Restaurants are directly affected by external circumstances such as bad weather. Bluesky Local is an innovative coupon marketing solution that projects when restaurant sales will slump using factors like different time of day, a change in the season or unexpected weather forecast. If sales are low for that local restaurant, Bluesky Local automatically sends customers coupons to that restaurant—and sees an impressive 14 percent redemption rate. This is a perfect solution for not only restaurant owners but also money-conscious customers. You can easily try Bluesky Local, free for thirty days at www.BlueskyLocal.com.
Young Money interviewed the young entrepreneur, Matt Ackerson, to find out more about this new and exciting restaurant marketing tool.
YOUNG MONEY: Tell us about your background (education, etc)
MATT ACKERSON: In May 2009 (this year) I graduated from Cornell University. While at Cornell I started a couple of businesses and worked hard to soak up at much entrepreneurial knowledge as possible. My first real venture was “Scrimple” (a combination of the words scrimp and simple), a local coupon website where college students could go to print off discount offers or text them to their cell phones. My second business was more profitable: a student discount card, called “The S-Card” advertised discounts that could be reused numerous times around Cornell and Syracuse University. After graduating, my friend, Angel Villegas, and I, decided to defer full time job opportunities to work full-time on building and growing Bluesky Local. We feel confident in its potential since the business model makes up for the weaknesses in the past ventures while also building on our existing knowledge of the local merchant market.
YM: Tell us about your Bluesky Local.
MA: A majority of restaurants’ sales are impacted to the tune of 20 percent because of external factors that they have no control over, such as weather, seasonal changes, time, etc. Bluesky Local gives business owners a tool to counteract these effects so that every time our service predicts or detects the presence of slow sales conditions it automatically delivers coupons to local customers via email, text messages, and Twitter. Thus restaurants see a sales increase when they would normally see a slump.
We’re seeing some great results thus far, with our average coupon redemption rate being 14 times the national average. One of our clients has seen her sales increase literally 20 percent. Besides the fact that Bluesky Local helps to solve a big problem for restaurants, we’re excited because we’re the first company in this space to tackle this specific problem.
YM: What gave you the idea to start this business?
MA: For two years in high school I worked as a dishwasher, chef, and bus boy at a local restaurant called Vinnie’s Mulberry Street in my hometown. During my time there I noticed a direct relationship between external factors such as the weather, seasons, and time. I noticed this because whenever business was slow the waiters and I would sit around, play cards, and complain and joke about how little in tips we would make for that night.
Fast forward a few years: when I was in college I started and grew a coupon website business targeted at college students at Cornell and Syracuse University. At the end of my college career something clicked and I remembered my past experience at Mulberry Street; I thought how marrying the idea of coupons to that slow sales situation could be a practical and innovative solution.
YM: Where did you get the funding for your business?
MA: Bluesky Local has been bootstrapped to date. It has been completely funded by my Co-Founder, Angel Villegas, and I.
YM: What was the hardest thing you encountered while starting your business?
MA: All of it. I suppose the most difficult thing is being aware of the shear upward slope of the learning curve that you must get over if you want to build a successful company. You don’t know, what you don’t know, as they say. Some people will kill themselves trying to get up that learning curve as fast as possible. Today I generally believe that it takes years to become an overnight success. We’re going to get there though. Starting out and making mistakes early as an a young entrepreneur in college was one the smartest choices I’ve made.
YM: What surprised you the most?
MA: Managing yourself along with a small team of people, is much more difficult and less glamorous than most people might initially think. When managing yourself in the context of being a start-up entrepreneur, you’ll inevitably have to ask yourself some tough questions, like what do you really value, what actually motivates you, and how do you make decisions with those questions in mind?
When it comes to managing a team of people, you have to approach it with the greatest humility and an unflagging sense of resolve that you want your company to succeed. “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” said Teddy Roosevelt. The big stick for an entrepreneur is his or her will power, while speaking softly represents his or her outward humility. “The superior man is modest in speech, but exceeds in his actions.” This quote from Confucius similarly reflects the humility and will power with which all entrepreneurs should seek to lead.
YM: How do you get your name out there and get customers? What has been your most effective marketing technique or tactic?
MA: So far our most effective marketing technique has come from building strong relationships with our local clients. People like to buy from people they know and therefore trust. It’s quite literally a friendship, but it’s business also. Friends look out for what’s in each other’s best interest, and that’s why our existing client-base has decided to sign-up with Bluesky Local. While although we’re a start-up business with little brand reputation, because they’ve personal met us and spoken with us, they know that we’ve got their best interests at heart and that we will work hard to make sure our solution meets their expectations. With that said, on the ground sales have been the most effective sales tactic for us because they are also the most personal.
YM: What effect has the recession had on your business?
MA: It’s been a great boon for Bluesky Local believe it or not. Since Bluesky Local is a win-win solution (increased customer traffic for restaurants and discount coupons for local consumers) the value proposition really makes sense since restaurant sales traffic is down across the board and consumers are actively seeking out coupon discounts online like never before.
YM: If you could offer one piece of concrete advice to other people, what would it be?
MA: Don’t be reckless–but more importantly don’t be risk averse! So many people think they need the next great idea to start a business or to just make money in general. Right now, today, is the best time to take a risk and do something you’re passionate about if only because the future is so ambiguous.
The greatest challenge of our generation is not coming to grips with the reality that our youthful idealism was a farce and that we should trade it in for a satisfactory salary and some health insurance. No, our challenge is learning not to compromise our dreams.