For some students being in college is all about getting a quality education and finding a passionate career path, for others it’s all about those sweet, sweet student discounts. $4 movie ticket? Yes, please. No cover charge tonight? No problem. A free cookie with your sandwich? I will take one of those, thank you. It’s like every day’s your birthday, and you don’t even have to deal with that crushing student loan debt (yet).
RoverTown, a startup based out of Carbondale, Illinois, has been built for those of you looking to max out the numerous student amenities while you still have the chance. Using their discount platform, businesses can gain traction with the local student population, and students can get a wealth of new discounts from businesses free of charge.
I sat down with RoverTown CEO Mike Philip, who inadvertently gave me a long overdue reality check that the college days are over for good.
What is the inspiration behind RoverTown?
It started in 2009. A couple of my buddies came to me while I was a junior in college and they had this idea for a plastic discount card that we could sell to students and get as many businesses as possible onboard to offer discounts. We started it here in Carbondale and even broke a profit our first year in 2009.
Eventually we built a mobile site and started calling it RoverTown. We took all the discounts we had sourced from the plastic card and put it on this mobile website. We got a discount from one of the local bars and told our friends that if they went to this bar on the strip they’d get free cover if they showed their phone, which was a novel thing at the time.
I remember going home that night and looking at my computer around bar time and all the sudden the data started ticking up. I jumped in my car, drove over there, and took a look at this bar. Sure enough there was a line out the door. At that point we realized we were onto something.
With the overwhelming number of deals sites around the web today, why should someone use RoverTown?
RoverTown’s not necessarily a daily deal site. We used to be back in the day when we had the RoverCard and when we built the RoverCard I didn’t even know what Groupon was.
Our business model is completely different. We’re completely focused on the college market. In any market that we’re in we’ll have over 100 businesses onboard that offer a standing discount to students. For instance, a nearby Wendy’s in Carbondale is offering a free Frosty if you just show your phone. That’s Groupon style and we do have those types of discounts, but the real meat of it is that we have an additional 100 businesses on there. It’s not just one thing here and there, but saving on all of your daily expenses.
Where did the name RoverTown come from?
Our logo is a dog named Rover. He’s loyal and there’s a loyalty aspect to RoverTown as well. Not only are businesses putting a discount on there, but we’re also giving them a table display to put on their business. The discount will bring them in, and then they can scan the table and there’s a loyalty program that’s going on.
Our motto is “throwin’ you bones.” The bones are discounts and we will hand out coupons to students on campus in the shape of bones. We’re constantly throwing bones and that’s where Rover comes into play.
What has been your biggest failure?
There have been a lot of failures, that’s for sure. Probably not charging enough for our service to businesses. We went a period of time when we were willing to give our services away for free or at a highly discounted rate.
If you look at the advertising industry and the media that students are looking at, for every $16 of advertising that is lost from the newspaper industry only $1 is going towards digital. All this money is being lost from the advertising industry and businesses don’t have a good avenue for spending that money. That’s where RoverTown comes into play. It fills that niche and businesses are willing to pay us a lot of money for that.
For a period of time we undervalued our model and that was probably one of the biggest mistakes that we made. Now we make sure to set the value at what its worth and businesses are happy to pay for it because it works.
What keeps you up at night?
Lots of different things. Of course we’ve raised money for our company, so it’s always important to make sure we’re providing our best value for investors and moving the company forward properly.
I actually sleep pretty well every night. The biggest thing is that startups are a pain in the ass and every day is a rollercoaster -- every day there’s something new. I don’t ride the rollercoaster too high or too low. I just make sure that I always stay in that middle ground and I don’t let the highs and lows affect me too much.
What’s next for RoverTown?
Our next goal is to ramp up our sales. For a long time we’ve really undervalued what we’re delivering to businesses and at this point it’s really gaining traction with students. Every 60 seconds we’re having 12 businesses getting exposure on our platform, and that’s increasing quickly.
We’re raising our next round of funding. We raised $100,000 in our first round and we’re raising a bit more this time. We’re using that to take what we already have and ramp up our sales even quicker, as well as expand into new markets.