Consumers are used to getting and redeeming deals on their mobile phones, but startup Roximity is looking to bring deals to a different place: the car console. The Denver-based company, which offers a variety of deals to where users are walking or driving via SMS and a mobile app, partnered with Ford to bring deals to their SYNC platform. The technology will be integrated in Ford cars within the next month, and will offer real-time offers through the on-board computer. After debuting the technology at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, the company is currently finalizing a round of funding.
Founders Austin Gayer and Danny Newman worked in mobile development and mobile marketing for years, and always had a special interest in location-based features. They decided to work on the idea for Roximity while at the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon in September 2011, where Ford was also holding a Ford SYNC app developer challenge designed to show the possibilities for “in-car app innovation.” Roximity was named the winner of the challenge, and the prize included integrating the product into their SYNC system, along with a launch at CES.
When Gayer and Newman originally conceived of the idea, it never crossed their minds to build it to work in cars. “Through the past couple months we’ve had to educate ourselves on the auto space,” Gayer said. “Our intention was to create something for ourselves, worst case, and hopefully get a bit of attention for it.” Roximity is an iPhone and Android app that syncs with a car’s computer system, in their case through Ford’s SYNC system. Non-drivers don’t need an app to access Roximity’s location-based deals – they also offer an SMS-based deals platform that sends location-based deals to consumers as a text message. Users can sign up with their phone number on the Roximity website and indicate what types of deals they’re interested in out of 12 categories, and after confirming via text message they’ll start receiving deals via SMS based on their location and interests.
After winning the Ford challenge in September, they worked on developing, coding and testing the app. Very recently, they started the application and approval process, and the app should be available to the public within a month. Once integrated into Ford’s SYNC program, the iPhone and Android app will allow users to control it through their car console. Gayer gave the example of someone who hops in their car at lunch to get something to eat. The user would tap a button on their steering wheel and verbally ask for a lunch deal, and the app will find the best offer and display it (depending on the car) on the display screen. Any deal a user wants to save is saved to their phone, and they can then go redeem the coupon.
Roximity uses a combination of existing deals from sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, Foursquare, Yelp, and other sites, as well as deals they’re working out directly with merchants. Gayer said that having Ford as a partner has definitely helped them get merchants to pay attention. They said they want to stand apart from existing deal platforms by offering a higher level of personalization. “Our biggest thing is we see the deals space as being one size fits all the way its currently set up. We feel strongly that we need to shake that up. Our premise is that we want to create a completely custom one-to-one personalized experience based on past purchases, loyalty, and interests,” Gayer said. “Our big picture is to be very intelligent about how and what we’re sending to customers. We want this to feel like a cool club you belong to.”
The Ford partnership didn’t include any investment, and the team started looking for funding after CES. Roximity is currently only available in the U.S. because of their wireless carrier partnerships, and will soon be expanding to Canada. With two target markets to focus on (walkers and drivers), and two platforms (the smartphone apps for drivers, and SMS-based platform for walkers), it will be interesting to see which sees the most adoption, and how the company balances both. With the team looking to make their own deals with merchants, it will also be harder to scale internationally, something that a round of funding might allow them to do. For Ford, this marks an important move into the location-based deals space, one that car companies will likely increasingly integrate into their products.