What’s in store for the kiosk plays?

There are a couple of startups in Colorado that are working on in-store kiosks that provide intelligent touch-screen oriented “guided selling” capabilities to retailers. You’ve probably seen kiosks like these in a few places – they help consumers compare products and make decisions based on their needs. This type of technology is not yet ubiquitous, but these companies hope to change that fact.

kiosktree.pngIt was about a year ago that I first saw KioskTree. Seagate was hosting the CTEK Colorado Entrepreneurship Competition in February of 2006, and KioskTree was the entrant from CU-Denver. This was a college-oriented competition so when I never again heard of or crossed paths with KioskTree, I just figured they had simply died at birth. Then, just recently (randomly, through friends, on the way to a Mammoth game) I had dinner at the soon-to-be-viewless but still very fun Lola with Dan Krueger of KioskTree. Dan told me they’ve been in test mode with an early customer for about a year, and have refined the product based on their feedback. He also said that the next stage for KioskTree is to potentially raise some money and then to recruit a sales force to take the product to the market.

simpledecisions.pngNow, a new company called Simple Decisions has sprung up and is targeting the same market. Simple Decisions seems to have some momentum. It’s being supported by the Bard Center for Entrepreneurship at CU Denver (a curious coincidence that I suspect there is more to) and has an investment from the affiliated Rutt Bridges Venture Capital fund. It was recently founded by Josh Churlik (CEO) who told me that the software can run as a part of the retailers web presence or it can be used to establish an in-store kiosk.

“In either instance the benefit to the consumer is on-demand high quality customer service. While the retailer benefits by providing a consistent level of customer service across multiple channels, driving sales with accurate product recommendations, and lowering the frontline operating costs associated with employee staffing and training.” – Founder & CEO of Simple Decisions – Josh Churlik

Josh wasn’t able to tell me about current customers specifically, but its sounds like they’ve landed a couple of early adopters. At least for now, there appears to be a heavy professional services component where the company customizes the look and feel of the software to match the brand of each retailer it brings on. I would imagine that over time the plan would be to create a more template driven experience.

Josh says Simple Decisions is “looking to raise $200k to $500k in the coming months”.

From an angel investors point of view, both of these businesses are a little tough to get your mind around because of the limited acceptance of in-store kiosks so far, the fuzzy ROI proposition, the very nature of having to depend on or work with hardware, and the large professional services component. These are things that these businesses have to watch out for since they can severely limit their ability to scale. Of course, landing one big fish of the Target or WalMart variety would quiet the nay-sayers.

file under: Blog, Startups