It’s fitting that most of my last week at Arkansas Business was spent at the Little Rock Venture Center’s inaugural VenCent Fintech Summit.
It’s fitting because when I started covering technology and startups here six years ago, my first technology column was about the tenants of the then-fledgling Little Rock Technology Park’s temporary location. One of those tenants was the Venture Center.
At that time, the nonprofit entrepreneurial support organization was on the verge of launching an accelerator for financial technology firms. Today, one of the many programs it runs is the renowned FIS Fintech Accelerator sponsored by the state and by FIS of Jacksonville, Florida, a fintech giant that began as Systematics in Little Rock decades ago. Such efforts ultimately led to the launch of VenCent.
At the summit, I saw many familiar names and faces. It’s cliche, but it really has been a joy and a privilege to write about these ever-evolving industry segments, to serve some of the best readers a journalist could hope for, and to work alongside talented editors and reporters who have taught me so much both professionally and personally.
Anyway, there were companies at the summit I had yet to write about, and one of them was 2017 FIS Fintech Accelerator alum eGiftify of New York City, which began in and still has an office in Little Rock.
EGiftify offers white-label digital gifting, marketing, rewards and payments technology to businesses of all sizes. At her booth on the trade show floor, founder Susi Barakat told me eGiftify came about because she was trying to bring the technology that big brands were using to her family’s small business, The Terrace restaurant in Little Rock.
Barakat founded eGiftify after an extensive career in fintech. Her first job out of school was at Arkansas Systems, the precursor of global company Euronet of Leawood, Kansas. Euronet attended and sponsored VenCent.
Like FIS, a company that got its start here, Euronet still employs people in Little Rock — 130 in fact, part of its global workforce of 9,000.
Barakat said that throughout the 1990s she sold ATMs in Latin America for what would become Euronet; then she worked for FIS, helping banks deploy new technologies in Latin America.
In 2014, Barakat was working in London when she began looking into bringing to The Terrace what bigger restaurant chains were doing via technology, i.e., allowing people to buy gift cards for each other and send them by email, offering promotions and more.
She said the firms providing that type of technology weren’t interested because they were focused on bigger brands.
Barakat said she’d spent years taking the technology that bigger businesses were using to smaller businesses. “So, to me, technology should have leveled the playing field. And it should be available to big and small [businesses],” she said. “So I felt frustrated that the restaurants that we had couldn’t really play in the same, you know, digital playing field as everybody else.”
She launched eGiftify to solve that problem. It now has thousands of customers and about 30 employees.
Barakat said service-oriented businesses want to attract customers throughout the year, but daily deals aren’t profitable. EGiftify works to target deals, other promotions, event invitations and more.
For example, a deal can be offered only on a day when a restaurant isn’t typically busy, or invitations and promotions can be sent only to local people who are more likely to become repeat customers.
EGifitfy is white-label technology. “Small businesses and medium-sized businesses … they’re working so hard at getting their brand known and building their loyalty,” Barakat said. “So I really wanted them to have a tool that they could use to do the offers when they wanted and to brand it to them, not to us. Not to anybody else. It’s always their brand. … They can send it via email, SMS and social media. That helps with [customer] retention, too.”
She said eGiftify offers an all-in-one product that allows businesses to engage customers everywhere they are.
The firm’s customer base has expanded from service-oriented businesses like restaurants and hotels to banks that can use the technology to sell to both their business customers and consumers.
EGiftify charges clients a setup fee and a monthly subscription fee, Barakat said. “We like to work with you so that when you win, we win, and to ensure that this way you are paying only as you’re selling.”
(Sarah Campbell-Miller began work at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Aug. 22. Please send any technology news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.)