Interacting with Brands – James Giglio, CEO of MVP Interactive
From virtual and augmented reality to interactive kiosks and beyond, technology has impacted every facet of our lives. The emergence of these platforms present an opportunity for brands to create immersive experiences for consumers. James Giglio and the team at MVP Interactive are leading the way in tech-driven brand experiences. In this episode, James provides his insight into the way technology is changing these brand interactions and how it enables deeper connection with consumers. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!
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James Giglio: This idea of consumer engagement and levering alternative methods to connect with an individual as a brand, it just makes sense.
Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all, this is Real-World Branding. I’m Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. Happy Thanksgiving. I hope everyone had a terrific holiday of football, and gluttony, and family, and we were dark last week given some deadlines as well as some time off, but we are back with a vengeance and we’re proud to bring you an interview with James Giglio, who is the founder and CEO of MVP Interactive. It’s a great entrepreneurial story, but also a glimpse into the world of consumer engagement.
They call themselves the consumer engagement technology company, but what that means, at least today, is bringing really interactive and fun experiences to sports and other special event venues on behalf of brands. So, that’s Bud Light, that’s a Budweiser, that’s Coca-Cola, Cox Communications, other leading consumer facing brands and whether that’s at a sports venue, like a ballpark or an entertainment venue, MVP Interactive is a pioneer in bringing forth these experiences that really engage and activate consumer interest and connection. Enjoy hearing from James.
Bill: Welcome James Giglio. Did I get that right?
Bill: Nice. You were coaching me. James is the founder and CEO of MVP Interactive. He is with us here at Finch Brands Global HQ. James, we’re honored to have you and thanks for your time.
James: My pleasure. I’m happy to be here.
Bill: As we typically start, I think the folks on the other end of this would really enjoy hearing about your backstory and your journey up to building this really, really interesting company, which we’ll certainly get into, but tell us a bit about the about your journey.
James: Sure. Well, despite where we are today I had an early career in finance. In particular it was real estate finance and trading mortgage backed securities for independent small investment firms up in the New York area. I felt that I have always had … Well, each position was always either managerial role of business development and I think, like most people are, some people kind of go through their journey – you fall into the box, you graduate college and you kind of go through your ranks and what have you – but I always felt that I was pretty good at what I did in terms of connecting with who our end clients were and all of that good stuff.
I had a career trading mortgage backed securities. Right around, I think history tells this story pretty well, but mid 2000s I was starting to field calls from the Goldman Sachs of the world asking me well, a little James Giglio, my opinion on what the market was doing and I thought that was a pretty … I mean, it was fascinating when Goldman Sachs is asking you the questions. I think that kind of … lead you to a head space-
Bill: It’s like when your doctor says, “So what do you think about this?”
James: That’s right. Exactly. To use the term that I’ve told people in the past is it was at that moment that I felt that I needed to get off the beach before the tsunami hit. I started to explore some other creative outlets. I always felt, on top of my business development and/or managerial experience, I always felt a need for some level of creativity and finance is not exactly the industry that allows for that. So, I completely made a career change into the advertising world. I was like a fourth or fifth employee of a very small boutique out of home advertising agency in New York.
I did that for a few years, but what I started to see there was the absolute or the pre-trend, if you will, the need for technology and using that as a conduit to consumer engagement. I started to see some interest in the early 2000s, mid 2000s, mobile apps, the iPhone, all of that good stuff where brands really saw the phone as a medium of communication, the way traditional advertisement is, like the TV.
It was there that I realized the company was doing it wrong and they weren’t really taking advantage of the opportunity. I was actually down in Tampa with my now business partner, who is our CTO, Anthony DiPrizio at MVP Interactive.
We were on an ad pitch together and I pretty much pitched him this idea and said, “Listen, I think we really need to productize this technology and really create a conduit to connection using technology.” And we’re talking facial recognition and gesture, all the popular technology that has happened since then. Snapchat probably wasn’t an even a thought at that timeframe. So, on that note I’m digressing a little bit, but we, despite using the very similar filter facial recognition technology, we’ve been doing that on a kiosk much longer than Snapchat on an app. It’s bittersweet.
