Greg Grunberg has a deal for you: Yowza delivers coupons to iPhone, smart phones
Greg Grunberg is best known as the actor who played telepathic cop Matt Parkman on the NBC series "Heroes." But he's also an entrepreneur with serious tech cred and nearly 1.5 million followers on Twitter.
Grunberg started Yowza in 2009. It's a location-aware application that delivers coupons from merchants such as Big 5 sporting goods, Crate & Barrel, Gap, Guitar Center, even Big Mama's and Papa's Pizzeria to smart phones. Yowza says its 5 million-plus users have saved more than $5.5 million and it has signed up more than 300 national and local merchants in more than 15,000 locations around the country.
How it works: Consumers download a free application to find coupons from retailers near them that can be scanned in the store. Consumers can choose to get notified every time one of their favorite stores has a deal. They can also track their savings on Yowza or share the deals they get with friends over e-mail, Twitter or on Facebook. Retailers can customize their coupons and are charged a fee based on the number of locations where they accept them. Small merchants can use an online service to generate deals. A dashboard helps them fine-tune the offers and change them to drive more traffic.
Yowza competes in the red-hot local space with the likes of Groupon, which made headlines this month when it turned down a $6-billion takeover offer from Google. Groupon has attracted 35 million users in more than 300 markets around the world by offering discounts of as much as 90% on everything from dental exams to restaurant meals. The company makes money by keeping part of the money raised by the coupons.
Yowza can't claim Groupon's girth, but Grunberg says it offers consumers an easy way to save money when they are on the go.
"Everybody sees that it's advantageous," he said. "We call it the 'Yowza Nation.' More and more people downloading it. It's free. Why not have it in your pocket?"
Q: Why did you create Yowza?
A: Out of necessity. I have always been a big tech guy and a fan of the iPhone. I also have a wife and three kids. We were walking into Bed Bath & Beyond and I realized I had forgotten the coupon in the car. I thought to myself: "This is ridiculous. I am the one spending the money, why do I have to remember to cut out the coupon and remember to bring it with me? Someone should really do this." About a month later I got a message from a guy, August Trometer, on Twitter. He had created five iPhone apps and wanted to help me create an app for my charity band, Band from TV. I told him about the idea and he freaked out. About a year ago we did the beta launch. We are still sticking to the model we came up with, to make Yowza mom-proof -- that's as in my mom, not my wife. You press a button and Yowza shows you the deals around you. Our philosophy is to just make life easier for consumers and save them as much money as possible. It's also really easy for retailers big and small. You put your credit card in and for under $50 a month per location you can potentially reach millions of customers.
Q: What about the competition from very popular services such as Facebook Deals and Groupon?
A: When Google wants to buy Groupon, I know we are in the right business. We are no longer just an actor and a guy who had a few successful apps. We are a company that has national reach and is growing every single day. This is a stamp of approval that we are not wasting our time.
Q: Is Yowza profitable?
A: We are profitable.
Q: What about funding?
A: We are doing a strategic round of funding. This is not a traditional round of funding where someone is throwing money down. We had offers since we started of people wanting to invest in Yowza. From Day 1, August and I had the mind-set that unless you are in the business and can help us expand beyond just putting money down, we are not interested. It's more important to have people who are in the business who really have experience and bring skill sets to the table in addition to financing.
Q: Who are your investors, how big is the round and when will you announce the funding?
A: I cannot disclose the details but we should have a big announcement in January.
Q: What is your goal with Yowza? Do you want to remain independent or sell?
A: Eventually there will be something that happens but right now we have so much work to do and so many great retailers to bring on, we are not even thinking about that stuff.
A: You and I would be having this conversation on a beach in Costa Rica right now. I would say, "Yowza!" and that's the last you would hear from me.
Q: What would you do with that kind of money?
A: I would personally love to start financing my own films. I have a movie out now called "Group Sex." It's now on Starz, Showtime, it will be on Comedy Central soon, and it's on Netflix. Getting financing for that was arduous and took years. I would love to throw down my own money and make films. That's the end game down the road.
Q: Right now your website is getyowza.com. Are you trying to get yowza.com?
A: We are trying to get it, believe me.
Q: How soon will you have Android and BlackBerry apps?
A: We are hoping to do that by January. In the meantime, we have partnered with the Where location services app. Inside Where is a button that says coupon, you hit that and you get access to all the coupons that Yowza offers.
Q: How are people you know using Yowza?
A: A friend of mine was at the Marmalade Cafe having breakfast at the bar. The waitress went down the bar telling people that the cafe offers deals on Yowza. Scott Grimes, an actor who's in my band, said "Are you kidding me? Am I being punk’d?" He told her that he was a friend of mine and she flipped out. Everyone on my crew of "Love Bites" is using Yowza, too. The set decoration crew went to the Container Store and Crate & Barrel and saved $400. I got a call from the executive producer on the show about it. I asked him if I could wear a Yowza T-shirt on the show but he said no. But he loved it. And I am so proud of that. How cool is that? I saved my own show $400.
Q: How do you fit Yowza into all of the time you spend raising money to support epilepsy research and into your acting career?
A: I don't get the question anymore: "What are you doing?" People ask me: "Holy cow, when do you sleep?" My job is all about awareness. Actors are self-promoting people anyway. It ties into everything I am doing.
Q: Has Yowza gotten a big boost from your celebrity?
A: It definitely helps open doors and it helps keep those doors open.
-- Jessica Guynn
Photo: Yowza founders Greg Grunberg and August Trometer. Credit: Yowza