Jess Green’s first foray into the tech space was working for online site accomodationhunter.co.za. A dire cash situation meant the business was forced to close, but the short stint had taught Green a number of lessons for his own first start-up, immigrationsouthafrica.org.
With his years in corporate now firmly behind him, he was ready to dive into the entrepreneurial space, despite the much (much) smaller salary and associated risk.
While immigrationsouthafrica.org is still run on the side of Green’s other businesses, he was soon on the hunt for his next venture.
“I’d been looking at group buying, and so UbuntuDeal was formed based on the group buying formula. We had a good site, great back-end support and we entered the market as group buying was taking off.”
Green sold UbuntuDeal to Tiger Global LLC (the owners of bidorbuy) within six months. He stayed on for a further year and half, perfecting his next start-up idea, Perk.
“Through the group buying experience it became clear that the missing link was merchants. What did they get? They have no real engagement with customers, conversion rates are hard to track, loyalty is low and it’s an expensive form of marketing. So I started thinking of platforms for merchants that would attract customers, show them deals, and let them engage directly with consumers and bring feet through the door.” And Perk was born, with a nice tidy sum of cash from the UbuntuDeal sale.
Green recognised that his idea suited a mobile platform. He started developing tech that detected phones in the area. “If you opt in, our tech can improve your shopping experience by recognising your phone and pass you specials and communication that others don’t have access to.”
The code fits into any app, allowing merchants to engage with consumers in-store.
“We’re not an app business. We’ve developed an app, but we’re essentially a hardware business. It’s the device that lets merchants recognise phones in the area (or link to the app) and start a conversation with consumers. It’s important to understand what your business is and isn’t. That focus will allow you to really find your niche.”
Green is not a developer himself, so he spent a lot of time networking and attending tech events before he found the right person for the job. “As an entrepreneur, you might have the idea, and the business savvy, but lack the technical skills to develop the platform you need. The right person can make all the difference. Ensure you have similar goals and work ethics, and that your agreement is in writing.”
The sales cycle
“I’ve needed to operate a very lean business. Development naturally costs money, but finding the right partner who also cares about the business idea has mitigated some of those costs. I’ve also had to take into account the slow sales cycle. I’m targeting big retailers, which means sales directors who oversee 40 stores make the final call. This doesn’t happen overnight. Careful cash flow planning has been vital.“
The next step
Perk recently signed an investment deal with Clifftop Colony, bringing a cash injection into the business to fund further growth. With Green currently in discussions with a number of blue-chip retailers and malls in South Africa, the tipping point is on the horizon, but he’s not stopping there.
“The capabilities of the hardware are incredible. We can tell how many feet walked through the door, where people spent time, how long they stood at the till, and how often they frequent the store. For retailers, it’s a goldmine.”
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