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James Sun is the CEO of Pirq where he sets and leads the overall business strategy, communication, and execution. Previous to Pirq, he was the founder and CEO of GeoPage.com where he led the company in building a scalable location-based platform for industry-specific commercial and retail applications. James also has Fortune 500 experience where he served as a database programmer at Intel and a management consultant at Deloitte Consulting. As an active angel investor and strategic advisor, he’s helped several startups with strategic business planning, capital investment, international partnerships, and acquisitions.
Pirq has set out to develop a way to help people easily discover restaurant deals near them—wherever they are. In doing so, they’ve re-imagined the deals industry. Pirq has essentially created an entirely new, carefully curated, more relevant source for food-lovers around the world to find amazing deals at their favorite restaurants. Not to mention, a new revenue stream for restaurants, too.
MO: How did you come up with the idea for Pirq?
James: In short, we came up with the idea for Pirq out of wanting to help businesses increase their bottom line. We spent countless hours evaluating all the challenges for merchants who ran unsuccessful promotions and daily deal programs, and we created a smart, yet simple solution that’s win-win for both the consumer and local business owner.
It all began with Pirq’s SmartYield™ program that automatically and intelligently adjusts mobile deals in real-time to maximize a business’s off-peak and peak hours, helping to deliver new customers and increase profit for the business. Now, our product has evolved into a comprehensive SmartYield™ solution suite for local merchants to 1) increase loyalty, 2) increase frequency of existing customer visits, and 3) increase new customer visits during peak and off-peak hours.
MO: Can you talk about the development process of taking new concept and getting it to market? What were some of the biggest challenges you faced along the way and how did you overcome them?
James: The biggest challenge is to not make assumptions in the boardroom. It’s so easy to pre-assume how your customers will want to use the app or what merchants will want or not want. But it’s critical to actually meet with your consumers and merchants to fully understand their needs. And you can’t stop after version one; you have to keep getting this iterative feedback in the product development cycle.
MO: Are you able to pass on any basic tips or advice to our readers on how to grow a business using principles from “Sun Tzu’s Art of War?”
James: There’s a quote in “Sun Tzu’s Art of War” that’s very applicable to growing a business. The quote reads, “water shapes its course according to the ground over which it flows,” which simply means that in warfare you have to take action and make decisions very quickly according to your environment. It directly applies to business because you might think that your business model is going to be A, but it could change. In fact, it will probably switch to business model B, and you have to know when to do that. You have to look at the market forces and the micro economy in your vertical to see if and when you have to switch your business model according to the climate and how your competitors are attacking that market. Then you’ll have to figure out how you’re going to segment that market differently.
There are so many different factors that you have to constantly keep a pulse on. The minute you think that your business model, or your market, or your product is going to stay the same for five years, you’re wrong. You’re going to have to change course of action and pivot all the time to be able to succeed and manage those changes.
MO: Can you talk about how Pirq managed to become the exclusive dining app provider for AAA of Washington and what that means for the company?
James: We’re very privileged to be partnered with such a reputable, established organization like AAA Washington. AAA members had been asking for more dining discounts to complement the great discounts they already gain access to with their membership, and Pirq ended up being the right fit in meeting those needs. We’re thrilled to be offering their member base exclusive, real-time dining discounts at more than 150 restaurants in Washington State. Through the partnership, AAA members receive their own special member version of the Pirq app.
For Pirq as a company, this partnership is a very big deal. It means that the largest organization in Washington State has direct access to exclusive Pirq deals, which is huge. There are more than one million AAA members in Washington State.
MO: What advice would you give to a startup in need of a marketing strategy?
James: You have to get creative and build a loyal user base. For a startup, building word-of-mouth is extremely important. You can’t simply rely on mass consumer advertising. It’s expensive and unsustainable.
It’s also important to understand that you’ll acquire your first 500 customers differently than your next 500, and so on. In other words, as your company grows, your marketing strategy should also evolve. Lastly, you should always keep a close watch on the budget to ensure your success metrics are tracking accordingly.
MO: Things are looking really exciting for Pirq. Can you talk about your plans for national expansion?
James: We’re currently preparing to expand nationwide with our new SmartYield™ solution suite for merchants. What’s great about our new SmartYield™ program is that it can benefit any merchant, no matter where they are located in the U.S. We’ve created a model that is not reliant on executing mass consumer marketing before we launch with merchants. That’s important because normally there’s kind of a chicken and egg problem with expanding into other markets. If you want to expand to a new city, but you currently don’t have any users there, why would a merchant want to sign up? On the other hand, if you have no merchants in the new city, why would a consumer want to download the app? The reason we’re choosing to go nationwide now is that we’ve created this new product that will help a merchant increase the frequency of their existing customers, and not rely on initial mass marketing to bring in new customers.
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