By Jamie Swinnerton
Hunter Friedland knew he wanted to combine his interest in technology with his career in the hospitality industry, he even knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur, he just didn’t expect all of it to happen before he even graduated college. Friedland is the creator of the app Rewardzzz, which he is soon to soft launch here in the Ithaca and Tompkins County area first.
Rewardzzz is a universal rewards program for independent businesses. It’s kind of like having one of those punch cards, but for multiple businesses. You are already earning rewards at multiple businesses around town, the app just gives you one place to collect them and redeem them at any of the businesses in the Rewardzzz ecosystem.
“We’re kind of aiming to get between 20 to 25 businesses in the Ithaca area on the platform so we give consumers enough choice in terms of what businesses they want to shop at,” Friedland said. “But also, not make it too big where the incentive isn’t there to shop at those businesses more.”
The idea started with hotels. That’s why there are three z’s in the name, it was going to be an app to collect rewards for sleeping at independent hotels. But it quickly expanded into food and beverage businesses as well.
Friedland transferred to Cornell University two years ago. A friend introduced him to the world of cryptocurrency and block-chaining and he knew he wanted to do something with the technology. At the same time, in his Hotel Operations class, there was a discussion of the pros and cons of running an independent hotel.
“At one point, it struck my attention was the gap in multiprogramization among these hotels,” Friedland said. “The independent hotels weren’t taking advantage of these multi-programs. One of the reasons was that people weren’t necessarily going to one independent hotel so many times to get enough rewards to continue to go there.”
He began calling around to local independent hotels to learn more about how they created loyalty and increased exposure to their business and if they had an interest in creating a loyalty program. What he found was that these independent hotels were already creating relationships with other local businesses like coffee shops, bars, and spas, etc. Now, the app looks to cover all of those businesses to create a diverse local economy ecosystem rewards program.
After developing his business plan last summer, when Friedland came back to campus he applied and was accepted to eLab, a competitive, year-long incubator program that helps students evolve their business to the point of launch. Through the eLab course, Friedland found two problems that the independent business industry faces: value and convenience.
“The value aspect of everything is what we see is solved by this universal ecosystem where consumers can earn or redeem points at multiple locations, and that provides that incentive where they actually want to go to those businesses more,” he said. “I’m not necessarily going to the independent café or independent bar enough to get a reward by just going back to there, but if you share – these businesses are already sharing a customer base, so if they started working together they’re fighting against the Starbucks of this world, not each other.”
On the convenience side, Friedland said that neither the customers nor the merchants want to do anything to put a program like this in place, it has to be super simple for all parties involved to use. Users of the app link their credit card to the app and automatically earn rewards at participating businesses when they swipe their card. To spend points, go into the app when you visit a participating business to get a virtual coupon that automatically puts the discount on your bill when you swipe your credit card.
While the app is live now it is changing rapidly as more and more businesses join. After the soft launch, scheduled for mid-July, Friedland said there will be focus groups to learn more about how different populations (locals, students, teachers, etc.) use the app. For now, the app will only be for local Ithaca businesses. Part of the reason for this is simple convenience, Friedland has one more year at Cornell University before he graduates.
“The bigger reason why I chose Ithaca is the fact that there’s such a focus on a local community here,” he said. “Independent businesses are rampant here, there’s a bunch of them.”
On the merchant side, after agreeing to be part of the app they don’t have to do anything except let the Rewardzzz team download a program to their payment system. That’s it.
Down the line, Friedland is looking to go national, then maybe international. After building it up in the New York upstate region Friedland expects that the first major city the app will launch in will be his hometown of Miami where he already has multiple business and personal connections.
The spirit of entrepreneurship runs in the Friedland family. It was Friedland’s father, an entrepreneur himself, who helped mentor him through the creation.
“He’s done this before so he knows what he’s doing and he’s a really big help in what I’m doing, kind of leading me in the right direction and the mistakes that he’s made, making sure I don’t make them,” Friedland said.
The app is already on both the Google Play store and the App Store. Friendland is happy to talk to anyone interested in learning more, including more businesses that might want to be added to the app. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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