Chat Find helps customers find businesses and businesses find organic growth in their communities.

You have a business. You’re fantastic at what you do. How do you get yourself noticed? For the small entrepreneur, the micro enterprise or average small to medium enterprise (SME) with a limited budget and resources, the opportunities are limited. Until now. Enter Chat Find, a digital community noticeboard with a social media feed, m-commerce capabilities and direct chat functionality designed to boost business and community.

“We love the idea of growing hyper-local business hubs, and with this app, every suburb, city and industry can boost its economic activity,” says Raymond Wynne, CEO of Chat Find. “The app encourages networking and connecting like-minded people who are looking to do business in ways convenient for everyone.”

The app itself is easy to use. Log in, grant it access to images, select an image (upload business cards or files to the mobile device if required) from the camera roll, and go. Setting up a business is equally simple, and seems to be designed for the time constraints that impact on the business owner. No need to fiddle about, just get in and get started. Once inside the app, the customer can search for specific items that have been arranged according to their relevance and proximity. From coffee and cake, to an electrician, to a tattoo artist specialising in alien abduction tattoos (really), there is a business flavour to suit all tastes.

Tailored tools

What makes this an interesting concept is the fact that the app is focusing on the local and the relevant. Facebook, Yellow Pages, Google – most apps and solutions don’t really work that well in the South African context. Facebook is tedious at best, US-centric at worst, and most solutions expect the business to pay up in order to benefit.

“We didn’t want our app to cost the business any money or need them to have marketing, online or tech skills,” says Wynne. “The final version of Chat Find provides a mobile shopfront for free, with m-commerce capabilities that are extremely useful for the SME. It’s a space tailored for transactions, with plenty of capabilities.”

The app has taken three years to grow from an ingenious idea into a sassy marketing tool. It is under the ownership and direction of an international board of directors, which includes Wynne from South Africa as the CEO. The company raised $2.5 million in seed capital and is in the process of raising the next $2.5 million while simultaneously heading towards its first venture capital investment.

“Pilot versions of the app were released in 2015 and its current form has been in the app stores since 2016,” says Wynne. “To ignite adoption and growth, we have had representatives in cities across South Africa, London, San Francisco, Dublin and Chicago working to get businesses on the app and actively engaged in the communities.”

There are two ways to use Chat Find. The first is as a customer, the second is as a business or freelancer selling a service or product. Customers don’t pay to browse the businesses and can chat directly with business owners through the app; they can also buy products straight from the app. The freelancer and business owner can use the app to issue invoices and market themselves within a 24km radius of their physical address for free. Money is made through the option to boost the m-store’s geographical reach – business owners and brands can expand the reach of their posts to 48km for R26, 96km for R40, and nationally for R120. Preference isn’t given to paid posts over unpaid ones so nobody gets drowned out by those with bigger wallets.

Fine-tuned communities

“Our biggest challenge to date has been the technology,” says Wynne. “Developing complex and fully secure mobile software has taken time. This is now our biggest advantage as our product is user-friendly and highly functional. We can also white label it for use by big businesses that understand the importance of m-commerce and search and communication tools, but fi nd the price tag of building the tech from scratch to be off-putting.”

User insights have also played their part in making the technology more accessible and reliable. The process has been painful – nobody fancies the criticism of a frustrated user – but each pivot has helped the company take Chat Find another step closer to commercial success.

“Our business is all about tech and we’ve put all our efforts into designing a slick, secure and user-friendly mobile app,” adds Wynne. “We are currently launching the fi nal product in South Africa, with the UK and US to follow shortly after. We want to see communities and cities adopt the app, generate commerce and build strong local economies.”

Currently, there are more than 2 000 businesses registered on Chat Find in South Africa, and there have been more than 200 000 downloads across iOS and Android since the launch. In addition to the businesses, there is also a thriving freelance and professional community that uses the app to promote their individual profi les. Chat Find is a neat niche fi ller that has the potential to support the battered SMEs as they face the turbulence of the recession and economic upheaval that lies ahead.

“Our driver is the desire to make the power of tech available to more people and business owners, empowering them to reach their markets more effectively and make more money,” concludes Wynne.

This article appeared in Brainstorm Magazine:

http://www.brainstormmag.co.za/innovation/14141-tap-and-grow