It seems WiFi is everywhere, even in Rickshaws. For businesses, providing free WiFi is no longer an option but a necessity to attract the connected. But, more or less, it’s a one-way street. For a free connection to the world, the provider is getting nothing in return. Can this free access be branded and capitalized? Bilal Athar, Founder and CEO of Wifigen, is on a quest to help businesses answer this question.
Wifigen is a Plan9 incubated startup that allows businesses to offer branded WiFi to its customers. When you walk into a coffee shop, connect to its free WiFi and fire up the browser, you see a boring page asking you to accept terms and login as a guest. With Wifigen, instead of the boring login page, you see a branded page with the most convenient way to login — social ID — such has Facebook, Twitter and Google.
Big Guy vs. Little Guy
In the U.S., Starbucks (the big guy) has a variation of branded WiFi. Once logged in as a guest, it takes the user to a branded page that has weather, name of the location, social media links, a search box, and local news. A local coffee shop (the little guy), can now provide a similar experience with Wifigen as the process is automated and the integration is seamless. In fact, with social login, Wifigen is more effective because it automates the call to action.
“You do not need to ask each and every customer to check in or follow you on twitter, instead you simply link your Facebook page and Twitter account to Wifigen’s cloud-based dashboard and the Access Point takes care of everything,” explains Athar. Access Point is the product that Wifigen ships to its customers after registration which works with existing WiFi.
To understand the data collected, Wifigen provides businesses access to analytics dashboard. Invaluable data about the users, 100% opt-in, is available such as demographics and history of logins. Besides that, restaurants can also opt to display menu and take orders.
Once upon a time
In early 2014, Athar was working on multiple products in the internet space. Their came a time when he decided that it would be better to focus on just one — Wifigen. It wasn’t easy going at first, “It was hard time as I had faced a major loss and barely had enough for general expenses,” says Ather. To provide little cushion while he pursued Wifigen, Ather worked as a freelancer. As it turns out, the world of freelancing opened many doors for Ather.
Melissa Peters, co-founder of Wifigen, connected with Ather on Freelancer.com. He helped her with some projects and developed a good working relationship. Later, he spoke to her about his new product Wifigen and few months later she came on board. At the same time, Ather formed a team and hired a longtime contact Umar Mailk as CTO and Muhammad Shoaib as a software developer.
In Pakistan, it’s unusual for startups to get funding at such an early stage. Defying the odds, Wifigen raised an undisclosed amount from John Patrick, a prominent ex-IBM executive and investor with a keen interest in WiFi, valuing the startup at $1 Million. “I have been an enthusiast for WiFi for many years. My blog posts about WiFi date back to 2002. I remain optimistic about WiFi and believe it has great potential still remaining,” notes Patrick.
He believes that WiFi can play a prominent role in emerging market economies as it changes the dynamics of information accessibility. “WiFi is empowering to people. Wifigen looks like an opportunity to spread that empowerment in Pakistan and beyond,” states Patrick.
Though the product is currently only available in New Zealand, Athar informs me that due to immense demand, he might be considering launching in Pakistan before he ventures into neighboring Australia.
For businesses, Wifigen’s branded WiFi provides an opportunity to increase social capital and gain invaluable insights for targeted marketing. For consumers, it provides an easy way to login and earn perks and discounts for being a loyal customer. It’s a win-win.
The one-way street is no longer one way, there’s oncoming traffic.