We had a chance to talk to Jesse Green, founder of Perk, a mobile loyalty app designed to bring shoppers into stores, and then get them engaged with brands and/or retailer. Take a look at our Q&A session below.
What is the name of your startup?
It is called Perk (www.perk.co.za).
Who are the founders?
The founders are myself – Jess Green, and two other gentlemen, one from Kenya and another from South Africa.
What is your background? What you do, qualifications etc
I went to university in a small town called Stellenbosch in Cape Town, a very good research university and studied commerce, and completed my honors. And then went into the corporate consulting game, I have been oversees quite a bit in Germany and in Russia. And then I moved into entrepreneurship.
Is this a full time venture for you, or you have a day-time job?
Yes, it’s full time.
How many employees do you have at the moment?
We have four people working on this.
Where are you located?
We are located in Cape Town, South Africa.
Tell me more about your startup perks. What is it and what are you trying to do?
Perk is a mobile loyalty app designed to bring shoppers into stores, and then get them engaged with brands and/or retailer. We help retailers locate their customers on their mobiles when they are specifically within their stores. So when a customer walks in the store, the retailer, using our software, will be able to sense that the customer has walked in, and will be able to send the customer much more relevant engagements, and messages.
Customers will earn points, called perks, simply for walking into their favorite stores. Perks collected can be cashed for amazing discounts all over South Africa.
How did you come up with the idea?
Well, after I sold my first startup, my first business that I sold was in the group buying industry, like Kenya has rupuu.co.ke for example. Before I sold it, Groupon came into south Africa, and I realized that we needed to find better ways to bring in people into the stores, and the best ways to reward them for coming into stores. And with this sort of technology it’s possible to do it.
Are there any other startups similar to your in the region?
So far I don’t think there are any exactly matching what we are bringing out.
How far have you gone? Is the startup up and running, or are you doing tests?
We are about to launch our first trial, everything seems to be alright.
Do you have an exact launch date?
No we don’t, and I wouldn’t want to say until I’m sure.
Since you are based in South Africa, it’s likely that you will first introduce your service in South Africa. But are you thinking of including other countries down the line? And how soon can other countries join?
You are right, we don’t have a specific roll-out plan until we get into South Africa, but we are very keen on spreading in Africa, so if anyone reads the interview in Africa, and they think they are suitable, then they are welcome to give us a call.
So you will have to get all the consumers on board and all the retailers on board.
Right, though we may not have to get all the consumers on board because some of the retailers will use the technology through the API, and then will have to get the customers on their end but of course we will be getting customers on our end for our app too.
So the customer will have to sign up for the service?
Yes, but the service might not come from our side. It might be the retailers who will be providing the service and license our tech.
Do you have any investors, or it’s just you? And if you don’t have any investors, are you looking for some?
We’ve got investors, but according to our contracts we can’t talk too much about it, but yes we do have them. It’s really the most difficult thing in Africa, getting investment. So that took us quite a while, six months.
And how did you go about it? Did you go to startup funding platforms or?
Yeah, we did that anyway, but it’s really always about networking. Like you have to ask everybody, who do you know? And then eventually you’ll come across the right people.
Is the role of the investors only giving you the funds, or are they involved in some management aspect of the business?
They are involved but not in management. They are involved in some services and that is exactly what we want. We don’t want someone who just gives us the money and then walks away and waits for the pay day.
Since you are starting out, not many people know about your service, so how are you promoting your startup?
Well for now we are not doing anything for the public, we first have to get it into some stores, so for now we are focusing on some retailers, we will talk to the public much later. Most of the times the retailers themselves will do the marketing to the public.
So what marketing platforms are you using? Email marketing, social media etc?
Right now it’s really B2B. The problem is social media doesn’t really help with B2B. We have all our social channels ready, but we aren’t doing much there just yet.
As a startup in Africa, what are the major challenges you are facing? You mentioned funding to be one of them, what are some other challenges?
Difficulty to find talent is always a challenge. Funding is okay now, but talent is always a challenge.
What would be your advice to the budding entrepreneurs?
I would have to say they need to network. The biggest challenge I’ve seen with people is that they don’t have a good network of people to contact if they have any questions. So the first thing is they’ll have to network and go out there and find mentors. You know it’s the people around you that are going to make the difference. You can’t just build something and expect people are going to love it, it’s going to take a lot of work and it’s the people around you that are going to help you. So you’ve got to out there and find them. You’ve got to go out to the conferences and events and meet those you can. And hand out your card, and keep in touch. You have to know how to utilize the networks well. But the first step is just to find those people. For example, I struggled in the beginning to find… actually I didn’t struggle. I took three months which is apparently not very long. But I needed to find tech people. These are tech people that are needed to do hardware, software, mobile, apps, tech support which is all quite complicated, and that’s why I went to all these tech events, even to developer events and I’m not a developer. And its quite awkward going to the events because people ask you what you do and you say you are a business guy and they are all developers, but that’s how I found my co-founders for tech.