Chicago is littered with deal websites these days – Groupon, LivingSocial, Buy With Me, Poggled, and more. In a marketplace that has become increasingly saturated with deal and discount websites since the start of the recession, new companies need to find a niche in order to prove their worth. Founder and CEO Salvador Serrano has done just that with his new start-up, QRazy Panda. With its emphasis on supporting charities and helping the environment, QRazy Panda stands out in the crowd.
Salvador Serrano originally started working with a deal website that was trying to expand into the Chicago marketplace last summer. When that company nixed their expansion plans in light of existing competition, Serrano decided to move forward on his own. While attending Midventures, one of the largest tech conferences in Chicago, he was inspired by the use of QR codes to track attendance at individual booths and allow attendees to enter themselves into raffles. Using QR technology, he decided, was the key to his new venture.
QR (short for Quick Response) codes are matrix barcodes that can be read by camera-enabled cell phones. QR technology can be used to encode URLs, text, or other data. Ads on the CTA that display QR codes, for example, allow you to automatically go to a company’s website or to video advertisements. QRazy Panda’s platform uses QR codes as a simple, effective, and eco-friendly ticketing solution for events and package deals. “Our QR code technology creates a completely paperless experience,” Serrano explains. “Once a deal is purchased on the QRazy Panda e-commerce platform a secure QR ticket is sent directly to your phone via SMS text message or e-mail, which cuts down on environmental waste.”
Serrano says that the ability to use SMS text messaging in conjunction with the QR codes was a huge breakthrough. “To effectively leverage the QR code technology,” he said, “I had to make sure that we were not isolating non-Smartphone users. Through time, we were able to manipulate the QR codes to be sent via SMS text messages to cover around 95% of all cell phone users and almost 99% of our target audience of cell phone users.” Whether it is by using technology to cover a larger potential consumer base or by dressing up in a panda costume to promote the website, Salvador Serrano wants to make his company as accessible and visible as possible.
Consumer visibility can be difficult with a limited marketing budget and staff. Serrano admits that the most challenging aspects of this entrepreneurial project so far have been a lack of financial and human capital. He is bankrolling the initial stages with financial aid from the graduate degree he is currently pursuing at DePaul and shouldering the workload with minimal staff. In spite of those challenges, Serrano finds the spirit of the entrepreneurial community and its willingness to collaborate to be very rewarding. He has found helpful mentors in Chicago and the Bay Area. Now that his project is underway, Serrano hopes that he will soon be in the position to mentor others who share his passion for entrepreneurship.
QRazy Panda officially launches this Saturday, June 11th, with an event at Casey Moran’s from 8pm to midnight. For $35 on the website or $40 at the door, attendees will enjoy four hours of unlimited beer, wine and well liquor drinks. The launch party also doubles as a benefit for Children’s Memorial Hospital – $15 of each ticket purchased will go to help children in need. Serrano sees the philanthropic aspect of QRazy Panda to be one of its most important features. A firm believer in the philosophy “Work hard, play hard, and give hard,” QRazy Panda’s founder insists that only thing better than having a good time is making a positive impact while you are doing so.
Each month, QRazy Panda will display new events and package deals that benefit local charities. Initially starting with larger charities, Serrano hopes to also eventually help smaller charities that get overlooked. In addition, portions of deal proceeds will also go to the World Wildlife Fund to help preserve the endangered habitat of the website’s namesake: the panda.
Salvador Serrano has big plans for the future. The QRazy Panda team currently includes five interns, a freelance programmer, and freelance graphic designer. After finding additional funding, Serrano hopes to hire full-time staff and lease an office. QRazy Panda will launch in 10 additional U.S. cities in upcoming months.
If you are free on Saturday night, check out QRazy Panda’s launch event! You’ll be able to party, help an important charitable organization, feel environmentally-friendly, and be on the cutting edge of technology all at the same time.