Interview With Founder Of JoynIn – Brenton Gieser On Empowering Rewards And Strengthening The Social Business Circle
2 for 1 center cut rib-eye steak. Complimentary Bloody Mary with an entree. Dollar oysters all day. Yes, please! These are just a few of the deals offered recently on JoynIn, a web and mobile social marketing platform. And if your mouth isn’t watering already, keep in mind that these offers don’t apply to your average shopping mall food court, but to some of the best places in San Francisco like The Republic, Fog City Diner, The Brickyard Restaurant & Bar.
JoynIn wants to reward people for going out with their friends to bars, restaurants, and clubs. Simple enough. But the company is about much more than delighting palettes and pocketbooks. Behind the social tool is a vision of building community ties between friends, local businesses and customers, employees and the people that they keep happy. We all have our social networks, and JoynIn looks to add more value to the connections we make with one another.
Brenton Gieser, Co-founder and Chief Social Media Strategist for JoynIn, has seen the startup world from many perspectives–founder, advisor, president, service, product, disappointment, success. He slipped away from the Bay to tell KillerStartups more about his journey as an entrepreneur and life with JoynIn.
How did you become involved with JoynIn?
I became involved awhile back, almost two years ago. The founder of the company is Bill Kish. He reached out to the social media agency that I was working for at the time. I took his meeting. We sat down, and he started spinning off this idea that I thought was very interesting. I also thought the guy was super crazy. In a very good way, though! He was extremely passionate, didn’t understand everything he was saying–he was an idealist–but the kernel that I took from our meeting was not so much about the technology as it was about the empowerment of a somewhat marginalized worker, bartenders, servers. Maybe not marginalized, but more so people that don’t typically have the resources for growth and expansion and for really making the best out of their work.
So the whole idea for JoynIn started from a nugget that we wanted to transform the retail space (first food and beverage), flattening organizations in those venues to enable their employees to start bringing in revenue for themselves and more revenue for the business. That was the core mission we started with and now we’re at where we are today.
Where you ever in the hospitality industry yourself?
No. Well, I was a busser when I was like fifteen. So I carried the trays and all that stuff way back when. No, I have a lot of friends in the industry. And our generation with the lack of job opportunities now, and the economy in the state it is–a lot of people are needing to take service-based jobs, people who are overqualified for these jobs. So, I believe that because of this trend, which is probably not going to be a downward trend anytime soon, we want to make sure that the people who are going into these service-based jobs are going to be equipped with a network, with social marketing skills that they learn using JoynIn. And hopefully equipped with more cash that could change their lives.
What drew you to the startup world?
I was experimenting as soon as I got out of college. I didn’t go to an Ivy League school nor Stanford. I went to a pretty good school and did well academically, but really gained very little from academia. I started studying business and entrepreneurship because one of my friends was starting his own business. From there, everything kind of expanded, my whole thought process–my whole view of everything expanded, and I decided to try to create my own startup as soon as I got out of college. So I created a startup called BlackTop Hoops.
We put together a team, put together a very minimal viable product, started to build a small community. We never were able to deliver on the product that we wanted to, had some big troubles and hurdles getting there, but I learned a lot in having a massive failure [laughs]. And from there I went to the realm of social media. I worked for a social media agency as the director of business development. I decided to start my own social media agency after that, and we focused on development, mainly Facebook platforms, global. That was the first real business that I ran. And from there, it was really building JoynIn.
How would you compare your time working with JoynIn to some of your other past work experiences?
It’s different, because some of my other past experiences–especially when talking about agency stuff like ConvoSpark, which was the company I started–completely ran based on cash coming in. Cash flow funded the company. It was a service-based model. We were client facing, interfacing with clients and providing development and design services for Fortune 500 companies. So that was a different structure.
Moving to JoynIn, it’s a product driven startup…most of the time you’re going to need to develop the product, some type of seed funding–have it be angel or friends of family. We’ve been through the whole fundraising gamut. We’ve been developing a product that we’re trying to find a product market fit for. It’s a much much different process.
I’ve learned a ton about product, about business development. I’ve learned how to make something out of nothing. You have to approach it completely different. Running a service-based company is much different than running a product-based company. The cool thing about a product-based company–if you really believe in the product that you’re building, if you believe in your mission–is that it’s more fulfilling because you’re building something that can scale. You’re not working specifically on client projects where you have very little…mind share on a vision and the why you’re building it. Typically our client projects were to create a Facebook app for…say Universal Studios where they’re putting out a new movie. That’s exciting, you can engage a ton of users, but at the same time, while there is creative side, you’re essentially creating advertisements. This is much different.
What have you found to be some of JoynIn’s biggest challenges?
Fundraising, keeping money in the company, making sure you gain enough traction to where you can raise the next round. With our company, we have three different types of users. We have end users, the consumers–people who go out to bars and restaurants. We have the business owners or GMs. Then we also have the employees. This is difficult because you have to figure out who you want to optimize the product for. With a small team, you can’t do everything. That’s one of the challenges we had with product, with strategy–figuring out exactly what our go-to-market approach was.
