May 17, 2011

Out of the A-Level, DealPuncher rises

Jacob Rabinowitz and Kaushik Vasudevan are trying their hand again at creating a website with a punch—this time for profit.

The two first-years launched DealPuncher last Tuesday as a Groupon-like site where users print coupons and redeem them at local businesses. So far their clients include Asian-fusion restaurant Noodles Etc. and student-run coffeeshop Hallowed Grounds.

Vasudevan said the idea for the site came up in a discussion about Groupon, explaining that he wanted to make the model, with its tens of millions of subscribers around the world, more specific to U of C students.

“We wanted to keep it local, so we’re not going to be promoting deals that are irrelevant,” Rabinowitz said. “The deals we line up are deals we would want.”

While Groupon tailors its deals to the customer’s current city and has no restrictions on the email addresses it accepts, DealPuncher can only be used by those with a U of C e-mail address and does not offer deals outside of Hyde Park. Instead of money being exchanged through the website, users print out coupons and bring them into the store.

DealPuncher is not the first website on which the pair have collaborated. Earlier this year, they launched The A-Level, a now-suspended forum for students to discuss problem sets, quizzes, and professors.

When their first site failed to generate the usership the two had hoped for, they took it down to allow for greater server space for DealPuncher.

Because the DealPuncher coupons are not individually marked or coded, an unlimited number of them can be printed, but shopowners will only honor a limited number of coupons.

Rabinowitz and Vasudevan hope that this will cause competition among customers.

“Students should feel that there’s a rush to the business,” Rabinowitz said.

Rabinowitz presented his plan for DealPuncher to the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce in April. He said that while some businesses expressed interest, only Noodles Etc. created a deal with the site.

Rabinowitz and Vasudevan self-financed the website and maintain that they stand to profit, but declined to elaborate on their business model.

Instead, Rabinowitz commented on the aspects of business they’re straying away from: “I met with a lot of local businesses that have been approached by sites like Groupon and Living Social and have turned them down because of those websites’ steep, steep commission rates.”

The site’s inaugural deal, organized with the help of Director of Student-Run Coffee Shops Stacey Brown, offered users a coupon for a free small coffee at Hallowed Grounds.

For the Summer Breeze festival Saturday, they offered five-dollar packages of dumplings from Noodles Etc. to the first 50 students who came to their table with a coupon. According to Rabinowitz, the student response was strong.

With 89 followers on Facebook, the pair are already drawing up plans for expansion. “Speaking as an optimist and not as a practical person, if we are able to create a solid model, we can extend that model to other colleges,” Rabinowitz said.

Groupon co-founder Brad Kewell, who taught a course with fellow co-founder Eric Lefkofsky at the Booth School of Business, said it is against the company’s policy to comment on other coupon websites.