Q&A with Josh Israels, the founder of FAWN

Q1. What inspired you to create FAWN?

I’m passionate about discovering/supporting the independent stores of any neighborhood and, simply put, these independent stores don’t have the right tools to help them drive the traffic and sales they need for survival, especially in this day and age of online commerce..or what i like to call “slashed pricing” commerce.

Further, understanding (and researching) how important small business are to the fabric of our communities drove me to create FAWN.

Did you know that just a 1% shift from shopping online to shopping local can generate a $100 million boost to our economy???  We don’t have to search the world to “make an impact”. It is literally outside our doorsteps.

Q2. What does FAWN actually do? What problem does it solve? How does it help merchants? How does it help the consumer?

FAWN is taking the mantra “shop local” and making it possible for us to actually do that.  Specifically, we’re gathering the best spots of any neighborhood and creating a mobile marketplace that lets us shop these store’s products, offers, and events.

Only 25% of small businesses today have an active e-commerce presence. This is one core problem we aim to change.  Our technology lets merchants upload a sale, offer, or event within minutes.  While we don’t aspire to replace Shopify or equivalents, we do believe an opportunity exists to serve as a middle ground (or perhaps a starting point) for those businesses who don’t have the time or resources to maintain a full e-commerce site.

Further, local merchants don’t have an easy and cost-effective way to reach their best customers, those in the neighborhood.  Vice versa, we as consumers, don’t have a clean/simple way to not only discover but also shop at the best spots. This lack of local connection between neighborhoods and local business is the other core problem we aim to change.  Our platform is entirely geo-based meaning anytime a merchant creates that sale or offer, anyone near their store will see it (if it matches their interests).  

Q3. What is happening right now, that makes FAWN relevant?

There is no question that our behaviors and habits of shopping are moving online.  At the same time, there is a growing socially-conscious population, from “farm to table” to “sustainability”, that want to support and would prefer to shop local (nearly 70% of millennials prefer to shop local ).

Combine that with ad platforms that have become too complex (aka expensive), shopping platforms that don’t care about our universe, social media worlds that are overly crowded, deep resentment of existing local search platforms and a bit of “Amazon can’t take over the world”.  You have a nearly perfect storm of events.

Q4. What is the big picture? Is it the struggle for small merchants to keep their identity unique and their local value proposition high? How does Fawn help do that?

The big picture is creating an independent authentic community (aka platform) where people who love and want to support local can actually shop local.  We’ll have special and exclusive offers but this will not be a deal platform.  As part of our app shopping experience, users will be able to see the unique and personal sides of local stores, their owners, and value so they’ll understand why their products are not discounted 75%+ every time they’re online.  Maintaining and highlighting brand integrity and value is a critical piece to our strategy.

Q5. How big is FAWN? Next cities to launch?

We’re just getting going.  We started early 2017 in San Francisco and the focus was on building our merchant network.  Now that we’re at nealry 200 stores, we’re shifting our focus to building our user community.  In just a few months, we’ve seen nearly 5K downloads $10K+.  But this will undoubtedly take some time and tweaking.  We hope to be in a position of expanding to new markets come 2018 (i.e. Portland, Seattle, Austin, Chicago, LA, NY, etc.).

Q6. What other apps are in the same space? Anything considered direct competition for Fawn?

We’re creating an entirely new way for people to shop.  While the world is looking at online platforms that are location-agnostic and deal driven, we believe we can create a more rewarding e-commerce experience by keeping it truly local and not deal driven.

So, in short there are no other apps doing what we’re doing.  However, there are a number of apps that let people “shop” and we do keep an eye on those, at the very least to learn best practices.

And of course, there is Amazon, the time people spend on Instagram, and to some extent Yelp and Groupon.

Q7. How are merchants using the app to encourage new customers to come into their location? How are customers using it to find new favorites? Walk the reader through a demonstration.

The technology is meant to be fairly dynamic and flexible for our merchants.  As such, they’re using it in a way that adapts to the pace of their store on any given day.  This includes discounted store credit offers (i.e. Get a $50 store credit for $30), exclusive time-based product offers (get this rare hat for $10 over the next 12 hours), or in-store pop-up events.

On the flip side, users can buy any offer or product with a few taps. Right now, we don’t have delivery so all of our users end up going to the store to redeem.  But that’s not a bad thing and we’re actually seeing our users spend almost 2X in-store the amount they paid for their offer in the app.

As for discovery, we’ve noticed a number of our users are “peering” into other neighborhoods beyond where they live to both shop and get a glimpse of “what’s happening”.