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Flocktag Origin Story Not Your typical startup background: from Bubble Tea to Venture Capitalist to Tech Entrepreneur

The FlockTAG story began in 2002 when a friend and I launched Bubble Island, an Ann Arbor-based company serving Taiwanese drinks, snacks and desserts. Our business did well, and we grew our sales annually. However, it was clear from the start that we didn’t know how to market our products and expand our customer base cost-effectively.

Every year, we ran through roughly the same familiar marketing drill: passing out advertising flyers, placing discount coupons in campus coupon books and donating our beverage products to student groups and events. And every year, we crossed our fingers, hoping some of these promotions would work. As long as our sales went up, we were pretty satisfied. But we never really knew which promotions gave us the biggest bang for our buck, in terms of attracting new customers, building repeat business and incentivizing customers to buy more. At the time, I wondered if there was a way to collect and analyze the results of our marketing efforts and identify the most effective strategies. But I figured our company was too small to delve deeply into this question.

My thinking changed in 2008 after I accepted a position as vice president of operations at Amherst Fund, a private venture-capital investment firm in Ann Arbor. Working with CEO and President Matt Turner on due diligence for investment deals enabled me to broaden my perspective on scalable business and see things from an investor’s viewpoint. Amherst made an investment in Espresso Royale, a college-market-focused coffee shop, and, based on my campus retail experience, I was asked to sit on the board of directors and become involved in the company’s operations. I realized that despite its larger size and more years in business, Espresso Royale had not resolved the question of how to market its products effectively and determine which promotional efforts worked best in college towns. That realization marked a turning point.

I began brainstorming with my friend Adrian Fortino, and we came up with the idea for a start-up company that applies data analytics to the brick-and-mortar business world. We chose the name FlockTAG and launched the company in Ann Arbor in 2011, with financial backing from Amherst. We developed an innovative business model that uses a loyalty platform to collect data on what consumers like and how often they make purchases. Our concept also includes a smart-offer feature that enables us to target specific individuals with customized deals to encourage them to spend more money at the places they like.

FlockTAG’s approach creates a win-win for everyone. College-town merchants who use FlockTAG’s unique marketing program can offer bigger and better discounts to their customers while still increasing their sales and profits, because they are giving the right incentives to the right people. College students who sign up for FlockTAG’s loyalty program and mobile app can save additional money on food and goods in the places where they prefer to dine and shop.

In the span of four years, our FlockTAG team has achieved what many thought was impossible. Using data analytics, we’ve unlocked the purchasing power of college-age customers in a way that makes participating campus-area businesses more profitable. In doing so, we’ve established our company as a leader in the consumer-engagement industry.