How Denver's QwikCart turned a rainy day idea into a visionary mobile commerce company

by Meghan Mahar
March 12, 2014

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As the story goes, it was a rainy afternoon back in 2010, and Chris Poelma was getting frustrated outside the grocery store. He was currently working as CTO of Microsoft’s Operator Channel, so any free moment he had on the weekend, he cherished. Yet here he was waiting for rain to calm down so he could grab a few things only to find the product he needed was out of stock. He realized then something needed to change. There was a problem to be solved, and he was the market.

Poelma eventually left Microsoft to come back to his hometown of Denver and focus on that vision. He started QwikCart in January 2011 (formerly known as BusyLife Software) and created a mobile commerce app for customers to order groceries online and then some.

Today, QwikCart offers suppliers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers of any size a uniquely branded application that streamlines their business and brings the consumer closer to the product, making buying and selling easier on everyone, Marketing Manager Sean Bryant said.

“We wanted to make things convenient for people, not only for the customer, but for the business,” Bryant said. So that’s where the team started.

The standard way of waiting in lines and walking blindly through grocery aisles felt analog to Poelma. He wanted to bring the everyday task up to speed with the rest of the world. He wanted a digital answer. And after researching the market, he realized there wasn’t much of an answer yet, especially in Denver. He thought of the mobile trend and how much easier it would be to shop from his phone. The culture was begging for it, and Poelma noticed this. Turns out he’s right. According to ComScore, as of March 2013, nearly 50 percent of online retail is done through mobile devices.

So CEO Poelma gathered a team and came up with a way to give a voice to small businesses  without a mobile commerce answer. He wanted to help them adapt to the mobile trend, help them grow their business with it and subsequently make it easier on the consumer to purchase from these businesses.

The QwikCart product helps businesses guide their customers, offer incentives and introduce products. It helps them improve their business through reports with detailed consumer information, tools to help forecast sales by store and period, integration with major Point of Sale manufacturers, and integration with payment processors or banks – all of which can be monitored and controlled through a Merchant Portal.

Staying true to their vision

There wasn’t much competition when it came to mobile commerce when they started, so QwikCart had the chance to really define themselves: “We have a vision on what the market wants, what the businesses want, what the consumer wants,” Bryant said.

Instead of hiring a surplus of people, they kept the team tight. Even now, after three years, there remains just over 10 of them, five of whom occupy the Greenwood Village headquarters.  They believed this was how to keep the vision clear.

They also decided to brand their business based on the product. That’s when BusyLife Software became QwikCart. And instead of trying to take on bigger retail markets, they kept the focus on smaller businesses, only venturing out to the liquor industry with their newest product LiquorCart.

Three years later, they’re proud of their product and secure in their vision. With this, it was easy to find seed investors that believe in their vision (funding is currently about $1.2 million).

Shining a spotlight on their work

Now that their product is stable and vision is tight and clear, the future of QwikCart will be a focus on sales and marketing. They plan to venture out from just the conference marketing of the past and take on social media. They’ll be spreading their answer to the mobile commerce trend and explaining the importance of a product that offers both B2B and B2C sales. For QwikCart, it all comes back to that vision.

"If there’s a defined vision, there’s going to be promise with the company,” Bryant said. “There’s an uncertainty with startups and you want to see that there’s a clear site down the road.”

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