BY MARY BEVANS GILLETT Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Joe Walker has been a techie for more than 20 years, but it was a weekend of “X-Boxing” and a love of northern Michigan that sparked the start of Ozmott.
A patent-pending interactive mobile application, it uses smartphone technology to promote traditional retail shopping with discounts and rewards for users and merchants. Based in Traverse City, it provides subscribers with discounts at nearby brick and mortar stores.
To use it, a member checks into Ozmott via smartphone, which then uses GPS technology to locate participating merchants and virtual discount offers. The discounts are then redeemed at the cash register, while sales and similar offers are simultaneously shared with friends.
After a sale, the buyer is awarded “Pips,” a loyalty virtual currency. If friends also use discounts, additional Pips are accrued. The Pips can accumulate or be traded for “Luxe offers,” which unlock premium discounts.
“I’m an avid Foursquare user and thought, ‘Why can’t I combine Foursquare with Groupon?’” said Ozmott president and co-founder Joe Walker. “And after playing with a new X-box and accumulating (many) experience points, I thought it would be nice to redeem them for real world value … together, that’s the genesis of Ozmott.”
Foursquare is a free social networking app in which users check in and let friends know where they are while collecting points that lead to coupons. Groupon is a popular deal-of-the-day recommendation service.
Unlike other mobile shopping applications like Groupon, with Otzmott, merchants are rewarded with a micro-commission on sales as well as a real-time marketing and metrics channel. The program’s use of game thinking and mechanics adds a fun element, while social networking incentives build community and loyalty.
Ozmott currently has 9,000 members, primarily in the Midwest, including the northern portions of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio as well as Michigan. Walker projects Ozmott will have 20,000 users by late August and 150,000 to 200,000 by year’s end.
Members range from tech-savvy “early adopters” to both working and stay-at-home moms who are looking for good deals and to use their time efficiently.
“We found an unserved market … and a market that allows us to live and work in Traverse City,” Walker said, noting his desire to position the region as a tech center. A Traverse City native, his career includes work for Microsoft and several technology-related businesses.
Walker joined forces with several college friends and family to create Ozmott. A three-member programming team led by Andrew Affleck, based in Rhode Island, is developing the software, while the executive offices are based in Traverse City. Walker’s father, Traverse City entrepreneur Ed Walker, is co-founder. A marketing director, two salespeople, a customer support specialist and accountants complete the staff. Walker estimates that Ozmott will employ from 20 to as many as 60 when it hits its peak.
The goal now is to build the company as quickly as possible. The team initially focused on urban centers and engaging national brands, including MC Sports, Wireless Vision and Pet Supplies Plus, then expanded into smaller markets with an aggressive start in Grand Rapids. Ozmott is now broadening its Traverse City reach with Grand Traverse Pie Company, High Five Threads, Maxbauer Meat Market, Pioneer Quick Lubes and FittChick among the first to join locally.
Next steps are to expand the national client base, continue to grow in Traverse City and Grand Rapids, and increase its membership.
“It’s a balance,” Walker said. “We have to go to retailers first to get the app stocked with discounts…but then need to tip the teeter totter toward increasing users, then back again.”
Ozmott apps are available for Android and iPhone. For information, visit www.ozmott.com.