For this engineer, a triple Skoop (with patience on top)

Slow and steady: It took a while, but 2007 mobile-marketing startup Skoop! is finding its way, according to CEO Dan Giacopelli. (Photo by Bob Giglione)
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Ten years in operation, offices on two continents, employees and partners on four, a step ahead of the planet’s most lucrative digital-marketing technologies – and for all intents and purposes, a startup.

That’s how founder and CEO Dan Giacopelli describes Skoop!, an interactive-marketing-services provider with a multifaceted menu of scalable programs for retailers, salons, restaurants and just about any business whose customers might happen to carry a cellphone.

Headquartered in Plainview, Skoop! has a sales office in England and “technical resources” across India and the Americas, including some longtime contributors Giacopelli dubs “captive consultants.”

And it has a lengthy history. But the company still thinks and acts like a startup, according to Giacopelli, with just four full-time employees – including one in the UK – and a corporate ledger that didn’t show a profit until 2015.

Skoop!’s early-stage nature is perhaps best evidenced by the careful development of its brand-new vertical market, the third since the startup launched in 2007. Like other re-imaginings of his original concept, Giacopelli – an engineer with a history of moderate entrepreneurial successes – based this latest pivot on observable marketplace trends.

After earning a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University – “back when it was in Farmingdale,” he noted – Giacopelli worked as a junior engineer for a few years at Hazeltine Corp., a defense electronics company later absorbed by Virginia-based BAE Systems.

He launched his first company in 1982: EMC Controls, a Wyandanch-based manufacturer of early micro-controls used in “proto-robotics,” according to the entrepreneur. Two years later, he launched his second: Uniondale-based Valinor Electronics, which customized computer controls for retail-level stage and display lighting.

After three years, Giacopelli sold Valinor’s IP to Mosler Safe Co., a security-equipment manufacturer with a history tracing back to 1874. Mosler Safe ultimately folded in 2001, but in the late ’80s desired Valinor Electronics’ proprietary computer controls for its emerging electronic-security business – and Giacopelli had “my first successful exit” as a CEO.

With one winning venture tucked under his belt, Giacopelli became director of engineering for Huntington-based surveillance and communications specialist Telephonics Corp., where his primary mission was fleshing out the company’s then-nascent commercial-wireless capabilities.

He and his 30-member development team “taught ourselves everything from the ground up,” Giacopelli said, working their way through “the analog mobile-phone era.”

“Bag-mounted phones,” he added. “Car phones. The very early days of the industry, when it was all new and exciting.”

A prime lesson learned, according to Giacopelli, was that it “wasn’t in Telephonics’ DNA to become a cellphone maker” – but the contractor had some amazing capabilities in terms of developing new technological uses for cellular communications.

When Telephonics executives rebuffed his suggestions that they focus their energies in that direction, Giacopelli – with several ex-Telephonics engineers in tow – launched his next private venture, the circa-1993 startup Wireless Domain, a tech-design firm headquartered in Hauppauge.

Wireless Domain was an instant hit, according to its founder, racking up “$5 million to $6 million in design contracts in the first three months.” It also attracted the attention of Telular Corp., a Chicago-based telecommunications and automation-solutions provider.

Telular Corp. was a Wireless Domain client at first, but the two companies “ended up merging,” according to Giacoppelli, who became Telular’s executive VP, chief technology officer and second-largest stockholder. He’d stay with the company until 2007, helping Telular build a $100 million sales portfolio largely through cellular-phone products “suitable for tough environments and underdeveloped places,” Giacopelli noted, and related tech.

Going soft: The future wasn’t in wireless hardware, says Giacopelli.

By the mid-2000s, however, low-cost Asian manufacturers were already muscling in on Telular Corp.’s international markets, and Giacopelli saw the writing on the wall. The cellular hardware-design ship had sailed, he said, so he decided to “reinvent myself,” this time by leaving Telular and creating a software startup focused on mobile marketing.

“I wanted to stay in wireless,” he told Innovate LI. “But I didn’t want to make hardware anymore.”

Skoop! was touch-and-go from the start. It launched “pre-iPhone,” Giacopelli noted, when “mobile marketing meant text messaging, and people were still paying by the message.” And it launched just in time for the Great Recession, when retailers – mobile marketing’s bread-and-butter – desperately closed ranks.

“It was very difficult,” Giacopelli noted. “Not only were we a startup with a brand-new product people didn’t really understand yet, but we had that horrific economic situation.

“Retailers were in a foxhole,” he added. “We had a very steep learning curve, at the same time our potential customers didn’t want to put money into anything.”

Skoop!, which actually flipped the switch on its first mobile platform in 2008, tread water for several lean years, building mobile websites and text-messaging apps and performing other tasks “not high enough up on the value scale,” according to Giacopelli, who sought “the next level of application sophistication.”

As the economy slowly corrected and mobile-marketing technology evolved, “we went with it,” the engineer said, until there came a tipping point: Retailers went all-in on wireless niceties like loyalty-rewards programs and mobile-payment options, and Skoop! – leveraging established technical and professional networks – pounced.

“Our core products turned out to be the channels for the higher-level services we now provide,” Giacopelli said. “Having weathered the storm, our products were rather mature at that point, and ready for large-scale deployment.

“It all kind of jelled.”

In 2015, Skoop! finally put some black ink in that ledger, allowing Giacopelli to focus on what is now his late-blooming startup’s third distinct vertical – licensing Skoop’s proprietary technologies to third parties in non-competitive industries (a fro-yo franchiser who wants to run a loyalty program through 50 shops, for instance).

The UK sales office, meanwhile, is finalizing a deal with a major Japanese point-of-sale retail-terminal manufacturer, with Giacopelli anticipating a “distribution arrangement that will cover a large part of that planet.”

Starting with a $200,000 investment to cover incorporation fees and initial development costs, Giacopelli estimates he was into his fourth enterprise for “at least $5 million” before he turned a profit. Now, it seems the investment – and the patience – are paying off.

“We’re a startup three times over,” Giacopelli said. “But now, things are going great.”

Skoop!

What’s It? Customized mobile-marketing software

Brought To You By: Patient engineer Dan Giacopelli

All In: $200,000, self-invested by Giacopelli, for software development and basic startup costs

Status: A step ahead (better late than never)


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