Interview: Greg Grunberg and August Trometer, founders of Yowza, action heroes

Greg Grunberg and his partners August Trometer and Rick Yaeger have a successful iPhone App called Yowza – it’s basically a location-aware coupon app that gives you great deals at major merchants – and Greg plays Matt Parkman on NBC’s Heroes, a program I’m told is quite popular with a certain demographic. They are two very cool guys.

I got a chance to talk to Greg and August about building iPhone apps, acting while topless, and was quite close to getting Hayden Panettiere’s phone number for you all.

CrunchGear: So… Yowza, is this your fallback move? Is this what happens when the bottom falls out of this whole acting fad?

Greg Grunberg: Exactly. This is for when they’re thinking about firing me and I’m like “I don’t understand, why is make-up putting some sort of an STD sore on my face? What’s going on? You know, is my character going to be killed off?”

I have always been business minded, always been sorta an entrepreneurial guy, I played a character on Felicity that was modeled after me actually. JJ Abrams is one of my closest friends so when he was creating that show, he was like, I’ve got the perfect character Sean Blumberg, He’s always looking for the next idea.

I mean I’ve been friends with JJ since preschool, believe it or not. All through college I was selling this and selling that, different businesses and stuff.

CG: So how did you get this idea?

GG: I love the iPhone, I’m a huge Mac and apple fan. About that, 9 months ago my wife and I were just complaining that we once again forgot our Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons. We’ve got 3 kids and I thought wouldn’t it be great to harness the GPS capabilities of the phone and have deals you know, coupons, hundreds with you, without having to pack them with the kid’s things.

So on Twitter about 2 months later I met August Trometer and Rick Yeager and August is here right now. August had been very successful with apps since the app store started.

I was like “Guys, I have this idea I dunno if it can be implemented, I don’t know if its even possible, I’m not kinda guy who can actually manipulate the SDK and actually write code for the app. But what do you think of this idea.” And they both turned white. They took the idea, the concept, and just ran with it.

Rick from a design standpoint, and August on the technical side. I’m really excited about the project. I catch myself on the set, and “I’m like oh shit, I should look at the script!” I’m so into Yowza right now. Don’t tell NBC that.

CG: The idea of GPS-based coupons isn’t brand new. Nokia’s talked about this, I think NEC talked about this years ago. What is it about today’s marketplace and the iPhone that really made this all come together when so many others have failed?

bio_hs_augustAugust Trometer: One of the things that I think differentiates the Iphone from all the previous efforts is just some of its capabilities. You’ve got GPS. A high res screen so you can put barcodes right there on the phone. That said there are still competitors on the iPhone that do similar things. But we took a completely different look at what everybody was doing, and we started with the shopper first, and we said if I was in the middle of a mall, how would I want this to work? And that’s the attitude we took when we were developing the application. And that’s why I think ours is the best of the bunch.

GG: There are so many, 50-60,000 apps that are in the store. You have to have the marketing dollars, or the marketing plan at least, to get the word out about it, and that’s kinda where I come in and help. I’m doing all the talk shows, I’m doing press. There’s another side to talking to me. People want to talk about heroes for 5 minutes and then talk about my iPhone app.

CG: How do you approach the stores, do you actually go out to the stores or do they call you. What’s the process there?

GG: At the beginning it was a tough chicken and egg situation. Where I was calling and saying “Hi its Greg Grunberg, star of NBC’s Heroes, can I talk to the head of marketing please,” and I would get them on the phone.

I’m not ashamed to say I’m using that to get to these people because they are being bombarded right now, by every type of marketing: email, text, traditional couponing and advertising in the papers and stuff. So I get them on the phone, and once they see the app they’re hooked. And it’s easy to demo.

That’s the good thing about this is then I can say do you have an iPhone, if they say no I say get someone in the office and get it. Turn it on and they can see how easy and intuitive it is.

CG: Are you thinking about expanding this to other platforms, Pre or Android or anything else?

AT: Yeah those are definitely on the road map. We don’t have a time frame for them. We really want to make sure there are plenty of merchants and plenty of shoppers to make the merchants happy. Definitely are looking at those platforms and will be expanding to them, we just don’t have the time frame right now.