Bill: You should go public.
James: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. We didn’t go mobile at first, but in any event, I felt targeting the sports venues and sports community was a perfect piece of real estate to not take advantage. To really leverage a fan’s passion for the brand infinities that they’re following – whether it’s the team and the brands associated and sponsors with that team.
But I couldn’t build the technology on my own, obviously. Working with Anthony for about four or five years at the agency I knew that we had a skillset and capability to really produce these pieces of equipment, if you will, and this technology.
We had our meeting and then while we were in Tampa I realized, “Why don’t I just take advantage of this time? There’s three sports properties here.” I cold called each of them and the Tampa Bay Rays took my call. We went in there, full disclosure, working for another company, pitching MVP Interactive.
We didn’t have a name, obviously. We didn’t have a product, but we had a vision. So, I pretty much sold the vision to the CMO of the Ray’s and his response was, “This is exactly what we’re trying to figure out, creating more of an in-venue experience. We want to have this engagement and theme park environment and technology like this sounds really amazing.”
I use that as pretty much my first piece of discovery and I would say that was in February of 2012, February or March. I spent a couple more months doing some research and in May 2012 I launched MVP Interactive. I did it.
Bill: Starting with two or one and the half or when you made the jump or-
James: It was me and a desk. That’s how I always tell the story. Anthony, unfortunately at the time, he was unable to take the leap and he wanted to work through his contract and whatnot with the agency. I just took the plunge and at that time wrote a business plan and got the first website up and running and started my outreach.
We spent a solid six months prototyping our first product, which is called the morphing station. I was mentioning it earlier, it’s basically now, for most people that understand this, it’s a Snapchat kiosk, but we were a bit of ahead of the curve in what we were doing there. But we were using the same technologies where facial recognition, gesture input and multi-touch screens and what have you.
We had a very rudimentary, sorry for the pun, but MVP, the minimal viable product, in our prototype. I still don’t know how or why, but the executive … What was his title at the time? He was the executive global marketing vice president or something along those lines for the NBA, took our meeting. So I pitched him and he said, “There’s something here, but I’m going to pass you over to my team.”
He made an introduction to some of the other marketing folks at the NBA and they said, “Listen, this sounds great. We don’t know you. We know you’re a startup. We’re not going to pay you, but if you’re able to take your equipment out to the All-Star Game in Houston we’ll give you space on the floor.”
The NBA does a great job with producing fan events. Yeah, it’s called the Jam Session and it’s literally like 24 hours for three days straight and it is a casino-like experience. We weren’t on the directory. We didn’t have an icon on the map, nothing, but what we did benefit from was being positioned right next to the autograph stage.
Bill: Oh, that’s cool.
James: As your Hakeem Olajuwon’s, your Yao Ming’s were getting ready for their signatures and autographs and all of that, folks had to walk past our machine. By the end of the event we registered thousands and thousands of users. Our social impression amplification reached higher than what the NBA was promoting. It was an amazing case study and we were able to literally sign two clients on the trading floor right there. BBVA Compass, which is the league sponsor bank and the Houston Dynamo, which is their MLS team.
That’s really what launched our company. It was great validation and no better feeling than risking it. We didn’t have much money in the bank when we went there, but we came back with a six-figure contract.
Bill: That’s terrific. Fast forwarding to where we are today, I know there’s offices here in Philadelphia as well as in New York and maybe even beyond. How many folks do you all have?
James: We’re a full-time staff of 10 and then we have a bunch of developers based on project flows that we call to from time to time. So, we’re headquartered, as you mentioned, here. We do have a presence in Manhattan. It provides a nice show room on Fifth Avenue and we just opened up our West Coast office via WeWork, which is awesome model. We have a West Coast presence as well so we’re able to really extend our reach that way.
Bill: MVP stands for a lot of things, but in at least in company parlance, it seems to be motion, virtual, play. Obviously, the sports connection. The minimal viable product early. Just looking at some of these case studies, I mean, aside from the fact that many of these teams I detest, like the Redskins and the Yankees.
James: We love all our clients.
