From Harrods to Harvey Nichols; from McDonald’s to Burger King; from airports to football stadium; when it comes to WiFi one company is turning the world Purple.
The Manchester-headquartered company has 200 million end users and it’s estimated around 70% of the UK adult population use their WiFi.
Clients rely on their technology to better understand their customers’ behaviour and how their buildings are being used.
Serial entrepreneur Gavin Wheeldon set the business up in 2012 and it’s just marked its 10th anniversary by hitting £10m revenue and being included in the prestigious 2022 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Indoor Location Services.
He says that rather than thinking about an exit his focus is on building a great business.
“Ultimately I’m a tech geek,” he says. “I love the technology and I’m really passionate with what we’re doing
“If you’re doing the right thing, you’re building the business, you’re getting 30%-40% growth after Covid while driving the efficiencies in the business, then ultimately you’re going to get the big exit or something is going to happen. That’s natural.”
The 46-year-old set up Purple after selling his previous business Applied Language Solutions (ALS) to Capita in 2011 in a deal worth up to £67.5m.
It was while at ALS that he appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2007 after unsuccessfully offering 4% of his business for a £250,000 investment.
He popped up on our screens again a few years later in Rhyl during an episode of Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire but says he now prefers to let his technology do the talking.
“Your mindset changes as you get older,” he says. “You’re a bit giddier when you’re a bit younger. When you’re older you just enjoy the journey rather than worrying about the destination.”
Wheeldon launched Purple after recognising the value of WiFi and the information it generates.
During his many travels Wheeldon identified that public WiFi lacked a positive user experience and he resolved to build a business to fix it.
“We help clients understand their customers better,” he explains. “Providing WiFi is part of what we do but we also help clients understand how people use their building. How long do they stay? We use WiFi to measure a lot of things.
“We also use computer vision. We’ll take the standard CCTV cameras and feed that into computer vision models to understand how people are moving around.
“We can measure the levels of crowds in a building at any one time but a really simple example of how we can help is toilets.
“People clean toilets on a set time period, say once every hour or once every two hours or whatever. However you might get a burst of activity and then nothing for three hours so can produce the data to show the number of people that have used the toilet to indicate when they should be cleaned.”
In 2019 Purple bought US wayfinding business LogicJunction which helps people around big spaces so they don’t get lost.
Wheeldon explains: “We’re doing a lot of work in the US with the healthcare market. The amount of people not turning up for medical appointments is worth $150bn. They’re called ‘DNAs’ or ‘did not attend’.
“In the UK a total of £1bn a year is wasted by people not turning up to appointments and the amazing thing is a third of people who don’t turn up for an appointment are in the building at the time but they are lost.”
Wheeldon says Purple’s technology can take away some of the anxiety from patients preparing to go into hospital.
“We take over the journey from the settee at home and take away that pre-appointment anxiety,” he says. “
“We link to Lyft, Uber or taxi firms so you click on that so it will call the cab for you and take you. Alternatively you can drive and it will take you to right place to park and wayfind you to the right door to go in.
“When you’re in the door it will take you to the right lift so that you get to your appointment in time.”
Purple’s technology is now used in all of Spain’s airports, 90 hospitals and 30 entire cities, including Melbourne and Adelaide.
“It could be everything from the size of a small McDonald’s to an entire city and everything in between from stadiums, airports and convention centres,” says Wheeldon.
Today Purple employs 120 staff and the CEO says the company changed its own approach to office use as a result of Covid.
“Before Covid we had offices in Oldham, Austin in the US; in Melbourne in Australia; in Chile; and in Mexico,” he says. “Now we don’t have any international offices. We closed our office in Oldham and took a third of the space in Arbeta in Manchester city centre.
“We were already on the journey of working from home before the pandemic. Then Covid struck and we worked remotely and people liked it. Why would we go back on that and swim up the stream so we decided just to go for it.”
Purple has attracted £12m investment to date, with high-profile investors including former Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy and Bill Currie. At the start of the year they received £3m from Riverside Capital.
“Although Purple is 10 years old we have so much opportunity ahead of us and that’s really exciting,” he says.
- Gavin Wheeldon has been chosen as the latest winner of TechBlast’s Star of the Week. It’s given to the entrepreneur or entrepreneurs who have most impressed TechBlast in the previous seven days. At the end of the year we’ll publish the full list of 50 names. To nominate someone email [email protected]