We decided on a very [end]user-centric approach. And now we’re really in stage two of development where we’re really focusing on the employee product.
Is there one of the three groups that you find easier to work with? more difficult? that you personally enjoy working with?
I enjoy it all. I love working with the end users simply because…it just seems to be more dynamic. There’s more room for experimentation. With that being said, we’re providing a similar offering to your Groupon or LivingSocial–even though the product is very different–so we find that because that space is saturated it’s hard to connect with consumers. We’ve been very iterative, doing a lot of data-driven experiments, a lot of focus on user interviews. That’s been very fun. It’s also been challenging.
With business owners in retail, they really don’t want to interface with technology. A lot of businesses are being very receptive to our value proposition and our product, however, they don’t really want to interface with the technology itself, no matter how simple it is. So, that’s been interesting.
With the employees, they might be one of the most fun and rewarding, because we’re now giving them a tool they’ve never had before nor heard of. Nobody’s come through the door and said, “Hey, we have a tool just for you guys.” Now you can build up a customer list, Bartender, just like you somewhat already do because you have all your regulars. But now you can do that and get paid for it. That’s exciting.
I’m giving you the good and the bad. When you’re blazing a new trail, you always find some of your assumptions don’t match up with typical behaviors. And if you’re trying to nudge behaviors along, it’s challenging. But that’s the fun part.
Do you have any promotional campaigns or venues that have come aboard that you’re particularly excited about?
Really all of them. What we wanted to target initially were the best brands, the best managed companies, the most popular businesses in San Francisco. Knowing our user base, they’re not going to get excited over the big chains as much as they would the awesome bar that’s in the hot spot of SanFrancisco. So we targeted some of the best places in SanFrancisco and got a lot of them onboard. I’m really equally excited to have all of them on board.
With stage two of development, with the employee product and a more structured business platform…I think this is going to be a great tool for those chains, those bigger accounts that want to not only engage with consumers in an interesting way, but also increase employee retention or leverage different social media marketing channels through their internal team.
How do you envision JoynIn in 5 years?
I think that JoynIn could connect what we call the social business circle–local businesses, the employees at these businesses, and the consumers–and really help facilitate the communication and value distribution between all three of those parts.
Those interactions happen today. There’s no technology to facilitate it. And I know it’s a little bit foolish to compare with Google and Facebook, but essentially Google took an archaic knowledge distribution system (libraries) and flattened it like crazy…to a certain extent, that’s what we’re doing. We’re facilitating these connections that happen every single day. You talk to your barista, your bartender, but there’s nothing to really optimize the communication and the value exchange between those parties. That’s what we want to do. We want to really strengthen that social business circle.
We also want to do it across different verticals. This could be reapplied all across hospitality–hotels, fitness professionals, etc. So there’s a lot of different applications for this. In five years, I see us crossing a lot of different verticals and really solidifying that social business circle. I think those are the two things we really want to firmly accomplish.
Do you have any personal social media marketing tips for other startups?
I think when it comes to social media, especially Twitter, being inherently public and open, there’s so much leverage to be gained. This is a no brainer, but the most important thing is to establish a community. A lot of times, this doesn’t always have to do with targeting influencers and connecting with them on Twitter. Know your particular user, know which communities and social circles they’re in and really become a source not just of content, but a connection source for them through different social media outlets. Google+ brings a pretty good opportunity to humanize startups and brands in different niches. I would say, create that kind of leverage by really inserting yourself in the community and starting to form your own community around your brands.
Is there anything else that makes JoynIn so great that you want us to know about?
We reward customers for going out with their friends. We reward employees for their influence, for bringing in customers. We want to provide real world rewards for real world influences. I think that’s a pretty cool concept.
For anybody that wants to take on awesome offers, we’ve got…buy one steak dinner, get one free if you bring in one of your friends…free bottle service if you bring in enough friends. There’s some pretty cool stuff on JoynIn that people can grab.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Inspiration comes from a lot of different things. It comes from reading. I read about my historic heroes, different businesses that are doing incredible things. My friends–it’s really cool to see people you that know do amazing things, being bold and audacious and acting in the face of uncertainty in a powerful way. I see that everyday in friends who are building their own companies or doing whatever they’re doing.
Just life. Being an entrepreneur, you’re stuck behind a computer and hustling hard. Once you get a chance to step back and take a deep breath and walk around the block maybe for a bit–that’s refreshing. You need to take time for the cliche smelling of the roses and all that good stuff. That always inspires me. I think it’s [inspiration] the combination of the books you read, the people you’re with, and taking the time to enjoy the present moment.
What can you tell us about the nature of the JoynIn team?
We all love each other and care about each other. If you’re going to build a business, that’s how it has to be, in a business that you love at least. I’ve worked and founded companies with people I just could not work with–whether it be my fault, or theirs, or a combination of the two [laughs]–and it just doesn’t work. It sucks the energy out of the company. So everybody has to be quality people, a leader in the organization, in order to make it work, really.
Where can our readers find out more?