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IoT Builder Spotlight: Nick Larkins

COO and co-founder, Qsic

Mixing Desk

Qsic: Connecting Brands to the Power of Music

One of the biggest questions on every retailer’s agenda is how to improve in-store experiences for customers. Every subtle detail counts.

Within this context, the team at Qsic has created the world’s only commercial music streaming service with built-in AI to positively influence moods, mindset, and behaviors. Qsic’s smart audio technology now reaches an average of 17+ million people per week in thousands of commercial environments across two continents. Customers include brands like Toyota, WeWork, McDonalds, 7-Eleven, and others that stream music to enhance how people feel in commercial spaces.

Qsic integrates with existing speaker systems and is one of the only native commercial music services available on a number of smart speaker systems including SONOS in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. A flexible API integrates with customers’ BI, CRM, POS, and other systems to help the Qsic AI engine learn what tracks and tempos drive the right outcomes at the right times, and patented multi zone listening technology ensures that music always plays at the right volume.

We sat down with Qsic co-founder and COO Nick Larkins to learn about the Qsic team’s vision for AI enhanced commercial music streaming that helps us better connect with the brands we encounter every day.

 

Let’s start with your entrepreneurial journey. What led you to pursue this path you’ve taken in A/V design?

I went to university and studied audio visual technology and media. Coming out of university, I made my way into a role in a business that designed systems for large-scale venues, schools, and sporting stadiums here in Australia. That was in 2004. I worked for this company until 2007.

This time was a pivotal period when these analog systems were crossing into the digital world. There was so much innovation happening. I got the travel bug and eventually moved to London where I lived for a couple of years and worked for Bloomberg’s television engineering department. I learned how home A/V was becoming increasingly connected through iPad and other touch screens. I decided, when I moved back to Australia, that I wanted to pursue this industry. It fascinated me.

I went to a party and ended up catching up with an old school friend who I hadn’t seen in years. He was in the point of sale systems industry, selling units to the local hospitality industry here. I shared with him what I’d seen in the United Kingdom, and he was fascinated by the idea. He was also ready to make a career change.

So we decided to join our ideas and we both trained up different digital A/V technologies. Eventually, we started creating smart home automation systems and won a few great contracts. We built processes where someone would come home, the lights would turn on, their favourite music would start, and the TV would turn onto their favorite channel. It was pretty cutting-edge at the time.

This business allowed us to evolve from the residential to the commercial space. We began winning business in pubs and restaurants in Melbourne. What we found was that we had developed a name for ourselves in audio, by implementing these high-end systems. We found that businesses were using huge computer systems that required CDs for their music system. There were also some hacked-together streaming services using VPNs that introduced the potential for legal risk.

We couldn’t wrap our minds around how there wasn’t a high end streaming service for the commercial space. Every week, we continued looking into solutions. So we built a prototype and negotiated licensing rights with streaming services to begin offering this solution ourselves. That was in 2013.

 

What were some steps that you took to build upon this original concept?

We started, at first, by working with the hospitality space that was paying exorbitant fees and using old infrastructure. We generated revenue by offering software as a service. We found, as we strengthened our automation capabilities, that we had a pathway to scale. We built exceptional capabilities in control and continuity. Managers changing shifts, for instance, could offer a seamless experience with music.

We started ingesting data from these businesses and using IoT, we could be in direct control with music playing in their commercial environments. As humans, we all know that music is a tangible way to make people happy in an environment. In 2014, we had this vision that everyone was going to be connected.

As the years passed, sensor, data, and connectivity solutions became more frequently available. Now, we’re at a stage where we can begin testing content and concepts with businesses.

 

Can you tell us more about the Qsic solution?

The Qsic product is, essentially, a smart audio speaker that integrates into other products. It is powered and controlled by the Internet. Every Qsic installation has its own unique design, based on the A/V requirements and acoustic considerations of the space.

We install different sensors around to help automate the system and to measure decibel ratings around the store. We can control the speakers individually through the network and increase or decrease volumes as needed. It’s powered through Qsic’s application through the cloud.

The infrastructure that we implement is IP based, so systems within and across departments can easily connect over a network. We are able to log-in and manage these devices remotely, using IoT. We maintain our own connectivity ecosystem, so we’re able to monitor and manage devices even when the Internet goes down.

We’re even trialing Qsic in remote areas. We maintain a direct line of communication to smart audio devices and can adapt to the needs of people on the ground. We can do it all remotely, via the cloud, and control the amount of data that our customers need for updates, support, and system maintenance.

Right now, there are 10,000+ devices that we manage.

 

What has excited you about your journey, so far?

Customer experience is crucial for commercial environments. We’ve found that companies are always looking for new enhancements in this area of their business. Retailers know that convenience is powerful, but experience always wins. If you can provide a unique and powerful experience with your brand, there’s an opportunity to win people over and build stronger relationships with them.

We really enjoy managing the smart audio infrastructure that goes into these stories. That’s where we shine. We’re not in the business of sending out a media player without caring about the infrastructure. We care about every detail, and we make it seamless for these businesses to test our solution.

We’ve worked with a number of sensor technologies as part of Qsic’s retail ecosystem which provides the Qsic platform with context throughout a store’s environment. So we can work with this data to meet people where they are, with audio.

We’re still in our early days and looking forward to experimenting on a deeper level.

 

What advice do you have for fellow IoT developers?

The world is at the beginning of the Goldilocks zone of IoT. Five years ago, it was a real buzzword but it is starting to become a tangible and important industry. Over the next 10 years, it’s going to be huge. I encourage people and businesses to start thinking and planning their strategy for IoT management and infrastructure. The Goldilocks zone is right on our doorsteps.

We are currently exploring ways to develop more insight from the data that we have the potential to collect. At the same time, we are thinking through the ramifications of the data that we choose to collect today.

 

What level of scale have you reached?

We are currently in more than 30 countries. We are currently looking to expand our presence in Southeast Asia, South America, and the United States. Our projections are continuously shifting and growing because our perspective into the market continues to become deeper.

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Check out the case study to learn how Qsic uses Soracom connectivity to help create smart soundscapes for improved commercial experiences.