Thursday, April 24, 2014
BoodleUP is a Portland-based website and smartphone app that is the brainchild of Bob Bruce, its chief executive officer. Bruce came up with the idea in 2008 and was quickly joined by a neighbor, Colin Snyder, who is now chief technical officer. Snyder's wife, Kate Snyder, joined soon after and is now director of sales and marketing.
Portland residents, from left, Kate and Colin Snyder and Robert Bruce are running BoodleUP, which invites users to win prizes from advertisers.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
BoodleUP sells advertising to local companies, which supply most of the prizes that can be won. Players choose between two simple games: a tic-tac-toe type and a one in which a player tries to match two prize squares without hitting a "boo."
The players see advertising while playing the games as they uncover spaces. When they win, they can accept the prize -- such as a free entree at a restaurant or free tickets to an event -- and agree to be "locked out" of winning another prize for a short period, or decline the prize and play for something else.
Bruce recently talked about BoodleUP:
Q: What is BoodleUP?
A: BoodleUP is an interactive way to connect advertisers with consumers. It combines casual games with promotional marketing to create a fun and engaging option to connect advertisers and consumers.
Players (who must be 18 or older and Maine residents) play simple games on your phone or your iPad (or play at boodleup.com) and are made prize offers from advertisers. You have a choice of what you want to take: It might be an entree from a restaurant or game tickets or a gift card to a restaurant. It might also be cash. You're made offers very frequently and you have the power as a consumer about which prize you will choose and, hopefully, you'll learn about restaurants or stores you didn't know about and try them.
Q: Why do you have the feature that prevents those who win -- and accept -- prizes from winning again for a short period?
A: It's a bit counter-intuitive. Most apps out there really try to keep you glued in every day. We explicitly push our players away once they've made a decision to accept something, but we have an almost 90 percent return rate after the lockout. When you come back, it's all new again -- new advertisers and new offers. The lockout is what gets people to really think about the offers. It's very different from direct mailing everybody a coupon -- there's no opportunity cost if you use that coupon that comes in the mail. The lockout really causes you to think as a player and consider what they're being offered. ... We have a patent pending on the concept.
Q: How did BoodleUP come into being?
A: I had the original idea for the concept where a player received an offer in a game and they have to make a decision about whether to accept or decline the offer, and if they accepted the offer, they have a lockout for some period of time. ... And the idea was also to create a digital display advertising unit that people were seeking out, as opposed to most ads, which are intrusive to the content. It's almost like "The Price Is Right" on the phone, but everybody gets to be a contestant and everybody gets to play for prizes.
Q: All three of you live in Portland, yet you rolled this out first in Boston. Why?
A: We initially did a test in Maine with some test advertisers and a smaller operation to see if it worked the way we thought it would, and it worked better than we expected. People seemed to really enjoy it and seemed to enjoy the connection with some advertisers. So we raised some money and launched it in Boston. We wanted to try it in a larger market. It grew in Boston to about 70 advertisers and then we launched it in Maine in November. Now, we've concluded the experiment in Boston and will be focusing in Portland, but we've always envisioned that this is something that could pop up and then come down for a given population. We can have games targeted toward certain populations and certain geographic areas, like we could have something related to college in Boston in the fall.
Q: What else does BoodleUP offer?
A: The advertiser gets a lot of information. We offer a lot of detailed reports on the type of play and exposure they're getting. We don't provide individual data, but we do provide aggregated data. So they know how many impressions they have, how many offers they've made and how many were accepted, and they can see them broken down by (the numbers of) males or females and age groups, based on some limited information that's supplied when players register, so they can see who's interested in their offers.
Q: Was funding hard to come by?
A: Funding took a lot of work and a lot of meetings. We did have some traction with Maine Angels (a group of private investors focused on Maine entrepreneurs and star-ups) and they're a great group and do great work. In January, we raised about $400,000 -- about half of that came from Maine Angels and the rest came from other angels (investors). In November, we raised another $100,000.
And back a couple of years ago, in 2010, we raised about $90,000 from friends and family.
The Maine Seed Money Tax Credit was very helpful in helping our Maine investors who aren't as familiar with digital media companies to reduce their perceived risk.
Q: Where does BoodleUP go from here?
A: Our first mission right now is to grow strongly in Maine and build our advertising base here, and then we hope to look at second- and third-tier markets. It takes so much to move into Boston or New York, but there's also Burlington, Vt., or Springfield or Worcester, Mass., that are a little easier. We're also talking to companies that are trying to find engaging applications for smartphones, and they have advertisers who want to connect with readers or viewers or players, so we're exploring options to pursue with those partners.
About 5,000 people have downloaded the application and we're hoping ultimately for a national version of BoodleUP. At last count, we had players registered from 43 states, even though we have a commitment to advertisers that only people from Maine can win the prizes.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: