Tech start-up of the week: ThankFrank.com

16 Aug 20141 Share

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Sean Ahern, CEO of ThankFrank.com

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Our tech start-up of the week is ThankFrank.com, a platform of human search for savvy social shoppers that is also building an economy based on gratitude.

“In a nutshell, ThankFrank.com provides a cool way to say thanks for frank and honest advice,” says founder Sean Ahern.

“We run a free-to-play competition, where players can win discounted purchases just by helping people shop online.

“Any advice that receives a ‘Thanks!’ gets a small shopping discount, absolutely free, making it worthwhile for players to give really good advice. Thanks can be easily collected in exchange for help on any social platform.”

Each month, ThankFrank auctions off several limited sponsorship opportunities and the active community helps these sponsor companies in return.

ThankFrank.com collects all revenue raised on behalf of the entire community and deposits it to the ‘Community Cache’ that pays for the players’ discounts every month.

The technology

ThankFrank provides a community Q&A forum with an account interface for its community of helpful players, and players find out at the end of each month how much their month of help was worth.

Discounts can be accumulated over time and are withdrawn as retail vouchers.

“Right now, we only sell Amazon.co.uk vouchers, but we’ll be adding many more broadline retailers in the coming months,” Ahern says.

“The crux of our service is the ‘recommend’ feature, where players can attach a personalised message and a ‘Thanks!’ button to virtually any online website, and share that page via a regular web link on any platform. This feature can be adopted and rebranded by any social platform, and we share our own revenue with participating platform providers.”

Peer influence

As Ahern explains it, the ThankFrank service is tailored for social platform power users who already help people online.

“Peer influence controls global retail behaviours, with 80pc of global brand impressions being driven by just 16pc of the population. Social communities influence purchasing decisions for 74pc of online shoppers and this tends to happen during the three hours they spend, on average, Googling each online purchase.

“ThankFrank.com offers brands a way to connect with this small but influential demographic of consumers and we monetise the market influence of our community as a whole. Our players get to spend every cent raised. We generate our own revenue by charging retailers a fee for administering the vouchers, and we split that revenue with the social platforms that enabled the help interaction.

“We are targeting social networks and social hubs and we offer a white-labelled share-and-thank function which plugs easily into any platform. We hope we’ll be spotted in some of Ireland’s top social hubs in the near future!”

The founders

Ahern was a global program manager with Microsoft before he left in January 2012 to start ThankFrank.

“The idea behind ThankFrank.com came on the back of me building a budget home cinema system. After recommending the same product around 30 times I wanted to see if there was any way that I could use my constant advocating to get my own next system a little cheaper!”

Diego Zanella, founder and CTO, is a passionate programmer with experience in having exited his own company in the past. Ahern and Zanella met each other initially on Boards.ie.

Aine Murphy co-founder and CMO, came on board in December 2013, having met Ahern while delivering an e-commerce workshop as part of the New Frontiers Program with ITB.

Murphy has a marketing management background with brands such as eBay and Eircom. She also founded her own consultancy and training company.

The latest member of the team is Martin Hogan, CCO, having just joined in July. Hogan has a long history of mentoring start-ups, having held the position of incubation manager in a Dublin-based start-up accelerator.

A global economy of ‘thanks’

“Our concept is to prove that consumer behaviour is influenced primarily by social opinion and because of that, in the long run, honesty and transparency in commerce is an absolute must,” Ahern says.

“Our goal is to create a community of exceptionally helpful social shoppers who score ‘Thanks!’ with exceptionally good advice. We suspect a single, focused group of frankly honest people could really make a difference for the shoppers of the world.

“Our ultimate aim is that this social game we are building will not only demonstrate profitability as a business venture, but will also go on to provide substantial support and even some working capital to our community’s favourite empathic causes. We want to create a global economy of thanks.”

Stealth beta

While ThankFrank is pretty much complete, it will remain in beta until the start-up has at least one social hub engaged and running.

“We are effectively giving away money so we can’t afford to get anything wrong!

“We have been running a quiet beta since February of this year, collecting use data and validating our assumptions. The last part of the minimal viable product (MVP) required to provide the service is about to go live, and we will soon be looking for beta-stage sponsors to get us started.

“We have a small group of extremely helpful users on our site at the moment and, frankly, I cannot thank them enough. I hope we have made their time helping us worthwhile so far, and we have a few surprises in store for them yet.

“We will be looking for investment very soon and we have had some very encouraging interest shown thus far.”

Live and learn

One of the errors ThankFrank made along the way was to build an awesomely feature-rich version of the site before realising the cost of client implementation was prohibitively high.

“We had to start again last October, from scratch. That was not fun!

“We have four people dedicated to this project with little or no income and that obviously brings its own range of challenges. Three of us are trying to support families, so it’s not just our own personal sacrifice. This is what keeps me up at night.

“But putting aside the challenges, the most important thing is we do have this team of exceptionally capable and dedicated individuals who are all committed to making ThankFrank work. And work it will.”

Don’t go it alone

Ahern says the start-up scene in Ireland is buzzing at present and he recommends local enterprise offices as good places to get basic information.

“In Dublin, there are events and get-togethers every week in conference rooms and pubs around the city centre. I go to the Silicon Drinkabout on a Friday evening and the folks there are really welcoming and helpful.

“I have made fantastic connections in the south of the country with CorkBIC, and there is a phenomenal network of local entrepreneurs who are all personally invested in seeing the southern start-up scene thrive.

“But generally, now is a very good time to dabble in enterprise. Ireland’s start-up scene is right up front and centre on the world stage at the moment, with private venture funds landing with more and more frequency, and there’s a good reason why.”

His advice to other founders is ensure there is a good start-up team in place.

“People, people, people. Don’t do it alone. No matter how much you think you can do, you can do exponentially more with help.

“Talk to everyone and don’t hide your idea. No one is going to steal it, everyone has enough to worry about already.

“Most importantly; learn to shut up and listen. When you have a seemingly perfect idea in your head, your instinct is to tell everyone you are right. No one is ever fully right,” Ahern adds.

“You might be right 90pc of the time, but you don’t want to miss that valuable 10pc. If someone disagrees or misinterprets, you may want to correct them, but don’t.

“Listen to everything, even when it’s wrong. Then take the advice you like and dump the rest.”

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com