- Players:Ric Meulemans and Oliver Bryant
Guzzle is the result of two entrepreneurs carefully evaluating the market and asking the questions: How are consumers evolving, and what can we do to tap into this shift in thinking?
It’s an interesting entrepreneurial combination. Ric Meulemans is an ex-commercial pilot who returned to South Africa in 1994. Oliver Bryant was a UCT physics and maths graduate.
The two have been in partnership since 2006, and friends even longer, and the success of their second start-up, Krugerpark.com, a reseller for the national park, funded the launch of their third venture, Guzzle, and fuelled Meulemans’ entrepreneurial bug.
“It’s a different way of seeing the world. You start evaluating how you do things, and questioning what would make your life easier – and whether it would make other peoples’ lives easier too.”
The big idea
In fact, it was while he was still in varsity that the big idea struck: Why not create a form of ‘Bonnie’s Best Buys’ for the Internet? “Oliver pitched the idea of a tech platform that could aggregate deals and help consumers avoid buyer’s remorse,” says Meulemans.
“The interesting thing was that the information was out there – it was all in the weekly catalogues that the big retail chains print. We just needed to figure out how to make use of that information.”
Step one was research. Meulemans soon found the stats to back up what Bryant, as a young tech savvy student, already inherently knew – people use the Internet for everything.
“It’s call ROPO – research online, purchase offline,” says Meulemans. “Just because ecommerce is still slow – and was very slow in 2011 – doesn’t mean buyers aren’t doing their research online. The sales cycle has changed. Today, before a consumer even walks through your door, they’ve done their research, they’ve compared prices, read reviews – and it’s all happened outside your store.”
However, there was still a gap for Guzzle, because that information wasn’t aggregated in a single site, anywhere. They’d spotted an opportunity,
now they needed to make it work. Which is where their experience in start-ups really kicked in.
“I would have rushed to market, the retailers and even investors much sooner if Ric had let me,” laughs Bryant.
“Launching was a slow and expensive process, and I didn’t have the patience Ric had. He had to keep reminding me of the plan to keep me on track.”
So what was the plan? Krugerpark.com would fund the start-up, and they wouldn’t approach a single retailer until they had 10 000 daily unique visitors. “We had two challenges,” says Meulemans.
“We had to prove our solution worked, but more importantly, we had to educate the retailers that this was the way to go. Our product promotes complete price transparency.
“A user can sit on their phone, or in a store, and compare the price of a fridge across multiple retailers. Consumers are our users, but the site would be monetised by the retailers – those were our clients, and I didn’t want to go to them until we had a product that worked, whose value we could prove.
“We also wanted to show them that they couldn’t avoid changes in consumer behaviour, and give them added value to get them on board.”
Though Bryant felt the pressure of market risk a bit more than Meulemans, the partners proceeded to launch and lived the tough reality of start-ups: Launching a product always takes longer than you expect it to, and growth is slower than anticipated, which is why it’s so important to have goals and to stick to them.
“Basically, we collected all the catalogues we could and sent them to India, where a team captured 200 000 products, spliced them, and put them through a number of filters – we needed a user-friendly site, which meant streamlining categories, prices, regional areas and so on. It was extremely intensive, and of course, you had to go through it all again at the end of each week once the special expired,” explains Bryant.
The founders kept the business as lean as possible, but still spent R150 000 a month proving their product worked, and very slowly gathering unique visitors.
“If we hadn’t had a firm plan when we launched, we might have rushed the process. Instead, we stuck to our guns, even when Caxton approached us to buy the business six months in. We only had 5 000 unique visitors, and we knew it wasn’t ready.”
Six months after that, the partners had the unique visitors they wanted and a model that worked. “We had begun the slow process of securing retailers, and there were a number of challenges.
“First, we needed to convince them that they needed to be on our platform, which took a lot of educating. By then though, we’d added functionality that was to their benefit – they could see who had searched what and where, and what consumers were purchasing.
“We’d also added functionality where a customer could purchase off the catalogue, by clicking on the product. Adding this functionality to a catalogue can increase conversion rates by over 30%, as customers no longer need to dig around and search for the product after looking at the promotion.
“Slowly retailers started coming around, but you need to know that the process takes months, and a lot of meetings,” says Meulemans.
Meanwhile, Naspers approached Meulemans and Bryant. This time, the founders were prepared to talk about a joint venture. It wasn’t an equity deal, rather a partnership aimed at disrupting print media and reaching as many unique visitors per month as possible.
“The joint venture means we collectively reach six million unique visitors through MWEB, Pricecheck, News24 and Guzzle, using our platform.”
”It’s meant incredible growth for us,” says Meulemans. And of course, it proves that patience does pay dividends.