Flyover Geeks: By Edward Domain
Posted by Ann D. at 12/1/2010 7:30 AM CST on Chicago Business
Brian Doxey got the inspiration for his Champaign-based startup, Frequent Browser, from airlines’ frequent-flier programs.
“In September of 2009 I was in law school at the University of Illinois in Champaign,” he recalls, “and was thinking about the success airlines had with their frequent-flier program and thought to myself, ‘Why aren’t these types of reward programs online?’ ”
Mr. Doxey was so intrigued by the idea of rewarding consumers for their online browsing that he started coding what would become Frequent Browser that night. Now he’s looking to move the startup to the Chicago area.
While Mr. Doxey may be relatively new to entrepreneurship, he’s surrounded himself with some experienced players: He’s launching the business with Chief Marketing Officer Dave Sargent – a law school friend who had success in another startup, Study Blue – and Dan Schneider, the startup’s director of business development who is also an independent futures trader in Chicago.
Frequent Browser is a service that acts as a loyalty program for all of the “partner destination” websites that are a part of the network. “Using Frequent Browser is dead simple,” Mr. Doxey says. “You log into Frequent Browser, surf our partner destination sites and earn points. Our motto is ‘Surf, Earn, Score.’ ”
When users log in to Frequent Browser and then browse destination sites, the time they spend on the site is tracked and points are accumulated. Users can redeem those Frequent Browser points with a “reward partner.”
“In the past, some companies tried to reward browsing by paying users,” Mr. Doxey says, “and that didn’t work. If I get a small check for browsing some websites, I am not really being incentivized a great deal to keep using those sites.”
But there are other ways to keep users engaged, Mr. Doxey reasons. “When you redeem frequent-flier points with an airline, you receive things like seat upgrades or free flights on that airline,” he says. “So you keep interacting with the airline you got the points from. You are rewarded by having further interaction with the brand and encouraged to keep using the brand. We are doing the same thing for the web.”
Frequent Browser has lined up a handful of partner destination sites including Chicago-based Pravda Records, ZogDog, UGallery, Paperwork, and the microblogging service PingGadget. Mr. Doxey says the company is also in talks with online music juggernaught Rhapsody. (Rhapsody confirms that the two firms are negotiating.)
Frequent Browser also has a patent pending on what the team calls “split source technology,” which Mr. Doxey describes as the company’s secret sauce.
“Split source technology keeps the user data secure from the partner site. They send their fork of data to Frequent Browser and we check your cookie so we know you are on that partner destination site. Frequent Browser is the only one with a person’s browser data, which they willingly share with us in return for points. We can reward our members for visiting our partner sites without them losing their personal data to every site they visit. It makes our service easy to use and makes people more comfortable using it knowing the partner sites they visit don’t collect data about them.”
“We are the first company to reward browsing with browsing,” says Mr. Sargent, the marketing chief, “and we are so confident in what we are doing we have trademarked the phrase, ‘Thank You For Using the Internet.’ You are going to see that phrase everywhere sooner than you think.”
Frequent Browser recently raised $200,000 in seed funding from a private-equity firm in Deerfield and is in the process of relocating from Champaign to Chicago.
“We have a Chicago office we’re moving into, and the more we meet people in the Chicago tech scene, the more we realize Chicago is where we need to be,” Mr. Doxey says. “Everyone in tech here is approachable, and we’re amazed by the depth of talent and accessibility of people here.”
Flyover Geeks: By Edward Domain