October 21, 2019
Category: DT Advantage Fall 2019
BY BREANNA MROCZEK
Step into any elevator in Downtown Edmonton, whether you’re heading to work or going home to your condo for the night, and you’ll likely see some advertisements, maybe even some important building maintenance notices, flash by on a digital screen.
This technology is the work of Fouad El-Masri, the founder of Downtown-based Visio Media. Over eight years ago, El-Masri was shocked to find his car had been towed from his building when it hadn’t been moved for parkade cleaning. El-Masri went to his property manager to complain that he hadn’t received a notice about the cleaning, and suggested the manager put posters in the elevators. It was then that El-Masri had an even more engaging – and ultimately lucrative – idea: living on the 27th floor of the building, he calculated that he spent a minimum of 52 seconds in the elevator every day and would be a captive audience for advertising in the elevator.
It didn’t take long after that inconvenience for El-Masri to develop Visio Media, which he describes as “a tech company that happens to play in the advertising space.” Visio installs digital screens in commercial and residential elevators that can accurately track the number of times an ad is viewed and tailor ads to a person’s gender or age.
Unlike typical out of home advertising options like billboards, flyers and other printed material, Visio Media screens can provide accurate analytics, facilitate A/B testing of ads to measure effectiveness, and can serve targetted ads depending on weather, time of day, or timely events like holidays and sporting events. Visio Media has also developed a propriety, patent-pending method for delivering reliable internet service to elevators.
Advertisers were keen to try out the elevator screens when they launched in 2011, and El-Masri has built a lucrative client base ever since. Admittedly, it wasn’t a tough sell.
Most of Visio’s advertisers were savvy digital marketers who already understood the importance of measuring, tracking and targeting ads and were now looking to measure every ad dollar spent, including out-of-home media campaigns.
“Traditionally, measurability doesn’t exist in the out-of-home world because everything is done by proxy. There is no precise measurement,” says El-Masri. “The online world came and said ‘we can tell you exactly how many people are clicking on your ads.’
“What are doing is bridging that gap between the online and offline world. We’re fortunate that Google, Facebook and LinkedIn and those folks spent the money and the time educating marketers on the importance of a captive audience.”
In offices and co-working spaces all across Downtown, there’s a growing number of successful tech stories like Visio Media. When El-Masri started the company with co-founders Boaz Lau and Nicolette Leonardis in 2011, the trio initially worked from Leonardis’s kitchen table, though they quickly moved into Startup Edmonton as some of its first tenants.
“We spent about two years there and obviously learned a lot. [Startup Edmonton founders] Ken Bautista and Cam Linke were just super awesome mentors and had a lot of experience in the world at the time too.”
As Visio Media gained more clients and began expansion into Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver, they outgrew their space in Startup Edmonton and moved into an office in Capilano. In September, El-Masri and his team of ten returned Downtown to a new head office in Petwin Tower, and they’re excited to be back.
“It just makes sense for us to be here, close to our clients, close to our network of screens,” El-Masri says. “We’re a business that relies on being in high rises. Also, the whole vibe of being Downtown, where you can walk across the street to a restaurant or a coffee shop and meet with a client, is always very helpful for us.”
As one of the major players in the residential and commercial advertising spaces across Canada, El-Masri says Visio Media now has a lot of attention from U.S. investors, as well as Canadian investors that, according to El-Masri, “previously were not very savvy about investing in tech in Edmonton, but were more interested in the oil and gas world.” In anticipation of international expansion in 2020, Visio Media will be rebranding under the name Vertical City later this year.
After eight years in Edmonton’s tech community, El-Masri has enjoyed being part of and witnessing its tangible growth. “I love what’s happening Downtown, and that’s one thing that’s very unique about Edmonton,” El-Masri says.
“I’m in Toronto a lot. I’m in Vancouver a lot. But in Edmonton, I feel like the Downtown community supports each other. Edmonton is a very good test market. It’s easy to have conversations with others about something you want to test. We took a shot and a lot of our properties and a lot of our advertisers took a chance on us, and advertisers that were working with us five years ago are still working with us and referring us, which is awesome.”