As a physician with an entrepreneurial background, Dr. Michael Gutkin has invested in several local businesses in New Jersey, including hair salons, rental companies and pizza parlors. So when his patient, Brad McEvilly, approached him with an idea to develop a mobile app that encourages users to snap photos at local stores and share them through social media, he took it a step further to get businesses more actively involved and increase profits.
"Brad wanted users to a snap picture and say, 'I'm at Starbucks, come meet me' on Facebook, but with some people out there already doing that, I think the hook is 'Come meet me at Starbucks and get a free coffee,' " Gutkin said. "Connecting the app to actual coupons drives more interest and savings, and that will help out businesses more."
Since 2007, McEvilly has developed more than 10 website apps, though none of them brought him enough capital to quit his day jobs as a technology marketer for pharmaceutical firm Merck & Co. and a software engineer for online auctioning company Equipmentfacts. But after securing office space in Hackettstown and more than $40,000 in investment from Gutkin for the Photopon venture, McEvilly has spent the past three months solely working to release the app for the iPhone, and he plans to maintain it full time with at least two other developers after the launch this summer.
"The way the app works is if I'm at a restaurant and I take a picture of my food, the app will take my geographical coordinates and present a list of their promotions, and then I can create a photo that has one of those coupons in it and send it to my friends," McEvilly said. "That inclines your friends and family to go that place. It's 10 times more powerful than Groupon, because you create the coupons and make the suggestions."
McEvilly said the app's revenue model depends more on businesses' willingness to sign up and create custom promotions than consumers' usage, though he realizes companies won't get on board if there's no consumer base.
To drive more users to the app in its early stages, McEvilly and Gutkin have partnered with local online advertising company CityGrid, which hosts a database of local businesses and allows companies to create pages where they can show their promotions to users.
While Gutkin said he "wouldn't and didn't put my life savings into this," he noted the app's reliance on social recommendations gives it "a lot of validity" at a time when social media drives local marketing.
"When you get money mailers in the mail, I see someone looking to do my roof, but then I have to ask, 'Is this roofer any good?' But the beauty of Photopon is that it already comes with your friends' recommendations," Gutkin said. "You can't use Photopon from your couch. You have to go out to the restaurant or store, and I think that will boost not only our business, but theirs, as well."