November 24, 2014 Issue
The Most Powerful Name In Corporate News and Information
Mobile Engagement SaaS Platform for Customized Web App Creation
David brings more than 18 years of product and business development experience with companies such as Disney Interactive, Hasbro Interactive and MicroProse Software to his role as Chief Executive Officer at SavvyCard®.
In addition to his role as CEO and primary evangelist for SavvyCard, David is heavily involved in Research & Development for new products and tools and in building strategic relationships with key third party technology and service providers.
Interview conducted by:
CEOCFO: Mr. Etheredge, what is the concept for SavvyCard® today?
Mr. Etheredge: There is a large problem that affects most businesses: their customers are mobile, but they are not. If you look at web usage statistics, people are increasingly using their smartphones to access information – not in place of using their desktop, but when they are out and about – and yet most businesses do not have an effective mobile strategy in place for capitalizing on this new engagement opportunity.
Traditional websites are not the best way to interact with customers on mobile devices. Typically, a website has to be pinched, zoomed, scaled and scrolled. If the site is mobile optimized and previews correctly on a smartphone, then the content is usually difficult to navigate because it has most likely been created for desktop browsing and assumes the viewer has a least 30 seconds to a minute to find the content they need. With mobile consumers, you have about five to ten seconds to engage them and make them decide whether or not they want to do business with you. If their mobile experience takes too long or is too difficult, or they do not find exactly what they want within a few seconds, they are going to get bored or frustrated and go somewhere else.
SavvyCard® is a web application platform we developed that is a very simple and cost effective solution to this problem. We make it easy for businesses to create custom web applications that their customers can quickly access through the Internet on their smartphones and that makes it easy and painless for them to find what they want and do business with that company on their mobile devices.
CEOCFO: What are some of the challenges in creating such an application? What have you figured out that perhaps others have not?
Mr. Etheredge: When you look back at the web design industry’s history, you’ll notice that it started out by focusing on the development of individual websites for different businesses. So, every time a business wanted to create a website, they had to hire a web design company to recreate the wheel, as it were. It is very costly to buy web design services that way. Websites are expensive and time consuming to develop, to manage and to update. That’s why over the last several years companies like Joomla, WordPress, About.me and GoDaddy have built successful businesses by offering templated websites for the traditional web. The challenge whenever you are developing a platform to deliver a business service to thousands or millions of businesses is how to create something that is really cost effective and easy to deploy, but that is flexible enough to deliver very high quality, vertical specific functionality for each type of business, so that their mobile web presence is unique and is going to deliver the best experience to their consumers.
That was the big challenge that we were facing with the development of SavvyCard®: how do we build a platform that is massively scalable and that literally millions of people and businesses can easily use, but that, at the end of the day, does not make all of those businesses look the same and have the same limited set of functionality?
The way that we solved that was by looking at what Google and Apple have done with their smartphones in terms of applications. You basically have a platform – your smartphone – on which you are able to install different applications that you want to use. Each application is represented on your homescreen by a unique button or icon. You might have a button on your home screen for your Starbucks app. You might have another button for your bank app. You might have another for your grocery store app, and so forth. Apple and Google are basically enabling you to aggregate all these buttons representing different functionalities – stuff you want to access on a regular basis – on your homescreen to make it easy and efficient for you to frequently interact with this content. We thought this would be a very interesting paradigm to model our platform after, but deliver the entire experience within a single application.
SavvyCard’s platform was designed to be like your phone’s homescreen: businesses can create a web application suited to their needs by adding different buttons – or mini applications – onto their SavvyCard, buttons that provide the features and functionalities their customers are interested in. When complete, this custom web app can then be distributed to any device, not just smartphones, as long as the device is Internet enabled and uses a web browser. So, instead of building a single native application that requires downloads and will only work on an iPhone or a Google Android device, a business is able to create a SavvyCard, distribute it to any consumer through any device with a web browser without the need for downloads, and then the consumer is then able to use the buttons on the SavvyCard to interact with the business in a meaningful way.
CEOCFO: Are most companies comfortable with creating it themselves? How do you overcome the fact that some companies may feel that while it is convenient it is not going to have the right look and feel if a professional has not done it?
Mr. Etheredge: The SavvyCard® platform is designed so that anyone can easily customize the look and feel of their SavvyCard; you have control over the form / factor element. SavvyCard provides artwork templates so most companies are very comfortable doing the work themselves by utilizing their in-house designers or outsourced design agencies. If a company has neither, SavvyCard offers professional design services and can help in that way, too.
We find that, when compared to other technology solutions, SavvyCard is actually perceived as a better brand experience. In the real estate space, large Real Estate brands have deployed hundreds of mobile engagement tools, web applications and native applications for their real estate agents around the world. They’ve either internally developed some of these tools, or they’ve partnered with other companies who developed them on their behalf, or they licensed them from third party developers. We are consistently being told by their realtors and brokers that they actually prefer the SavvyCard product because they feel SavvyCard gives them a broader ability to customize their web application and design a better brand experience than their internal tools allow.
