The Launch of BrandON in Hong Kong
BrandON – innovative O2O mobile app boosting traffic and sales in stores, serving brands and retailers while empowering consumers. Now launching in Hong Kong.
Script of Interview
Interviewee Mr. Brice Simoneau (BS)
Position Founder & CCEO
Company name BrandON
Company website: http://thebrandonapp.com/
Interviewer John D. Evans, CFA (JE)
Interview conducted on 30 May 2022
About Brice Simoneau
JE Good afternoon, and welcome to the viewers of this episode of SEIML Ventures. Today we’re speaking with Mr. Bryce Simoneau, who is the founder and CEO of BrandON. As background BrandON is an innovative O2O mobile app, boosting traffic and sales and stores, serving brands and retailers while empowering consumers. It is now in the process of launching in Hong Kong. So, without further ado, welcome Brice, nice to have you here today.
BS Hello, John, thank you for having me.
JE Okay, so let’s kick off and tell the viewers a little bit about yourself. Give us a combination, sort of a brief personal background and a brief professional background, what you’ve been doing before BrandON.
BS Sure. So, my name is Bryce, I am the founder of the Hong Kong based startup BrandON. I grew up in French, and I have been living in Hong Kong for 18 years. I am an engineer by trade with master’s degrees from French engineering schools, as well as US university and I also hold an MBA from major European School in entrepreneurship. I am an entrepreneur in Hong Kong since 2006, have been fortunate to create develop and exit two leading online retail businesses, b2c, and b2b. And I’m now fully committed to this new venture BrandON the retail technology startup.
JE Okay, now, you’ve mentioned you you’ve been in Hong Kong for a while, but with BrandON, are you going to be exclusively in BrandON or are you also looking to travel to other areas right now to set it up in a broader area?
BS Well, for now, I am based in Hong Kong, where I created the BrandON, and Hong Kong is the perfect place to kick start a venture like BrandON. So, this is where I work now and over the near future. But of course, travels may lead me to some other places around the world to visit new clients and potentially expand overseas.
JE Okay, I know starting a company is very challenging, but do you have any other activities or projects outside of BrandON that you’re doing currently?
BS Well, I have been lucky to be focused on BrandON for the last two years. And I intend on remaining fully committed right now is quite a critical time for BrandON, as everything is happening at the same time. So yes, I do foresee a full commitment for at least the next year.
JE Okay, perfect. So now let’s turn and focus specifically on the company on BrandON. Tell us precisely when it started and what was your initiative for wanting to grow it?
BS Sure, well. I’ve been in Hong Kong for a while and I’ve always been amazed by how shopping is such an important part of Hong Kong. All international brands are here. And unlike any other place around the world retailers throw regular promotion campaigns, which could be very aggressive over and over during the year. Shopping malls are often found in highly populated areas, and they are always busy. So, Hong Kong retailers, besides having to deal with huge competition, crazy high rents, they work hard to attract more customers to their stores. Now with borders closed due to COVID and no tourists coming to the city, they can only rely on local consumption to sustain their business. On the other hand, Hong Kong consumers they are very connected. They are very fond of promotions, and they have a real culture of shopping in stores for all their needs. So, these lead quickly led to BrandON’s core concepts. To match the retailer’s need of seeing more people answer their stores with consumers’ expectations of discounts and access to information. Therefore, we have developed and launched the BrandON mobile application here in Hong Kong, named Brandon. Brandon empowers consumers by helping them find, share and enjoy the best in store promotions across the city. And BrandON boosts foot traffic to our clients, retailers’ brands by delivering the right contextual information to consumers. So on the app consumers get to check at a glance, which deals are currently offered by brands in retail stores. If they like promotions, they know they must rush to the stores take advantage of it now. And ultimately, BrandON ambitions to be a landmark in the reopening of Hong Kong for the local population. So, the time is right time is now.
JE Okay. Now, you said it’s been two years since you founded the company, have you been developing it and funding it yourself? Or do you have any outside investors or partners to date?
BS Well, so far BrandON is self-funded. However, we plan on closing our first round of external funding within the coming months or so.
JE Okay. Okay. Interesting. So just be a little bit more detail for us. So, would you describe your offering as sort of a B2C app? For retail? How exactly would you describe your product or service offering in technical terms?
BS Well, first and foremost, the main product is a consumer app, with the objective to create a tight community of smart shoppers. We’ve had some delays in our marketing and PR campaigns early this year due to COVID restrictions. However, we are still on track to reach our first milestone of 5000 users by the end of this semester, according to our initial projections. From then on, more features are going to be added to allow retailers to publish their own promotional content to our consumers. And then we do expect like a snowball effect since clients, retailers coming to the platform will mean more consumers are going to be interested in what BrandON has to offer, which means in terms that we can expect additional clients to come to the platform, etc, etc. So basically, we are like bridging the gap between existing promotional campaigns in stores, and consumers.
JE Okay, now, who is working with you on BrandON? Do you have a team?
BS Of course, of course, there’s a whole team working on BrandON First, we do have talented developers taking care of the tech itself, mostly rolling out new features, as well as developing the clients back end and managing it. Marketing is spearheaded in house as well as content creation. And most of the execution of campaigns is outsourced to local marketing and PR agencies.
JE Okay, okay. Now you’re focusing in Hong Kong. So, in terms of your geographic market, do you tend later on to expand, we hear all this talk about Hong Kong in the Greater Bay Area?
BS Well, BrandON has been tailor made for the Hong Kong retail market, that’s for sure. And this market desperately needs help after these three difficult years. So, the first objective is to prove that the model is working in Hong Kong before landing in other markets. So, expanding to reach the whole Greater Bay area would be the next logical step, as well maybe as other top tier cities in mainland China or other Asian markets with similar habits.
