Strathclyde People 2017
University friends, Louis Schena and Chitresh Sharma, have set their sights on creating Glasgow’s next billion-pound business.
The ambitious entrepreneurs founded Swipii after completing a one-year MSc course in International Marketing at Strathclyde in 2012. Now, their innovative customer loyalty and marketing platform is going from strength to strength.
“People are talking about us overtaking Tesco’s Clubcard and Nectar, but that’s not our aim,” said Chitresh, the firm’s Chief Executive. “We want to be the Nectar card for small and medium-sized businesses operating in the hyper-local sphere – a one-stop solution for users and businesses.”
Swipii’s automated marketing suite allows businesses such as beauty salons, barbers and coffee shops to collect customer details, create tailored reward programmes, encourage repeat business and attract new customers.
It has already been named by Disrupt 100 as one of the top companies with the potential to influence global markets, and won the Best Customer Loyalty, CRM and Personalisation Award at the 2016 UK Digital Experience Awards.
Just last year, the firm raised £2 million from new investors and, more recently, received a £500,000 grant from Scottish Enterprise to recruit a further 45 staff.
We would all be looking on our phones for the best nightclub based on our budget, the music we liked or what night of the week it was. It was bonkers. We thought there had to be a better way of doing it.”
Swipii Chief Operating Officer
Swipii also reached the final of the 2017 Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards in October this year.
It all represents a remarkable journey for the two founders, who come from very different backgrounds.
Frenchman Louis, the company’s Chief Operating Officer, spent the first 17 years of his life in Paris before coming to Scotland to study. Chitresh comes from the city of Raipur in central India, where he completed his first degree.
Chitresh says they met in class while studying for a Masters in International Marketing; Louis says it was more likely to have been at a party. Either way, they soon discovered a shared interest.
“When we were planning to go out with friends, we never knew where to go,” recalled Louis. “In Glasgow, there are so many places to choose from, with a wide range of offerings. We’d all be looking on our phones for the best nightclub based on our budget, the music we liked or what night of the week it was. It was bonkers. We thought there had to be a better way of doing it.”
Chitresh added: “We started by talking to nightclub owners about some sort of loyalty card but the concept expanded. We saw there was a massive opportunity in the retail sector, because there’s no collection of data on people’s behaviour and there’s no understanding of how shoppers are behaving.
“With one card or phone app we’re giving customers rewards, encouraging them to explore new places or engage more with the ones they like. At the same time, we’re empowering small and medium-sized businesses to communicate better with their customers, increase repeat visits and drive brand loyalty.”
The baby octopus is now extending its arms globally
It’s a model that the friends believe has almost unimaginable potential. “I want us to become the next billion-dollar company from Glasgow,” said Chitresh.
With retailers on board from all over the UK, the pair have now set their sights on Europe and beyond. For Louis, the first target is obvious – with a launch in France due some time in the coming years – but there have also been enquiries from Spain and Australia.
Other opportunities will follow as more and more ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers recognise they’re lagging behind their online counterparts when it comes to collecting data and converting it into tangible revenue.
Strathclyde made it possible for me to stay here. They were also our first clients in the university sector, and we’ll never forget the faith they showed in us."
Swipii Chief Executive
However, as the baby octopus logo prepares to extend its arms globally, Glasgow remains very much a home from home for the duo, who will never forget the positive connections that were forged during their time at Strathclyde. They also received practical support through the Strathclyde Entrepreneurial Network.
For Chitresh, this included support in securing a Tier 1 Entrepreneurial Visa which allowed him to develop the business in Scotland. “Strathclyde made it possible for me to stay here,” he said. “They were also our first clients in the university sector, and we’ll never forget the faith they showed in us.”
Chitresh grew up watching his father run a coal mining business in India, and always thought he would become an entrepreneur. Louis, too, had ambition, but believes the learning environment of Strathclyde Business School helped turn it into reality.
“I think that being in a class with people from different cultures, backgrounds and experience makes you realise that Paris or Glasgow are not the centre of the world. Being at Strathclyde opened my eyes,” said Louis.
“When you have a product idea, you can talk about it with people who have different experiences, who can give you a different view, or say they already have something like that in their own country. It helped me take a step back and look at the bigger picture.”
He added: “You also have to realise that we had left our home countries and made a big change in our lives, in some cases to study in a new language. For me, it made me less shy about the world… more adventurous.”
Where these adventures take Louis and Chitresh next remains to be seen, but it seems unlikely it will be anywhere other than up. “We were invited to have dinner with the First Minister recently,” revealed Louis, suggesting there may be less time for parties and nightclubs in the future.