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Letting the Consumer Guide Your Business with Wes Schroll
Episode 21815th March 2023 • Be EPIC Podcast • Brent Williams
00:00:00 00:31:52

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This week on the podcast Matt sits down with Wes Schroll, CEO and founder of Fetch Rewards, Inc. They begin the episode with an overview of Fetch Rewards, which is a mobile shopping platform that rewards shoppers for buying the brands they love. Wes shares insight into how they utilize consumer data from the app to help consumers connect with brands, retailers and restaurants. He also shares how brands work with the company and how they generate ROI for the brands for working with them. He then moves into how they capture and analyze the receipt data that is uploaded from customer receipts to turn it into usable insights on buying behavior, price analysis and more. Wes also highlights the importance of letting the consumer guide you into the future of your business as he touches on how their users led them into the restaurant and gas business. They wrap up the conversation with Wes telling the story of how his company was founded as a sophomore in college and how their first funds were raised through entering and winning higher education business competitions. Wes also lays out the four pillars of their company culture that help them continue this tremendous growth and where they are focused for the future.

Transcripts

Wes Schroll:

I always tell my company, we're the dog. We listen to the consumer, and we follow wherever they throw the ball and we do all the hard work, we bring it back to them. And we do it with a smile on our face and our tail wagging. So that's like our approach,

Matt Waller:

Excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality. These are the values the Sam M. Walton College of Business explores in education, business and the lives of people we meet every day. I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Walton College, and welcome to the be epic podcast. I have with me today, Wes Schroll, CEO and founder at Fetch Rewards, Inc. Thank you so much, Wes, for taking time to be with me today. I really appreciate it.

Wes Schroll:

Thanks so much for having me on the show super excited to dig in.

Matt Waller:

Well, your company and your background are so impressive. And I know, you know, you, you started this company about nine years ago. And you now have over 700 employees, you've closed your series e round of financing with 200 million, $240 million. And with a valuation of over 2.5 billion, so you are a unicorn. Congratulations. That's very impressive.

Wes Schroll:

It's I always tell the team that's never, you know, an end finish line. But it's always nice to have the outside market validate the work that we're doing, confirm that the market is a worthwhile one to be in and trying to innovate in, so it was definitely a kudos to the team for that. And it's been a wild journey. It's crazy to say we've even just broken the 800 employee mark. So we have to keep restating.

Matt Waller:

So, Wes, if you wouldn't mind, before we really get going in this, please describe Fetch, and I'm sure some of our listeners use the app. But for those that don't please describe it, and what it does and how it's used.

Wes Schroll:

Yeah, so Fetch is a completely free app that you can download and use anywhere across America. And the basic premise is that we believe you get should get rewarded every time you are spending money. So the way that the app works is anytime you get a receipt, so think you, they're a physical receipt that's printed off for you as you're checking out. Or you can connect your digital accounts, anytime you get like an Amazon transaction, or DoorDash, or UberEATS, all of those count too, we will reward you with fetch points for submitting it. And you either take a picture of that physical receipt, or link your digital accounts, and it automatically pulls in any of those online ones. So you're gonna get this base level of fetch points every time you do that. And then we go out there and partner with CPGs, consumer packaged goods companies, retailers, restaurants, gas companies, really anyone who's trying to reach our 18 million plus monthly active users. And we will incrementally reward you more for the dollars that you spend with any of our partners. So for them, that it's a way of being able to hopefully win market share on a household by household basis. And the consumer then gets a share in that value creation, because they're getting rewarded with fetch points incrementally for it. And for doing that, that's just as a markup on top of that. So the lion's share actually goes to the consumer. But fetch earns more as our consumers earn more points. And as consumers earn more points, our partners are generating more sales. So it's kind of a win win win in the equation. And the consumer can save up these points across all of our different partners, which we have over 700 today, and then they can redeem them for hundreds of things, everything from virtual gift cards, I think like a Starbucks gift card, to you can donate them to charity, you can enter into sweepstakes, you can buy merchandise, there's all kinds of different things you can do with your points. We don't really care what you do, we just hope you find something that feels good and feels rewarding for the hard work that you put in shopping. And this should be a fun, easy way of feeling like you're getting the most out of it without having to jump through a whole lot of hoops. So that's basically it, super simple.

