Monday, April 22, 2024

How This Entrepreneurial Couple Is Revolutionizing Brand Loyalty

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Entrepreneur Ventures is an early-stage venture capital firm partnered with Entrepreneur Media that is dedicated to backing passionate and innovative founders as early as day one. In this series, we are profiling the amazing entrepreneurs that Entrepreneur Ventures is working with to share their insights on building and growing a thriving business.

Please tell us about yourselves and your business.

Amanda Huh: Our company is called Amaze. It’s a white-labeled self-service platform that creates memberships for brands. I’m the co-founder and CMO, and my husband Stephen George is the co-founder and CEO. Our partner Keith Hoerling is the CTO. Simply put, our platform allows brands to create digital membership cards that live in members’ Apple and Google Wallet and allows them to give great perks, build their community, and capture powerful data. We’re a super-lightweight tool and we create a frictionless experience for our customers and their members.

What inspired the business?

Amanda Huh: During the pandemic, we noticed a lot of businesses shutting down. Stephen has a strong background in the customer loyalty space, and we wanted to build something that businesses could really rely on to create sustainable revenue and connect with their consumers in a more meaningful way.

Stephen George: I was at Groupon so I’ve been in this loyalty and reward space for a long time. We started building our platform in 2023 and pushed it live to our first customers in December. We started by talking to smaller businesses in food, beverage, health, wellness and fashion. But similar to Groupon, every business in the world can benefit from using our platform. This isn’t just a rewards card where customers are collecting stars or points. Those loyalty programs are passive — half of the time you don’t even remember you’re enrolled — and they’re purely transactional. When a business has a membership, it creates a sense of belonging and community.

Related: All True Entrepreneurs Share This One Personality Trait, Says the Founder of Spicewell

How does it work?

Stephen George: Most of our customers have a virtual card that sits in a member’s Apple or Google Wallet. We chose to take advantage of those wallets’ existing infrastructure and traction — they have two and a half billion users — rather than building a brand-new app. We also have a couple of customers who have decided to have a physical card printed on metal with a QR code on the back. Either way, the idea is that this card is something that people will show off, kind of as a humble brag. It can be to your favorite sports team, a non-profit you support, a cool barbershop, a high-end nightclub or a restaurant. The card gives you a sense of belonging and also allows businesses to offer access to things that a member actually wants. For example, we have a restaurant group that wanted to give its investors to feel like they’re a part of something. So they gave them each an investor card that gives them priority reservations and a free bottle of wine once a month. Now, a high-end restaurant can take this concept and monetize it by having a VIP pay a thousand dollars a month for a membership card that offers them $500 in beverage credit or some other great perks.

What is your business background?

Amanda Huh: My family is in the seafood industry. Our company is called Pacific American Fish Company and we’re one of the largest import-export manufacturing and distribution companies in the United States. I built out our DTC line and then my brother and I started a family office focused on technology investments. So I came from the investor side and now I’ve got the founder hat on. So it’s a very unique experience kind of coming from both sides.

Stephen George: I started at Groupon as an intern. There were just four engineers at the company at the time and it was prior to when it was called Groupon. I stayed with them until the IPO. It was a great learning experience for me, obviously being just 20 years old and becoming Head of Global Operations in three years. I went on to invest in startups and have built a few companies over the past decade. I made my way out to LA from Chicago, which is where I met Amanda. We now have two kids and run our business from our home in the town that Amanda grew up in.

Related: ‘We’re Curating Happiness’: See How This Entrepreneur Is Transforming the Wellness Space Through Membership

How did your experience as investors help your fundraising process?

Amanda Huh: It’s a big help because I understand what investors are really looking for. When I was an investor, it really came down to how I connected with the founders as people. At the core, you are investing in somebody who’s going to do the right thing. So on the founder’s side, you want to communicate to investors that you’re a compassionate person, that you’re solution-oriented and that you have the tenacity to make this concept come to fruition.

Stephen George: Amanda and I come from different business backgrounds. Her family business had been profitable I think for 40-plus years. They’ve never taken outside money. No debt. Nothing. I come from Groupon where we raised a billion dollars and relied on that outside funding. It was growth at all costs. So with Amaze, we try to balance that. We brought in a few customers who wanted to put some small checks in over the course of building the product, but really didn’t take much funding. Now that we have a product, we have customers signing up, and a clear go to market strategy, we’re raising money. And I think that gives us an advantage not having a huge burn pre-revenue and pre-product.

Related: How to Pitch Your Company to Entrepreneur Ventures for Investment

Any advice for those seeking funding?

Stephen George: For early-stage founders, the more you can prove that this is a viable business before you take funding will put you in a better position. I think that taking some money is fine, but make sure not to let fundraising take over your attention. Allowing yourself to focus on the business is really important. Put your energy into the problem you’re solving and building the right solution.

What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur?

Amanda Huh: For me being an entrepreneur is tied to my parents’ immigrant story. They came over from South Korea back 1969, and built their business. So it is really about being a self-starter and creating a legacy for our kids and building something that is valuable to our community. And that’s what Amaze is centered on: we’re giving businesses the power to build better relationships with their customers.

Stephen George: When you talk about success as a founder, we define that as having customers from year one who are still going to be able to really benefit from our platform in year 10. And my big advice to entrepreneurs reading this is to be patient. No matter what you are doing, it is always going to take longer than expected. And while you may need to pivot, change direction or regroup, you just can’t give up.



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