JE Okay, okay. So, talking about the stores and the brands, are you specializing in in any one area? Are you promoting retail of every different type of product?
BS Well, as we deal with in store promotions, our users expect BrandON to give them access to all promotions across the city, across all verticals. Obviously, fashion and cosmetics, big sectors, as well as general grocery. But we also see health products and services being sought after, as well as home products and even bars and restaurants now that are open again, offering happy hours or discount menus, for instance. Really, the app can accommodate any kind of promotion coming from a physical store. So, we choose to serve our users the best way possible by offering them the most comprehensive mapping of discounts across the city.
JE Okay, and what is BrandON’s general revenue model? How do you make money?
BS As a retail technology startup, Brandon is active in the digital advertising space. We’re a B2B solution provider and focusing on improving foot traffic to retail stores. Target clients, they are retailers who are using promotion campaigns as a way to achieve their business goals. Our tech allows to know precisely how many users visit our clients’ stores. So, the revenue is mostly coming as success fees based on foot traffic that the app can deliver to these retail stores.
JE Okay, okay. And will advertising revenue be a component of your business as well?
BS Yes, of course, we do have some additional revenue streams, such as banners on the application.
About the Marketing Industry
JE Okay, okay. Let’s talk a little bit about your industry. And I’m going to define it as the marketing industry. Is that a correct classification of BrandON? Or would you label it or put it in a slightly different sub sector?
BS Well, I would see BrandON more as a retail technology startup, as we leverage technology to improve retail performance. At any rate, we are at a crossroads of retail and digital advertising.
JE Okay, okay. And so, with respect to Hong Kong, which is where you’re starting off, do you have any major competitors? Are there similar offerings that that will be competing with you?
BS Well, for one thing, for sure, we are entering a very competitive industry, with many players both online and off. Think about Pinduodou or online daily deals providers on one hand, or private sales operators, or social media or even as in the free press. This is a very big and highly fragmented market, which can be addressed in many ways. So, we are using a new angle to appeal both to brands and consumers. After all, our mission statement is to activate, turn on, the promotion campaigns of the brands, hence the name BrandON unlike many competitors, however, BrandON helps brands stay in control of their message, deliver traffic to their stores, and allow them to have a direct link with consumers. And this is what this is why we’re really betting on this new angle, this new approach to run efficiently in Hong Kong.
JE Okay, so you’ve mentioned both the marketing side and the technology side. So, does this require an ongoing, high level of r&d and new bells and whistles being brought out every six months? Is BrandON going to be constantly evolving, evolving in terms of its technological delivery?
BS Well, as you put it, technologies evolving, always at a fast space and there is no exception here. Although at this stage, we are not investing in r&d or patents, as we firstly combine existing solutions to fit our model, like gamified locations intelligence or QR code authentications. And soon we will add some other tech layers like big data analysis and AI powered suggestions. We’re also looking to integrate blockchain at some point to improve authentication of store visits and secure the exchange of information.
<Apple Store QR code>
Key Near-term Strategic Goals
JE Okay, I guess when you get into the technology industry, and you’re taking in a lot of data, it just automatically means there’s going to be lots of new things and developments down the line. Okay, so let’s, that’s where you are right now. And we’re almost halfway through 2022. So, what do you see your key goals or hurdles for the last six months of 2022?
BS Well, well, we will soon reach an interesting inflection point, as almost all our hot topics should come together around the same time later this year. First, our marketing campaigns are on the way to help us reach the milestone of 10,000 users during the summer, probably late August or September. And this number is forecast to be a boost for business with additional interest coming from a growing number of brands and retailers. Also, our seed round of funding is should also materialize sometime soon. And finally, we’re still very excited to launch the next new features of the app over and over again. So, all in all, the near-term strategic goal is to achieve product market fit in Hong Kong within the year. And then we expect to create the snowball effect I was talking about earlier on, triggering more consumers and therefore more retailers, etc. coming to the platform, as advertisers and as consumers.
<Google Play Store QR code>
JE Okay, well, that’s very interesting. And just to add a personal note, my PC, which I bought in Hong Kong, is five years old, and it’s out of date. And I’ve been trying to get down to Hong Kong for two years now to get myself a more updated, powerful PC. So, when travel resumes, I want to get on your app to see where I can get the best deal and my new touch-top Asus laptop. So, I’ll be looking to use that as soon as I’m able to come down to Hong Kong. So, let me just ask one final question that we didn’t really allude to before, but is the border starting to open in Hong Kong any chance that I’ll be able to, to come down before the end of the year to get my new laptop? Are things opening up?
BS A bit. I wish you’re welcome here anytime though borders are still quite close at this moment. Officially, tourists can finally come back to Hong Kong, for the last month. Unfortunately, we still have a quarantine in place, which seems to be deterring many of the world tourists to come to the city but no doubt that Hong Kong will soon open up in a more thorough way. And we will all hoping for that.
JE Okay, great. Thank you very much. Now, you gave me a couple of QR codes, which the viewers will see when they look at this video. Is this something I can download from where I am in Suzhou in anticipation of coming to Hong Kong in the future?
BS Well, right now, Hong Kong is geographically limited. Well, it’s the only geographic location allowed for BrandON. But who knows in the near future? I’ll keep you posted.
JE Okay, appreciate that. Well, thank you very much Brice. That was very interesting. I’ve been coming to Hong Kong, not quite for 20 years like you have but certainly 10 to 12 years and I know that the retail industry is absolutely a huge part of the economy down there. So, anything that can make that experience more efficient, I think will be well received. So good luck with your new venture and we look forward to getting updates in the future, say after your next funding round to hear how things are progressing. Thanks for your time.
BS Thank you very much, John for your time. See you soon.