Philly-area start-up aims to put a sensor on the tap to measure beer drinking

By: Aswin Mannepalli, STAFF WRITER

Philly.com The Philadelphia Inquirer

CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER The people behind the start-up company TAPP Technologies are (from left) Frank Golding, COO, Joe Callahan, co-founder and CTO, Jamie Robinson, founder and CEO, and Doug Spodak, V.P. of Product.

CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
The people behind the start-up company TAPP Technologies are (from left) Frank Golding, COO, Joe Callahan, co-founder and CTO, Jamie Robinson, founder and CEO, and Doug Spodak, V.P. of Product.

Jamie Robinson got the idea for TAPP while enjoying a Guinness at McShea's, his favorite pub in Ardmore. He wondered whether a sensor placed in a beer tap could help beer makers learn more about their customers and better market their products.

Now, West Conshohocken-based TAPP Technologies wants to provide beer companies with tools to engage consumers between their bar seat and the beer tap. At its heart is a WiFi-enabled sensor placed inside a beer tap that not only reports essential usage data but also enables beer companies to run interactive campaigns to entice drinkers, especially millennials.

TAPP expects to generate less than $250,000 in revenue from recently launched pilot programs with a "leading U.S. premium light beer brand" that recently began in 30 bars in San Diego and 40 bars in New Orleans. "The interest from our pilot partner is so significant we could basically grow from no revenue to seven, eight figures of revenue in one year," Robinson said.

TAPP's products come at a time when traditional brewers are struggling to grow, despite rapidly expanding craft brewers. "Finding ways to activate customers at home or at a bar is extremely critical in this competitive environment," said Wharton marketing professor Patti Williams.

TAPP faces stiff competition in the $25 billion domestic market. Indiana's SteadyServ Technologies, which has partnered with Intel, raised $19.4 million in venture funding. And Tel Aviv's WeissBeerger works with German computer company SAP to provide a similar service. WeissBeerger took $7.5 million from investors. SteadyServ uses a smart device to track weight of the beer while WeissBeerger measures the ounces of beer in any keg.

The sensor's accelerometers - measuring the flow - allow a beer company to monitor a brand's popularity and usage patterns across the network.

Scott Kerkmans, professor and director of the Brewing Industry Operations Program at Metropolitan State University of Denver, calls this "potentially highly valuable information" in a sector that relies on manual, clipboard-style reporting.

TAPP's sensor was developed with West Conshohocken-based Ciright Systems, which manufactures TAPP's sensors and owns part of the company. Robinson noted that TAPP's patents are viable in more than 140 countries; the company hopes to launch in China, India, and Western Europe in the next three years.

The start-up intends to keep hardware costs at less than $500 per unit, with a small installation fee to drive widespread adoption. Monthly subscriptions to the TAPP cloud are expected to drive most of the company's revenue.

Given TAPP's fast growth, Robinson has started discussions with venture capitalists in Silicon Valley and New York. He hopes to leapfrog the early seed and angel rounds to raise the funds from venture capital firms since TAPP has a working product and paying customers.

Venture investment will be spent on expanding the service, and hiring an executive team . Robinson, who has worked as a certified NFL agent, says he has spent $300,000 of his own funds and is adamant that he will not use the new funds to pay himself a salary.

In the future TAPP hopes to entice patrons through interactive games. "We have a countdown clock and empty branded beer glass on TV," he explained. "Every time the selected brand of beer's tap is pulled, the glass on TV fills up in real time."