Living in the Creative Zone: Anders Härén, CTO at Leeroy

Living in the Creative Zone: Anders Härén, CTO at Leeroy

Living in the Creative ZoneTransforming the World One Idea at a Time is a collection of interviews with international figures driving change forward through purpose and passion projects. For the next year these interviews will publish on the platform, the complete e-book is available in 2018.

Writer Jody Turner interviews associate Anders Härén, a digital technologist, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Leeroy an innovative retail intelligence group based in Sundsvall, Sweden.


Anders, you and I met at Great Space incubator/coworking space in Sundsvall Sweden last fall, when you took the leap into a startup.

Yes, last fall two of the founders invited me in, I was compelled by the startup idea, the venture is amazing.

As I started thinking about solving their current problems I knew I was past the point of no return. I left my current role at a digital media company and I joined a digital tech startup called LEEROY.

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What is Leeroy?

We are a re-start up. We began 8 years ago with building a solid reputation with In-Store communication through digital signage. Last year we acquired MPS – one of Sweden’s leading companies in mobile loyalty solutions. Thus the ecosystem is now complete and by combining these two on one platform we can offer the merchant 360 degree communication and insights in channels they have 100 percent control over. We are leaving the traditional, loud media behind, and instead work with our customers to build and maintain loyalty in new and innovative ways. We are doing creative retail intelligence.

Google and Facebook pocket 85 percent of online ad revenue but in physical stores it’s still a wide open playing field ripe for innovation.

We call ourselves the merchant’s best friend because we believe that we need to help merchants create better experiences for their customers. By UX and big data we do have deep knowledge about how the merchant’s customers behave but if we can’t find that sweet-spot where customer goals meet business goals, then eventually there can be no profitable business

According to our recent research it costs 5 times more to acquire new customers than retaining the ones you already have. Newspaper advertising, direct mail, and radio commercials are the most irritating aspects of media money making. Online banners and unskippable video pre-rolls? Forget it. Annoying. Does brand irritation work?


Retail and Brand Experiences

From what I understand, you care about the end user but have also flipped user experience to include how merchants catch up so they won’t be left behind.

In the early days of e-com there was a lot of talk of online retailers replacing brick and mortar stores. Today we know otherwise. According to our research 85 percent customers till like to shop in physical stores. Instead we are seeing best practices from e-commerce like big data and advanced analytics, and technical innovations like beacons, mobile payment and augmented reality becoming a part of the physical, on-site experience. Although people prefer in-store experiences, the physical marketplace needs to be reinvented. Many of us are growing accustomed to personal experiences and smart technology. We are expecting more.

Retailers need to be intuitive about customer needs, no more shouting with a megaphone or people will abandon you.

We help the end user enjoy their shopping or restaurant experience by helping the merchants service their customers better. What if your customers have better technology than you do? We are giving old systems and structures a new lease on life while we innovate new ones because today we have to do both.

Can you give us examples?

To make a better experience for the end user we need to give the merchant better tools without the devious catch that usually comes with living on someone else’s platform. We capture and synthesize data, create insights, and new ways you can reach out to your clients on their own terms for better results. We help merchants access customer insights in a positive way without intruding on personal integrity. This is important.

We twist traditional big screen communications in malls or in stores and we help create relevant and exciting content — automatically. By combining access to product databases and graphical assets we automatically create, render and publish image or video campaigns that pinpoint the right user context. We see that users have no problem with formats such as Google Adwords or Facebook ads which tells us that the need for expensive, bureau design is dropping in favor for automatic ads that can adapt to a variety of screens, and to contextual factors such as time, weekday, weather, etc.

We have sensors on many of our displays and in several stores to determine how customers behave and respond. An example of this is a camera that tracks your demographic and eye movements without actually storing who you are. We do not store any of this personal data, instead they are aggregated and used as fuel to improve our behavioral models. Our various sensors give us feedback on whom saw what message and how they reacted and these insights are very valuable to the merchant. Soon we will know which 50 percent of marketing is wasted and which actually delivers Return on Investments (ROI).

Next up is the smartphone. We work with big clients in the Nordics such as Espresso House. They have increased loyalty by 20 percent with our app loyalty system focused on pinpointing the right offer to the right person at the right time. With over 700K app downloads and approx. 14K transactions every day we have had the opportunity to test our product in big scale. Leeroy have been fortunate to work closely with Espresso House, designing the CMS and the marketing automation rules so that one person can handle all the marketing for a big coffee chain in four countries with more than 200 units. And this is just one of her many work assignments, it’s not even a part time job!

What is your role with Leeroy?

I have been working most of my life with digital applications and interfaces in small and big scale. With Leeroy I can finally work with the entire experience. The customer journey and service design is so much more than just an app or a website. One day I might design software, another day it’s an application or the underlying architecture and another day it’s hardware or even physical furniture!

We either use state of the art technology, custom-design something or interconnect / hack several solutions in order to create the best customer experience. Whatever the demands to satisfy a variety of people, digital skillsets, ages or disabilities – we can deliver it. I love doing this! Leeroy for me is innovation and the variety of work we do requires for me to continuously live in a creative zone. ‘It is exciting, it is never ‘if’ we can solve a problem but rather ‘how’.
What is the most surprising thing for you in this journey?

Oh, there have been so many delightful learnings and surprises so far. I have previous experience working with local and regional merchants so it was no surprise that they don’t have the tech, platform or budget to fully leverage the power and insights from digital. The big surprise was learning how many of the big companies and brands that don’t have this together either.

Walmart has done some interesting work and Amazon Go is exciting, but it still seems to be an open playing field. We are definitely at the beginning of this long and exciting digital transformation for physical merchants.

I know you are a fantastic blog writer with great insight into our new digital world. Can you share a few blogs you have written that you think will illuminate the story further?

Thank you Jody, that’s very kind. Since I spent ten years in the media industry during it’s most interesting transformation to date, I have blogged a lot about digital transformation in traditional companies but also about the pitfalls of actually doing innovation in such cultures.

It doesn’t matter if you finally get your big organization to fully grasp concepts such as agile development, User Experience (UX) best practices, lean startup, or Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), implementing them in your daily product development is tough.

Here are some of my previous blog posts that have been appreciated: 10 tech observations about the media industry’s next 5 years.

Thank you Anders!

Anders Härén is a digital entrepreneur, writer, and musician who early fell in love with the creativeness of coding and has been building digital applications for more than 20 years. He is a constant preacher of the importance of building the right thing over building the thing right and as such he is an appreciated public speaker on topics like UX, agile development, and effect-driven product development.

Before joining Leeroy, Anders was CTO at MittMedia – Sweden’s biggest publisher of local news where he was responsible for developing and scaling a massive, digital platform spanning hundreds of products and millions of daily users, and also driving digital change and innovation in a big and traditional company.