Milwaukee startup hopes to redefine local marketing

Sugr creator Ruben Flores (left) brainstorms ideas for the app with team members, who write notes on his apartment windows with glass chalk.

After a chance encounter with an investor at Carson’s in downtown Milwaukee, entrepreneur Ruben Flores, 25, a largely self-taught computer programmer, is up and running on a new mobile app he’s been developing for the past 17 months. to transform the way local businesses sell to customers.

Top row: Jeremy Baccash and Sean Craig.  Bottom row: Katrina Gutierrez, , Jesus Chavez, Ruben Flores and Diamond Lewis
Top row: Jeremy Baccash and Sean Craig. Bottom row: Katrina Gutierrez, , Jesus Chavez, Ruben Flores and Diamond Lewis

The app is called Sugr and is designed to do two things: help consumers figure out where they want to spend their money, and help small, local businesses who can’t afford to launch sophisticated digital marketing campaigns on their own. compete with the big companies that can, like Starbucks or Panera.

“We raised about $130,000 and are currently working to raise another $500,000,” Flores said. “The internet is so big that you get lost in it. The big problem with technology right now is that you’re so caught up in the net that you’re not aware of your own surroundings anymore. So we wanted to change that. Bring it back to the local stratosphere.

Flores put his college career in computer engineering on hold at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to create the app, which can be downloaded for free from Apple’s App Store.

It revolves around the idea of ​​giving consumers an interactive way to sift through local businesses. From its main homepage, users can choose to browse the app’s wealth of information on restaurants, bars, music venues and local shops in three different ways by tapping a menu. at the top of the screen: channels, places or offers.

Channels is like an interactive digital lifestyle magazine. It’s flashy and sleek, and divides businesses into different categories that users can scroll through for recommendations and promotions for cultural events happening across the city that are delivered in a format similar to Snapchat stories. It also breaks down these recommendations and promotions by neighborhood in the city.

Places was built with the most impatient users in mind who are trying, for example, to decide where to dine, Flores said. If a user taps “places” on the menu, several bubbles appear on their screen with the names of nearby restaurants listed based on location. Hit a bubble and you’ll get a plethora of relevant information about that restaurant on its in-app landing page – hours, location, offers. There’s even a map with instructions on how to get there embedded on the page, as well as a guide at the bottom that details how long it would take to get there using Uber and an estimate of the cost. of the Uber ride. Click on the recommendation and your Uber app will automatically open on your phone.

Sugr creator Ruben Flores (left) brainstorms ideas for the app with team members, who write notes on his apartment windows with glass chalk.

Deals organizes businesses based on their current deals, promotions, coupons, and specials.

Flores said each menu uses the same information about each business or event, but presented in different ways depending on user preferences. And whatever route they take, users can share their thoughts on social media about a local brewery, a show at the Riverside Theater or a restaurant at Walker’s Point, right from the app. .

“Sugr’s mission, for me, is to redefine marketing,” Flores said. “In a capitalist society, the backbone is to buy things. Consumerism defines us. It’s already in our blood. But the problem I see in society is how we market. We are targeted. Selling marketing as an exposure thing. Billing based on the number of people who will see an ad. The problem with this is that it created a negative user perception. They feel targeted and violated. It’s very intrusive. In a way, it has created a really big problem with the internet where people don’t trust it. We feel spied on.

“Advertising is a necessity for business survival. They depend on it. But the focus should be more on engagement than coercion. You don’t have to bother people. Why not just put (your information) in front of the user, find out what they want, and center it around a lifestyle, topic, or channel? This will make the user feel like they have a say in the community.

The app’s initial $130,000 investment came from Eric Falkeis, chief operating officer of Direxion Investments, a New York-based investment management firm with an office in Milwaukee. Simply put, Falkeis, a graduate of Marquette University, described the app as a “small business marketing platform with one user interface.”

“But there are several phases to this,” Falkeis said. “What I liked was that I really thought this could be a marketing platform for small businesses. It’s a way for small businesses to use in-app marketing to compete with big businesses. that have the technology and the infrastructure to do it. And it empowers the users. You own a small business, you don’t have a big marketing budget. It’s a way for you to get your promotions out and things like that.

Falkeis and Flores met after a mutual friend of theirs, who works at Carson, introduced them.

“(He) told him what I was doing and he was intrigued,” Flores said. “That’s how we met. We got on well. We were lucky with him, that’s for sure.

Flores and Falkeis explained how the team will generate revenue through the app. First, they will bring Milwaukee hospitality and entertainment onboard at no upfront cost. Second, they will set up marketing programs around them – help them set up offers, promotions, events and rewards programs. Third, they will charge consumers a processing fee on tickets or coupons purchased through the app.

They’ll only make money if the app generates sales, Ruben said, and they plan to cut processing fees from companies like Groupon and Ticketmaster, which he says are far too high and prone to disruption. .

They also plan to use data on how users interact with local businesses to inform owners about what their most loyal customers are looking for and how to improve or better tailor their offerings to those customers’ needs.

“I’m excited,” Falkeis said. “The first step was to release the app without bringing in outside investors. We did that. The team worked very hard to achieve this. And now we are entering the second phase.

The second phase involves signing businesses and making deals to start generating revenue. On Oct. 17, Flores was in talks with Swarmm, a Milwaukee events company that organizes things like the popular citywide “Shamrock Shuffle” pub crawl.

“We’re going to do a partnership with them where we’re going to start selling tickets with them through Sugr and give them good analytics,” Flores said.

Sugr is trying to raise $500,000 by the end of 2016 to help it expand throughout Milwaukee in 2017, Falkeis said. The app’s creators hope to eventually bring Sugr to other cities across the country.

“As someone who travels for business, for me, going to a city where I don’t know much about it, it would be nice to have an app like this,” Falkeis said.