visitor tracking propositions and developing technology that works inside using WiFi triangulation and Bluetooth beacons. Plans are also afoot for XplorCAMPUS, an application developed with Falmouth University aimed squarely at the higher education sector, to help students and staff return to campus safety by alerting them to busy and quiet areas so they can make choices about where they study and eat, for example.
Growth of the visitor attraction market looks promising, buoyed by the fact that downloading attraction-specific apps has become second nature for visitors – Ethunandan says around 70% of attraction visitors will search for an app when they arrive. As the world prepares for life after lockdown, Data Duopoly looks set to make the experience a whole lot easier.
· Tanuvi Ethunandan is one of the speakers at ICAEW Virtually Live 2021, taking place 15-17 June, focusing on the future and how the Coronavirus pandemic will shape businesses, practices and career paths. Find out more and register here.
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