When it comes to shopping, many of us either love it but are too busy to clip coupons, or hate it and avoid doing anything more than going to the store. We then end up spending more money than necessary on everyday items out of convenience and a vicious cycle begins. What if we told you, there is a solution for that and it comes in the form of an app, called Swoup. Recently, the I got the pleasure to sit down with Phil Parrotta of Swoup to talk about this amazing solution to saving money you were already going to spend anyway! Having met at Collision a couple months ago, We were beyond excited to speak with Phil and his team at Swoup!
Melissa: For those out there who aren’t familiar with your app or tech savvy, can tell us about Swoup?
Phil: Sure, I’d be happy to! Swoup, which kind of stands for swiping and swapping of coupons, is a lifestyle enablement company and the first “smart” (artificial intelligence based), personal savings assistant app – think of Swoup as the love child between Tinder, a coupon app and a personal assistant. We curate, recommend, manage, track and organize hyper-tailored discount offers for our users and we do so in a very aesthetically appealing, fun and easy to digest way. Swoup serves up one offer at a time and all you have to do is swipe left to discard, swipe up to “gift” or send an offer to a friend or swipe right to place an offer you want to keep in your Swoup Wallet. Once in the Swoup Wallet, Swoup links the offer to the user’s loyalty card for virtually friction-less checkout (in-store or online) and organizes the kept offers by retailer, by product category and by expiration. We do the work and our users get back time in their day to focus on things that matter most to them: family, friends, hobbies, whatever, while not having to throw away money out of the need for convenience or being time pressed. After all, I don’t think anyone ever got rich by throwing money away.
Melissa: What is the philosophy behind Swoup?
Phil: Swoup’s philosophy is Round down. Live upTM, which basically means that Swoup enables our users, who we like to call Swoupers, to spend less on the products they buy then we take the extra money that would have originally gone to the retailer and make it work harder for them by managing its distribution to either a savings account and/or donate it to a charity of the Swouper’s choice, with minimal effort on their part. Swoupers just go through a one-time set up process and we take it from there. All Swoupers really have to do is swipe & shop, to save and donate. Swoup can also be used as a basic coupon/discount app where savings can be kept for the Swouper to use however s/he chooses.
A lot of people like to label Swoup as a coupon app, but that’s just wrong. Swoup is so much more than that. As I said earlier, we are a lifestyle enablement company. We don’t believe that saving necessarily has to mean sacrifice or delayed gratification. We don’t care which type of lifestyle our users want to live, we just want to help them live the best version of the lifestyle they want, spend less on it, and live a “richer” life today and tomorrow, while also doing some good in the world.
Melissa: What would be the advantage in rounding down, verses rounding up like other companies offer?
Great question! First let me say, that regardless of which way a person chooses to save money, round down or otherwise, I’m all for it. It is important to be actively saving or investing money however you choose. That said, I obviously think there are so many advantages to rounding down since I founded Swoup and Swoup is 100% Round down. The main advantage in my opinion is that by using a Round downTM approach you are able to live the lifestyle you want, buy the things and brands you want, put money away and pursue your interests, all within reason of course, with very little, if any, negative impact on your current lifestyle. It’s this last part that makes the big difference. Think about it, if you aren’t using a Round downTM approach, you are likely paying full price for the things you buy – living a “full price” lifestyle. With Swoup, we help Swoupers live a Round downTM lifestyle – basically pay less for the things they already buy, not more, and then “pay themselves” the savings difference. That’s the genius part. The money Swoup helps Swoupers save is money they weren’t expecting to have in their pocket anyway because they were prepared to pay full price – it’s money they would have given to the retailer.
Melissa: On which platforms is Swoup available?
Phil: We are currently available on the App Store, with an Android version to come.
Melissa : How did you come up with the idea? Were you a big coupon user?
Phil: Funny story. Prior to creating and founding Swoup, I could probably count on one hand the number of times I had used coupons… not because I had a lot of money but rather, I’m just busy like the vast majority of us and valued time-saving convenience over saving money – so I end up paying full price for things. I think the existing couponing process is a rather antiquated, annoying system, so I just avoided coupons altogether.
For most of my career I worked in financial services marketing and my most recent role was at a financial company that specializes in investment products, such as mutual funds, etc. With my expertise in this area, I was all too aware of the challenges that most Americans will face in not outliving their savings, let alone actually being able to retire, afford their elder years, go to college or even live comfortably.
