A new Toronto startup is looking to revolutionize how condos and office buildings communicate with tenants – and in the process, provide a new way for downtown retailers to get their messages out to their most frequent and valuable shoppers.
The company, Mona Networks, was co-founded three months ago by Marketing 30 Under 30 alumnus Kofi Gyekye, with a mandate to bring building management and internal communications networks into the new mobile world.
On Thursday, the first Mona network officially launched at the Bay Adelaide Centre in downtown Toronto, featuring content from Brookfield Property Management and retail brands like Jugo Juice, Mucho Burrito, Scotiabank and Shopper’s Drug Mart.
The Mona platform doubles as a community bulletin board and shopper marketing app. People that work in the office building can download the app to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in their work environment. Building management can use it to distribute public notices about ongoing maintenance, art installations or fire drills; retail tenants can use it to advertise sales and offer promotions redeemable directly from the app with QR codes.
It’s similar to the TV messaging system used by a lot of high-end property developments, but with a few key differences. For one, Mona actively engages office workers on their devices. When a user first opens the app, they’re asked to set their messaging preferences — they can choose to receive email, SMS or push notifications, and they can filter notifications based on whether they’re public notices, event invites, or offers.
Mona is also a lot more measurable than closed-circuit internal communications networks. Retailers using the app get a simple dashboard telling them how much uptake
their offers or events are getting, and who their repeat customers are. It even helps retailers follow foot traffic and dwell time in and around their stores — through a partnership with another Toronto startup, Turnstyle, the Bay Adelaide Centre has been outfitted with wifi hotspots that can geolocate Mona users within the building.
Bay Adelaide’s retailers don’t have to pay to advertise on the network, since they already pay into a building-wide marketing budget as part of their tenancy agreement.
“The retailers in commercial real estate space pay into a marketing budget, and that doesn’t go anywhere. It’s been going into posters, notices — so suffice it to say, this is a step up,” said Gyekye.
Until three months ago, Gyekye and his partners Joey Caturay and Clint Robinson led a small digital creative shop called Little Room. Gyekye said the team’s interests have shifted away from ad creative, towards product development and user experience. Though the team is still together, Little Room no longer exists; instead they’ve formed a quasi-incubator that builds digital products, incorporates companies to run them, and spins them off.
Mona is the first of these spin-off companies — once the Bay Adelaide Centre app is complete, Gyekye and Robinson will move on to their next project.
Gyekye said the inspiration for Mona came from work that Little Room did on marketing campaigns for the Bay Adelaide Centre, and that after those campaigns were finished, it was a natural transition to developing Mona with them.
“There was nobody in the space at all,” said Gyekye. “That was a massive void, in our opinion — I spend 30% of my day in the building, but I don’t know what the parameters of my building are. The retailers have no effective way to communicate with the 5,000 people above them.”
Even before the launch, retailers like Jugo Juice and International News were sending him content to include in the app. Gyekye said if Mona sees enough uptake among users, it could be expanded to handle other building management functions like parking, security passes and complaints.
The ultimate goal is to build a technology platform that could be used by office buildings and residences throughout the city, using the Bay Adelaide Centre as a pilot. So far Mona has had fruitful talks with Toronto’s Business Improvement Associations, local trade organizations that support retailers in districts throughout the city. And with mixed-use skyrise development booming in Toronto — and Vancouver, New York and Shanghai, where Gyekye hopes to take the app next — there’s a lot of opportunity in the relatively untouched sector.