Bill: Of course! There’s quite a range of utilizations, there’s quite a range of leagues and brand properties. What is the value to brands? You talked a little bit about what the NBA might have been looking for at the time, but of this kind of immersive on-site, what is the pitch to the brand owners for the impact of this?
James: I think it’s a perfect time in marketing right now because consumer engagement is such a focal point and I think what brands are starting to realize through the use of technology, not only ours, but just our general day-to-day technology that we use as human beings and consumers, is moving away from traditional forms of media, like your television commercials, like your billboards, where traditionally that’s what you had and there was KPM’s and there was research based on that, but where our society is moving towards and marketing to millennial provides a perfect opportunity for experiences.
Each client’s vary. Some look for put through rates and we need to churn these users in 30 seconds or 60 seconds or what have you. Other clients look for email addresses and user information. Other clients don’t care about that and when they say, “You know what, we just want our brand associated to this awesome experience. I think the global brands like Anheuser-Busch’s, your Coca-Cola’s of the world are moving away from their traditional signage model of advertisements where just slapping their logos all over the place right into, “Hey, let’s take advantage of our presence and our product at a music festival, at a sports stadium, at a tent-pole event, at a lifestyle theme park.” So on and so forth, where it feels less intrusive.
I think generationally, I think the younger generations and millennials and what have you, they’re more averse to traditional forms of advertisement, and listen, advertising is not going to go away, we all know that, right?
Bill: No, of course not.
James: But it’s how you remove the pop-up ad experience of advertising that really bodes well for us in creating these experiences.
Bill: Right. It looks like, just looking at some of the greatest hits here and they’re really awesome, there’s a couple different models here. You mentioned what Tampa Bay was trying to do back in the day with the Ray’s making a live event experience interactive and fun and different to increase presumably the value of a ticket and of an experience and the connection, everything else. Then you see brands like you did the Bud Light social lounge with the Redskins this past year, this is a way for a corporate brand to express their values through something that’s fun and in-person. You can easily see why this connects.
James: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a phenomenal case study because from a brand message standpoint, you’re Bud Light, you want to sell beer, right? That’s your goal, but you’re not going to sell beer by having a sign on the concourse.
Bill: Reminding someone that you’re available.
James: You’re available, but how you’re going to sell beer is to create a destination point and you’re going to have engagement, you’re going to have people loitering in a particular area. Oh by the way, here’s a bar and a cooler that you can enjoy a beverage while you’re interacting with virtual reality.
We’re doing all of that great stuff. It’s a phenomenal case study and, again, I think Anheuser-Busch is ahead of the curve in terms of brands creating these 4D experiences.
Bill: Right. We know that technology marches on to your point and I’m sure it’s, even it’s 2012, it’s transformed itself completely. Lot of ink and pixels being spent talking about the potential of VR and AR, virtual reality and augmented reality. What are you seeing or projecting or envisioning when it comes to how what you do becomes even more?
James: Yeah, yeah. Well, I guess my industry input on where I think AR and VR is going. I think despite VR being a little bit more I guess earlier released I think AR is far more scalable and it’s going to be a lot more pervasive in our everyday lifestyle than VR at this point. I think through the advent of Apple’s ARKit it’s going provide developers like us a host of opportunities and engagement points. I think the success of Pokemon Go is a clear indication of how scalable AR can be and how well it can work seamlessly into your day-to-day.
VR, despite our production capabilities and we love doing VR and producing, it’s still very much feels like the Betamax machine or the VCR where it’s a race to the bottom on the hardware. You’re going to see iterations of the LaserDisc, then the Blu-ray Disc. From a hardware standpoint, I think from a consumer, a residential grade consumer engagement, I think is going to be kicked out the affordability a few more years before it’s in every household. But I do think it allows for folks like us, more on the commercial side, to develop these brand experiences through VR, because it is truly a one-on-one experience that gives you access to otherwise inaccessible locations or experiences.
Bill: Well, we’ve even seen base level consumer applications in AR and VR, which happens seemingly rather quickly. Super interesting stuff and I’m sure that you and your team are licking your chops when it comes to what will be possible in the next while.
