BY Walter Hayward 4 MINUTE READ

Co-founded in 2015 by dynamic duo Tina Fisher and Mark Bradshaw, SnapnSave is digitising the coupon industry. Positioned as “South Africa’s #1 cashback app” for both shoppers and vendors, the app allows customers to scan till slips with their phone camera and instantly start saving money on their purchases. Smartphones at the ready!

Launching a startup, and especially one that presents a new and innovative idea, is not for the faint-hearted. “While the beginning phase seems like a sprint, you must treat the journey like a marathon. And just like running a marathon, it helps to have a partner to lean on during the tough times,” says Tina. “You hit the wall and get frustrated at different times, which allows you to support one another. It’s great to have a partner who has different but complementary skills, allowing each of us to be the authority in our area of expertise.”

Mark is a CA (SA) with over 10 years’ experience with Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) brands in local and international markets. During his career, he worked at Union Swiss, the owners of Bio-Oil and was instrumental in their launch and success in the US market. Tina, originally from Canada, did her MBA at the University of Cambridge, and then stayed and worked in London for almost 10 years before moving to South Africa in 2012. She worked within the pharmaceutical industry for many years and her last position in the UK was as a Global Brand Manager at Pfizer. 

Mark, being a CA, is an expert in finance and business architecture, while Tina, having spent 15 years in marketing and sales, is the specialist in communications and operations.

It’s been the biggest rollercoaster — with very high highs, and very low lows. “It all started with the two of us sitting in a room drawing with a piece of paper to conceptualise our idea, to today with having processed over one million till slips, R8 million in cashback, 400 000 app downloads and a staff of 20 people. It’s difficult to get off the rollercoaster and reflect on what you have achieved because as entrepreneurs, we are always chasing the next win.”

In the late 2000s, Mark was instrumental in launching Bio-Oil (a South African personal care product) in the US and lived in California for a year. During his time in the States, he realised the impact that mobile phone technology and apps were having on consumer purchasing behaviour. At the same time, while living in London, Tina saw the emergence of digital coupons and tech-based vouchers, and the influence they had on consumers. The combination of these two experiences, along with the smartphone boom and South African potential, presented the perfect combination. In 2013, they started sketching out ideas and realised that South Africa’s attitude to coupons were very different than in the US or Europe. 

Using coupons or vouchers to save money, especially in-store at a till point, was seen as inconvenient and sometimes even embarrassing, regardless of how much the consumer was likely to save. Their solution? Simply “snapping a photo of your till slip” to redeem digital coupons in the privacy of your home or car would align much better with the South African psyche. 

SnapnSave was a consumer- facing platform for almost three years before we launched a digital rewards programme for independent vendors (people who purchase goods at wholesalers to sell to others). Our clients, multinational FMCG brands, asked if we could develop a solution to understand and influence purchasing behaviour in this sector of the retail market. We realised that there was a gap in the market for a brand loyalty rewards programme. that was retailer indepen-dent. We launched this  programme in June last year and it has been extremely successful. The brands love it because they have a better understanding of their loyal customers in the informal market, and the vendors love it because they receive cashback rewards for being brand loyal — regardless of where they shop. At this stage, there is very little competition in this market, which makes SnapnSave a perfect fit  for brands, consumers  and vendors. 

We went through our first venture capital raise in 2016. It was a challenging process because at that time, finding seed investors in South Africa was extremely challenging as very few funds provided this type of capital. Since then, many 12J investment funds have opened, meaning the potential for investment is greater. Despite having worked in corporate, this was our first investment raise and many lessons were learnt that we could now write a book on the process. We feel extremely lucky to have a board who are extremely supportive and involved, and who have opened a lot of doors for us. If you are an entrepreneur seeking funding, our primary advice would be to consult with people who have previously gone through the process as opposed to tackling it alone. There are many nuances and pitfalls in the deal negotiation and unless you have been through it before, it’s difficult to determine which points are important versus those you can concede on. Similarly, our other learning curve was that the investment process takes much longer than you would anticipate, and often results in not being able to focus on the day-to-day running of the business, which can indirectly have a massive impact. This is where it’s great to have a business partner who can still run the daily operations while the other is focused on raising funding. 

With our corporate experience in global markets, we both know that expanding too quickly can result in a significant hit to the bottom line and cash flow if your core market and product offering is not stable. SnapnSave’s immediate short-term plans are to maximise the opportunity in South Africa and own the position as the number one cashback app for both shoppers and vendors through refining our business models and till slip Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. Thereafter, we have a strong mandate to grow the business into another 20 developing markets.

Article originally published in Fast Company SA’s May 2019 issue.