Marlon Brown was at the Art Institute of Charleston one day this summer when a co-worker took to Twitter and announced she wanted a mocha.
The request for coffee was in vain, but it gave Brown an idea.
"I was like, 'What if a business could engage her immediately after she Tweeted that out?'" he thought.
A computer scientist by training and an entrepreneur by avocation, Brown got right to work.
"I started writing code the next day," he recalled this week.
After a busy few months of tinkering with the technology and recruiting local eateries and shops, the resulting global positioning system-based coupon service, sQuimble, is now live.
The official launch is Black Friday, when shoppers along King Street in downtown Charleston, at Mount Pleasant Towne Centre and at South Windermere Center in West Ashley can participate in a scavenger hunt for the chance to win an iPad2. Brown says sQuimble is unique in the crowded "deals" market.
"It's like targeted ads on steroids," he said. "And the place has to be in the vicinity that you're in. If I text out, I want a pizza, odds are I'm going to get a pizza."
It's just in Charleston to start, and it's still pretty basic, but sQuimble has clear potential.
Here's how it works:
If you're in the Charleston area, you can text, Tweet or enter on squimble.com what you want. If you picked a keyword associated with one of the
approximately 60 businesses that have signed up so far or entered the name of one of those establishments, a coupon will appear.
If you request something that hasn't yet been tied to a business, you get a message that says there are no such deals within a 40-mile radius.
Brown has recruited the businesses so far but by next month, businesses will be able to sign up themselves.
"They'll be able to curate their deals," he said.
Among the words that work now are pizza, wine, manicure and chocolate, which returns half off a half-dozen chocolate-covered strawberries from Chocolate Treats by Rainee.
Rainee White saw an "easy way to advertise" when Brown, her longtime friend, pitched her participation. She estimated she's served 10 customers through sQuimble since August. "I'm not losing anything by doing it," said White.
Brown, a 33-year-old Summerville resident with three kids, isn't charging businesses for their keywords yet and is bankrolling sQuimble himself.
"It's totally bootstrapped," he said.
His cousin and two women he knows through the Art Institute, where he's head of technology, fill out the sQuimble team. Depending on how the business scales in Charleston and eventually elsewhere, Brown hopes to bring on a user-interface specialist.
For now, it's the start-up passion that keeps him going. Brown aims for the same sort of good feeling in his target audience.
"Squimble is an English term for 'to dance about,'" Brown said of the slang term he chose for his company (and importantly, domain) name. "When you find a good deal you feel kind of happy."
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906.