Harsimarbir Singh is a Duke University alumnus who has had two stints with startups previously. In his last job, he was involved in developing a location-based algorithm to identify potential locations for opening up a fast food outlet. During this period, he came to realize the number of people looking for discounts while eating out. “The problem with online players is that one has to swipe a card for INR 20-30 rupees to get a discount. I believe that discounts should be free and hence the idea about a yellow page of offers from offline merchants made sense to me,” says Harsimarbir.
He started work on the idea and co-founded Whoopiee Technologies along with Gaurav Bagga who handles the technology side of things. Whoopiee is basically a mobile app which lists offers and discounts available in the city. Based out of NCR, this 11-member team has been operational for close to a year and has been able to reach 20,000 downloads. Whoopiee started out from Ludhiana with 20 restaurants in June 2013 and is live in Ludhiana, Chandigarh, Panchkula, Mohali and most recently Delhi with 500+ offers across 400 odd restaurants, salons and gyms etc.
The duo has raised an angel round from a Delhi-based businessman and the capital has helped them experiment with various methods while marketing. “It was really tough in the initial months. Till December, we had only about 4k downloads and we had tried a lot of online and offline methods but things have picked up since January,” says Harsimarbir. The app is getting about 350 downloads a day, although highly concentrated in terms of geography.
Harsimarbir agrees that their first version was pretty mediocre but they have improved over time and are satisfied with the current product. “Coming from the US, we initially had a model wherein the user was to use a QR code after walking into a restaurant. People didn't get this and we quickly moved to a listing from where users can choose and pick,” says Harsimarbir. The app still has some way to go in terms of design but the fact that it has been able to get downloads in a tough region deserves a mention.
Whoopiee faces a stiff competition from the well-funded Hoppr, DelighCircle and of course Groupon. Players like CouponRani and Coupon Dunia lie in the complimentary space with only online retailers on board. Ravi Trivedi, founder of Srijan Capital, which has invested in CouponRani says, “As online spends increase, these players will benefit naturally, and even grow faster than industry growth. Fundamentally, online and offline retailers both need efficient performance oriented customer acquisition channels, which these players provide.” Globally, Coupons.com (mainly into offline grocery coupons) and Retailmenot are the biggest players with $100M+ in annual revenues, Ravi says.
For Whoopiee, the journey has just begun and after consolidating in areas in and around NCR, it plans to expand into other cities like Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai where user adoption would be easier. The company is also looking to raise funds to fuel the growth. If they are able to scale and replicate what they've got in a couple of other cities, an acquisition might also be on the horizon.