“Boss, may discount ba dito? Anong card mayroon kayo dito?” Reluctant we are to admit it, we’re always looking for ways to stretch our peso. We collect loyalty cards, membership cards, and coupons to save a little extra on the side. Some might call it a petty problem, but practically everyone has been bitten by the thrift bug. A Philippine startup is taking on the challenge to solve a problem very few startups think to solve, but everyone else wants to.
MobKard is a platform for discounts and promotions, in the same way Uber is a platform for drivers and Airbnb is a platform for condo units and rooms. It combines GPS technology with a cost-efficient shopping experience.
“For example, I’m in Ortigas and I check MobKard, the app will tell me that this is the nearest promotion for me,” said Francis Uy. He’s one of the three co-founders of MobKard. Uy, Carlo Calimon, and Rene Jaspe (with four other members of the team) form the core of MobKard.
“At the end of the day, it’s about making sure that you, as the consumer, is [sic] informed about the deals. We are here to help you save money. We could always use an extra buck. We just want to save that peso for something else, whether it’s for fun, family, recreation, or for your health,” said Calimon.
Promos wherever, whenever
MobKard works as a mobile app. Registered users have access to MobKard’s partnered merchants, including Vans, Collezione, and Nail It. With location services on, users will be notified of nearby promotions. Brand names can be manually searched for their promotions. Once the user has selected a promotion he or she likes, a simple click of the Claim button generates a unique QR code. Users just show the QR code to the store to avail of the promo. The process is fairly simple. What used to take so much time to collect on the Internet is simplified to a few, easy steps.
Other iterations of the program are community-based. MobKard started as business-to-communities app. At the time of this writing, there are sixteen (and counting) closed community versions, including one for the Ateneo Graduate Schools, La Salle, and AIM. There are different benefits per organization. Similar to Yahoo, MobKard kept it limited to universities at first because of the supportive and forgiving communities who were willing to help with constructive feedback.
On the merchant’s side, MobKard allows them to create flash promotions with a snap of their fingers or a year-long promotion for their customers. Besides increasing brand awareness, MobKard also provides merchants with analytics for their promos. They can determine which promos were successful and how many coupons were redeemed.
Call it serendipity
MobKard started in 2012 when Calimon joined IdeaSpace, one of the country’s leading startup incubators. At the time, Uy and Jaspe haven’t joined the team yet. With a team of his own, Calimon went through the IdeaSpace competition. On that year, 700 ideas vied for one of ten spots offered by IdeaSpace. Eventually, 700 ideas was cut to 20, then to just 10 startups. One of which was MobKard. The original team was given initial seed capital and an incubation process which took six months.
It was on the third month when things started to shake up. Calimon’s original team decided to go their separate ways. He knew he wanted to pursue the venture until the end, but he also knew he needed help. That’s when Uy and Jaspe entered into the equation.
“Call it serendipity. Rene and I were in Greenbelt, holding an Enjoy Card I purchased. [An Enjoy Card is a booklet of coupons that last for a whole year.] I said, ‘Rene, I have to use this because I paid for it.’ Rene said, ‘Why don’t you digitize that,'” said Uy. They told this idea to a professor at AIM who they knew through a talk they attended before. He introduced the duo to Calimon, who just happened to have been working on the same thing. The duo turned into a trio, and the current iteration of MobKard was born.
During his time with AIM, Calimon became a sales, marketing, and business development expert. He developed a large network, which was beneficial to the core essence of MobKard. Uy is a professional project manager and enterprise architect. He worked at P&G for 13 years, handling loyalty programs. Jaspe formerly worked for a contractor for the US Department of Defense. Think Edward Snowden without the whistle-blowing.
MobKard just had three months to produce a working prototype, as opposed to the other teams who had the full six. Despite that deadline, they were able to produce a full prototype at the end of the six-month period. IdeaSpace was so impressed that they developed a prototype in just three months. The incubator did another follow-up investment for them, which was ten times the initial seed investment.
“Call it serendipity,” as Uy would say. Through serendipity, they were able to meet and tap each other’s potential and expertise. Through serendipity, they now provide serendipity to their users. If you think about it, isn’t MobKard an app for serendipity? Serendipity is defined as a “fortunate happenstance.” It’s serendipitous for MobKard’s users to stumble upon a promo that enables them to save more and spend on what really matters.
MobKard has existed for around 22 months. Since that time, the company has gone public. Their app is now available to the general public through the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Just recently, they were able to bag an additional P17-million investment. They plan to use it to improve their app, expand their partner merchants, and increase awareness for their product.
MobKard has a lot of plans for the future. In fact, by the time this article has been printed, users will have access to promos from The Bistro Group restaurants through MobKard. They also plan to improve their search functions to allow users to search for specific categories and preferences, not just the brand name. This is their drive to expand to a laser-targeted marketing approach. “For example, if your shoe size is 10, MobKard will eventually point out shoe stores which carry size 10 shoes and block out those that don’t,” said Calimon.
A potential concern about their app is the user’s data usage, especially because of the images. Calimon and the team reassure users that future updates will reduce bandwidth needed to use the app. They’re also planning on introducing an offline function so you can use it even without data on. Currently, the app’s offline functionality is through taking a screen capture of the unique QR code.
The end goal is to go international. “That’s always been the plan.” Uy explained why they chose a .com for their site, instead of a .ph. MobKard wants to go ASEAN first, then worldwide. “In the next few years,” adds Calimon. “Next month, we’re going to Singapore to test out the product and see if it appeals to the community.” Competition will be a lot tougher, but MobKard is up for the challenge.
MobKard’s vision is to be the company with the most ever redeemed coupons. They want to be the first in online-to-offline marketing. Location-based shopping is a part of technology with a lot of potential. Increasing awareness to the general public may take a while, but MobKard has already shown promise.
Uy says, “We touch your life because we leave you with a lot more savings for the things you want to have in your life today, anyway. We give you a lot more choices. Who doesn’t want to save money and stretch a peso?”
MobKard is available through the Apple iTunes App Store or Google Play Store. They can be contacted through MobKard.com.
This article was first published in our September 2015 anniversary issue.