We talked to Amos Meiri of Colu about how to help cities encourage residents to shop local and support businesses, and this is what he said:
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Amos Meiri: Overall, we are doing great. I have two small kids, so it becomes challenging to work from home. It creates an illusion for the kids that I am at home while actually my mind is fully at work and can’t give them the attention they wish. Nonetheless, we learned to create the right balance to work from home and be with the kids.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Colu.
Amos Meiri: Originally a musician who turned into trading and managing trading departments in companies such as eToro.com. I found out about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in 2011, where I co-founded in 2012 the first digital assets protocol Coloredcoins.org. Then I started Colu with the goal of allowing people to issue digital assets in 2015. One of the leading applications were community currencies. Through community currencies, we got into different behavioral and economic incentive models from communities, which got us into working with cities.
How does Colu innovate?
Amos Meiri: We are a smart city technology company that helps municipalities stimulate their local economies by gamifying everyday interactions.
We enable cities to have the most advanced technology to communicate with their residents and drive them into action.
By using our city-branded mobile app, shoppers seamlessly earn rewards at participating local businesses across the City when they make purchases with registered credit, debit, or prepaid debit cards linked to their account on the app. These rewards may then be redeemed at an expanding list of redeeming businesses. All rewards are funded by the City, and there is no cost to users or businesses.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Amos Meiri: We see a demand for the platform among cities that are currently seeking out ways to stimulate economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic.
The City of Akron, for example, was especially eager to develop a civic and community engagement platform to spur economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. It partnered with us to create customised app incentivising Akronites to shop locally by rewarding them with points that can be exchanged for discounts at locally owned small businesses. Citizens also have the opportunity to like and share city stories via the platform that reveals narratives happening every day around their City. The app has been a huge success; for each $1 the City of Akron has invested, it has experienced $9 of economic impact. It’s expected that the $70,000 of CARES Act funds used to fund the initiative will generate an economic impact of $630,000.
With the American Rescue Plan Act recently approved, we are currently working on helping cities decide how to maximize the economic impact of their fund allocation – which in most cases is significantly more than they received from the CARES Act.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Amos Meiri: At the beginning of the pandemic, we operated our product in certain cities where the business model was charging fees directly from businesses. We started seeing that local businesses were going through unprecedented challenging times and therefore decided to stop the service where we fully operate the platform in the City. Today, we are focused on giving cities the tools to operate the platform and take the lead with our economic stimulus platform.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Amos Meiri: As an entrepreneur, and a CEO of a startup, you should be flexible and always need to look around and adapt to the situation. The pandemic brought high uncertainty with it and many changes in the way we work on a daily basis. Today, for example, we mainly work remotely, so we established the necessary company rituals needed for the remote work to succeed and be productive. Also, today we can sign a contract with a city fully remotely – without even meeting the City in person.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Amos Meiri: There are other companies that suggest rewards for local businesses, but they don’t enable the City to stimulate the local economy, and they don’t necessarily have the economic multiplier as we have. According to a U.S. Chamber ‘MetLife’ Poll, 74 per cent of business owners said they need further government assistance to weather the pandemic. Our product enables cities to support their local businesses and to connect their residents to the same cause.
We plan to stay in the game by listening to our customers, understanding what cities need, technology, and services wise to get a full solution in hand.
Your final thoughts?
Amos Meiri: Colu’s strategic vision is centered on a future in which cities leverage technology to transform local shopping and civic engagement into sources of pride for residents. Colu will provide city leaders with tech solutions for encouraging residents to participate in essential civic activities such as recycling, voting and taking public transportation; embrace and attend city initiatives events, and support historically underrepresented segments of the population.
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