Matt Waller:

You wind up getting lots of really interesting consumer data from this.

Wes Schroll:

So yes, as consumers are submitting transactions, they're really helping us to have a better understanding of what categories and items that that household cares about. So for us, we actually never view ourselves as a data company. Our business is not to go out there and sell data. Our our business is actually to utilize the data to make sure we're connecting you with brands and retailers and restaurants that we think you'll actually be interested in. So we don't want you to have to open the app and see a bunch of untargeted ads for earning points on things you'll just never buy that will be frustrating and you would just never earn anything. Instead we're utilizing it to understand okay, Wes has already, you know, shopping for fast food chicken, but if he goes to Popeyes, he'll get rewarded with you know, times five points. So we're utilizing that data to make those connections so that the consumer can maximize their points and that our brands feel really good that we're targeting the right households. And they're able to really measure the actual incremental results that we're driving because of that holistic view that we capture.

Matt Waller:

How, how do you work with the brands?

Wes Schroll:

So a brand would come in to us. And, again, we could look across our 18 million plus monthly active users. And they may be trying to introduce a new flavor of ice cream, let's say, we can then zoom in and say, hey, of the 18 million monthly active households, we have, in the last 30 days, 10 million of them have bought ice cream. And you know, only, you know, 8 million of them have never tried this product that you're looking to introduce. So then we can go and run a campaign to those 8 million consumers that we know live within a retail, you know, a distance of a retailer that carries the new product. And we can let them know, hey, go and try this new ice cream flavor. And you can earn 3000 points or some amount of points as the incentive to get the consumer to go and actually try that product, then we can actually track and see what consumers do it because they validate the purchase by then submitting the transaction. So our brand's excited because they now can see the attribution of this consumer saw that ad available, they then went out there and actually redeemed the offer and purchase the product. And then we can follow that customer over time, do they come back and buy again? Do they need another, you know, offer to get them to buy again? Or do they just start repeating on their own? So it can take into account more of the lifecycle of a product versus a one time tactic. We're always focused with our brands and retailers on driving long term sustainable outcomes, because that's what would be long term profitable versus creating a flip flop dynamic that I think traditional coupons have done before. And then anytime we're running a promotion, the thing our partners really like is that of those 8 million consumers who are totally eligible for the offer, we may not show the offer to 50,000 of them. And they will be our control holdout that we will then use to measure to take into account everything else that's going on in the marketplace, subtract out those results, because we don't want to take credit for that. And truly see what was the lift that was generated exclusively because of the promotion you ran on Fetch. And therefore, what was the ROI? So we're using that same test control methodology that was really initially available online only and now applying it to more of an omni channel view. So because for the first time ever, we have access to that holistic purchase data of a household.

Matt Waller:

So you've got 18 million monthly household users, that's a lot.

Wes Schroll:

It is a lot. Yeah. So we have 18 million monthly active users, believe it or not, we have 6 million daily active users, which, yeah, put it in perspective is almost twice the size of Starbucks in their app that they have, which is like the gold standard of rewards programs. So our consumers are very frequent users. They enjoy the fact that it's so easy to use that they say I might as well use it every day I get a receipt.

Matt Waller:

So you've been in business going on 10 years, not quite 10 years, right?

Wes Schroll:

Next year is the big 10. Yeah,

Matt Waller:

It would be interesting to see a graph of the number of active monthly users over time. How has that grown?

Wes Schroll:

So what would be staggering if we did that is that we didn't launch the Fetch Rewards app until halfway through 2017. So it would go from zero in 2017, to 8 million at or 18 million at this point now. And it has been, you know, your classic exponential curve. We're very fortunate that it's almost 80% of our users today come in through referral and organic. So referral is a consumer telling another friend or family member about the app, giving them their referral code, and then earning a couple bonus points for helping sign someone up. And 80% of our users come from that channel, plus just people naturally searching and finding it. So the reason why I think we've been able to sustain that growth, and we don't anticipate it slowing down anytime soon is because our engine that is growing it is something that is scaling very nicely with the business.

Matt Waller:

So you have a lot of data. I would think managing that data, you know, it so so let me ask you, if I buy something online, I could just take a photo of it with my phone, and then include it in Fetch I guess?

Wes Schroll:

So better yet, we actually so any physical receipt, you can just take the picture. But for online receipts, you can actually just directly link your email account or like an Amazon account and it will automatically pull them in every time you open the app and prompt it to so there's not even you don't even have to take a picture at that point. Once you've connected your accounts, you just open the app and press that button there, that then gives us permission locally on device to go and fetch that receipt in for you, and reward you with it. And you're right, we do have a lot of data to put in context. So if you look at the receipts that were submitted in the last month, and the dollars that are represented on those receipts, so like a $26 receipt from CVS is, $26, we are capturing $145 billion annually of total GMV, gross gross merchandise value sales coming through the platform right now, that is the equivalent of the third largest retailer in the United States by dollars that we capture and have influence over. And that's after only five years of being around at our current growth our trajectory, our retention rates, we believe we will actually be north of Walmart's capital will be north of 400 billion in the next two years. So it just goes to show that when you don't have the limitations of having to open physical stores, and instead, it's utilizing a piece of technology everyone already has, you can actually scale a business like this very, very rapidly. And that's what gets us so excited is we see our ability to keep growing and then have our influence and the value that we can drive for our partners continue to go up.

Matt Waller:

145 billion annually

Wes Schroll:

Annual, yep

Matt Waller:

gross merchandise value. Wow. That's, that's a lot of data. Very valuable data.

Wes Schroll:

You know, data is most valuable when it can be turned into something that makes sense to the consumer for why they are participating in that ecosystem. So that's why we utilize our data data not to sell. But instead to power the points engine that helps consumers get quantifiable value for participating.

Matt Waller:

Do your brands, they probably want some pretty sophisticated analysis, don't they?

Wes Schroll:

So we are in the process is a huge investment we made over the last year one of the reasons why we raised an additional round of funding just to keep building out world class products. But one of the products that we've been engineering for 12 months now is what we call Mission Control. And it is our self serve dashboard that is essentially a map manager across all of the promotions that we run in real time, across $145 billion of annual sales that any one of our partners can log into, they can zoom into a zip a specific zip code, they could see if they're having a problem moving items and a certain region, they can create a campaign in real time and send it live and then monitor how its performance is going. They can do cross basket analysis, cross shop analysis, all of these things at their fingertips at the push of the button not having to wait, you know, for a panel to refresh every three months or anything like this, this is all going to be real time. And we have some partners actively using it now. And in January, it will be fully rolled out.

Matt Waller:

Interesting. So so you've got to have some, I would think some really good database experts and you've got to take this information like they take a picture of a coupon of a of a receipt, say from Sam's Club, you've got to have a way of taking that and turning it into computer readable data.

Wes Schroll:

There's an immense amount of engineering work that goes into that process way more than you would expect. So we're about 850 full time employees. Right now, about 420 of them are on our product and engineering and data teams. So you know, the majority of our teams are in this engineering space and a lot of ml experts and things like that. The basic process, though is you have to first start by OCR, which is optical character recognition, it's basically taking a picture and then making sense of the pixels that are captured and turning it into the text. So it's extracting the text off of it. The next layer is then understanding what all that text actually means. So what part of it is the store name versus the item name versus the price of it versus tax versus all of those different things. And then the third step, which is the hardest, is you get all these strings of items or stores. And you actually have to then map it to a Universal catalog down to a UPC or Universal Product Code level. So that you can understand that GATORG on a receipt that was printed, is a Gatorade, Orange 12 Pack that's UPC is this. And we have done that since we process billions of receipts, we continue to have the system learned, and it gets smarter and smarter so that it gets more and more accurate. But yeah, there's a ton of technology that goes in on the front end to making sure that data coming in is good. And then once the data is there, then it's all about slicing and dicing, serving it up in a way that a human can understand and actually be able to interact with and drive outcomes with because that's where mission control comes in. So it's yeah, it's a huge long pipeline that you're you're talking about here.

