Dip App's Francesca Morelli and Chloe Henning on disrupting the high street voucher industry

  • Every company wants to get its deals in front of customers, and an entire voucher industry has sprung up around people looking for the best deals. Most voucher websites and apps require the user to go searching for the deals they want and make money by taking a percentage cut from any sales made.

    Now a Belfast-based start-up is hoping to turn that model on its head with its upcoming location-based Deals in Places shopping companion app that will notify you when you walk past a deal you might like on the high street. I caught up with two of the app's creators, Chloe Henning and Francesca Morelli, at the Catalyst FinTech Hub in Belfast to find out more about how the app works and how the start-up culture in Belfast has helped it develop.

    Sync NI: Thanks for meeting us! Can you tell me a bit about yourselves, your background, and how you got involved in Dip App?

    Francesca: My name is Francesca, and I come from a family business background. I've always been very interested in small businesses, and family businesses have much of a connection to start-ups as you're really just doing anything that needs done and working as a team.

    I study international business with French at Queen's University, and I'm in final year now. Last year I went on my placement year to Paris and got involved in a start-up studio. There were 5 start-ups in the same office and I worked for 3 of them, and that's when I really found my passion for start-ups. I loved the whole atmosphere, and I loved the whole environment and the work I was doing. It was pure business development and working away at whatever needed done.

    I came home and I've known Glenn, who is our business partner, for a few years. I updated my Linkedin profile with all my work that I'd done over the past year in Paris and the next day Glenn gave me a call and asked if I'd come on board his start-up. I thought it had potential and sounded interesting, and I was excited by the prospect of a new business here in Northern Ireland. So that's really how I got involved.

    Chloe: My name is Chloe and I'm currently a fine art student. I do blogging, modelling, social media in general, and I create content. Glenn is a marketing manager, so he knew me through that and he reached out and said "I have a really cool idea, would you meet for coffee?" I really liked the idea of the app and thought it was really cool and had potential.

    Sync NI: Can you tell me a little bit about the app and how it works?

    Francesca: DIP stands for "Deals in Places" and it notifies consumers of promotional offers based on their live location and preferences. How it works is when a consumer walks into a shopping area, which can be the likes of Stranmillis Road, Botanic, or Victoria Square, they'll be notified that there are deals in that area. They're presented by a list of deals that they can swipe through and click to redeem or save.

    How it works for businesses is that they pay us 20p per click. With a lot of other voucher apps in our space, they usually take a percentage of the sale. We take 0% of the sale as we have opted for a pay-per-click model instead. It's very simple for businesses, they can upload a promotion in a couple of minutes and consumers choose what they're interested in so they're only seeing the deals that are relevant to them.

    Sync NI: So you're almost flipping the established model on its head? It's more consumer focused?

    Francesca: Yeah, but at the end of the day, it's the businesses that pay us and it's the consumers that pay them. We don't see any money off the consumer, the only money that changes hands for the consumer in our business is when they're redeeming their promotional offer. Our promotional offers are very targeted now and they're very simplified, and we just wanted to change up the way people use vouchers.

    Sync NI: Has the business model changed as you've developed the app, or has the market changed?

    Francesca: I don't think the market has changed. We identified our target market early on as females aged 21 to 31, and we still find that that's really the group that do tend to use vouchers the most and do tend to be out shopping more.

    Chloe: They're also the tech-savvy ones, the younger generation that tend to have their phone out so that they will get the notifications when they walk past our locations.

    Francesca: For the business model, since our team came on board there have been different problems we've been presented with and we've been able to bounce off each other and find solutions. As a whole, the idea in essence hasn't changed at all. It's just that as we've gotten further and further into development, we've noticed that certain things are trickier to develop than we thought it would be or needed changed a bit.

    As with any other start-up, there have been little things we've encountered where we've had to put our heads together and think of solutions. We've a brilliant developer who has been fundamental in the development and has been able to really carry out the vision.

    Sync NI: Do you find being in the Catalyst FinTech Hub has helped a lot?

    Chloe: It's a useful thing for things like this interview, and recording the podcasts and such, so it is a useful resource that we have.

    Francesca: Yeah, for me I would be in here a little bit more than Chloe because Chloe with her content creation can really do that anywhere. For me, my work's on a laptop and it's brilliant being able to meet people in a similar sector, being in a chill space with a coffee. I'm a student too and it's a really lovely break from the library!

    Being able to come here and have my own space, it's a lot more calm and I'm able to get on with my own thing. The people around here are so keen to help with any advice you may need and any way they can help you at all. Belfast has a really brilliant start-up ecosystem, and it's why we are so lucky to have this space where we can connect with likeminded people and still have our own time to work away.

    Sync NI: So how has the marketing been? Have you been reaching out to more businesses or mostly customers?

    Chloe: Fran does a lot of the sales, but through social we've had a lot of interactions and a lot of messages about it. Even months before we were even talking about launching, we've had some top retailers in Belfast reaching out to us. There has been a lot of interest in it so far.

    Francesca: So far on Chloe's side, we have over 6,000 followers on social media between Instagram and Twitter. That's been down to the work of Chloe and Glenn, and that's been before we even launched. Having over 50,000 impressions on our social media as well as over 6,000 followers, we're happy there.

    In terms of the sales side, it's been overwhelmingly positive. I've had interest from different digital marketing places even just to try it out, and a lot of our mindset right now is to support local. So for example, we've pledged to give free credit to anyone who was directly affected by the Primark fire. There were a lot of businesses that were affected by that, so it means for a certain amount of free clicks they're going to be able to benefit from DIP.

    Sync NI: Is it almost a proof of concept to help get them on board?

    Francesca: Exactly, and we're hoping to achieve that proof of concept not long after we launch. Hopefully that will be down to the support of local Belfast businesses that want to support each other.

    Sync NI: Do you anticipate a lot of organic uptake once the app launches?

    Chloe: We hope so, that is the aim! At the minute, we're trying to create a really strong brand image and get a bit of buzz going behind it so that we do have the users to download it when we release a video saying that it's launched. But word of mouth is a very big thing around Belfast, and hopefully that'll pick up once we've launched.

    Sync NI: What does the future look like? Are there plans to launch in different regions or markets?

    Chloe: So Belfast is our test market, and we are looking to export. The app could be used anywhere, it's a product that can be adapted to any city.

    Francesca: We think it has huge export potential, it would be mainly cities where it has a high concentration of our target market. That's one of our future plans, and another we'd hope to introduce is maybe sponsored deals, or maybe a premium account feature. They're just some of our future plans.

    Sync NI: So you'll be launching in Belfast and then will see what works and adapt the product?

    Francesca: Yeah, to see what works and to see how people take to it, if they like it and if it works for them.

    Sync NI: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Is there any message you'd like to get out there?

    Chloe: We will be having a lot on social media if anyone wants to follow our handles, it's @dip_app on Instagram and Twitter. We'd really appreciate if people would follow us to keep up to date with our latest updates, and we actually are posting promotional deals on social media already.

    About the author

    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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