A while back, as Prodality
co-founder Parag Shah scanned a credit card statement, he noticed a restaurant charge that seemed suspiciously high. Though he couldn’t remember the bill’s exact amount, he recalled the meal well enough to know he’d been overcharged. But Shah couldn’t find his receipt, and thus couldn’t confront the restaurant about the mistake.
“I hate paper, so I probably just threw the receipt out after signing,” says Shah. “But the experience made me ask why I didn’t have the option to receive my receipt by email and search through an archive of all my purchases.” Such an archive would also help with returns that required a receipt, he reasoned.
Shah set about developing the searchable receipt database that would become PurchaseBox
. He soon saw the value in including promo emails in the concept: “The average person gets way too many promotional messages to keep track of, even with email systems like Gmail [which collects promo emails in a separate inbox],” explains Shah. “Most people just delete them as they come in, even if there’s a chance that they’d come in handy at a later time.”
By organizing retailer-specific promotional emails in a searchable database, PurchaseBox makes it easier for consumers to call up and use coupons while shopping online or in-store. Each PurchaseBox user gets an @purchasebox.com email account to which retailers can send digital offers and receipts. (Users can also photograph and upload paper receipts to their accounts, though that’s likely to become less common as more retailers switch to digital receipts.)
PurchaseBox exemplifies the customer-first approach to big-picture technology solutions of its parent company, Prodality. From its office near Uptown, Prodality is honing a unique business-building approach that could have a big impact on MSP’s burgeoning startup economy.
Shah, who serves as founder and chief executive, runs Prodality with business partner Whitney Johnson, who serves as director of marketing and oversees the company’s day-to-day operations. According to Johnson, Prodality is a “mix between a startup incubator and a capital investment firm.” Prodality turns ideas into new subsidiaries, taking an equity stake in every concept that makes it past the idea stage.
To get each new business off the ground, Prodality’s core team offers “labor support” during the startup phase, says Johnson, then builds “specific teams around each company as they continue to grow.” Prodality's startups are structured as separate legal entities, not departments of Prodality itself.
Prodality focuses on “big ideas” that can potentially achieve seven- or eight-figure valuations within three to five years, Shah says. “Before launching a new idea, we ask ourselves, is it a large enough opportunity?” he explains. “If the answer is ‘no,’ we don’t pursue it.”
Prodality’s ideas generally focus on business and consumer needs, depending on the company. Its most successful subsidiary to date, BookBottles
, is an event management platform that caters to nightclub and entertainment venue owners. Regardless of target audience, Prodality’s startups must be cost-effective and “bootstrappable,” backed by software systems — either web or mobile — capable of being rolled out within weeks.
“One of the biggest advantages of our model is that it’s scalable,” says Shah. “We’ve put together a framework for providing the seed funding and labor to develop apps and other necessary technologies really quickly.”
Prodality’s model is attractive to local and national tech investors, who have participated in multiple funding rounds for the firm’s most successful startups. The ultimate goal of any Prodality backed startup, says Shah, is a full exit: the sale of Prodality’s stake to another firm or investment group. Prodality reinvests the proceeds of these sales into new ideas, some of which — hopefully — eventually make it through the same cycle.
As for PurchaseBox, it’s still early days. The app remains invite-only as the team works on functionality enhancements and tests new features, which Johnson says are critical to PurchaseBox’s eventual success. Current users tend to be tech-savvy “early adopters,” she says. “We count on experienced technology users to evangelize the product for us, and we always welcome feedback that helps us focus our development efforts.”
“The goal is to make PurchaseBox as user-friendly, seamless and convenient as possible,” Johnson adds. “Those attributes are what will ultimately drive adoption.”
According to Shah and Johnson, PurchaseBox is planning a big push — aided, again, by its early users — to put the app in front of retailers in MSP and beyond. “Our goal is to build a base of at least one million users” in the near term, says Shah. “Hitting that target will create a compelling value proposition for merchants and encourage adoption.”
Though one million users sounds like an ambitious target for an app that’s still technically in beta mode, Shah and Johnson clearly believe in PurchaseBox’s potential. And they’re fresh off a big visibility boost: PurchaseBox was one of a few hundred startups (out of 15,000 applicants) to appear at this year’s Collision
, an annual tech expo held in Las Vegas in early May.