This is the third in a series of three interviews with entrepreneurs who attended MastermindTalks in Toronto in mid-June for two days of presentations, roundtables and networking. Jason Atkins is the 36-year-old founder of 360Incentives.com, a Whitby, Ont.-based business that helps engage, measure and motivate sales associates and channel partners.
Question: Can you tell me more about 360Incentives and how it works?
Answer: We help brands modernize the way they execute promotions and how they engage their channel partners: the retailers that sell their products, the retail salespeople who sell their products, and at the end of the day, the consumers who buy their products.
The way we looked at it is that the world of promotions and incentives is broken. The old world is you buy a product, you get a mail-in rebate, and you mail it in. Twelve weeks later you either get a cheque that says ‘here’s your money’ and you’ve already forgotten about it, or you get a letter that says ‘you got rejected.’
We changed that. We make brand advocates. We change the experience people have with it to ensure in a connected world that we promote the brand not detract the brand.
We were founded in the summer of 2008 and we launched the beta product in 2009.
Q: What was the inspiration for the launch? What took you from idea to execution?
A: I was working for a marketing company in the United States, and wanted to run a company, so I leased a building under my own name and figured if I put my back against the wall I’d figure it out. I bought a whiteboard and a desk the first day and really put three things on the wall.
The first was that I’ve always been the guy who applies technology to industry, so I put a carrot with a big stick and I was like “I want to play in a really big market that’s broken.” Second is I wanted to build a company that makes money while I sleep so I drew a little hammock, a platform. Third was that I wanted to make people happy.
I thought about my experiences around all that. In the ‘90s I built Hewlett-Packard’s rebate system and people thought it was awesome, and it hasn’t changed since. Back then someone tried to create a fraudulent cheque … tried to cash a $50,000 cheque that was supposed to be $50. I realized all the fraud stuff that happens in industry. How do these companies that mail things around track and capture fraud?
So I thought ‘massive industry, I can build technology to do it and not people to do it, and at the end of the day the incentive is supposed to make people happy.’ You bought a product, you got an incentive, you’re supposed to be a happy person. That’s how we came up with the idea.
Q: How has the company changed over the past five years? How has it evolved?
A: The company has taken on a bunch of different approaches. We’ve really embraced this whole connected world and experience. We thought about happiness before, but happiness is really about making sure people get paid quickly, making sure they get paid how they want.
Now what we’ve learned is that incentives and promotions have about eight touch points with a consumer. How do you leverage those touch points? How do you build them as advocates? How do you change the company and how we think about experience generally?
The other was just how much fraud is created out there. We hired a guy from the credit-card industry that now has a compliance department in our company, that has six or seven people now, and all they look for is fraudulent activities. People create fake invoices, people create fake people. It’s amazing what people do to get paid fraudulent stuff.
It goes way beyond what I ever thought. When clients come on board, we realize between 8 per cent and 10 per cent savings on their spend. We’ll move $1-billion this year, which means we’ll save our clients $80-million to $100-million.
Q: Who are your key competitors, and how do you differentiate yourselves?
A: Typically mail houses, a bunch of companies are out there, but what they do is old process: mail things in, they try to be the cheapest companies out there, maybe trucks off to Mexico, have the data entered. We’re all online. We don’t think of them necessarily as competitors because we’re a single-platform that runs whatever promotions you want in a web-based environment.
So we deal with thousands of competitors that win business, but when clients understand the value proposition of our experience – the compliance and the protection that they get – and the real-time visibility they can get, we usually get through the competition barrier pretty quick.