Rewind to Feb. 2015, my role at the company I just mentioned was eliminated and I found myself out of a job. I am a type-A, overachiever who doesn’t sit idle very well. I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands so to break up my day, in between looking for a job and interviewing, I would make multiple daily trips to my local pharmacy retailer. If I happened to need three items on any particular day, I would make three separate trips, just to avoid boredom. Belonging to this particular retailer’s loyalty program, I would receive these incredibly long receipts at checkout but didn’t really pay much attention to what was on them. Then one day, I think I must have just been in a bad mood or something and I had gone to the store like four times and on the last visit, I looked at all these long receipts that were sitting on my counter and was like: “What the heck could possibly be on these? I mean what could they possibly have to say to me that would require this much paper?” Sure enough, when I looked, there were coupons on the receipts. On one particular receipt, there were five for-future-purchase coupons. Two were for products that I would never need (tampons and diapers) and three were for products I would (razors, shampoo and soap).
My first thought was: “Wow, who knew!” but then I wondered why I got tampons and diapers. I don’t need them and thought I should be able to give them to or exchange them with someone who might need them. And for the three coupons I would use, there was one coupon that caught my eye – a $5.00 off coupon for razors and I thought, “Holy… how much do razors cost if they can give me $5.00 off?” This led me to research the category, how much savings is offered to consumers over the course of a year, how much of this offered savings is being used versus thrown away, among other things.
Here’s a tidbit for you… did you know that the average shopping-age American receives over $2200 per year in coupon savings on everyday household items like toilet paper, trash bags, paper towels, cleaners, etc. but they only redeem about $15.00 a year on average. This basically means most of us are throwing away $2200 on stuff we HAVE to buy. Why do we do it? Because the process is annoying and the majority of coupons are still paper so we forget them and they expire, and they clutter our counters, our bags, and our wallets, etc. Maybe $2200 doesn’t seem like a life-changing amount of money, but it certainly makes a difference. There are so many other ways people can use that $2200, like save it or donate or invest it or go on vacation or buy a new air conditioner or put in a really awesome jungle gym for their kids… the possibilities are endless. The best part of it all is, this can be done without having to change a single thing in their life. And that fascinated me.
As a result, I started to research the coupon provider and retailer options out there and none were appealing. To me, they were cluttered, visually overloaded – almost like I was looking at the inside of a casino – you know the feeling? None of them made the coupon process fun or particularly user friendly and I knew, if these were my coupon/discount options to save money, it just wasn’t going to happen. No amount of money was going to motivate me to pre-shop for coupons and use these coupon solutions to help me. Skip ahead a few more months and two more things happened while researching: 1) I discovered my point accruing credit card had six figures worth of redeemable points that I could use to buy more stuff – which I had no desire to do, and 2) If I had cancelled that card, I would have lost out on the equivalent of more than $1000! This led me back to Swoup and I thought “What will our users do with the money we help them save?” The answer: probably just go buy more stuff – which is their prerogative; however, I thought it would be great if Swoup could also be this personal savings assistant always by their side, helping users save money and then do more with it. Why waste found money, when it would be better to put it to good use.
Lastly, but certainly not least, that contributed to the creation of Swoup, is a charity called God’s Love We Deliver. The love, pun intended, at God’s Love is literally palpable when you volunteer there and meet the people… it’s truly incredible. God’s Love We Deliver provides freshly cooked and nutritionally tailored meals to people, with a variety of illnesses, who are too ill to cook for themselves, free of charge. Their motto is “Food is love. Food is medicine.” Around this time, I was becoming increasingly more involved and fell in love with this charity. I have since joined their Leadership Council, and am constantly looking for more ways I can help. I also am always looking for ways to get others to see the great work they do and make it their charity of choice, just as I did.
All of that together, led me to create Swoup. I knew out of the gate that people don’t want, or need, just another app. They want a new, on-demand kind of app that is ready to serve and capable of complex actions. Swoup is just that. With our patent-pending algorithm/artificial intelligence, Swoup’s “smart” technology will deliver a hyper-focused savings and shopping experience the more it’s used and learns users’ preferences; performing in one app what currently takes 16 different ones to accomplish. I also wanted Swoup to be fun to use, in a way make saving money a healthy addiction and give people the confidence to know that they have Swoup, their very own personal savings assistant and lifestyle enabler, by their side at all times, to ensure they save some money while living the lifestyle they want and do more with the money we help them save.
And quite frankly, at the end of the day, I really just want to help people live a better life, realize their dreams and pursue their interests.
Melissa: This is a very innovative way of using A.I. What made you decide you wanted the app to “learn”?
Phil: Like I said, I knew from the outset that consumers don’t want just another app. They want something that is proactive and capable of handling complex things… something that is going to help them – work hard for them, make their very busy lives a little easier, give them some time back in their day, and if I can be this bold, give them a little confidence knowing that something (in this case, Swoup) has their back and is working behind the scenes doing what it is supposed to be doing while they go about their day.
