Tech Pitch: Happiour

Recently acquired by MyVoucherCodes, this is the social platform providing users with exclusive special offers from local food and drink vendors...

Company name: Happiour
Founders: Hal Stokes (41), Sam Stokes (36), Sharmita Stokes (41) and Geoff
Based in:
London
Launched:
October 2014
Background:

  • Hal Stokes: Headed up music for Bebo, co-founded social media agency Punktilio.
  • Sam Stokes: Created data and social media software for musicians, co-founded Punktilio, former social media director at Essence Digital.
  • Geoff Liddiard: Former head of design and build at Punktilio and senior social media developer at Essence
  • Sharmita Stokes: Previous head of european sales at Ovum, founder of fashion import business States Identity.

Very simply, what does your tech start-up do?

  • Happiour is a mobile marketing platform that connects food and beverage vendors with local customers through geo-located and time-sensitive promotions.
  • Vendors can create and manage their own promotions in near real time via Happiour’s self-service platform.
  • Social interactions help customers share and search for relevant food and drink promotions nearby.

Tell us why there’s a need – what do you disrupt?

Maximizing efficiencies, as well as altering the default behaviors of consumers, are key challenges for any food and beverage business. For example, the lights are on, the staff are ready to go, and the stock is in place – irrelevant of trading conditions. Being able to stimulate more trade at strategic times, or simply when needed, makes a lot of commercial sense.

Getting local customers to consider another coffee stop over their regular one is hugely challenging, and if cracked, hugely profitable for the new store. In terms of the consumers; we target working urbanites who probably grab coffee from their most local store, lunch at the same three places, and grab after-work drinks at the usual – if we can help these people make these everyday moments a little bit better, then we’ve delivered huge value for them and their friends.

Is Happiour funded?

We just sold to MyVoucherCodes. But we were funded by Michael Birch (bebo.com, Monkey Inferno), Mark Sheehan (The Script Band), Paul Donovan (ODEON CEO), Downing Ventures and DN Capital.

What were you doing before you started Happiour?

Since before I was a teenager, I (Hal) was chasing rock ‘n’ roll. My brother Sam and I formed a band around 2000, and we got a deal in California and moved out there in 2003.

We got very serious, very fast, about using the social web to build a fan-base. Through this I met Michael and Xochi Birch in San Francisco; they were launching Bebo Bands as part of their hugely successful UK social network, Bebo. I started consulting for Michael while still touring with the band. Then Bebo took off, so I joined full-time. I ended up running music until we sold to AOL in 2008.

Off the back of this, Sam and I were able to launch our own agency, Punktilio. Punktilio offered specialist social media services in what was a vacuum at the time; we were one of the first to do it in the UK and our client list built exceptionally fast. We decided to make hay while the sun shined and sold to Essence Digital (WPP) in 2011.

A lot of our social media clients were retailers and there was a big question: what does a dollar spent in social actually deliver in terms of sales? Sam and I thought that if we could create a platform that answered this, we’d have something really valuable.

We pulled in Geoff to build the first version of Happiour and manage its technical aspects. Sharmita, who I’d met in California (and then married) joined to lead the business development team and strategy. We wanted to create a platform that used offers as the catalyst to create social moments, and location and time as the relevancy drivers. We wanted it to be a self-service platform so that vendors could manage their needs in real time (and viral scaling was possible).

However, we massively underestimated the task – from the technical challenges, to realistically scaling a digital marketplace. We raised £1m in venture capital; realistically we needed about £10m. It was pretty much pushing water uphill, with a fork, from the start. But, tenacity runs pretty thick through a musician’s blood, certainly in Stokes’ blood.

The vendors wanted our platform; for them it delivered some big solutions. We secured Starbucks and LEON as partner brands; their campaigns were huge successes, and this put us on MyVoucherCodes’ radar.

Chris, the CEO, asked if we wanted to partner with them to deliver joint local promotions. I told him MVC should just buy us, leverage our tech with their massive scale (eight million customers), and we’d crack the opportunities that Happiour offered much quicker – he agreed. We’re now preparing for Happiour’s re-launch earlier in the new year, which will take Happiour across the UK.

What’s the best thing about being based in Soho?

Bebo was based in Soho. We built Punktilio in Soho.  However, we set up Happiour in Clerkenwell, but East London never felt like home – it was always more of a stopgap. One of the big attractions of MyVoucherCodes is that they are based in Soho (not far from our old local – The Toucan) so now it feels like we’re home again. We love Soho!