You may not know Jonathan Sommer '14 and Brandan Rivard '14, but you've probably heard of their new company, Qponify.
In the company's first 5 days of existence, Qponify garnered over 300 likes on Facebook. I sat down with Jonathan and Brandan to talk about their company and where it's headed.
The inspiration for the company grew out of Jonathan and Brandan's interest in consulting. They saw local Waterville restaurants' ads in the Echo, "but nobody notices those ads," Brandan explained. They saw an opportunity: if they could consult these restaurants on their marketing, both Waterville businesses and Colby students would benefit.
Last November they surveyed Colby students on local restaurants. Out of 400 replies, about 60% of students didn't recognize a given restaurant. Of the 40% who did, only half had actually been there. Additionally, the students who did eat off campus typically ate at the same places - they never branched out.
Different from Groupon
One question I had when I first heard of Qponify was "how is this different from Groupon?" Jonathan and Brandan were quick to point out the differences. The two may sound similar and offer local discounts, but that's about where the similarities end.
When Groupon offers a discount, the local business and Groupon split the discounted price down the middle. For example, if a company offered an $80 massage for $40 on Groupon, the massage company would only see $20 of that. Because the profit margins of Waterville business are already very low, Groupon's business model does not work as well.
Qponify, on the other hand, is more of a comprehensive deal aggregator. Waterville businesses have always offered deals to Colby students, but many of the deals went unnoticed or unused. One Waterville business owner wasn't aware his company actually offered a discount to Colby students. Qponify negotiates deals with Waterville businesses and puts them all in one channel.
Unlike Groupon, with Qponify you don't pay beforehand, you just bring the Qponify coupon with you to the local business to receive a discount. Furthermore, all of Qponify's discounts are ongoing - not just a one-day-deal.
Discovering the Hidden Gems
One of the reasons Jonathan and Brandan started Qponify was simply to raise Colby student's awareness of the different options in Waterville available to them. Brandan says that he prefers "to eat a home cooked meal, as opposed to just getting fast food." There are hidden gems Colby students rarely go to like Cheung Lee Express in Fairfield, which was rated one of the top 100 Chinese take out restaurants in America.
At times, they explained, the "Colby Bubble" gets a little too strong. With Qponify, Jonathan and Brandan want Colby students to break the bubble, go downtown, and make relationships with local business owners.
Social Media Strategy
Qponify is unique in the Colby startup scene in that it uses Facebook extensively for its operations. Both Jonathan and Brandan completed marketing internships last summer than included work with Facebook as a marketing tool. "Marketing through Facebook is highly underutilized," Jonathan said, "with Facebook, you can reach a big amount of people in a short amount of time." Qponify has certainly demonstrated that to the Colby community.
Qponify is already one of the top 5 student organizations at Colby in number of likes on Facebook. Their current milestone is to break 500.
The two want to focus on Colby for now, but are open to expanding to other schools if things go well. "If it works here, I can't see why not," Jonathan said. They've identified Thomas College as a good potential school to expand to as they'd benefit from the same discounts on Waterville businesses.
On the road
Jonathan is a Government and East Asian Studies double major, and Brandan is studying Economics. They became interested in starting their own company after seeing other Colby students succeed with their own businesses. They had the initial idea for Qponify last semester and started work in January. "In the semester you don't have the time," they explained. The two agreed that the challenging curriculum at Colby hinders startups since they're so time intensive.
During JanPlan the two were on the road 5 to 6 hours a day, meeting with local Waterville business owners. They had originally thought the process would take 1 to 2 days, which turned out to be a severe underestimation. "It took so much longer than we expected," Brandan said.