Small Business

'Heroes' Star Rescues Coupon-Challenged Shoppers

Co-founders of Yowza (left to right): Greg Grunberg and August Trometer
Source: Yowza

We have all been there, that moment when you get to the cash register, ready to take advantage of a discount, and realize you left your coupon at home.

That’s when a Hero saves the day — well not a real hero, but the actor and entrepreneurGreg Grunberg, best known for his roles as police detective Matt Parkman in the TV series “Heroes,” and co-founder of Yowza.

Yowza is a free smartphone app that does away with the need to clip or print coupons by offering deals directly to mobile devices. Users can search for nearby, participating retailers either via zip code or by using the device's built-in GPS to find stores within their location.

While Grunberg uses his celebrity status for publicity, he is no stranger to the world of business. He currently owns four  businesses and once ran a frozen yogurt delivery service. We spoke with Grunberg, one of the two co-founders of Yowza, on how he and partner August Trometer, a technology entrepreneur, started a business for the budget-conscious.

Where did the idea come from?

My wife and I were in a Bed, Bath & Beyondand got up to the cash register and realized that we had left our 20 percent off coupon in the car and we were too lazy and distracted by our three kids to go back and get it. I was so frustrated, I thought 'Why doesn't someone harness the GPS technologyin my phone to bring the coupons to me,wherever I am and whenever I need them?' I was an early Twitter adopter; through Twitter I met a brilliant developer er named August Trometer. We got to tweeting and the rest is Yowza history.

Where did the funding first come from?

We were self-funded — I provided the funds — until last fall, when we raised our first round of funding from angels [$1.5 million, led by Tech Coast Angels].

Yowza App
Source: Yowza

Who was your first customer?

Our first big customer was and they are still with us today. [Yowza charges merchants a flat fee of $89 per month to participate in the service.] We now have thousands of locations across the country accepting Yowza mobile coupons, from McDonald’sand Dunkin’ Donuts to local salons, restaurants, clothing stores, dry cleaners and car washes.

When did you know the company would be a success?

We knew it would be successful when, three months after we launched in early 2009, we got calls from merchants who wanted to be listed on the site, instead of us having to call them. Mobile is proving to be a key part of small business marketing. I had a small retail frozen yogurt store years ago and August had a bagel shop, so we are well aware of how important it is for small business to use their marketing money wisely. 

Does your celebrity status help the startup?

It would be much harder to launch [if I were not well-known]. There are other players out there who took millions worth of funding and no one knows who they are. It is tremendous to have a celebrity attached to a product. We’ve seen the number of downloads shoot up especially after [television] appearances. It's an unequivocal advantage, and one we want to continue taking advantage of.

What’s next?

We are looking for other platforms, as well as updates to the app, and more things going forward that I can’t talk about yet.

Follow Jessica Naziri on Twitter @jessicanaziri