Aaron Sloup discusses leaving Cerner to go full time with Lantern
Lantern enables users to find (above left) and redeem (above right) deals with local merchants.
Aaron Sloup, entrepreneur and co-founder of KC Hub, recently announced that he has left his job with Cerner to go full time with his startup Lantern, which makes an app designed to help consumers find deals.
Of the six people currently working on Kansas City-based Lantern, Sloup is the first to pursue the project on a full-time basis. We conducted an email interview with Sloup (below) to find out what motivated his move and learn what else has happened with the startup since we last checked in, when Lantern launched its app in Google Play in May.
Silicon Prairie News: What helped you make the decision to quit your job with Cerner and go full time with Lantern?
Aaron Sloup: Lantern is ready for the next step, which is expansion to more merchants and more users. The concept seems to be ringing true with people — for business owners, they like the having the flexibility to control their own deals, and they like $1 commissions and no monthly fees. For users, it's the same questions: 1) When will it be ready on iPhone? and 2) When will you have deals in my neighborhood? To solve both of those, and to scale up, I needed to devote myself to this full time.
SPN: How are you preparing for your life as an entrepreneur?
AS: Of course there's a lot of planning with my family and making the personal transition there. But among the biggest changes professionally is re-learning to focus on what's important. In a corporate setting, you generally have a narrower scope of responsibilities. You're working within a bigger structure that handles a lot of the auxiliary functions of the business. As an entrepreneur, you and your team handle every aspect of the business. So that's a big shift to make — learning to focus on the right priorities at the right time.
What’s the difference between daily deal services like GroupOn or LivingSocial and Lantern?
AS: A lot. With daily deal services like Groupon's, you generally sign up with your email, and they send you 1-5 offers per day. In my experience, about 1 out of 30 days I would see something I actually considered buying. At that point, I'd have to put in my credit card info, buy a voucher and wait until the next day to get it emailed to me. It's a very 1990s way of doing business, and it comes with a host of problems from A) What happens if my voucher expires? (hint: depends on the service, but you usually lose your money) to B) What happens if something comes up or I change my mind? to C) Why can't I use it right now?
The merchant side of daily deals is even worse. The deal "service" provider keeps 50 percent of the revenue, seizes control of the marketing of the business, the timing of when the deal actually launches and then controls all the money in the middle, so the business owner generally isn't paid their share until weeks or months after they started incurring costs from serving the deal customers.
We know that at a fundamental level, people still like getting a great deal. That part is not broken. What's broken is the current delivery model of the day, which is still daily deals.
"With Lantern, we wanted to start back at square one. How do you deliver a deal in the easiest, most convenient way possible for users as well as cheap, easy and effective for businesses?" - Sloup
So we made Lantern free and instant for users. Free — in that users never have to pay for vouchers or buy anything from us. That eliminates all the refund problems and makes it really fun and low risk to try something new. Instant — in that users can reserve and redeem their deals right now right from within our app. That makes it cool because you can do things like walk out of office for lunch, pull out your phone and find a new spot to try right around the corner and save $10 instantly by showing the voucher on your phone.
With Lantern, we wanted to start back at square one. How do you deliver a deal in the easiest, most convenient way possible for users as well as cheap, easy and effective for businesses?
For business owners, they can set up a new customer deal in Lantern in a couple minutes and not have to touch it again for six months. All the while, it will be working to give customers one chance to come in, try out the business and see if it's for them. Additionally, owners can push out deals any time they want to increase traffic to their location. They set the parameters of the deal (50 percent off minimum), and control when it runs, how many people can get it and what they're offering. And if there are days or times they are generally slow, they can schedule out deals weeks or months in advance so that they launch automatically at those times.
All in all it gives business owners some simple, powerful tools to attract customers.
SPN: In May, you said the company was considering investment an option. Any updates on that?
AS: We actually had another investment round where some of the co-founders doubled-down on the business. That's given us some good working capital to go grow the business and test things out in the KC market while building revenue and preparing for other markets. I think outside investment is still on the table, but we're comfortable with where we're at.
SPN: Anything else you’d like to add about your recent move?
AS: For other entrepreneurs out there who are considering making the jump, you'll find that people will come out of the woodwork to support you. It's been pretty incredible just to experience the community effect once people know exactly how serious you are about something. The Silicon Prairie really does have a community feel — and if there's someone you want to get in contact with, they're generally one or two degrees of separation, and they're usually willing to help.