Plus, there is always a sort of buy verses build mentality with companies. When you build your own tools, you’re talking about increasing the cost and the time it takes to bring it to market by a factor of ten or twenty, and yet you are not actually going to be increasing the quality of the brand experience over a solution like SavvyCard. So, why build it internally? The only reason you might want to do that is because you want to own the technological IP. However, if you are a real estate professional, why do you want to be in the technology business? You probably want to be in the business of selling real estate.
I think SavvyCard offers a much cleaner path to providing the technology tools a business needs to successfully differentiate themselves in the mobile market, rather than spending thousands of dollars building it on their own
CEOCFO: Who is using SavvyCard today? Who should be, other than everybody?
Mr. Etheredge: Eventually, we want SavvyCard to be used by everyone that is doing business. That is because we think SavvyCards add value to any business just like traditional websites add value to any business.
Today, our primary focus is in the real estate vertical. We launched our real estate product, SavvyCard® for Real Estate, locally and regionally in Florida. This product has specialized buttons – or mini applications – that are specific to the real estate industry. For example, there is a Listings button that allows people do to a Zillow like search and preview Realtor® listings, a Schools button to get information on local schools, a Features button that allows a customer to see information about a property, etc. Every realtor in the Miami Association of Realtors has a SavvyCard account. Every realtor in the Pinellas Realtor Organization has a SavvyCard account. Those two associations represent about forty thousand realtors. We are finding that realtors love the product because personal brand is so important.
We also designed and deployed Property SavvyCards, which allow Realtors® to create SavvyCards for each of the listings they have. In essence, by creating a Property SavvyCard, a Realtor® is creating a mobile website with which to market that property. And by the way, Property Cards are created automatically, since our system gets all the information it needs from MLS data. The realtor doesn’t have to do a thing. Property SavvyCards are being successfully used by realtors to win more listings and gives Realtors® who use them a serious competitive advantage over those who do not. We are also about to roll out SavvyCodes™. This is a new text back feature that will allow realtors to link up their SavvyCards to their real estate signs and traditional marketing collateral to drive action and user engagement via a user’s mobile phone.
There are many other functionalities we have rolled out for real estate that makes SavvyCard a really tremendous mobile engagement tool for the real estate marketplace. If you’re a Realtor®, you absolutely should be using SavvyCard or you’re going to start to lose customers to Realtors® who do.
In addition, associations and brokerages use our SavvyCard for Real Estate product. Not only does the SavvyCard platform provide powerful mobile engagement tools for their Realtor® members, but SavvyCard also has a revenue share program in place where we pay the associations and the brokerages a portion of proceeds generated by the sell through of SavvyCard upgrades to their membership. SavvyCard is really compelling for associations, because they could become revenue positive on the program very quickly. We are the only mobile engagement and marketing solution we know of that could end up being a revenue generator for these organizations instead of a cost. It’s a serious competitive advantage for us and aligns us with these organizations. They perceive us more as a partner then a vendor.
As far as who else is using it, we’ve got people from dozens of different sectors: We have lawyers. We have accountants. We have hair stylists. We have plumbers. We have title agents. We have pet sitters. We have marketing consultants. We have got a couple of municipalities using SavvyCard. It is a really broad base of general users. That being said, our purpose as a company, right now, is squarely on harvesting the real estate marketplace.
CEOCFO: It is certainly a big enough market. What is the competitive landscape? Has a similar concept been tried or available?
Mr. Etheredge: There are similar concepts in different verticals. For example, there are a couple of products that are similar as mobile engagement tools in the real estate space. However, we have not seen a product that is general across all different types of verticals like SavvyCard. No doubt, there will be a competitive response, and probably fairly quickly. However, right now we have not seen anyone that is deploying a product that is generalized so it works in real estate and finance and small business across different vertical categories. I think that in the real estate space there are probably three or four companies that we see as primary competitors within that niche. However, we have not seen a general competitor emerge yet.
CEOCFO: How is business?
Mr. Etheredge: It is good! With startups you are always facing the challenge of scaling. Typically, you’ve got to hire the right people; hire the team that is going to allow you to scale. I love the quote about how no business can grow faster than they can hire the right people to handle new business. Therefore, you have to do the hiring and build the infrastructure to manage the sales in anticipation of those sales. We are in that position as a company right now. We have more sales opportunities than we can possibly handle and we are raising capital in anticipation of growing our organization to scale nationally.
CEOCFO: How will you do that? What is the strategy for the next year or so?
