Published May 9th, 2014 at 6:06 PM
Entrepreneurs filled their cups to the brim at 1 Million Cups early Wednesday morning at the Kauffman Foundation. Two Kansas City–based startups, LigoSphere and Royal Loyal, shared their early stage startups with the audience and each participated in a brief question and answer session after their presentations.
First to speak was Babir Sultan, founder of Royal Loyal. He said that the idea for his customer loyalty rewards platform came from his frustration while working at an independently owned gas station. He felt that the standard customer loyalty plans — the standard punch card system — did not work.
“Working as a cashier at a gas station, we were giving out punch cards to customers,” Sultan said. “Once they left the store, there was no way for us to communicate. We tried direct-mail marketing and newspaper ads. We saw that it wasn’t effective.”
Sultan decided to make a digital platform which he hoped would make loyalty rewards programs more valuable for mom and pop shops and franchises by increasing customer use and company sales while being more affordable than the traditional methods. His service costs $60 per month for business owners, but Sultan prefers to present it as $2 per day.
Sultan was accepted into the UMKC Entrepreneurship Scholars program last year and was teamed up with Kirk Hasenzahl for mentorship. This meeting proved fruitful as Hasenzahl is the president and CEO of RareWire, an application development company in the Kansas City metro area.
“The president for RareWire, Kirk, was my mentor, and just meeting with him allowed us make our dream a reality,” Sultan said. “They are the force behind Royal Loyal. They are our back support and are the ones who helped us build the app as well.”
The application has a simple premise: replace punch cards (i.e., buy five cups of coffee and the sixth is free) by digitizing reward systems and using smartphones. Sultan believes that his platform will scale. HE launched the application one month ago and has already amassed 44 business customers, and said more are coming this way.
“We are finalizing a deal with some Church’s Chickens,” Sultan said. He explained that the talks include 30 different restaurant locations, nearly doubling his current customer base.
The final presenter was Munro Richardson with LigoSphere. He is the co-founder and CEO of the Kansas City–based private college campus-wide social network. The idea for the company resulted after one of his co-founders, Ben Dewberry, had to find a way to communicate with students on a mass scale and was struggling to find a proper route to take.
“He thought ‘wouldn’t it be great to find a way to use our mobile phones to build community on campuses and connect people with things that they are interested in and care about, and make it easier for people to connect and share with each other on campus?’” Richardson said.
This was the first incarnation of what would eventually turn into Ligo.
“Ligo is Latin. It means to bind, unite and to bring together,” Richardson said. “We are trying to make it faster and easier for students, staff and faculty on college campuses to be able to connect and share with each other about various aspects of student life and campus life.”
Richardson has experience in higher education: he served as the vice president of education at the Kauffman Foundation as well as a co-founder and former chief operating officer of another education startup called myEDmatch. He believes that Ligo can have an effect on campuses because of the close-knit nature of the college community.
“A campus really is a big neighborhood,” Richardson said. “There is a really strong sense of identity; people want to belong….From the moment that people get accepted into college… they immediately want to start connecting with other people.”
Richardson explained that, while anyone can download Ligo, a user has to provide a proper .edu email address from the supported campuses in order to post on the social network. Though the application is free for users, Richardson will charge companies for advertising and promotional space.
“We make our money from local small businesses that are looking to connect with students on campuses through deals, offers and discounts,” Richardson said.
Richardson explained that while there is no contract for advertising partnerships, that the longer a company agrees to advertise on Ligo, the lower the cost. The durations start with a one-day package, which runs for $19.
Ligo launched April 3 of this year, and the LigoSphere team has targeted five different campuses from around the Kansas/Missouri region to pilot their program. The test areas are the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Washburn University, William Jewell College, University of Kansas and Kansas State University. Richardson said that the platform has reached 1,000 users since launch.