By ANDREW MOORE
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Imagine that you needed to report a pothole to the city, pay your electricity bill, find a good sushi place nearby, and promote your business on mobile devices. What mobile app would you use? Well you would have to use several, because no one app does all that – at least not quite yet.
Austin startup ScanSee is creating that app, called HubCiti, which can link a city’s businesses, departments, services, and consumers together in one place. ScanSee is the brainchild of serial entrepreneur and CEO Roy Truitt — founder of 17 different companies including Truco Enterprises which manufactures the On the Border brand of chips and salsas. Truitt founded ScanSee along with fellow entrepreneur and friend Nathan Ungarean three years ago. The startup has an ambitious scope, but Truitt has been working on the app for three years and already has $4 million invested – most of which is personal money from past ventures.
“It’s not a minor undertaking,” Truitt said. “What we’ve done is really put all the commerce in the city together with one app. You can find all the city information, you can report a lost dog, you can two-way communicate with city employees.”
ScanSee, founded in Dallas in January of 2011, launched in Austin last March and moved its corporate headquarters to the city at that time.
When fully implemented with a client city, HubCiti will enable users to access government services, find and interact with nearby businesses, and market their own business directly to customers. A beta version of the business component, called myScanSee, has been out on the Apple App Store since the beginning of the summer. Fifty Austin companies participated in the free beta trial including service companies, restaurants, bakeries, bars, retailers, and specialty businesses.
According to ScanSee, about 70 percent of the beta companies have converted to the paid version, which offers each business a page on the app with full Website functionality. The service costs $50 a month and can be cancelled at any time.
“It is driving more phone traffic my direction,” Central Texas Gun Works owner Michael Cargill said. “Once we got it all set up, they showed me the different statistics of people going to the site.”
Cargill is already paying for the app and plans to keep it as long as it drives more traffic to his store. Michelle’s Patisserie owner Michelle Doyon also plans to pay for the app because it lets her business push out specials.
“I feel like it was another way to get us the everyday type of customers who are looking for a little deal here and there,” said Doyon. “We really don’t do any advertising to that market.”
ScanSee also offers a free version for businesses that includes a link to the business’s website as well as basic location and contact information.
The full version of ScanSee’s product, HubCiti, will generate revenue by charging each client city a negotiated yearly subscription. Local businesses utilizing the paid version of the app will pay $50 a month and local manufactures will have a similar functionality for $500 a year.
ScanSee has been seriously negotiating with several Texas cities for the last five months and has already closed their first deal in the last week. The startup has chosen not to release the city name, as they are waiting to do a joint press release event.
To implement its app, ScanSee works with each client city to create a database of all businesses by using city records, reaching out to local chambers of commerce, and buying additional city information from affiliate networks such as Impact Radius. It then approaches local businesses about using the apps paid features. To get residents to adopt the app, they will use traditional options like billboards and ads.
While ScanSee is for-profit, it was also founded with a philanthropic goal.
“What the company was created and founded to do was to provide funding for higher education in a self sustaining way versus asking for donations all the time,” Truitt said. “In order to do that, we generate funding and give half of it to higher education.”
ScanSee generates this funding in two ways. When local businesses and manufacturers sign up for the paid version of the city app’s business product, a percentage of that revenue is given back to the city to be used for a higher education fund. Additionally, ScanSee will give back half of the final profit it generates from each city towards the fund.
While ScanSee is the only company selling such an app to Texas cities, it is not without competitors for the consumer market. Yelp.com already has locations, reviews, and contact information for many restaurants and businesses and Google remains an effective tool for exploring a city as well.
ScanSee CMO Penny Merian says HubCiti will still have an edge because it provides a deeper level of information on businesses and also gives the consumer the ability to access deals and promotions a business might offer.
“Google does do a lot, but I couldn’t – as a retailer – know that you are three miles away from me and I’m running a happy hour so I’m going to push out a special to you to come in.” Merian said. “A big piece of these app sites is the marketing piece.”
According to Penny, HubCiti also aggregates reviews directly from businesses which should enable users to get reviews all in one place – which could give the app an edge over Yelp.com and other review sites.
ScanSee expects to hold the launch event with its first client city in the next 30 days.