James: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. One of the things it’s funny though, because you do realize technology moves extremely fast and I think what we’re seeing is an opportunity for AR and VR interest to loop us around into other technologies that we’ve been doing for the last five years. Oh wow, we can, to your point, add all of these ingredients, so to speak, into an experience that provides this extremely unique experience for users.
Bill: Supercool. Whether it be MVP itself or just technology in general, what are some new things that we ought to keep our eyes out for in the near future, either that you can share about MVP’s up to, but just about how technology is changing in advancing the way you’re able to deliver it? What’s next?
James: I guess that’s a two-prong question. I can lend you some insight in terms of what we’re doing and what we’re looking to roll out in 2018, but I think as an industry and society, I think what Amazon is creating is really spectacular and frightening at the same time. Where this automated lifestyle, whether it’s using artificial intelligence or making your life easier through technology is fascinating to me. What concerns me on the technology end is the amount of extrapolated data for the user and this is coming from the producer side of things where I know what’s obtainable in these engagements.
Respecting personal privacy and all of that good stuff, I think, is my slight concern. But I think this is the way that it can change our lifestyle, whether it’s the Lyft’s of the world, the Amazon’s of the world and this artificial intelligence driver, if you will, that’s going to change the way we experience our day-to-day.
As far as MVP Interactive goes, we’re really excited about our media network vision and plan. What we’re looking to do is create one of the first experiential media networks in venues so it’ll be a scalable cross-country network of interactive products, inside stadiums that are going to become more and more commonplace through the game time experience.
We are in this stage of acquiring our early adopters. We’re about 10 properties in right now where we’re really flipping the model in terms of how corporate sponsorship teams have traditionally sold inventory in their stadiums. I guess that’s a lot of insider jargon, but the best way to put it is we are creating the concourse level jumbotron using all of these immersive experiences that we’re giving the teams availability to sell sponsorship onto these units.
One of the things that we’ve learned … and I’m digressing, I apologize for that. One of the things that we’ve learned over the past few years in focusing on sports is despite the billion dollar valuations, despite the million dollar contracts, properties spend very, very little on outside of grass root marketing efforts on this type of technology.
Brands absolutely love it and will spend the money and use and work with the team in a symbiotic relationship, but the team themselves really didn’t have an opportunity to make money on connecting the brands to the vendors, so to speak. We flip that model where we’re providing the property a new piece of inventory that they can sell and earn revenue off of.
So far the response has been tremendously positive. We’re excited about that. That’s what we’re up to, and again, with every technology that you have described here earlier, we’re going to encompass one singular unit that is able to produce all of that.
Bill: That’s supercool. Nice. In your role as a manager and a business builder and a brand builder in your own right, what have been some of the areas of particular focus and interest for you in building MVP Interactive?
James: I think on the human resource side the biggest … Not to discredit any MBA or the value in … Again, that was always an interest of mine, getting an MBA, but I could say over the last five years starting a business, working through all the nuance and details of all of that has been the best education I ever had in my life.
Bill: School of Hard Knocks.
James: Yeah, exactly. It sounds so cliché, but it’s really true because I can’t imagine what I’ve learned or entrepreneurs or even yourselves, working in an agency like this, that an MBA can teach you. A lot of that is the human resource element. I think what’s intrigued me the most is really valuing others that believe in the vision despite the lack of luxury or corporate benefits and things of that nature.
Being able to build a team, maintain a team and have them as equally as passionate to what we’re doing and building and seeing the long-term value in that has been a really fascinating experience for me. On that side there’s been a … I’ve just loved every minute of that.
What’s not so glamorous, trying to raise money for a startup and people poking holes through your dream and your vision and what have you and then the ups and downs of what finances look like and keeping the bootstrap, all the classic stories.
I think we’re going to get to a point … we’re very sports centric right now and I don’t think that we’re ever going to lose focus, but I do see the opportunity to build this very divisional technology company where we have that media network up top, we have a VR production studio on the seventh floor, on the sixth floor we have experiential marketing and event style productions and so mobile apps, things of that nature, because what we’re seeing now is, “Hey, you guys did this, are you able to do this?” Absolutely. If we haven’t done it before we’re going to give it a shot for sure. I think the long-term vision and where we see this going is that multi-tiered technology offering. Maybe there’s a rebrand that we can work with you guys after we move away from MVP, but yeah.