Also, I knew that artificial intelligence (AI) was where the future was headed so couple the two together and I knew that if Swoup was going to add value and actually improve the lives of Swoupers, then it had to be smart. Armed with that, I set out to find someone with AI/machine learning expertise, as this was not an area of knowledge for me. Through networking and some of Swoup’s advisers, I found just the right person and away we went. We set out on a journey to develop Swoup’s patent pending algorithm that is the brain behind our AI, so to speak. And now I have two AI specialists on my team… It is that important to me.
A lot of people ask me how Swoup uses AI and if what we are calling AI is really AI. I’ve learned that a lot of times when people say AI, when you really look under the hood of what they are doing or talking about, you find that they are really just doing predictive modeling, which is not AI.
Regarding Swoup, many people can’t get their head around how finding people discounts or being a lifestyle enablement company could possibly benefit from AI. Well, without giving away the secret sauce and getting into too much detail, I can tell you that it will be hugely beneficial to Swoupers… just think what it would be like if you had a personal savings assistant on your phone that actually learned your preferences, not simply predicted them and then needed you to actually make the decision, but was capable of making decisions for you… really taking the work out of helping you maximize your savings and instead of having to go looking for discounts, the right ones for the products you want were just there waiting for you. So all you would have to do is go buy whatever you want and the discount would automatically be applied. All you basically do is live. Can you get what I’m saying here?
The possibilities are limitless and Swoup is 1000% committed to being at the forefront to ensure we add as much value as possible to our users and enable them to live the best version of their lives, whatever that means to them.
Melissa: Now would you say this is a Savings app or an investing app?
Phil: Right now, I would say that Swoup is a lifestyle enablement and savings app.
Melissa : I can relate to the difficulty of saving. Does this app target millennials or were you thinking of another target market?
Phil: Swoup is really for anyone from any generation. But yes, we do definitely have a sweet spot for Millennials.
The Millennial generation faces a whole new set of challenges not really experienced by prior generations. Millennials, in general, are delaying childbirth to close to age 40 – this puts the Millennial parent at 60 when their child is a junior in college. I like to refer to this as “60 is the new 40”. Most financial planning and portfolio construction models in the USA still suggest that at 60 years old, an individual should be starting to move into more conservative investment vehicles that have less risk and therefore less return. If you are 60 and have a 20-year-old in college and you are faced with a potentially large college tuition bill, you can’t be investing like a 60-year-old and drawing down, as the predominant thinking would suggest… you still need to be investing like a 40-year-old. That is unless you’ve put away every dollar and invested wisely during your entire adult life.
Millennials are generally also conservative investors by nature having witnessed their parents go through the housing crisis. At first glance, this sounds like a good thing but it generally means that they may not have enough exposure to more aggressive growth and other equity type investments. If you couple that with the fact that they are predicted to live, on average, longer than any other generation before them, could mean that they have a higher likelihood of hitting more negative market events over their lifespan than generations before them. If they get hit with one of these too early in their adult life, given their conservative investment nature, the negative market event has the potential to wipe out their savings. So then, living through that experience, they may become even more conservative and then another negative market event comes along and wipes them out again… you can see the problem here. So they face the real possibility of outliving their money.
The good news, Millennials are savers. In fact, the average Millennial puts away about 5% of their salary today. If you take this existing 5% and couple it with the theoretical $2200 savings per year that Swoup might be able to help them realize, their savings rate would more than double to 11%. That’s huge! They also happen to be sharers… think car shares, bike shares, apartment shares, etc. Swoup is built for sharing. If a Swouper gets an offer they think one of their friends or family might enjoy, they simply swipe up to gift it to them. Why not help those around us save a little as well.
Let’s take a second to talk about Gen Z. There’s buzz starting around Gen Z’s as you can imagine. The people who study generations and come up with their characteristics are still hard at work learning about Z’s. What we do know is that they will be another very sizable generation, potentially rivaling Millennials in size. Gen Z’s don’t feel entitled, a characteristic often associated with Millennials, to anything, however. In fact, they don’t even think the American Dream exists any more. They aren’t just worried about their ability to pay for college; most of them think that they won’t even be able to afford to go to college. That’s really terrible. So just taking those couple of data points into consideration, you can see why Swoup has an interest in this generation. While I’ve kept some of our future enhancements under wraps during this discussion, Swoup has every intention of ensuring that we are properly prepared to help the Z’s realize, and possibly exceed their dreams, do good in the world and have a little fun at the same time.
Melissa: Do you have any plans to allow people to send the money into investments they may be interested in?
Phil: Let’s just say that I have a few additional “destination” options in the works where Swoupers will be able to have the money we saved them distributed.
Melissa: How would you say Swoup has evolved as a startup from its conception to now?
Phil: Hmmm… that’s a really great question. Well I will say that we have a superb team and they have made every leg of this journey not only bearable but also fun. They are beyond talented in my opinion. There have been so many learnings along the way and we have pivoted as necessary. I’m happy to report that our foundational vision and strategy have largely stayed intact, and we’ve had the pleasure of validating them through research and testing.
