Barbara Wescott, U.S. Air Force Veteran and Founder of Swellcoin, began developing her business about two years ago. What initially was a vision for a points program for volunteering, over time evolved to its current model for incentivizing community spending. Having previously utilized the power of technology to connect and grow a community for her online vacation rentals business, Barbara wanted to take some of those same skills to connect community shoppers with small and local businesses.
"I thought technology could be very trans-formative in the "Shop Your Community" industry," she said. "I sold my vacation rental business and used the proceeds to start Swellcoin."
The business model revolves around earning cashback for shopping at community businesses. "We've combined a shop your community initiative with a business cashback program," Wescott said. Customers simply link their current spending cards, while businesses need only set a reward rate. Then with each swipe, customers earn cashback to spend on a future visit. You swipe, you earn, and you grow your pockets, and your community! Likewise, municipalities and associations can get involved with the initiative to further spearhead efforts to keep more jobs and money in their communities and businesses.
The feedback and the adoption rate from Tallahassee businesses has been great, but there's still more work to be done and Wescott is committed to crossing the finish line. Like any startup, Swellcoin faces challenges. "The biggest challenge was the personal learning curve," she said. "When I launched, I didn't know about the Lean Startup model. Knowing what I know now, I'd be more focused on identifying my Minimum Viable Product and getting that to market more quickly. It also takes time to build relationships. You really need good community relationships for what I'm doing.
Wescott credits her team, community leadership and those within her working environment at Domi Station, a collaborative co-working space in Tallahassee, for being supportive and for expanding her access to the community. As an older female entrepreneur, building a team in a younger entrepreneurial community posed some challenges. So to bring together more women and to support other women in technology, Wescott co-founded Women Wednesdays (www.womenwednesdays.co). The group meets every Wednesday at Domi Station and offers 5 free hours of co-working as well as guest speakers and events.
What does the future of Swellcoin look like? "We're very proud of the platform we've built where any community can click and launch a Shop Your Community initiative in their community, and where any business can hop on to reward their customers," she said. "We're getting it going in Tallahassee and then we'll look at other cities. The 'Shop Your Community' is the marketing side to galvanize the community spirit. Swellcoin is the cashback portion, all with bank level security. "Who knows, maybe Shop Jax could be next."
Wescott has some great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. "I really like Guy Kawasaki," she said. "He preaches to not listen to naysayers. According to Guy, the most dangerous naysayer is the important person in the suit whose naysaying you might weigh too heavily. Believe in what you're doing, follow a good process, be open to learning and iteration and don't let other's negativity bring you down. Weigh the advice from those who truly take the time to understand the complexities of what you are trying to do." In terms of books, she strongly recommends The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.