First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Carlo Cisco: We’re doing well. I am fortunate that my husband convinced me to move to the burbs before all of this hit. It’s nice to be able to have separate floors when we’re both working from home and to be able to get outdoors (when it’s not too cold).
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded SELECT.
Carlo Cisco: My career runs the gamut. I founded my first successful company in college, an event planning and promotion business where I got to work with numerous premier nightlife venues and some restaurants and hotels throughout Miami. I simultaneously had positions across various areas of finance then ultimately moved up to NYC to pursue a job in equity trading. I transitioned to the startup world a couple of years later when I accepted a position at Groupon in 2010 – just as Groupon was becoming the fastest-growing company in history. I moved to Tokyo to help build Groupon in Japan. We turned it into one of Groupon’s most successful markets with 8-figure monthly revenues within three months.
When I returned to the US, I started my first tech startup, FoodFan, a restaurant search, and discovery engine. I transitioned day-to-day control to another co-founder so I could start working on my current company, SELECT. SELECT is a next-gen black card, concierge, and membership community that connects our members with exclusive events, savings, and perks at over 1.6 million locations across the globe and online. We created SELECT because we saw a massive gap in the way premier customers and businesses connect and an opportunity to build a previously unseen network of lifestyle elevating benefits with the world’s best brands and venues.
How does SELECT innovate?
Carlo Cisco: SELECT has created the largest network of exclusive, ongoing benefits with premier brands and venues in existence. Many of these relationships are completely exclusive to SELECT, and the majority of our partners don’t offer any benefits anywhere else.
Unlike traditional card rewards, SELECT benefits are significant, tangible, and happen at the point of sale. These include things like 20% off the full bill and/or free drinks for your entire party at the world-renown restaurants, up to 60% off the lowest online rate at over a million hotels and resorts across the globe, and exclusive pricing with industry-leading brands like BMW, Hyatt, TUMI, IHG, and Bose amongst hundreds of others.
While this platform is revolutionary today, it reaches a new level when we introduce our credit and debit cards in 2021 and finally make credit card rewards significant, tangible, and occur at the point of sale. In addition to an industry-leading cash-back program for non-partner purchases.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Carlo Cisco: Coronavirus has a significant impact on virtually every industry we touch. Because all of our benefit partnerships are direct, it’s been difficult to see previously successful businesses, owners, and management teams struggle because of a situation they have no control over. Many of them have thankfully been able to weather the storm.
Fortunately, our business has been less impacted; however, in March, we began several initiatives so that we could continue to provide value to the radically disrupted lives of our members. We introduced take-out, and delivery benefits with dozens of our restaurant partners added new lifestyle benefits focused on meal and alcohol delivery and useful products such as cookware for the members under shelter in place orders. We also added new business benefits to help the entrepreneurs and executives in the community save on essential business services, and we began to host a variety of digital events. We launched ALL of these initiatives by April and expanded from there.
It was a lot of work, but the effort paid off. Our annual membership renewals are actually up year-over-year despite the pandemic and numerous impacted industries we touch. We’re happy to be able to continue to help both our members and our partner businesses through a difficult time in every way we can.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Carlo Cisco: We secured the opportunity to launch our own credit and debit cards in partnership with a major issuer and leading card network just before the pandemic hit. We had also just started working on our Series A round but quickly paused to focus on the threats caused by the pandemic, in addition to our customers, our partner businesses, and our team. I believe we’ve handled it remarkably well, and the reason why is simple. When things get tough, we dig in and work harder. We knew because this was such a significant moment, everything done or not done would be remembered.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and SELECT in the future?
Carlo Cisco: As the founder of a high-growth startup with unicorn potential, stress and anxiety is constant. But, I’ve had plenty of stress in my life and learned early that it benefits no one to dwell on it or feel down. I turn stress into energy that pushes me and, in turn, our company further.
When we first hit the market, we were called “AMEX for the Next Generation” in our very first national TV interview. I believe that’s precisely what SELECT is. We’re going to forever change the way credit card rewards work to the benefit of cardholders, partner businesses, and us. We see that as the gateway to becoming a broader financial institution that is able to create positive change for cardholders and businesses. We will continue to leverage our expertise and tenacity to offer expanded product offerings that help people live the lives they want AND be financially responsible.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Carlo Cisco: The most direct competitor currently is FoundersCard. As our credit and debit cards come to market, financial giants like AMEX, Chase, Citi, etc. become our most direct competitors.
Our product was built based on what cardholders value the most: rewards. Our network of unique, exclusive, and ongoing rewards is well beyond even the most premier card offerings. And we’re just getting started. Our focus will remain on the lifestyle-improving benefits, events, and content that we are the best in the world at creating. The industry has lacked innovation for decades due to it being nearly impossible to enter. Now, as leading financial institutions partner with startups like us, it becomes about the best possible product. This is what we have built and will continue to improve for our segment of the market.
Your final thoughts?
Carlo Cisco: Stay safe. Keep grinding. Much like we already see at SELECT, we will all make it through this and emerge on the other side stronger and better than before.