Cincinnati Startup: CoupSmart Turns Fans Into Revenue: INTERVIEW

Loyalty, rewards, couponing, it’s definitely a crowded space. Cincinnati startup CoupSmart says that it’s only crowded from indirect competitors. While many startups in the loyalty, rewards and couponing space offer help with engagement on social networks, CoupSmart says they deliver fans into revenue on and offline time and time again.

The startup, led by founder and CEO Blake Shipley says they’re all about the ROI. They don’t waste time building un-measurable campaigns or throwing coupons and offers around like water. Shipley knows how ineffective an actual coupon can be when looking for actual customer data.

In our interview below Shipley talks about how coupons are sorted by hand time and time again before they’re even shipped off for redemption. He experienced this first hand when he worked as an internal auditor at The Kroger Company’s Cincinnati headquarters. That’s what sparked his idea to create a better coupon platform.

We don’t need to tell you how crowded the space is and that everyone in the loyalty, reward and coupon space thinks they have the next biggest thing, but focusing on actual ROI will definitely perk the ears of hopeful clients.

One of the biggest complaints about loss leader Groupon is their ability to convert one time users into repeat users and effectively increase the businesses ROI. Many companies that have gone with the Groupon and Living Social model have lost their asses in margin just to get new customers in the door one time.

Whether it’s rewards programs, coupon programs or loyalty programs, someone is going to eventually break through the space with a platform or product that actual saves customers a decent amount of money, gets customers returning for more visits, and gets business owners the information they need.

Is CoupSmart that startup? Check out our interview below.

What is CoupSmart?

CoupSmart is a social marketing system that allows businesses to bridge the gap between offline and online customers and create a measurable, recurring revenue stream from their social media efforts. CoupSmart was started to bring about the vision of making coupons that continue to work for businesses after distribution. Inefficiency, fraud, and a lack of tracking capabilities left a huge void to fill. Our system focuses on collecting the right data from your fans and then automating the remarketing process, so you can deliver the right offer at the right time.

Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?

CoupSmart was founded by CEO Blake Shipley (27) in 2009. Shipley graduated from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville with a degree in Finance and Economics in 2007. He worked as an Internal Auditor for The Kroger Company where he was introduced to the world of retail and consumer packaged goods (CPG). Wanting to branch out as an entrepreneur, Shipley then co-founded The Dotloop Company, acting as its CFO before selling his stake in the business to start CoupSmart.

Where are you based?

CoupSmart is proud to be headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio.

What’s the startup scene/culture like in Cincinnati?

The startup scene in Cincinnati is taking off in a big way. City government and business leaders are coming together to encourage entrepreneurship and help build a strong community to live, work, and play. The Cincinnati area is home to some of the top entrepreneurship programs in the country. Our universities excel in business, engineering, medicine and design. We host a slew of marketing and branding agencies (literally hundreds), as well as Fortune 500 companies like GE and P&G. The talent is here. It is cultivated by several accelerator programs aimed at giving startup founders their shot. The last few years have also brought an increase in available capital, and we expect that to grow tremendously in the next 5 years as well. It is a really exciting time to be an entrepreneur here.

How did you come up with the idea for CoupSmart?

As an Internal Auditor for The Kroger Company, Shipley witnessed first-hand the laborious and inefficient process of couponing. Most people don’t realize that all of these coupons are still sorted (several times) by hand! Additionally, the amount of information gleaned about the customer using these coupons is almost zero. What we wanted to do with CoupSmart was to quite literally make a smarter coupon that would answer a business’s questions about their customers, and allow them to remarket based on what they found. We use social networks and fan pages as a way to get there.

What problem does CoupSmart solve?

At first glance, it looks like our space is a crowded one. The crowd comes from indirect competitors though. There are many companies that offer help with engagement on social networks. But, we’ve been there and done that. So have many of the bigger brands. What they’re looking for now is a ROI. What are they getting out of all of this engagement? We answer this question by using our engagement tools (special offers) to drive traffic into stores, both offline and online. We turn fans into revenue, and we do it repeatedly.

What’s your secret sauce?

The secret sauce is in our ability to automate targeted, remarketing campaigns for our clients that drive sales. Our suite of apps create a perpetual marketing machine by collecting data on customers, and using that data to refine deals and reward brand advocates. We make it easy for a business to learn about their customers, and set triggers based on whatever criteria they wish to send out follow-up offers automatically.

What’s one dilemma you’ve encountered in the startup process?

One big challenge has been explaining our value to investors who may not use, or even care about social media. If we want funding, it is our job to convince them of the vast opportunity that lies in tapping into a business’s online fan base, and our unique ability to deliver the right tools for the job. We’ve gone from our initial seed round to recently wrapping up our Series A funding, so it looks like we’ve cracked that nut.

What’s one challenge you’ve overcome in the startup process?

Flexibility has been our biggest challenge. You have to be able to bob and weave and see a few steps ahead to stay above ground. When CoupSmart first launched, it was a consumer-facing mobile app. It took some time before we realized that this approach was not going to take us where we wanted to go as a company. It was a bit painful, but we retooled and switched our business model to focus more on helping brands reach their customers, and drive sales where they hadn’t before. This foresight allowed us to avoid major pitfalls and continue growing the business.

What’s the first thing you would do for CoupSmart with a one million dollar investment?

We’d hire more people. A big struggle for startups is the need to do so much with so little. There are only so many hours in a day, and our team works most of them. So, we’d like to add more passionate people to our team, and continue building on the foundation we have laid.

What’s next for CoupSmart?

Our website is currently undergoing a huge redesign. This will make sure our branding is focused, and visitors find the information they are looking for. On the back end, we have some new DIY framework that will help smaller businesses get the most out of our system as well. We are also still very interested in the consumer side of things, and have a few products underway that will help customers and businesses alike. Stay tuned!


Check out Coupsmart here

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