Visitors to Newark, N.J., last weekend for the state’s first-ever Super Bowl had a little help getting around the city, finding its best and most convenient restaurants and the cheapest gas.
Yillio, a Raleigh-based, just-launched mobile app that helped connect visitors and residents with merchants near the game, had advertisements plastered all over the city thanks to a partnership with the Greater Newark Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Yillio’s story of landing that high-profile deal shows two ways startups can grow and become successful. First, there’s hard work, including months or years spent developing a product or service, strategizing and networking, and then pitching and selling.
Second, is luck and a founder’s ability to take advantage of it.
The technology that powers Yillio was the brainchild of a pair of Cambridge engineers nearly nine years ago. It took until October 2012 to secure patents for the technology and its search functionality. They brought on Tully Ryan, a serial entrepreneur from Edenton, to develop the business, and he moved it to Raleigh last year.
Different from apps such as Yelp or AroundMe, which list restaurants or attractions within a certain radius of a user’s location, Yillio identifies those spots along the route the user is traveling. It allows merchants and retailers to target users with coupons and promotions and analyzes credit card transactions in real time to report the prices people are paying for gas along the route. The app’s basic version is free, but paid premium options also are available.
Yillio’s big break came months ago when the Newark tourism organization called. Its executive director, Michael Davidson, learned of the app from a branding agency and wanted to explore its potential to help Newark visitors and merchants.
Yillio is now featured on the bureau’s website and at the Newark airport. It appeared in the Super Bowl Restaurant Guide and was featured by dozens of media outlets last week. Davidson said downloads grew steadily in the days leading up to the game.
“Anyone who learns about it is interested,” he said. “This is a cool product that can make Newark a hip and happening place.”
Partnerships like this weren’t originally part of the Yillio marketing plan, Ryan said. But they make sense. It’s a valuable year-round service for visitors bureaus to offer to tourists. They each have relationships with hotels and restaurants, too, a boon for Yillio sales.
And large special events in those towns offer the promotional opportunities to earn thousands of new users. The partnership has become a model for others that Yillio will announce in coming months.
“We’re solving a problem for these events – connecting and engaging with fans,” Ryan said. “In business, you may be thinking you’ll solve one problem but you may be better positioned to solve another. This partnership put us on the map.”
Laura Baverman is a journalist who spent eight years covering business for Cincinnati newspapers before moving to Raleigh.