Matt Waller:

Yeah, and you need different kinds of statistical skills as well, I would think because on the one hand, you're doing tests and control groups, as you spoke about earlier, and you're trying to control for various variables and timeframes. So you have test and control groups. And that's one, that design of experiments kind of skill set. And then on the other hand you've got when you're talking about basket analyses, and cross basket analyses and taking into account price, because you actually know the price because you've got the receipts. So you can probably even help the brands figure out optimal pricing, couldn't you?

Wes Schroll:

You know, one of the biggest things that they've struggled with is they're, they're kind of forced to view the world, very retailer by retailer. Same with our retailer partners, they know exactly what happens in their own four walls. But they don't know that the Wes who shops at Walmart is the same as the Wes who shops at CVS, who shops at Costco, who shops on Amazon, and therefore everyone has just a small window into who the consumer is. I think the beauty of the data set that we have, and what unlocks the true power of testing and control and things like that is the breadth on an individual household basis of data that we have to make sure it's actually representative. So pricing strategy, you can see that if there's massive drops at one retailer, that may create shifting behavior, maybe it creates incremental behavior. But now we can help them understand that and we can help our retail partners understand that too, so that they can better compete in the marketplace. So, you know, our goal is to we think there's a lot of inefficiencies naturally built into the system, because of the way it grew over the last 80 years. No one's fault. But it just grew that way. We think this level of data and relationship to the end consumer can get rid of a lot of those inefficiencies and actually raise the tides for all of our partners, whether it's a CPG, or a retailer, and now even restaurants and other verticals. So that's always been our goal is to help just reduce the waste and inefficiency that exists in current targeting and you know, the physical limitations of when you walk into a store, you only have one price that's showing. So even though you and I might need a different price, you're stuck with that, that gives you the ability to more of individualize every single offer that's going out there to maximize the value to the consumer, plus the outcome for the retailer or the brand.

Matt Waller:

So you, did you say you also collect data from restaurants?

Wes Schroll:

Yep.

Matt Waller:

Now, that's pretty broad. So someone could be buying something in the grocery store. They could be buying it online, and they can be consuming it in the restaurant. And you could potentially link that.

Wes Schroll:

And I know it's funny, because this is obviously an entrepreneurship focused podcast. So I'll tell the quick side story of what got us into a restaurant. When we first launched, you know, the app, we only accepted receipts that came from grocery convenience, drug mass, like those major channels, because we thought, you know, that's the only place that we have partners. And so that's where we're going to reward from. And we kept seeing that consumers would try to submit a receipt from like McDonald's or Taco Bell. And the learning for us is like, we used to just put up a big red X I kid you not on the screen, it was a big red X saying not accepted. And at some point, we just kind of looked at ourselves in the mirror, and we're like, who are we to tell them like if they want to submit those, we should accept them. It's almost the consumer leading us to our next vertical on where they want us to go.

Matt Waller:

Smart

Wes Schroll:

So then we opened it up and said, you can scan anything, and now we receive 10s of billions of dollars of sales from restaurants. We realize it's all interconnected. For a household, they just viewed it as shopping. So it was one of those weird moments where it's like, listen to your consumer and their actions, not so much what they say. But look at the actions that they take and try to try to meet them where they're going.

Matt Waller:

What a neat story. So setting aside restaurants for a moment, what percentage of the receipts you get, or the dollar volume, either one are from online versus brick and mortar?

Wes Schroll:

I'll give you a little bit more of a detailed answer because I think it tells an interesting story. So pre pandemic, we were seeing that about sub 5% of total receipts and GMV was coming online. During the height of the pandemic, it swung all the way up to about 20%. Now it swung back down into about 12%. And it seems to be very stable at 12%. And maybe you know just kind of going up and down depending on the weeks. So that's kind of the journey of the ebbs and flows of it. But now it seems to be much more stable right around that 12% level. Now the overall spend per household actually didn't change all that much. So it's also fascinating there is it was truly just shifting back and forth.

Matt Waller:

That is interesting. Yeah. Do you also keep track of apparel retail?

Wes Schroll:

So consumers can submit receipts from anything. Again, it kind of informs our strategy of which verticals we go after next. So right now we're not launching any of those. But the reason why gas was the most recent verticle we launched is because we've got lots of gas receipts.

Matt Waller:

I was about to ask that.

