Ben Dolgoff BSBA’08 and Mike Fruzzetti BSBA’06 -- You would think that it would be easy to sell something that is free. But even free isn't always attractive enough for busy small business owners.

Ben Dolgoff and Mike Fruzzetti found this out when the launched Peekaboo Mobile a few months back.

The plan was to get local companies to offer coupons that would be made available to mobile phone users. Business owners could create the coupons and send them out from their own computers.

Stuck with some extra pizzas at the end of the day? Send out a coupon for $1 slices. Starting to rain? Offer $5 off an umbrella.

Coupons to phones is a popular idea that has been gaining traction as technology evolves and makes everything personal. It's all about targeting the most likely customers rather than wasting money on consumers who will never come to the store.

Dolgoff and Fruzzetti believed they had found a better way to do it.

"We felt there was a gap in trying to find deals around the city," Dolgoff said.

Plus, there seemed to be room in the mobile market.

"When you look at the Web, it's pretty well saturated," Fruzzetti said. "Mobile is wide open. You have a lot of small start-ups that have a chance to really grow up and build brand."

Dolgoff and Fruzzetti wanted to make their service very local and well suited to small businesses more than large chains. The service uses the GPS system in the phone to provide coupons only for nearby businesses.

The first challenge was developing the software to make it all possible. Dolgoff and Fruzzetti did that with the help of an offshore development team. The service has been available through the iPhone and will soon be available on BlackBerry and Droid phones.

For now, users dial in to get the coupons, but at some point they'll be able to sign up to have coupons sent automatically from their favorite stores.

Initially, the service is supported by banner ads and available for free to both businesses and participants. Eventually, there will likely be a small subscription fee for businesses and a fee-based upgrade for users.

But things didn't exactly go according to expectations.

The problem was that business owners have so much going on, they barely had time to hear the pitch, let alone install the software. They like the idea, Dolgoff said, but they have a hard time fitting it into their schedule. It can take several visits to get a vendor to jump on board. Taking that extra time has made a difference, Dolgoff said.

"There are a lot of people doing this but they're not taking the time to educate the business owners," he said.

The pair was able to convince enough companies that they could launch the service. They now have about 75 signed up and they're hitting the streets looking for more.

They're also working on partnerships to let others provide their coupons over their apps. And while they do that, they've added looking for angel investors to the list.

For now, the company is self funded, but the founders have big plans for expanding outside of Boston.
The Boston Herald, June 20, 2010