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Nothing sells real pizza like virtual pizza.

When video screens at Davanni’s 21 Twin Cities restaurants show a hot pie emerging from an oven, that’s what customers want. Same for hot hoagies and other items that get the in-store promotional video treatment.

“We don’t have firm numbers,” said Jacqui Crocker, Davanni’s marketing director. “We just know that anything we put on screens people point at it, and that’s what they want to order. Food images sell food.”

Presenting those enticing images, Crocker said, is much easier with Skykit, a content management system (CMS) for digital signs from Agosto, a Google-focused cloud product development company in Minneapolis.

Agosto touts Skykit as the first end-to-end Google-based digital signage system. The company says Skykit enables users to distribute content — including videos, pictures, PDFs and web pages — to any screen anywhere in the world in real time from a smart phone if they choose. All it takes is a display screen, an internet connection and a media player running Google’s Chrome web browser.

Founded in 2001 as a consulting and managed services company, Agosto pivoted in 2007 to become one of a handful of Google Premier Partners in North America. Helping organizations move to the Google Cloud has driven growth ever since for Agosto, named a Google Cloud Platform Partner of the Year in 2013 and 2016.

Capitalizing on that expertise, Agosto set out to boost its bottom line with a cloud-based product of its own, a goal achieved with Skykit’s April 2016 release. Agosto, based in the Ford Center in downtown Minneapolis, has 70 employees.

“We were building all these great products for these other big companies,” Agosto CEO and co-founder Irfan Khan said. “We’d gotten to a scale where we had the capital and the resources and we said, ‘Let’s just build our own product’ so that when we sell one dollar of our product we get that full dollar. When we resell Google’s products, we have to give them a cut.”

That said, one aim in developing a product was to build on Agosto’s experience in working with the Google Cloud and in developing applications at scale for different companies. “The idea was to do something that helps our Google relationship, leverages our Google
relationship and should be very ‘Googley,’” Khan said.

Hundreds of companies with tens of thousands of screens use Skykit to create and edit content, according to Agosto. Skykit earned Agosto a Tekne award in the small and growing company software category in November from the Minnesota High Tech Association. Agosto also was a finalist for a Tekne in the IT solutions consulting category.

Linda Hofflander, Agosto vice president of global channels and sales, said Skykit’s alignment with Google positions it to pursue business in vertical markets such as retail, manufacturing, the public sector, and regulated industries including health care and oil and gas and transportation. Skykit also does well in corporate communications.

This year the Skykit marketing focus has shifted to add solution selling and integration services for customers that want some degree of customization rather than an off-the-shelf system, said Hofflander, who joined Agosto three years ago from Samsung, where she gained extensive digital signage experience.

“Within the verticals, there are certain solutions that need to be built out that are more specific,” Hofflander said. “Most of our competitors have gone very tight on an individual vertical. We try to remain as nimble and as easy to do business with as we can.”

Khan, who founded Agosto with Rick Erickson, the company’s “chief cloud strategist,” said future uses for the Skykit platform are under consideration.

“Our vision is to have a marketplace so you can leverage Skykit for digital signage and for point solutions, whether that be meeting room management or guest sign-in,” Khan said. “We’ll have those types of solutions. Or we’ll have integration with point-of-sale systems for menu boards. We’re going to start to make variations for different markets.”

At Davanni’s updating content and customizing it for each restaurant is faster and less expensive with Skykit, which also allowed Davanni’s to add video content unlike its previous, more cumbersome and largely “home-brewed” system, according to Crocker and Ed Johnson, Davanni’s director of information technology and services.

“It also unifies the messaging between what we’re doing in the store and online with Facebook and other social media sites and our website so we can have consistent messaging,” Johnson said.

Other customers use Skykit to modernize communications in a rural Nebraska school district’s PK-12 building, direct passengers of a seaplane service in British Columbia to check-in counters, and to promote events and class schedules at a YMCA that serves 45,000 members in 25 locations north of Boston, according to Agosto.

Skykit is Agosto’s fastest-growing offering, said President Aric Bandy, who led Agosto’s Google pivot after his 2007 arrival. But next-fastest are its “lift and shift” practices, moving companies to the Google Cloud and advanced services, which include machine learning and artificial intelligence to help companies gain insights from their data.

Agosto Inc.
Business: Cloud services company offers Skykit, a cloud-based digital signage content management system that distributes content to screens anywhere in the world
Headquarters: Minneapolis
CEO: Irfan Khan, co-founder
Employees: 70
Founded: 2001