That said, I think we realized we couldn’t do everything we wanted to do at the outset. We’ve had to learn to focus and prioritize, take a pause and reflect… and there is great value that comes from this. We’ve become incredibly customer-centric and I know that seems like a no-brainer and something everyone says but honestly, I love how engaged our customers are. I personally often answer their calls and emails and their feedback has been amazing.
Speaking of, the most significant ways Swoup has changed from its conception until now has been due to the feedback of users and test groups. They were instrumental in either validating our hypotheses or totally disproving them leading us to sort of revert back to the drawing board, regroup and improve. Their feedback has killed features we originally thought were going to be awesome and created features we never would have thought of.
Melissa: How hard was it to walk away from your finance background and found a start up?
Phil: I wish I could say it was hard, but as I mentioned, my role was eliminated so the universe sort of gave me my walking papers. Not to sound flaky, but I’m a big believer in the universe, its power and its influence on life, people, and experiences. Had my role not been eliminated, I probably would have gone on not paying much attention to those long receipts that I got at checkout and would have never had the idea to start Swoup.
That said, I had been in finance for a long time and had been in corporate America even longer. So I really wasn’t used to the uncertainties and roller coaster ride that often comes along with founding a startup. Founding Swoup certainly gave me a huge serving of “humble pie” but it’s also given me some of the most profound experiences of my life, professional and personal. I have learned so much and pushed my own boundaries so far. I’ve juggled more balls in the air at once then I ever thought possible, and I’ve never learned to juggle (laughs to self), and I have experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows and all of that within a five-minute period. But I am not the first, nor will I be the last to go through this. I am not special in this regard. I am just driven, hungry, and passionate about improving people’s lives and I love every minute of the entire thing. I am learning and doing things that I would never have had the chance to learn or do if had never embarked on this journey.
I am beyond thankful to the powers that be for giving me this opportunity not to mention the people who have believed in me along the way.
So was it hard for me to walk away from a career in finance to found a start up… yeah, maybe at first it was a little like wearing unlined wool pants in the summer. But now, I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
Melissa: In an environment where there are no shortage of apps, what do you feel sets Swoup apart?
Phil: Another great question! There are so many things but I will boil it down to the following:
First, We are the first round down savings assistant. That is, in my opinion, our biggest differentiator. We enable people to buy the things they want and still put money away or contribute to charity without any real impact on their day-to-day lifestyle. That’s hugely liberating. And while I didn’t go into detail earlier, with some of the new “features” we have coming out, Swoup is poised to radically change the way people “finance” their present lifestyle while at the same time ensure the likelihood of actually achieving what they want their future lifestyle to look like, and again with minimal impact on their current lifestyle. I’m so excited that honestly some days I can barely contain myself!
Swoup was designed with people like me in mind, people I’ll call “non-couponers”… people who don’t really enjoy the current coupon or discount experience. Swoup’s design is aesthetically appealing, calming in a way in that it is so clean in design and the fact that users only see one offer at a time so they are not overwhelmed with visual clutter. In our research, we heard time and time again how people felt that Swoup’s interface reduced the anxiety they often feel when shopping because there is usually just so much choice thrown at them, that they can feel overwhelmed. We also hear from users all the time that the Swoup experience is fun and somewhat addictive due to the fact that Swoupers only get to see one offer at a time and have to interact with it in order to see the next one. They see it is kind of a game. When they swipe left a few times (basically discarding offers they don’t want) and then suddenly get served an offer they want, they have told us that they sort of get a little rush of excitement and they find that fun.
Our interaction is so simple and friendly. All our users have to do is swipe and shop and they could be done there. If they want to see more of Swoup’s ability to organize for them, then they can go into their Wallet and everything is neatly laid out and organized logically for them. For Swoup, it is all about removing work for Swoupers, and making their experience as pleasurable and fun/engaging as possible. Also our use of artificial intelligence and the fact that Swoup is capable of single-handedly performing what currently would take more than 16 apps, occupying space in five different functional categories, to do. Swoup was designed to be multi-faceted from the outset.
Melissa: What are your future plans for Swoup as a brand and where do you hope to see your company in five years?
Phil: I have no shortage of future plans for Swoup… some of them are incredibly aggressive and some attainable in the near future. I can’t really go into the more interesting plans but I can assure you that we are innovation at our core and we have every intention of exceeding customer expectations, delivering solutions that anticipate their needs today and in the future, and reinventing the way people finance their lifestyle. I love Swoup and I love our mission of helping people Round down. Live upTM .We just want to help people at the end of the day and when you start from such altruistic place, only amazing things can happen.