Great to meet you Matt, could you give us an introduction to yourself and LOKE?
Of course, LOKE was founded in 2012, primarily as a digital media agency, helping retail and hospitality businesses market themselves. We found a gap in the market being able to provide transparency of customers data and helping them use that data to influence purchase behaviour.
We created an application, which rewarded customers for coming into the business and promoting that business to their social network. That took off. We quickly went national in Australia, expanded into New Zealand, then into Singapore, working with the largest clients in those regions, from clients like Nando’s to Baskin Robbins. We also worked with the largest banks in Australia and Singapore, and they became resellers of our technology.
However, during this period, we continued to innovate and our platform designing features that solely focused on increasing revenue by increasing the average transaction per head, the frequency of transactions and streamlining operational efficiencies. So, after we became leaders in that space, we decided to expand into the UK. I came here two and a half years ago. We now have offices in London and Liverpool. We quickly started to expand into the UK acquiring clients like Casual Dining Group, Brewdog, Creams Cafe, Shake Shack, City Pub Group and many others. Since then, we’ve gotten to the point where COVID has happened and life’s changed dramatically for all of us including LOKE.
How did the story begin for Loke?
I have been involved in a lot of different businesses throughout my life, but a lot of them seem to fall back to the hospitality and retail sector because that’s where my passion lies.
Being an ex-operator myself, I understand the frustrations of these operators. I am also the consumer of these businesses, I love to socialise, go out eating and drinking so I could see where the holes were from a customer perspective. Really what we are trying to achieve with my team was to improve the customer experience, I want to make the customer feels valued and for them to have a better experience when they’re going to these businesses. I know that when I am constantly going to the same businesses, even if it’s a bar or restaurant I like to eventually get to know the staff. They know what drinks I like, they look after me when I bring in more people, it makes me feel value from that organisation, and it creates that loyalty. And so, I wanted to show the industry that loyalty is not just about discounting, it isn’t about discounting at all.
It is about improving the customer experience, creating value and therefore creating an emotional tie with the customer to drive them back in. And by knowing their preferences and who they are, we can then upsell the customer and generate more revenue and satisfaction from that customer.
So we created products to achieve those goals. And what better device at that point in time than the mobile device to facilitate the ability for customers to pay with their phone, to order through their phone, to earn rewards and benefits, and really any touch point within that business digitally we want to help improve. As of now, though, that has significantly been enhanced due to COVID where online has become critical for these businesses, contactless payments, the ability to remove staff members, the ability to order at home or come and pick up is now vital. And our platform can achieve all of these objectives, and therefore COVD has accelerated the importance and need for this type of technology to further enhance that customer experience now.
You did an interview years ago where you predicted that screens might replace individuals, the operators, within retailers and obviously with COVID we’ve seen a glimpse into that becoming a reality. Do you see this being the new normal when it comes to retail and restaurant work?
I think it is inevitable that a percentage of the workforces roles will be removed due to technology in the hospitality and retail sector, but I still believe that the hospitality sector is based on people being hospitable and looking after people and that requires a certain amount of human interaction. If an operator is on the phone taking orders all night, or standing behind the till system entering in the order, they’re not being effective in being hospitable. They are just undertaking tasks that can be done by a piece of technology. And so, by removing that, the time that they spend doing that, they can spend creating better processes, looking after customers, which in turn, drives more revenue. So, yes, some people may lose their jobs, but other jobs will be created. And overall, it will be better for the business and the customer.
This really captures the age old AI debate, people concerned about technology replacing humans, but actually what you are describing is what we all hoped it would be, whereby actually the technology works alongside the human to increase efficiencies and experiences?
Yeah, that’s right. It’s a reallocation of resources more than anything.
What are the similarities or differences you have noticed between the UK and Australia when trying to help business leaders adopt this more data driven approach?
In a lot of cases, the UK was actually behind Australia. There’s been a lot of attempts, but a lot of companies who have failed in delivering technology that does allow them to use data to better their business, specifically within the sector that we work in. Australia is also further ahead in regards to data protection. The GDPR law that came out here recently, has been in Australia for a very long time and we use it very effectively in Australia to communicate with people, to create more efficient systems. A lot of good technology companies have been born out of Australia. And part of the reason is, we’re the bottom of the world, we have a relatively small population and our land is vast. So we need to create technology that can be global from day one and data is a large part of being able to create scalable processes. So, when I came to the UK, there was a lot of fragmented technology here, but no one really delivering anything exceptionally well within our space.
How has 2020 been so far for LOKE?
Funnily enough, my business partner and I go through our vision of the business and the product quite regularly. But at the start of the year, he came to London and we put together an updated roadmap of where we see LOKE and delivery was the number one agenda on that roadmap. We have the foundation of that technology already in place, but we wanted to enhance it significantly.
We have the instore experience nailed, we’re best of breed globally in what we do, but I could see that operators are getting really frustrated with our competitors charging so much for delivery, and taking people’s data, using that data to sell competing brands, or even creating their own brands within dark kitchens to compete with these businesses. So there’s a huge risk for operators in relying on these platforms and because of COVID, and delivery being the only way these businesses can trade I thought there needs to be someone that disrupts the industry, and not only provides a way for people to order or get delivery, but creates a better experience by rewarding the customer, incentivising customer loyalty, allowing operators to use the data to personalise preferences and communication in order to achieve their end goals of customer satisfaction and increased revenue.