Wes Schroll:

Yep. So we just, again, we listened to the data and what it was telling us.

Matt Waller:

This is very interesting. So can you tell? Like, if if someone used Walmart grocery pickup, can you tell if it's that kind of receipt versus something they'd purchased in the store? I just don't know.

Wes Schroll:

The way that theirs is handled. If it was it was ordered online, typically, the receipt has been captured online. And it does denote it in one form or another. So yeah, you can you can tell the difference between those.

Matt Waller:

You live in Boston, is your company in Boston?

Wes Schroll:

I live in Boston, our headquarters is Madison, Wisconsin, still, that's, you know, our flagship headquarters, our largest office is, Chicago. And then we do have a physical office in Birmingham, Alabama. And we also have one in Boston and out in California in San Francisco area.

Matt Waller:

I would guess I don't know if this is true or not that your users would tend to be younger.

Wes Schroll:

Our consumer base is shockingly representative of the average US household, really, from age 20, all the way up through age 55. Geography, income, education, ethnicity, very well indexed compared to US census data. And that's just by pure coincidence, that was not, I think it more speaks to the fact that we built a product that has mass appeal, and that can be picked up and thought, you know, and you can find value regardless of who you are.

Matt Waller:

Okay, Wes, you're the CEO and founder, just this year finished your Series E, as I mentioned, in the beginning. what point did you receive your first funding, and that would include seed funding?

Wes Schroll:

So the way I actually got the business off the ground is during my sophomore year, I was in business school at University of Wisconsin Madison. And I had a class where I had to write a business plan. And I had been thinking about this Fetch concept for a number of months. So I decided to write the business plan around Fetch. And my professor said, hey, this is really good. You've clearly been working on this and thinking about this. Do you know University of Wisconsin has a business plan competition, and I didn't, but I looked into it. And lo and behold, if you want, you can win, like $40,000. So I thought that was intriguing. So I entered into the business plan competition there. But I figured hey, if this school has it, I bet other schools have it. So I started calling my friends who are at other schools. And I found and then entered Boston College University, I went to University of Massachusetts Amherst, I did one called Perkins Coy. And in the last 45 days, in my sophomore, final semester, I flew around the country competing in business plan competitions with friends. And we won $185,000 in cash and office space, and free lawyers and all kinds of other goodies, and brought it all back to Madison, I dropped my internship for the summer and that's when we started. So we were actually able to fund the business ourselves to get off the ground, which was super exciting. It allowed us to really focus on our own vision. And then we started to be able to raise seed investors throughout that summer and into the next year. And then I dropped out fully, by the end of the summer to just run the business full time because it was taking up all my time. But that's really where the initial money came from.

Matt Waller:

So you must have this has become very popular now. But you must be really good at doing the pitch.

Wes Schroll:

Yeah, after, you know, after nine years, I think it's the fun part is that pitch has always had the same kernel of truth that we, you know, believed that for a trillion dollar industry in the US these categories are a trillion dollars, the consumers clearly not at the center. And for a host of different reasons. Again, that's just naturally how the industry evolved over the last 100 years wasn't purposefully orchestrated that way. But the kernel has always been this smartphone that everyone now has, could level the playing field could allow a consumer to show us who they are across all of their shopping. And then a company would have the chance to aggregate that together and on behalf of them fetch value for them, and that's where the name came from.

Matt Waller:

So when did you receive your first round of venture funding?

Wes Schroll:

So alongside doing the business plan competitions and raising the first angel rounds of funding, I had been constantly keeping a group called Great Oaks Venture Capital, who has both partners are UW grads. I've been telling them about what I was doing. I'd say, hey, I'm gonna go compete in these business plan competitions. I'm not asking for money. I'm just letting you know. And then I'd report back, hey, we won you know, we launched a prototype, I'm not asking for money, but here's what we're doing. And then at some point, they finally said, okay, can we invest, and we let them in, and they, they led our first you know, institutional round. And then for a couple of years, we kept, you know, fighting our way through the early figuring out the technology trying to get to the right one. And then in 2017, that's when we finally launched the fetch rewards product, which very quickly hit product market fit, and attracted the likes of Loeb NYC, which is a group led by a serial entrepreneur, that then came and invested then Gray Croft invested that Headline ventures, and then after that Iconic came in, DST Global, Softbank, Hamilton Lane, so it just kept building as we kept showing product market fit and that this was a very big opportunity. But yeah, that's it's like, every year, we started to raise a round.