Mr. Etheredge: We are in process right now of raising capital to scale the company into multiple verticals at the national level. In a cooling high-tech investment landscape, you have to show that you have traction with your product and services in a targeted market before people will risk an investment. Zillow raised their capital this way, though they never came close to a break even point. They developed their technology, proved that their business plan was getting traction with customers, then went and raised operating capital against market potential. I think one of their first raises was thirty million dollars and they used those funds to build out a national sales infrastructure and market their product to the general public as an alternative for people to use to search for homes. SavvyCard is using a similar strategy, though we will close a smaller angel round to achieve break even in the next year, and then use our revenue to secure a larger round of funding to scale nationally. As we continue to prove that the model will be successful in additional vertical markets, we will raise more capital, if needed, in order to accelerate that growth.
CEOCFO: How were you so sure when you started that it was the right method; that it would work?
Mr. Etheredge: My wife and I had a digital agency for 12 years. We had something like three hundred clients. These were all SMB’s – small to medium sized businesses – who were looking for ways to better differentiate themselves from their competition and better service their customers in a more convenient fashion. When we founded this agency in 2002, we each had over ten years of experience working with successful companies to overcome challenges they faced with effectively servicing their customers through traditional marketing channels. In 2009, I was reading a Gardiner Technology report that predicted over sixty percent of all web traffic would be mobile by the end of 2014. My wife is our VP of marketing for SavvyCard and we immediately recognized that businesses were not prepared for this; that businesses were not even thinking about how to engage their customers on mobile devices in 2009. At that time, maybe two percent of all web traffic was on smartphones. Therefore, assuming Gardiner’s prediction was even remotely accurate, it meant that over a four to five year period we were going to go from almost no business being done over the mobile web, to the majority of web business being done over the mobile web. That meant businesses were going to need to catch up quickly with consumer demand.
And of course, Gardiner was correct. Today, people carry their smartphones with them everywhere and use them as the primary tool through which they find businesses on the web. We’re finding that most SMBs – and large companies, too – do not know how to respond to this massive shift in consumer behavior. They know their customers are using their smartphones but not sure how to take advantage of the opportunity. As such, we are absolutely certain that SavvyCard or a similar type of product is going to receive tremendous traction and that this market place is going to be worth trillions of dollars. Millions of companies are going to deploy some type of system similar to SavvyCard over the next several years, whether it’s a platform solution or something they develop internally. The need for a SavvyCard like solution is not the question. The real question is, “Can SavvyCard card scale quickly enough to execute on our business plans and become the market leader in the space?” The market opportunity is there and will experience tremendous growth over the next three to four years.
CEOCFO: Why should SavvyCard standout?
Mr. Etheredge: SavvyCard stands out because it is one of the most cost effective and efficient tools for businesses to create and maintain relationships with their customers through smartphones. It enables growth by taking advantage of that huge mobile consumer opportunity that is already out there, and gives businesses control of brand and distribution on the mobile web.
One of the things that is so powerful about SavvyCard is that, unlike other content delivery platforms (for example Facebook, Zillow and YouTube), we subscribe to a philosophy called “Customer Brand Priority”. This means our customers’ brands take precedence over our own and they control distribution of their content and own the relationship with their customers. With other companies, your brand is second to theirs and you do not control distribution of your content. In fact, you usually have to pay to access your own customers on their platforms.
For example, if your business has a page on Facebook, you are not a Facebook business customer – though they may call you that – rather, you are simply creating Facebook content. Though your content is providing value to Facebook and its users, you are not being compensated. In fact, you are being charged by Facebook to gain access to the users your content helped them attract in the first place. At the end of the day, Facebook is all about delivering your content to your customers and prospects on their platform, and then charging you for that access, all while maintaining content distribution control and brand priority for themselves. Ultimately, that means that they are not in alignment with your business goals.
At SavvyCard, we feel this is an outdated model that is going to go away. It is going to be replaced with platform and technology providers like SavvyCard, who put their customers’ brands first and subordinate their brand to either a very minor position or remove it from the product and experience completely. When someone works with SavvyCard, we are able to deploy a customized mobile solution where their brand comes first and their relationship with their customer takes priority over our product and our brand. I think that is why customers want to work with SavvyCard. There are many, many mobile engagement tools out there that are trying to leverage the work their customers are doing for their own gain. At the end of the day, we think that that is not in the best interest of businesses.
I believe that if a business takes a good hard look at SavvyCard and the value proposition we offer in terms of maximizing their engagement with their customers through mobile devices, SavvyCard is going to win as the best solution available in the market place.
“One of the things that is so powerful about SavvyCard is that, unlike other content delivery platforms (for example Facebook, Zillow and YouTube), we subscribe to a philosophy called “Customer Brand Priority”. This means our customers’ brands take precedence over our own and they control distribution of their content and own the relationship with their customers. With other companies, your brand is second to theirs and you do not control distribution of your content. In fact, you usually have to pay to access your own customers on their platforms.” - David Etheredge
200 Central Ave
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
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