MICHAEL D'ALFONSO, 48, of Drexel Hill, is founder and CEO of Social WiFi, in Bala Cynwyd, which provides mobile commerce and Wi-Fi hotspot technology for local merchants. With four full-time employees, the firm just launched E-Pay WiFi, a mobile marketing platform with which consumers get free Wi-Fi in exchange for opting in to get digital coupons and daily deals from merchants.
Q: How'd you get the idea?
A: We began working on a cost-effective marketing platform that enables small business owners and merchants to mass engage local consumers on their smartphones and mobile devices using Wi-Fi. Consumers shop locally when they need a haircut or want to order a pizza. In February we actually began testing E-Pay WiFi with a login page that collected consumers' mobile numbers and Facebook login info.
Q: How's the biz work?
A: We install access points at certain businesses to create hubs in a city. This provides Wi-Fi to businesses so they can offer it free to customers. They see our login page on their mobile devices and enter their mobile number or Facebook login. Using opt-in consumer data, digital coupons are text-messaged every seven to 10 days and daily deals are sent via email.
Q: Value proposition?
A: For $289 a month, we give clients Wi-Fi and customers get the free Wi-Fi signal and opt in to receive digital coupons and daily deals. That gives merchants products that Groupon or Living Social has, but they don't share the customer data, plus we do this at a fraction of the cost.
Q: Your customers?
A: Two City Fitness gyms and the Cutting Point Hair Salon are local ones. We have about 85 clients throughout the country. We have partnerships with resellers who [install the Wi-Fi hardware] and we do all the data collection, manage customers and split revenues 50/50.
Q: What differentiates you from the competition?
A: We can transfer customer data such as mobile-phone numbers and Facebook login info to our platform and create daily deals, coupons and flash merchant offers on the fly. I don't know of anybody else doing that.
Q: Biggest challenge?
A: Initially, we tried to develop relationships with individual merchants, but a lot of them didn't understand the point-of-sale concept. We had to regroup and began focusing on larger organizations who get mobile commerce and have an infrastructure for training sales people. So one of our partners is Apple Vending Co. in Bensalem. They install amusement/music equipment in bars and restaurants.
Q: What's next?
A: Our goal is to get 100 new accounts per month every month for the next 12 months.