- July 15, 2011
Robert Desiano and his business partners have built their online-coupon business on a simple fact: Everyone wants a deal.
That explains why Groupon, the daily deal website, recently raised $700 million in its initial public offering of stock to the public.
Desiano and business partner Dan Sexton launched a local version of Groupon called BlocDeals a year ago and it quickly garnered success in Naples because of its local ownership. Now, the entrepreneurs plan to franchise the idea so others can replicate the concept in other cities around the country.
With the help of Ron Klein, who built and later sold a successful publishing company before retiring to Naples, sales have reached $150,000 for the year to date and could triple within a year, they say. “Groupon is doing seven figures in Naples,” Desiano notes.
BlocDeals works like an online coupon book, which you buy at a discount and redeem with retailers. For example, when BlocDeals.com offered $10 worth of food for $5 at Toast of Naples restaurant, 400 people purchased the deal online using a credit card and printed the $10 certificate.
The deals aren't restricted to lower-priced merchandise, such as restaurants, massages and car washes. BlocDeals recently sold eight $900 deals for laser fat removal. Klein says many deal-seekers come from some of Naples' wealthiest neighborhoods.
BlocDeals already has 15,000 registered users in the Naples area and it has signed up about 90 retail customers who split the revenues on the deals sold online. BlocDeals splits revenues evenly with retailers and donates an additional 12% of each deal to 20 charities in Naples.
Desiano says partnering with local charities such as the Naples Zoo and the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts gives customers more incentive to work with BlocDeals than with an out-of-town competitor such as Groupon. What's more, the charities also promote BlocDeals as a fundraising tool because website users select which charity benefits.
Desiano pitches the local ownership and charitable contributions as the company's edge over large competitors such as Groupon. That's why he thinks franchising the concept to local owners is a better way to grow his company. To do that, Desiano and his partners are seeking bank debt or new investors who could provide the $500,000 in capital the company needs to grow.
This isn't Desiano's first entrepreneurial venture. He once owned a successful mortgage company in New York City with 80 employees headquartered in the Empire State Building. He moved to Naples in 2007 when he foresaw the collapse of the real estate and mortgage business and went to work for Allen Systems Group. There, he met Sexton, who was a software developer for the technology company.
Desiano and Sexton estimate they've spent hundreds of hours on BlocDeals and another deal site, MySavingsPost.com, since they left ASG two years ago. Desiano estimates it would cost $60,000 to build a site like BlocDeals today. “I didn't know how well it was going to do,” Desiano says.