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Lean start-up model is challenging but rewarding, says serial entrepreneur

Friday, 01 March | By Michelle Hammond

Serial entrepreneur Ruwan Weerasooriya has highlighted the challenges of adopting a lean start-up model in his latest start-up Rewardle, after selling another start-up to oOh!media last year.


Weerasooriya, who is based in Melbourne, has founded, operated and sold a number of internet and media-related businesses including TouchTaxi, CafeScreen and Pugnacious George.


Last year, Weerasooriya sold a majority stake in CafeScreen to oOh!media, a leading Australian outdoor advertising company.


CafeScreen, founded in 2007, operates a network of large digital screens and free WiFi hotspots in a national network of more than 350 cafés located in central business districts.


Weerasooriya told StartupSmart oOhmedia! was in his sights from the get-go.


“I think we went for a process of constantly keeping the major players in the space informed of our development and explaining why they would want to pick up a network like ours,” he says.


“I think every entrepreneur I’ve talked to always has that list of potential buyers. I think the difference is probably actually going and getting face time with senior people in those organisations early in the piece.”


Weerasooriya says he dealt with hundreds of independent small business owners during the development of CafeScreen.


He has drawn on this experience to launch a new mobile app start-up called Rewardle, which allows local businesses to offer membership and loyalty programs via mobile.


Rewardle is on a mission to replace paper and plastic loyalty cards. The app, available on iOS and Android, allows consumers to record and carry their membership data on their phone.


“With more than half the population carrying a smartphone, it just makes a lot of sense to carry membership and loyalty records in the cloud rather than our wallets,” Weerasooriya says.


“Merchants receive the benefit of customer feedback, data and analytics that does not exist with the standard paper punch card.”


Rewardle is hoping to utilise this data to help small businesses uncover consumer trends, which, according to Weerasooriya, remains a major challenge.


“Large brands… are struggling to grasp the changes occurring in the way consumers engage with them, so imagine how challenging it is for the little guy,” he says.


“Our aim is to help them to nut out how to leverage online, social and mobile opportunities to grow their business.”


During the development phase of Rewardle, Weerasooriya chose to adopt a lean start-up model – an approach he describes as challenging.


“Lean start-up is challenging because the product is never really finished or as stable as you’d like it to be in the early stage,” he says.


“This can frustrate some early users and we’ve certainly seen this happen.


“But we’ve also uncovered an amazing supporter base who seem to understand that we are trying to build something new and are supporting us with great feedback.”


While it’s early days for Rewardle, Weerasooriya says the merchant and user engagement metrics have ticked up.


Weerasooriya is confident the company will crack the formula for a sustainable business model, particularly in light of the success of CafeScreen, which also took a lean start-up approach.


“CafeScreen is a pioneering digital out-of-home business model that we built into a multimillion dollar media business using lean start-up principles,” he says.


“We learned a lot through that process and are bringing that to the table for Rewardle.”