For a Stanford University Tech Entrepreneurship course I’m taking, we were asked to profile a successful local startup, focusing on the key factors that make the startup a success or contributed to it’s early-stage growth. Here’s my research on Belly, a digital loyaly program founded in Chicago that’s received over $25 million in funding:
Founded in March 2011, Belly is a universal loyalty program – they offer a digital customer loyalty card (app) that can be used at local small businesses like restaurants and coffee shops. By routinely visiting local businesses, the consumer will earn tangible rewards – free sandwiches, coffee, discounts etc. The Chicago-based private company currently has 105 total employees and has received $25.03M in funding to date. As of June 2014, Belly had more than three million members and was installed in more than 7,000 businesses across America in major markets including Chicago, Austin, New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Houston, Miami and Atlanta. Currently, Belly sees about 300,000 user check-ins each week. After a 30-day free trial, Belly charges business owners monthly subscription fees of $50 to $100 a month.
5 Factors That Have Made Belly A Success
- Everyone in their business model profits – the consumers receive “free” goods and services, businesses profit from gaining access to their user database and can learn who their customers are, how often they’re coming in, and what kind of experience they’re interested in next.
- They put a strong emphasis on data – Belly hires “Data Scientists”, whose role is to analyze engineering, marketing, and product functions on a day-to-day basis to make improvements. Decisions are infused with data and armed with statistical certainty, therefore the chances of being successful are greatly heightened.
- They understand the value of relationships – Belly realized that in many cases, small business cannot compete on price (often due to online price shopping), but they can compete in customer loyalty. They are giving people a reason, other than price, to keep choosing particular merchants over cheaper alternatives elsewhere.
- They offer a free technology solution for small businesses – Belly offers the small business an iPad in their stores, which is used by consumers to verify their rewards. A by-product of what Belly is doing is putting a connected computer into soon-to-be tens of thousands of small merchants; Belly has a built-in launching pad for adding services like e-mail marketing that can further fuel the merchant-customer relationship–and further solidify its appeal to merchants.
- The Founder made strong connections early with investors – in their early years, Belly operated out of Lightbank – an investor/incubator/accelerator in Chicago. Through connections the Belly Founder had at Redbox, he was able to gain a position as a Founder-In-Residence at Lightbank, where he was able to leverage Lightbank’s connections and resources for Belly.
Belly is a company deserving of admiration, hopefully we’ll continue to see other Chicago-based startups (ahem, Ice Nine Online) achieving their level of success.
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