Matt Waller:

What a great story. And you know, it's so I mean, you you have a successful business now, but between 2013 and 2017, you didn't have product market fit. You were persistent, you you've kept at it. And you know, it's easy for someone to hear this dream and start working for your company and think, wow, you, you must have had it easy. But you didn't, you you struggled for years, but you didn't give up you kept pivoting and finding out what worked and and then you once you got product market fit, everything changed and, and you grew the market, your business dramatically. And then you started scaling. Now you're up to 800 employees, you've had to, you've had to scale, people, technology, we're talking about that earlier, which is not easy, business processes, and just HR and your culture, tell tell me a little bit about your culture.

Wes Schroll:

So we have four main pillars that we always talk about. And we think those four pillars combined for our competitive mode. Because at the end of the day, we don't have a piece of technology that's protected by patent or anything like that. What protects us is the first one speed, we move faster than anyone else, we are always talking about the fact that we can launch the most amazing new feature today, by tomorrow, our consumers will then just expect it. And by the day after that they'll be bored and wanting the next thing. So speed is demanded by our consumers

Matt Waller:

And well, you don't have patents. You have network economies.

Wes Schroll:

Yep.

Matt Waller:

And that creates a barrier to entry, a massive barrier.

Wes Schroll:

And that's another reason why speed is so important. Because any sort of network effects time is the compounding factor, right, just like interest. So the faster you get to product market fit, generating data, whatever the case is, the longer lasting your or the larger your competitive moat gets on that side. So we always talked about speed, we talked about trust, and trust is the fact that we believe we hire A players, you know, we have A talent who comes here, and therefore a couple of weeks into their job, we put them really close to a problem space, and a couple of weeks in they know more about that problem space than I could ever know. So we're not going to add a ton of bureaucracy and approvals. We let them make decisions. We let people start writing into the live production code environment, within their first week on the job, we actually have them all do a deploy to our live server to 18 million people, because we trust them. And we want them to see that we are enabling them. Failure is not a bad word in our book, it just means as long as you fix it quickly. That's good, which is our third one, which is action. So we never want people to be you know, sitting on their hands. If they see a problem, go take it, go fix it, listen to the data, all of those things. And then our final one is, as we talked about earlier, our consumer base is super representative of the US. So diversity for us internally is really important. If we have a company that's also representative of the US across all of those different facets that we mentioned earlier. We think those small groups close to problems with trust and encouragement to move fast will make the best product possible. So those are the four things that we really focus on.

Matt Waller:

Okay, Wes. So you've been scaling like mad, very, very impressive. What is on the roadmap over the next few years for your company?

Wes Schroll:

I mean, what's crazy to us is that we do a gut check every quarter to just think about what is the next year, two years, three years gonna look like. And as of right now ge- because of how representative our consumer base is, and therefore we're really under penetrated into the overall total addressable market in the US. So first and foremost, in the next two, three years, we think we can keep up this pace of growth, we think that the US could easily have 50 million plus monthly active users who all are wanting to get rewarded for this. Beyond that, we think that consumers should get rewarded anytime they're generating value for another company, we think they should be a part of that equation. So you'll see us add more verticals, you'll see us add more ways of being able to earn points repeatedly for a consumer. And then the long haul, we don't think these things are unique to the US. There's no way that wanting to have an easy, fun way of saving money is unique to the US. So we launched the app in full Spanish this year, we already have 2 million of our monthly active users using the app in Spanish. So you will absolutely see us start to see additional markets in the coming years. So those are a couple of the things that are on the roadmap that we're super excited about.

Matt Waller:

Well Wes, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. And it really is exciting to see success success stories like this. Congratulations.

Wes Schroll:

Thanks so much for having me on the podcast, it was awesome to be able to talk and to tell the listeners a little bit more about Fetch and what we're doing and you can obviously check us out online, check out the app and if you ever are interested in jobs for all the students out there, consider us we we're always hiring.

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