Creating a Digital Playground for Customer Engagement

March 21, 2018

How do you seamlessly combine the power of digital engagement into the physical world to connect with your customers through a unique experience? That's the question JT Mudge is answering at LitmusBox, his digital engagement agency located in the University Town Center building in Downtown Santa Cruz. We met up with JT to tour the "Experience Lab" and learn about his business. 

Please introduce yourself and describe what you do.

My name is JT Mudge and I run a digital engagement agency and experience lab in Santa Cruz. Previously I worked for SapientRazorfish with brands like Apple, Samsung, and AT&T.

What is Digital Engagement? What types of technology do you work with to deliver results to your clients? 

Digital engagement is all about companies using technology to create stronger relationships with their audience (customer, employees, partners, etc.). We use standard web based technologies for a lot of our traditional solutions but what we are really excited about is emerging technologies and experiences that allow our clients to use a mix of physical world and digital to engage with their customers. 

Right now in our lab we are working with projection mapping on physical surfaces, gesture based interfaces, and using optical sensors to get real time information about the customer.

Zkoo Jt Demo

Working with tech partners Taichi Kasahara and Sakuya Morimoto from Exvision working with the ZKOO gesture based interfaces

Was there a specific moment you can remember that led you to decide to start LitmusBox? 

I was working at SapientRazorfish on a large project for Samsung’s flagship store in NYC where we were creating the experience platform to support a VR space as well as a 2 ½ story display wall with 96 screens. That took a lot of research, prototyping, and development. I had to create a lab in our office to test a lot of what we and other agencies were working on. At the end of that project I put together a plan to create our own permanent lab and extend the lab services to other clients. However, the company was going through several mergers and it got shelved. So I decided to create my own lab where I could see my vision through. 

What were the steps that got you from idea to reality?

I was able to use a lot of my connections from past projects to create a series of partnerships. We also reached out to new technology companies to create a comprehensive group of partners. Some of our partners have given us equipment to test and build with their platforms. 

We are still adding new partners but our emphasis this year is on getting a few more clients and creating our own line of digital engagement B2B products.

Face Expression

LitmusBox developer Antonio De Luca showing his surprise using audience metrics partner Seemetrix

Can you describe the “Experience Lab” you have created and why creating that space is important to your business? 

What gets us excited is being on the cutting edge of digital experiences. At least half of our business comes from clients looking to do something new – that’s why they come to us. As technology integrates more into our daily lives, we are seeing that the physical world and the digital world are merging and people are expecting their world to be “smart”. These are the new areas that we are playing in and in order to do that successfully, we need to have a physical space to play in.

The exciting thing about the lab is that it is not just for us. We open it up to our partners as well to be able to see their products working with other technology and for our agency partners to have a place to test their ideas without having to build a lab of their own. 

What is it about Santa Cruz that helped you decide to open LitmusBox here? 

Well, I live in the county so that helps. But really we wanted to find a place that was as much creative as technical, and there is a lot of great talent here in Santa Cruz. Unlike other agencies, we have partners and clients in our space weekly and we wanted a place that people wanted to come to. Getting people from out of the area excited about coming to Santa Cruz is pretty easy.

How do you see your business fitting into the larger business community in Santa Cruz? Do you identify your business as part of the tech industry or the creative industry? A mix of both? 
It really is a mix of both. I think it is hard today to be either/or. We definitely have a strong technology foundation and are more technical than most creative agencies, but because our solutions are often things that have not been done before, we have to be strong creatively as well. 

We really find Santa Cruz to be a great mix of talent as well. We love Santa Cruz and have worked with the Downtown Association on some projects as well. We would love Santa Cruz to be our lab, not just our office. We are looking for local businesses who may be wanting to explore digital engagement and help us test some of our ideas.

20170922 183229

The LitmusBox team showcasing the new apartments at 555 Pacific with their telepresence robot for the Downtown Association of Santa Cruz

Dsc 0794

JT working on a touch Kiosk

Dsc 0773

JT demonstrating an interactive kaleidoscope using ZKOO

Dsc 0780

Carmen Palacios using the LitmusBox telepresence robot "Joyner" from OhmniLabs

What relationships do you have that benefit your business the most? 

We rely heavily on partnerships. The things we are building require it. We have technology partners that provide different pieces of the engagement including audience metrics, digital signage players, web platforms, etc.

We also get a lot of our work from other agencies we partner with. Over half of our work is through other creative agencies who look to us to provide the technical consulting and solutions for their clients.

How did you choose your location? Were you intentionally looking for a space in Downtown Santa Cruz?  We looked around in both Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz. Our core strength is all about “experience” and we want our clients and partners to feel like they are getting the best experience when they visit us. For that there was no better place we could think of than downtown Santa Cruz.

What's special about Santa Cruz to you?

Geographically it is just about perfect. You have this fantastic mix of mountains and sea and amazing weather. I think the creative spirit in Santa Cruz is the same. You have a lot tech talent, creative talent, and business talent all in one place.

What do you wish you knew before you started the process of starting your business?

Ha – how expensive it is. But really that is only a part of it. It can be hard to wear a lot of hats when starting a business. Luckily I have a good set of advisers that help. I highly recommend anyone starting a business to have that. I think I may have taken a little more time in securing more funding before I started, which is hard when you are so passionate about something that you want to start right away. 

Is there anything else you want to share about your business?

Tons. We are always looking for new partners who are doing exciting work to engage with. We are planning a hackathon with one of our technology partners, Exvision. We are also looking to host some workshops on digital engagement. 

But what we are most excited about right now is our own B2B products we are building. Having our lab has made it possible to prototype and create some pretty cool things. We are in the process of getting some investors for our first product which we are looking to launch later this year. 

If anyone wants to stop by, let us know and we would be happy to give a tour.

To learn more about LitmusBox or to contact JT for a tour visit:

The Sit Down: Humble Sea Brewing Company

All Earth. Allterra