Dirk Monson and Jordan Nelson never imagined their reconstructed vending machine, a Wi-fi connected Snackshop 4000 that takes candy orders through a mobile app, would ever be more than a joke in the office.
They never expected that their new gadget, proudly christened “The Fargo Machine,” would garner attention both locally and nationally and open the doors for a new inventive way to sell products.
Far from it. In fact, according to them, the light bulb moment went something like this:
The two Myriad Mobile co-workers, Monson a web strategist and Nelson a designer, were talking about the local art community a few months ago when vending machines came up – for “no flippin’ reason at all,” Monson said.
“We should buy a vending machine,” one of them suggested.
“Alright, I kinda like that,” the other responded.
“I remember thinking that 10-year-old Jordan would really approve of 24-year-old Jordan if he owned a vending machine,” Nelson said.
The conversation lead them to Craigslist where, naturally, there were a couple of old vending machines for sale. They purchased one from a dude in White Bear Lake for $150, and sure enough, they were soon the proud owners of a 1978 Snack Shop 4000. It arrived in all its glory; bulletproof glass display, DC motor controlled spirals, partially burnt from a fire which the owner forgot to mention, and weighing in at over 700 pounds.
“Really what we bought is a 700 pound gun safe that didn’t do anything at that point,” Monson said. “We didn’t know what we were doing with a vending machine.”
So, in true Myriad fashion, they decided to make it accessible via a mobile application. They asked Myriad’s CEO Jake Joraanstad if they could house the Fargo vending machine in Myriad Mobile HQ, and he approved – so long as it connected to the Myriad Mobile Tour application.
Two freight trolleys and one precarious elevator ride later, the Fargo vending machine was home, and work began. Monson began gutting and re-wiring the (rather damaged) interior and Nelson began designing art for the exterior.
In order to connect it to the Myriad Tour app, a group of Myriad Mobile software engineers lead by Justin Tuchek developed a mobile app that allowed users to play games in order to win candy.
“It’s creating something that turns digital interactions into physical rewards,” Tuchek said, in a presentation the group gave at Interface Fargo. “Which is dangerous because what we’re using is basically an API that dispatches candy.”
When it first debuted at Myriad Mobile’s open house, the Fargo Machine looked snazzy in Nelson’s design; a vinyl wrap emblazoned with the logo and smattered with gears falling like snowflakes. The bright red/light blue color schemes and font give the Fargo Machine a nostalgic retro style that seem fitting for an old 70’s vending machine.
Meanwhile, separately from the Tour app, Monson and Nelson continued to develop their own application; one that would allow customers to actually purchase the items through their phone.
It will be similar to Amazon, Monson said. Customers will be led through a decision tree that will help them make their purchase. (“Yes, it will accept doge and bitcoin,” he added.) Once the purchase is made, the Machine spits out the product, old school style.
For now, however, the candy is all free. Monson himself stocks it with treats, and Nelson even included some of his artwork – a square piece of wood that reads “Knock on Wood.”
This was all it was ever going to be. A laugh, a vending machine that connects to the Internet so Myriad employees can get Kit Kats and Snickers by pressing screens instead of buttons.
But then others started taking notice of the Fargo vending machine. Particularly artists.
Local artists began imagining the possibilities of using an Internet connected vending machine as a way to sell their work. Rather than buying from a re-seller where there is no real connection to the artist, phones could display background on the art, connect the customer to the artist’s Twitter, Instagram, etc., or even allow them to exchange personal messages with the artist.
When Monson and Nelson began having these kinds of conversations with local artists, they suddenly saw a unique value in their little Fargo Machine.
“It’s buying art in a simple way,” Monson said at Interface Fargo. “All of a sudden what was once a cold connection is bringing it right back to the artist.”
With the prospect of this going big, the two developed a business model. Vendors will be charged for every transaction; they will not be charged any sort of “rent” for using the machine to house their work.
“Our profit margin is in the software,” Monson said. “It’s like a physical online platform all mixed together.”
By March, the Fargo Machine and its mobile app will be going commercial. They already have a local vending partner in Fargo, and Nelson has a connection with a lead curator in Portland, Oregon, who they say is highly interested.
The two co-creators plan to stock and maintain the Fargo Machines themselves. In addition, they plan to add a tablet interface to the Machine, in order to expand to a market that may not all have smartphones.
For Monson, watching their Craigslist vending machine transform has been a remarkable illustration of old becoming new.
“Through this 1978 Snackshop 4000, we are taking old hardware, putting new guts into it, and bringing it back to life,” he said. “We’re able to take something and bring it into the next era. It’s the balance of both worlds.”
Stay tuned for more upcoming news regarding the Fargo Machine on its Official Facebook page. And keep your eyes peeled – it’s coming soon, to a downtown near you!
Photos courtesy of Marisa Jackels.