CG: In terms of value add, for the merchants themselves, do they get any specific information on foot traffic walking by carrying iPhones. Are there any statistics you guys can gather from the data when folks run the app outside?

GG: Yeah, we have set it so that the merchants, all they need is access to the Internet. There is no set up, no equipment to buy, not even a set up charge. It’s a location-based app so the merchants are charged per location. What they have access to is unprecedented in this area: a minute-by-minute and location-by-location analytics, they can see the statistics how many people are pressing “Use Coupon,” then compare that to the actual reduction at the register.

Not every offer is one that needs to be redeemed if it’s a sale announcement then they would look at the number of uses. But they can really tailor this they can change offers on the fly. We just made a deal with Madison Square Garden Productions and it’ll be something that they can put up offers up during a sports game. Then they can take it down when everything is over. They want to be able to put an offer up so between the first and second periods of the game it’ll be a different offer they put up the next period.

Grocery Chains are excited about, if tomatoes are going bad they can immediately respond to that, and they can get rid of some inventory.

CG: Who do you have lined up right now?

GG: Pier 1, Sears, REI, the Container Store. We have a deal with Sysco foods and they provide all the foods for 400,000 restaurants nationwide. They’re encouraging the all the restaurants they service to take Yowza cause it’s so affordable, and so trackable, and you can control it, you can cater for a holiday then take it down.

AT: We collect a tremendous amount of data, the views and uses is just a small part of that. Over time we will be exposing more and more of that data to merchants so that they’ll be able to really see what’s going on with their coupons. And it is unprecedented for any advertising media for a merchant to be able to see this kind of data. You can’t do it with print; you can’t do it with TV or radio. It’s a really amazing thing for them.

CG: How has been your experience with the app store? I guess some folks have had mixed experiences with them. Did this all go through smoothly, almost immediately? Did they fly you out, put you up in the giant UFO hovering they have?

AT: Yeah there were no speed bumps at all really. Apples been great to work with and they’re really excited about Yowza.

GG: We both had a relationship with apple. I’ve known them for a long time, I produced a movie called Group Sex And they were instrumental in providing all the computers for the movie, for the in front of the camera and also behind the scenes.

It was great when, they actually contacted us, there was an article on me for Twittering, they contacted me and said thank you so much for saying I Twittered on an iPhone, I said that’s all I use.

They were very very helpful and continue to be. They’re very excited about having sort of a celebrity attached and an an app that people can turn to every single day and it can be useful in more than an entertaining way, but something that really can help people save money.

AT: I cant remember if Greg mentioned it in the beginning, but your readers might find it interesting, We all met on twitter, this whole business started on Twitter.

G: Yeah, that was a cool thing. I have a lot of people following me now, I didn’t at the beginning. At the beginning it was who Rick contacted me and said yeah, I can help you really take advantage of this social media thing if that’s what you want to do. And we started talking, he had a previous relationship with August, he said I should meet this guy, he develops apps, we have an idea for your product. Yeah thank God for Twitter.

CG: I have some questions from the guys at TechCrunch. First Jason Kincaid wants Hayden’s phone number, if you could send that over.

GG: Next.

preview_320_260_1JB: And then I’m supposed to ask you experience about being “shirtless fan” in Austin Powers: Gold Member.

GG: In nutshell I would have done anything in that movie, I love those movies. My brother auditioned for one of the other shirtless fans. I also did a commercial for Rolaids years ago, I don’t know how old you are, but it was a while ago, over 20 years ago.

JB: I’m 34 so maybe I saw it.

GG: Yeah, it’s pretty funny, and anyway, it was on for 2 years and it was about a guy who tailgates at the Buffalo Bills football game, and his father and grandfather are there, all topless, all shirtless. When we were cheering they had our bodies in slow motion so literally a ripple fat, its not an appealing thing. And anyway that became kinda famous; I was in the Today Show for it. So when they were casting the movie, and they met my brother they’re like “Go get Greg to come and do this with you.”