Like the 53% of French tech entrepreneurs who believe this period could become an opportunity[*], the WeWard mobile app – which rewards people for walking – has been successfully restored and rotated just a year after its launch in April 2019. “It was no use letting people walk anymore. That’s why we reversed the mechanism and encouraged our users to continue moving at home,” explains Yves Benchimol, co-founder of the start-up. WeWard now only rewards users who adhere to government recommendations: the longer you stay at home, the more points you earn, convertible into gift cards, euros or donations to associations. To continue its growth, the start-up now rewards users who exercise at home.
An audience at the rendezvous
Suddenly, “users are doing skipping rope, a tighter house or home sports to earn points,” delights the co-founder. WeWard’s initiative, passed on social networks on the day of the lockdown announcement, made it possible to multiply the number of downloads of the app by five. “We had 5,000 downloads on the same day compared to 1,000 in normal times,” delights the founder of the app, which has one million downloads in April 2020, including 500,000 active users (users who connect at least once a month).
“We had to redouble our efforts to turn around and adapt as quickly as possible. †
“The most important value of a mobile app is the audience. So our first objective was to maintain it by providing a value-added service.” In the end, the company only experienced a 20% drop in the number of users. To compensate for this decline, the founders devised a sponsorship system. “We take the time to interact with our users, understanding what they want and what appeals to them. “The company is working even more intensively than before and has not partially hired any of its employees. “We had to redouble our efforts to turn around and adapt as quickly as possible. †
The eight employees work on technological development as well as on the marketing and sales part to develop new offers. The crisis is a real vector of innovation for the start-up. “We envision many new features that we test every week,” says Yves Benchimol.
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The application, which recommends nearby places and gets paid by merchants for the traffic it brings them, has changed its economic model after the closure of businesses and public places. To preserve its cash, the company has developed new sources of income. “We launched ads on the app related to physical activity and online questionnaires thanks to partnerships with polling stations. †
“In times of crisis, it is important to resume the cost structure and renegotiate contracts with its service providers. We are all in this together and everyone has to make concessions. †
As a final innovation, the company has developed a marketplace for merchants who want to offer products valid for delivery on the mobile application. Result: the company managed to increase its turnover by 25% in March and is forecasting a 35% increase in April. “Our users are ultra-active and spend a lot of time on the app. But we know, for example, that questionnaires are not a viable source of income in the long run. †
On the cash side, the company is very careful about its spending. Yves Benchimol has renegotiated the rates with all its service providers. “In times of crisis, it is important to resume the cost structure and renegotiate contracts with its service providers. We are all in the same boat and everyone has to make concessions,” he says. Despite this good financial standing, the start-up is studying the possibility of releasing a loan. “We are in talks with our bank and with the bpi. †
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… but fundraising on standby
However, not everything is good. “All this entails a lot of work and stress with a vision of the future that remains uncertain”, the entrepreneur acknowledges. The company, now profitable with a stable economic model, has been self-financing since its inception. She had been preparing a fundraiser that she had to postpone for several months. “Investors are hesitant during this period, mainly because our basic economic model has not adapted to the situation.”
The application, which had 500 partner locations before the lockdown, has only one today, Carrefour City. The company hopes these partnerships will resume when businesses reopen. The ongoing negotiations were halted all at once. “Before the confinement, we were in very good dynamics. It will take time to get everything back together. We run the risk of losing some as budgets get tighter.”
[*] Barometer produced by Chausson Finance.
Charlotte de Saintignon