09 Oct

Behind the Scenes of SELECT with Carlo Cisco

Carlo Cisco is the Founder & CEO of SELECT, a premium membership program for that provides exclusive savings and perks for the best in dining, travel, entertainment, shopping & more. Carlo is an active member of the Young Entrepreneurs Council and previously helped build Groupon Japan into one of the company’s largest and most successful international markets.

Carlo recently sat down with me to discuss how SELECT’s mobile efforts have resulted in increased adoption, growth in user retention, and higher purchase volumes for its vendors. As a result of the additional ability to track in-app usage – as opposed to a mobile web environment where cookies are not persistent – SELECT has been able to establish large, corporate accounts due to its transparency into adoption by employees, tracking by HR, and overall improvement of user experience.

We will outline where SELECT has succeeded, where SELECT has room for improvement, and how Carlo views the mobile market maturing in the near and long-term.

Q: Let’s start with some background: how old is SELECT as a platform and when did you introduce the first mobile solution? How has it evolved to where it is today?

We started building it about a year and a half ago and introduced the first mobile solution just over a year ago in July 2013, which was right when we started to beta test the concept. Initially the app only featured restaurants in New York City and could only be used by existing members as a complement to the site.

Today the app features thousands of partner locations representing the best in dining, nightlife, travel, entertainment, shopping & more. It also has the ability to sign up, redeem discounts and perks and make purchases through the app. The evolution is a combination of growth of partner relationships and features to make the app increasingly useful and beneficial.

Q: As a result of your native app development and deployment, how have users changed their behavior? From search and discovery to booking and redemption – have they acted as you projected?

iPhone adoption has been extremely strong. Since we began tracking a few months ago, we’re seeing about 30% of existing user searches come from mobile with the bulk of that being iOS. We approximate that iPhone users are searching almost 50/50 between the app and the site.

For redemption it’s about 15% mobile for local benefits (dining/nightlife) but that’s because the experience of using the card is more discrete and sexier. Other benefits started off low but are now up to about 20% mobile in other categories. This includes purchasing movie tickets, booking a hotel or rental car, or any of the other myriads of benefits on the program.

This is roughly what we projected but as Android adoption increases, and we make improvements to both apps, I expect to see local benefit searches increase, becoming about 40-50% of all searches. We also expect to see mobile redemptions of non-local benefits to also increase to around 30%.

Q: Have any analytics on how the native mobile apps have been used by members surprised you? Perhaps a feature that seemed less important during development ended up being used most frequently?

Nothing that out of the ordinary yet. I think one mistake we made was releasing initial versions of apps too quickly – we were premature and I think that hurt overall adoption especially on Android. While I like the idea of the lean startup and believe in testing Minimal Viable Products (MVPs) I would caution companies against premature releases.

Q: I mentioned briefly in the intro, how mobile has also affected SELECT’s ability to sell into the enterprise for corporate perks. Was this something you foresaw and a factor you used to justify the investment in mobile?

Honestly, not really. I just knew what we are building that mobile was important – primarily for ease of use. SELECT is a very social product, whether its dinner with friends, a last-minute getaway or an RSVP for one of our events it’s all about doing the things you love, with the people you care about, more often. So we have increased utilization on nights and weekends, which is when people are on their phones, not desktops/laptops.

Q: Obviously mobile had a tremendous impact on your current user experience, but how has it changed the way you view both i) member acquisition, and ii) vendor acquisition?

For vendor acquisition it’s helped us look like a legitimate company, especially in the early days. Pretty much anyone can throw a site up these days but developing a native mobile app is another story. More recently, we’ve released merchant apps to help them manage repeat customers, current offers on the platform, etc. – and that’s been a big help.

Where our continued investment in mobile has helped with customer acquisition is B2B sales. The mobile apps have definitely helped us demonstrate the ease of use and show off the many benefits and perks to larger clients.

For individual member acquisition we fall way short on mobile. We have mobile signups but not anywhere near the number we could. This is combination of the app initially being built for existing members (i.e. no tutorial, welcome screen etc.) and also a need for a better overall design. The next step for us in mobile after adding the ability to switch between cities is to improve the sign up and education processes for potential members.

Q: Are there any plans to further leverage mobile as a channel for customer acquisition, engagement, or the business as a whole? Could we see any software developed for vendor management as well?

Yes definitely. As we continue to increase ad spend and drive more and more individual sign ups, an improved sign up process and prospective member tutorial will prove essential to maximize returns from those initiatives.

We also will start to leverage our mobile apps more to increase engagement through things like timed push notifications as well as geo-sensitive push notifications. The notifications have been a frequent member request as members sometimes forget to fully capitalize on the many benefits offered in their membership. This is the same reason we created a Chrome extension for web browsing, push notifications will be utilized as a mobile version of that.

For vendor management we have the basic apps in place but we will eventually make them more sophisticated. As the whole world goes mobile even typically slow to adopt restaurant owners are catching on. Improving their experience with the merchant apps helps us better analyze the program.