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Lauren O Reilly and Bidemi Afolabi cofounders of ProMotion rewards

ProMotion Rewards is a consumer rewards startup that connects brands and shoppers. Founded by Bidemi Afolabi and Lauren O’Reilly, the company recently raised €725,000 in pre-seed investment. For this blog, we spoke to New Frontiers alumna Lauren about the journey so far.

Lauren and Bidemi met while completing degrees in pharmacy. In fact, they had an idea for a different promotion startup before having the lightbulb moment that led to developing the ProMotion Rewards app.

Because of their degrees, the founders were already immersed in research and gathering data. While working for a large retail pharmacy group, Lauren saw first-hand how retailers of all types need customer insights that they can turn into concrete business results. But are loyalty cards and customer feedback surveys enough? And, even if a retailer had this information, how can the brands themselves access this and what kinds of consumer trends are hiding in plain sight?

“From the retailer’s perspective, they own the sale. This means they own the related data, and they have the power to then action that data through their channels. We started thinking about the brands that are sold through these retailers; they don’t own the sale and they don’t have the connection with the consumer. A manufacturer of goods might distribute across supermarkets, retail shops, petrol stations, etc. How can they see who their consumers are across the market and reach them with the right offer, at the right time?

We wondered if we could provide really high-quality insights to these brands. We were also thinking about the consumer perspective and their desire for transparency as well as seeing a benefit from this data that can be held about them.”

This became a core of the ProMotion Rewards product – it had to be democratic for the brand but also for the consumer who was bringing all this valuable data to the table. Lauren and Bidemi had identified that the value lies in the receipt, because it’s the only way to really understand what a consumer is buying.

“We became really nerdy about receipts. We looked at how they work, and what their similarities and differences are. That’s where building the product started from, taking the true value from the receipts and rewarding consumers for their data. Obviously, they have complete autonomy and can choose which receipts to upload.”

Lauren and Bidemi have been at university together since 2016. They took part in the Trinity College LaunchBox accelerator with their first startup idea, so they knew they worked well together. The early-stage startup won the LaunchBox programme and gave the founders plenty of experience in essential areas such as the market research process.

“We have different strengths and weaknesses, so we are able to complement each other. Bidemi is the more technical one, he’s a self-taught programmer so he took on a lot of the work of researching the technology and how the product could be built and do what we wanted it to do.

My role was more in researching the value creation side of the product. We wanted to build something that kept the consumer in control but was still seen as very valuable by the brands – that’s the only way a product like this can work. I did lots of primary research with consumers and brands.

There is crossover with our roles, though, because we both like to understand how things work. But we have worn many different hats during this process and if something needed to be done, we just got on and did it.”

The scientific approach these founders brought to their startup is one of its core strengths. They used their own networks to undercover user perspectives early on, then branched out through family and friends to find a wider reach of consumers. The goal was always to bring the broadest range of voices into their research.

“I found that people are very willing to give up some of their time to talk to you if you’re genuinely interested in their problems and opinions. I was like a giant sponge soaking up what they were saying in the most unbiased way! Once we had the MVP, I went back to them to get their feedback. I made sure that people in different countries were trying it out too, as we want the app to be usable in other markets and part of that will be seeing what kinds of differences users in other countries would expect.”

Lauren and Bidemi are well embedded in the startup community, first with their involvement in LaunchBox, then by participating in New Frontiers. They also decided to locate in Dogpatch Labs, which helped them make connections and get introductions to the media industry and the consumer goods industry. As the startup was still in the research phase and not simply trying to pitch to them, these contacts were very willing to share deep insights and knowledge. In fact, Lauren was able to have conversations with some of the biggest and most influential brands out there.

The company is now in a major new chapter as it has secured pre-seed funding of €725,000. The investment was led by Laidlaw Scholars Ventures (LSV), with participation from Delta Partners and Enterprise Ireland. ProMotion Rewards has a new hire starting and will probably hire again soon. This next phase will involve developing the product and getting it in front of more consumers.

“Everyone tells you this, but it’s still a surprise when raising funding takes longer than you expect it to! We started preparing at the beginning of this year and we did the right thing in raising before we actually needed to. That did mean that possibly we jumped in a little before we were ready to, but it also meant that we had a clear idea of what investors needed to see from us.

We worked on our value propositions – different investors have a different focus, so they need to be adapted – and got on a lot of calls. At the end of the day, we wanted an investor we could work well with and who could bring value to the business beyond cash. It’s a bit like a marriage; you have to get along and work well together.

If I went through this again, I would take the early start approach because there is so much involved to get through the process and out the other side.”

ProMotion Reward’s model of transparent data sharing couldn’t be more timely. Consumers are ready for more responsible technology products that respect their needs and privacy.

“I think people are generally tired of feeling spied on and don’t want their data combed through for profit. As pharmacists, we already take a very strong stance on privacy, so that was important to us from the get-go. The whole point of our product is that you have total control over what you share – if you open the app and snap a receipt, you know that’s what you’ve done. In addition, that data has now been anonymised.

In return, you get discount vouchers – or you can donate them to charity if you prefer. We’re giving control to the users and letting them put the benefit of using the app where they want. Brands get insights into consumer behaviour, which is really valuable to them, but without any personal data attached. I feel that our 100% transparency model is different from a lot of products. There’s no sneaky stuff happening, it’s all about direct value being created on both sides!”

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.