NAN PRICE: How did you develop the concept for Giverrang and how has it evolved?
MARK WALERYSIAK JR.: In 2010, I was working in community and economic development. I was involved with a downtown revitalization project in Bristol and eventually worked for the Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce.
I became really interested in supporting local small businesses and I wanted to do what I could to make the environment vibrant and create a destination vibe in Bristol, which is my hometown.
My dad was very passionate about the idea of creating an alternative economic system. We worked together and developed the concept for the original product, a business-to-business platform that provided discounts through a kind of peer-to-peer partial barter system. The goal was to open up the consumer market.
Ultimately, it was too difficult to explain. And, while we were getting a little response, it just wasn’t enough. So, we took a step back. My dad was tending to family issues, so I moved forward on my own.
I love the idea of a local currency. I’ve been interested in this idea for many years, I just never had the time to do it. I wanted to create something for Bristol. Eventually, I brought in Roy Paterson, who’s now my co-founder. He’s the technical end of the operation while I do all the other sales, marketing, and business stuff.
I shared this idea of a gift card/local currency concept with Roy, and in late 2020 we started creating the concept for what we called Bristol Bucks. We ran a pilot program in Bristol and learned a lot about some of the challenges of creating your own gift card system and clearing house.
NAN: At what point did you bring in outside business resources to help shape your idea?
MARK: I felt like we needed to get more strongly integrated with Connecticut communities, the startup ecosystem, and explore some lending options to connect with financing, which was a new area for us. We wanted to see if there were any accelerator or incubator programs that could help with connections, so we applied for and were accepted into the 2021 reSET Impact Accelerator.
We thought of it as a way to open some doors for us to some conversations and legitimize us in a way because we were part of the reSET program. We also really wanted to hook up with some different types of resources and get some feedback about our product and how to iterate it.
There’s a lot of great intellectual power in that organization—and in all the other founders participating in the accelerator. Not only were there all different types of people providing perspective from a business owner standpoint, but some of the startups were actually merchants, which helped provide valuable insights. The program also enabled us network our way into different avenues.
And it worked. We did get some exposure. We got a couple inbounds from people who saw us pitch who were connected with different communities or they saw the press release that we were associated with reSET.
NAN: Who is your ideal client?
MARK: We work with individual communities and economic developers to create tailor-made community gift card programs. We’ve been fortunate enough to develop the proper relationships where we can offer a MasterCard branded card, which makes the redemption process easy.
We launched live at the end of March and we’ve signed 18 communities since. Most of them are in the onboarding process, some have publicly launched, and some have soft launched. We have programs all over the country, which is super exciting.
NAN: What’s next?
MARK: We’re continuing to sell individual communities. We’re also standing up our own self-launch product line called the Indie Community Gift Card, which is our direct consumer card. We’ve launched one for 10,000 towns and cities across the United States.
It’s great that we’re growing, but it’s also creating new challenges because it’s still just the two of us trying to handle all the customer support on top of all the other things. We’re looking at raising our first round to help acquire additional resources.
There’s the expression, “You’re either working in your business or on your business,” and we’re starting to get sucked into working in the business. We need to work on laying the vision ahead of us. So, that’s the next step, we want to sell as much as possible and figure out who we need on board to help us.
NAN: What’s the biggest advice or lesson learned from your experience launching a startup?
MARK: The biggest lesson for me is really understanding scale. We’ve developed this concept in a very scalable way, and I thank Roy for helping me understand scale better. Think about creating systems that are going to help you to achieve a level of scale that’ll make the company very explosive and attractive. And make sure you’re able to do all the proper things to ensure that your customers are happy.
As far as advice from an entrepreneurial standpoint, you just need to start. You’re not going to know everything. I think too many people don’t get going because they overthink everything. You’ve got to get your stuff out there—and then get customer feedback from your peers and smart people to help you refine and make that product strong and sellable.
That’s what happened with us. If we didn’t start, there’s no way we would be even close to where we are right now.
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