Startup Story: Massimo Sirolla, Loyalzoo

StartUp-Story-Massimo-blog

Time for the latest edition in our series of Startup Stories. Today we chat with Massimo Sirolla, an entrepreneur revolutionising the world of loyalty cards with a high tech solution aimed at independent stores.

Entrepreneur: Massimo Sirolla
Business: Loyalzoo
Founded: 2013

My business in 100 words (or less)…

Loyalzoo offers independent retailers a loyalty app to replace traditional loyalty cards. The idea is to offer to small independent retailers the same technology that the big retailers use to increase customer loyalty and to get more customers. When you look at the independents, they are normally the type of shops and restaurants that make an area beautiful. The main objective is to get the merchant’s new (and existing) customers to become regulars and to encourage the trend to “shop local”.

My lightbulb moment came when…

The idea came to me by looking at my wallet full of (often unused) loyalty cards, and seeing how most big chains are promoting their own branded loyalty apps to replace traditional loyalty cards. The immediate question was – “What about the independents?”. Local merchants are the lifeblood of an area, but they’ll never be able to compete against the large brands with all their technology and marketing investments. The challenge was to create a loyalty app for independent retailers that is affordable, easy to use, and that will give them the technology they need to compete in this increasingly mobile society.

The nice streets are the ones with the independents, where shops are all different from each other…

So we wanted to develop technology that was similar to what the big retailers are deploying, but affordable for the small business. All large retailers are switching their loyalty cards to apps – one of the most successful is Starbucks. It has 10 million users right now and it keeps track of your stamps, and it also allows you to make payments. We developed something that is affordable for the small retailers so it’s a subscription based service and they can set up their own individual loyalty scheme. It’s completely individual to them.

Marketing to small businesses is tough…

I have to say it is a lot easier to sell something to a large retailer – because you know you can talk to them. When you need to see a manager with those organisations. If you try hard enough you will.

With small businesses, particularly with owners of small independent shops it’s not like that. It’s really difficult to speak to them. On one hand because they’re bombarded by sales people of all sorts, so they automatically shut off. It’s very costly because there are lots of them and it’s not like with a big retailer where you can make a big sale – with these guys it’s one subscriber, it’s a small thing in revenue terms. So that’s why we’re focusing on digital marketing and we are working hard on developing partnerships with companies that can help us scale via their sales force.

The adjustment in becoming my own boss was challenging…

I have to say I gave up a significant career in IT to do this, significant salary as well. But I believe that this can work – so I’m taking a hit now, hoping for a big result in the future.

On the other hand it’s very liberating. The sense of freedom you get is fantastic – every day for me is an adventure. It’s exciting, I learn so much every minute. But at the same time  I have to remember that it’s not just about me, that I have responsibilities too.

The biggest problem has been recruiting…

Recruitment is a major headache – it’s really difficult to find people. We’re trying to target young professionals and new graduates. It’s really hard to find good people with a genuine interest in making a difference. Most young people want to work for larger companies – famous companies. Working for a startup like us is not appealing to all. It seems to be a common problem among startups. Now we have a team of 5 people and we all work really well together. We’ve been incredibly fortunate.

One thing I wish I knew in the beginning…

The importance of not outsourcing certain activities, such as development and marketing. At that time I did not have the skills and the knowledge to do anything differently. So in the end I have no regrets. If I was sitting there last year as I am now, a number of things would have been much faster. For example, our approach to the marketing of the company and the way that we express the value proposition of our product – it was very neglected last year. Now we really express ourselves a lot more.

My biggest business fear is…

That there’s something really obvious that we’ve missed.

In 5 years time, I see the business…

Being the global loyalty brand for independent merchants. In the shorter term I would like achieve a much bigger number of merchants, and I’d like to have a much bigger team – just to be able to scale. I have to say this time next year if everything goes well, we’d be growing at a very significant level. Not just in the UK, we are building partnerships with companies in the US. If they work, they may make us much bigger.

My one piece of advice to someone starting up their own business is…

Keep it simple. Also, remember that you have to do it for something greater than money, there has be an ambition that is more sophisticated than the hope of having money. I think if you do it for the money it’s easy to fail – but the best commercial results come when you’re doing it for an idea.

Interested in finding out more about Massimo and Loyalzoo?

Visit Loyalzoo
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Are you interested in telling your own Startup Story? Email us for more information.

By Mathew Aitken at MadeSimpleFind Mathew on Google+

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