Cornell University

February 9 2010

Weather Dips Defied

Blue Sky Local keys restaurant promotions to slow times

For Matt Ackerson '09, it's one big idea after another.

Scrimple.com morphed into The S Card, which morphed into Blue Sky Local, an on-line operation that delivers coupons and other promotions via email and text messaging to customers when restaurateurs need them most -- on slow days.

Since launching the business (www.blueskylocal.com) five months ago, Ackerson said he has been working 16 to 18 hours a day.

Eighteen restaurants are now using the service.

Ten of the businesses are on Long Island. The four in Ithaca include two Subway locations, The Connection and Jack’s Grill. Others are located in Detroit, Miami, and Reno, Nev.

Ackerson, leader of the team that won Cornell's "The Big Idea" entrepreneurial contest in 2008, says building a business is an iterative process.

"You're not going to get it right the first time you try. You have to try something, step back and evaluate the results, make changes and then try again," he said in an interview.

"Scrimple's value proposition wasn't clear enough, our distribution method was unsustainable, and it was difficult to grow the business to other locations. Blue Sky Local's business model is the answer to those issues," he said.

Scrimple.com was based on email and text coupons for restaurants and other businesses. Customers could visit the website and print out or text coupons which were redeemable at dozens of local merchant locations.

Blue Sky Local caters to quick service and dine-in restaurants, delivering coupons when businesses need them the most -- when weather, holidays and low-traffic days keep customers at bay.

Ackerson calls it the Slow Sales Response solution. Blue Sky Local's computer program tracks seasonal weather changes, slow times of day and other factors, then automatically delivers coupons to customers.

For example, if a restaurant is slow on Tuesday and rainy days, Blue Sky Local automatically delivers coupons on Tuesdays and on rainy days.

For $99 a month, Blue Sky Local sends promotions by email, text and Twitter to a customer list of 300. For $199 a month, it will serve a customer list of 1,000. And for $299 month, it will deliver to 3,000 customers.

Based on its survey last year of 244 restaurants, Blue Sky Local found that the average restaurant annually loses $31,200 in potential revenue due to external factors such as weather.

Cornell College of Engineering graduate Angel Villegas '09, Ackerson's business partner and Blue Sky Local's programmer, is based in Washington, D.C.

By phone every Monday, Ackerson meets with Blue Sky Local's five-person sales team, spread from Las Vegas to Boulder, Colo., to Long Island.

ILR's curriculum and being able to take electives across Cornell, Ackerson said, "helped prepare me to be an entrepreneur. You have to be open to so many faces -- programming, law, human resources, union, economics."

"My ILR experience helped to make me a generalist capable of wearing many hats," he said. "That is essential to being an entrepreneur."

Starting a business can "seem like chipping away at a mountain," said Ackerson, who remains intrigued with entrepreneurship.

"How best to work with other people, analyzing different business models, understanding the bigger picture behind what happens in a business -- it’s fascinating."