There are 75,000-plus applications for the iPhone, but probably only one that was conceived by an actor and a Carmel-based software developer who met via Twitter.
That would be Yowza, a mobile coupon service that’s the brainchild of Greg Grunberg (Matt Parkman on NBC’s “Heroes”) and August Trometer, who brought the idea to life.
Their story begins last October, when a mutual friend, Rick Yaeger, suggested Trometer get to know Grunberg. Trometer contacted Grunberg through Twitter and offered to write an iPhone application for his rock group, Band From TV, which raises money for charities. They started communicating through iChats and video chats, and Grunberg pitched the idea of a coupon app.
“I was walking into Bed, Bath & Beyond and, for the 10th time, I’d forgotten my coupons,” the actor said. “I was like, ‘This is insane!’ That’s how I thought of it.”
Trometer had had a similar idea before their conversation, “but as a lone developer, I knew there was no way I could handle the development and the sale and the marketing. It’s just one of those things where it’s a great idea, but you have to be able to handle all those things at once. Greg can go on Leno and there’s a lot of expensive marketing he can do for free.”
So Trometer wrote the app, and “Lost”/“Fringe”/“Alias” creator J.J. Abrams, a longtime friend of Grunberg’s, suggested the name.
“As a sci-fi fanboy,” Trometer said, “to have my app named by the guy who created “Lost,” I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”
Grunberg, Trometer and Yaeger finalized their partnership in February, and Yowza became available in April.
It’s already been downloaded more than 250,000 times (it’s free), and they’ve signed up clients as big as Saks Fifth Avenue, Sears and Pier 1 and as small as Guitar Center. All businesses pay the same monthly fee—$50 per store location per month—to be listed, though chains with more than 100 stores get a volume discount. So far, Trometer said, they’ve billed $250,000.
Yowza has a handful of competitors—8coupons, Cellfire and Zavers, among them—said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Interpret LLC, a Los Angeles-based market research firm. He said the marketplace eventually will decide which works best.
“You aren’t going to have retailers who are going to bother putting coupons everywhere,” he said. “Sort of the same way it is in the physical world. Retailers don’t advertise everywhere.”
Yowza already is doing so well that Trometer has left his job at FormSpring, an Indianapolis data-management business where he’d written apps such as Pillbox, which is used for tracking when you’ve taken medicine, for Community Hospitals.
His app credits also include Loan Shark, a loan calculator. That one costs $2.99 to download and sells steadily, he said.
During an interview, Trometer pulled out his iPhone to tool around on Yowza. After a couple of touches, he was given a list of nearby stores offering discounts—$10 off at Finish Line, for example. The coupon includes a numerical code and a bar code that merchants either enter into their cash register or scan. The code is specific to the iPhone user, which eliminates the possibility of coupon fraud.
Finish Line put all 681 stores on Yowza, and a spokeswoman said officials are pleased with the response thus far.
When Trometer wrote Loan Shark, only a few hundred apps existed and they were easy for people to find. Now, with so many apps available to download, he’s happy to be working with a relentless pitchman like Grunberg, who’s forever hyping Yowza to his million-plus followers on Twitter. A recent tweet: “I just saved $10 at Finish Line with @yowza (http://getyowza.com)! In your face, full price shoppers!!”
Grunberg’s celebrity definitely helps, said Gartenberg, the analyst.
“I don’t think it would have gotten the same amount of coverage it’s gotten if it had not had celebrity cache behind it,” he said.
“Having said that, if the application didn’t do what it’s supposed to do, if it didn’t provide value to consumers, they wouldn’t use it.”•