Bill: We’ll do it for 10% less…
James: There you go. There you go.
Bill: I mean, to your point, the company describes itself as a consumer engagement technology company.
James: That’s right.
Bill: That is a pretty clear blueprint for seemingly what you’re into and what you’re chasing and what you’re after. Your path is, your personal path, as you described it to us, is fascinating and full of twists and turns in decisions and tough days and great days, I’m sure. As someone who’s who reached this point, I’m sure some of our listeners are inspired by this. Any words of wisdom that you want to share that have kind of become important to who you are as a business person and a person?
James: Yeah. Well, again, I’m seeing this through an entrepreneurial lens and so I’ll have to answer it that way. Knowing that internally I always felt very entrepreneurial, but I never necessarily had the plan or a direct pathway and I don’t know many people who. I mean, there’s a handful of people, the 20-year-old success stories and all of that, but I think what I constantly tell myself and others is the moment you find your passion that is coupled with a plan you’re on the right path.
I think that, above anything else, that’s how I define MVP and what I’m doing. I’ve never been as passionate about something in my life than this, but I also had a plan. I’ve been passionate about things before, but I was a clueless or I didn’t have the plan, I didn’t have the vision.
When you can couple those two things I think you’re … And it doesn’t have to be starting your own business, but whatever your interest is, whatever you’re passionate about, if you can form a plan of action to succeed or at least go down that path I think that’s a real positive road. It won’t be easy. I’m not going to disillusion anyone with that, but to me, I wake up every day the same way that I woke up in May 2012, on the first day and I go to sleep-
James: Yeah. Right. Yeah. So, the passion is still there.
Bill: What is it about … Sorry I’m interrupting, about what it is that you’re doing that really lights you up? Obviously building the company, obviously the entrepreneurial piece, obviously the opportunity for your life and everything else, but is there a particular ingredient here that’s just supercool to you?
James: I just think it makes sense. I remember thinking back maybe in March of 2012 trying to talk myself out of this like, “This is a shitty idea. Who do you think you are? You’re not going to be able to do that.” And I couldn’t, and in a weird way I kind of make a lot of decisions that way. If I can’t talk myself out of something, because I am fairly analytical, I think, but I couldn’t talk myself out because it just made sense and it still makes sense five years later.
I think technology is … in the way brands are thinking about marketing and advertising. It still makes sense and it’s going to make sense 10 years from now. Is it going to be same technology? No, but this idea of consumer engagement and leveraging alternative methods to connect with an individual as a brand, it just makes sense.
Bill: People dying out for that. Sorry, I interrupted you. You were sharing your words of wisdom and that was one. I don’t know if there were others that you had or if that pretty much sums up your philosophy.
James: I think that really … Yeah, I mean, that really sums it up.
Bill: That’s great.
Bill: Good. James, thank you. MVP Interactive is super cool. We spend a lot of time in this space talking about what it takes to build strong and durable brands and connect with people and as part of that endeavor what you all are doing is really kind of ground level where these connections get forged like this. It’s the closest to the sun way to connect with folks and it’s super interesting I would imagine. I can just imagine given how technology is marching on, how much cooler it’s even going to get as time continues to pass.
James: Yeah. And we’re going to be challenged with keeping up with that and innovating and not really losing sight of what’s cool now isn’t necessarily going to be cool in 10 years, but there’s going to be something cool that we’re going to do.
Bill: Right, right. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time and insight and congrats on all the success so far. We’ll be watching what happens next.
James: Thank you.
Bill: Thanks to James, a supercool guy at a really cool company. We’ll be very excited to see all the new things as they happen. MVP has been fun to watch and certainly will be in the future. Three ways, as always, to give us a little bit of support here at Real-World Branding. One is let’s keep this dialogue going. Twitter is probably the best way @billgullan or @FinchBrands. We’d love to hear feedback on the shows that we’ve had, interesting topics for future guests or one big idea podcast where we talk about something in particular.
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