ThinkNear, a Los Angeles– and New York–based startup, caught my eye at the New York TechStars demo day with its data-driven approach to solving problems for local businesses. The company announced on Tuesday that it raised $1.6 million in seed financing from a gaggle of investors, including Google Ventures, IA Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures and angels David Tisch and David Cohen of TechStars, to help roll out their technology. That rollout got under way in New York on Tuesday. Other investors include Metamorphic Ventures, Real Ventures, ff Venture Capital, Zelkova Ventures and BoldStart VC.
The company’s approach is smart. It’s trying to tackle off-peak slow periods for local businesses, working to drive sales in those hours when foot traffic is light. That’s different from competitors like Groupon or others who often load up businesses at peak times, which can overwhelm them, limiting how much product they can move at one time.
ThinkNear is an automated system that lets businesses set their goals, input their historical slow times and how much they want to discount their products. Then ThinkNear pulls in a wealth of data from the store, and locally relevant information like weather, events and traffic to help figure out when a location needs more business. The system can push out location-based ads with discounts that are good for a limited time to help improve traffic during specific periods. Users then theoretically come in and present a code to redeem their discount, helping the merchant track the success of the program. ThinkNear also monitors the effectiveness of the ads to tune its future promotions.
Not only does ThinkNear have the potential to bolster traditionally slow periods, it’s also very simple to use for merchants. Many business owners are being asked to manage their online presence and work with sales teams to craft multiple discounts. They’re being called on constantly by sales people looking to tap their local ad budget. ThinkNear is more of a set-it and forget it solution, so merchants don’t have to manage it closely. It still has to produce results to be useful, but at least merchants are spared considerable logistical headaches.
Another of ThinkNear’s strengths is that it’s very data driven. Founder and CEO Eli Portnoy declines to go deep into the “secret sauce” of ThinkNear’s technology, but it’s leveraging real-time data analytics to really figure out the optimal times to run promotions. For example, an ice cream store may not need to push deals on a hot day, but if the temperature drops quickly or it rains, a timely discount can help propel sales. According to Portnoy:
Everyone understand mobile and local are happening and there is a convergence of the online and offline world, but everyone is focusing on taking the online world and stuffing it into the offline world. We’re taking an analytical, quantitative data-driven methodology from the web and taking it to local businesses. That’s our real mission in life.
Portnoy said the $1.6 million will go toward expanding the team of four employees and building out the launch in New York, where a number of businesses have already signed up. He said the next city is Los Angeles, where he believes he’ll be able to test the service on a metro area that represents the rest of the country better than San Francisco.
ThinkNear still has its work cut out for it trying to market its technology to businesses. That’s going to be hard for a small startup, when there are thousands of sales people calling on business owners. But if the start-up can get its foot in the door, I think businesses will see a lot of value in ThinkNear.