What we have is probably the only platform globally that delivers a full ecosystem web and native that focuses from the instore experience, to the point of purchase at the counter, right through to being able to get food delivered right to their house.
What technology stack are you guys running?
Node.js is what we build in, and then we have native applications as well. React and progressive web apps have been a big focus for us recently, as we start to see the trend moving away from people wanting an iphone and Android app to having more flexibility and touch points in their business. So React has become quite a large part of what we’re doing now.
What is it like to be an employee at LOKE right now?
I think the first thing to recognise when you’re working for a startup is, don’t come into this job thinking it’s a nine to five. That’s just not how it works. But don’t think that you’re going to be bored either. You learn a lot being in startup because your job is lateral. You might be hired as a salesperson, but you might end up assisting with client deployment, or you might be throwing parties one weekend, but right now, my staff are used to the fact that they’re working remotely because a few years ago, we were quite progressive in our thinking and wanted our team to have the freedom and flexibility to work when and where they want. And so many of my team would work from home because they might have kids or they might have pets, and they could come into the office when they wanted to.
So we had built a culture of trust, a very close team, we are all friends, but has the freedom to work remotely. And so now when COVID happened, working from home hasn’t impacted us, we’re still at that level of productivity that we’ve always had. However shifting and elevating our product focus to more of a takeaway model it has been quite exciting for the team, but has required a lot of hours, which has been invested in order to meet the demand that we’re experiencing within such a small timeframe. And they’re learning a lot from that, we are all learning a lot from it, but you can’t do it without a good team.
The values that we’ve embedded into LOKE has meant that we have a really cohesive environment, everyone is willing to manage different roles and responsibilities as long as they have flexibility, freedom, and more importantly, a work life balance. If someone says to me, I want to go on leave, my response is always ‘Of course, you should be going on holidays. You should have time off to enjoy life.’We work in the hospitality and retail sector, so naturally the people that we attract are going to be people that like to socialise, travel, eat and drink or be with their friends and family and so there’s going to be times where they might have a night out and not get much sleep and not feel like working in the morning. Cool, just tell me you’re hungover, don’t work that morning, work when you’re ready to work. As long as you’re achieving your objectives and our clients are happy, I need you to be happy as well. You should not have to feel like you are back in school clocking in and out. I think that’s a really bad philosophy when trying to create a platform for people to learn and be the best version of themselves.
What’s the best thing about being an employee at LOKE ?
We want you to enjoy life first and foremost. You should not live to work, you should work to live. Life is not about just working consistently and making money to pay the bills. It is ensuring you are happy and that you feel fulfilled, and that you have time for yourself, your family and your friends and you use work as a means to achieve that. If you find something that you’re interested in, like hospitality and retail and you join a company like LOKE, then you mix your passions with your work and the job becomes enjoyable and you become part of something bigger than the dollars you are making. Finding your passion and having that freedom of flexibility to have a great work life balance is really embedded into what we’re trying to create here.
What is next for the team and the product?
Right now, realistically, we are focused on deploying as many clients as possible with delivery and click and collect technology while they are unable to operate as normal. We’re having such a huge amount of demand globally for our services that we are having to hire more people to keep up with that level of demand.
Many operators have also been contacting us wanting to implement our technology that allows them to create a safe environment for customers and staff. So our in-store technology has become very relevant for them. I’m getting calls saying, ‘we’re thinking about opening our restaurant or pub and we want customers to order directly from a menu at their table and eliminate the need for a staff member, we also want customers to have contactless payments and not to have touch the chip and pin terminal’. That is exactly what LOKE does. So what we’re trying to do first is now to deploy and help businesses, survive while they’re trading on a takeaway model only, and then educate businesses around how to create a safe environment for customers and staff when they start to reopen. And that really will be the next year of our life.
From here, where I see the industry going is, if you look at the key leaders in the space with Domino’s and Starbucks in the US, creating AI platforms that touch every single digital touch point of the customer, whether it be voice assistance, smart watches or your Apple CarPlay, it’s about plugging into all of those points, getting as much transparency as possible, and building tools to predict and influence that customer purchase behaviour. That’s really where our headspace is.
Were people thinking about these things before COVID? Have you seen a mindset shift in terms of people thinking about these types of non-contact approaches?
We’re seeing customers that have had a 300% increase in revenue processed digitally, because of COVID. And so what’s happening is initially, it’s the innovators that adopt the latest technology, it always has been. The good operators will implement it well, and they will be the ones that naturally make the most amount of money and last the longest. Then you have the followers, and we’re in the stage of people starting to follow in regards to adopting our type of technology. And then COVID happened and all of a sudden, were not considered as a nice to have, we are a need.
So every single business, their priority now is we need technology that allows us to have customers order and pay safely. And so it has made them pay attention to who we are and what we do. The great thing is that once they have our technology and realise the value of it, they will never leave it, they will only want to innovate on it, because the hardest part of a project is starting it. And once we’re implemented and integrated it’s only going to add more value from there.
We want small and large businesses to have another avenue to be able to trade safely, and not give so much of their revenue and customer data to these big giants like Deliveroo & Uber Eats, they can come to us, we have a national network of delivery drivers that we work with, and we can provide them technology. We have removed licensing fees and contract periods, to assist them and support the community in staying alive. We have a lot of respect for the companies that are operating during this period because they’re keeping people fed and they’re keeping people employed. They are essential workers to us, and we thank them for that service they’re providing and if we can invest back into that community, their survival means our survival.
And that’s the way the economy can move forward.