By LEIGH SAVAGE | CONTRIBUTOR
With iOnGreenville and the iBeacon, Chris Bizzell brings all things Greenville to your phone
Chris Bizzell got his start selling textile chemicals, but after a dozen years, realized that his passion was for the then-nascent field of Internet marketing – and later, mobile marketing. He founded BizzApps five years ago to create and maintain apps and Web pages, and one year ago launched iOnGreenville, an app created to bring Greenville’s events, businesses and destinations to your mobile device.
While he continues to do other work through BizzApps, the success of iOnGreenville is taking up more of his days as he and his team add business partners and new listings. He recently launched a similar app in Charleston, but Bizzell is focused on expanding his user base in Greenville. “This is the way people interact with the Internet now – it’s going heavily to the mobile side,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to abate. It’s everywhere, and it’s the place businesses need to be.”
I sold textile chemicals, and we started doing online marketing. This was back in the early days of the Internet, 1993 or 1994. We were doing sales for people in Istanbul because they found us through the Internet. I got interested, and we ended up selling the company and I went into software development.
Did you need additional training?
I did a lot of training, including some at Greenville Tech – it was the Certified Internet Webmaster program. I taught there for a while. But most of what you do with this is experiential, and you learn on the fly.
What types of work does BizzApps focus on?
I do software development for local engineering firms and contract work for the S.C. Department of Transportation. I created an app related to spring training for Major League Baseball, and a company in San Francisco bought it. We create apps but also do website stuff too, maintaining the sites for WCCP-FM, the Clemson football radio station. We also do restaurant websites and others. The work is wide and varied.
How did iOnGreenville come about?
We created it last June. I really just wanted a way to assimilate everything that is going on in Greenville, because there is so much going on. So we’ve got music, an events calendar, shopping, dining and as things evolved, we added a food truck calendar. We’ve stressed strategic partnerships: NOMA Square, Hampton Inn, the Road Warriors, the Greenville Drive.
How many businesses are you working with? Have they been eager to get on board?
We are partnered with 75 to 80 businesses, and we’d like to grow that number. What we’re doing is building a portal for some of these people who don’t want to build their own app, but we’re giving them a way to have a mobile presence pretty quickly. And it’s not just the app, but social media. We tweet out information for our partners – food truck schedules, concert schedules.
So for the end user, it’s a comprehensive guide to what’s going on, and a business can look at it as a total marketing tool.
What’s the newest addition to iOnGreenville?
We recently partnered with St. Francis Health System. On the iOnGreenville app they have a physician locator, practice locations, maps and news – it’s pretty comprehensive health care information. They had talked about doing a native app for themselves, but iOnGreenville already has a fairly good audience, and we were able to get them up on the app in three weeks, which is incredible turnaround for something like this.
How many people use iOnGreenville?
We have 6,000 iPhone users and 1,000 more through the iPad and Android apps, so 7,000 total. After only one year it’s a really strong user base, and we track everything on the back side to see what is most popular. One hundred to 150 people download the app every week.
Do you target certain types of businesses?
We try to push locally owned people. Paws & Claws, Horizon Records, Greektown Grille. We have a neat niche, because we are local. We’re not built for the whole country. We are focused on trying to promote Greenville, and I think that’s what makes us unique.
It’s a simple Bluetooth device that comes in different shapes and colors. There is a tiny chip in it, and it sends out a signal every five seconds. When a phone has the iOnGreenville app and goes near the iBeacon, it shows a message. It’s fairly new technology.
The iBeacon can be anywhere, and can engage with people based on their proximity to an event, a destination or a person, so you can give context to your message. So you can put an iBeacon on a window of a home that is for sale, and when you drive up, the app automatically sends you information about the home – the listing, photos, contacts. Courtyard by Marriott is using them to let people know about booking events, and St. Francis is using them at reception desks to remind people to get a flu shot.
Do you have plans to extend beyond South Carolina?
We just launched in Charleston, and we want to do the same thing there. We are keeping the apps separate, because we want iOnGreenville to be about what’s going on here. We have discussions going on about other cities, but we want to do this slowly and do it right.