Could MyTime be a Groupon that works?

By Kym McNicholas , written on March 15, 2013

From The News Desk

When I heard MyTime CEO Ethan Anderson speak at last week's LAUNCH Festival in San Francisco, the first thing that popped into my mind was: "This company is the answer to the fall of Groupon."

I had already been looking for a Groupon 2.0 since Sarah's recent article predicting that we will see another -- more sustainable -- version of the flailing site in the next ten years.

From that post:

By “another Groupon,” I don’t mean a wildly irresponsible company that pockets private equity, juices the bottom line, and pushes off a stock prematurely on the public markets that can’t retain its value. We will most definitely see that, but in a tech cycle that’s infused with booms and busts and greed, that’s like saying the sun will come up tomorrow…

I mean we will see another company that seeks to become a modern Web-based customer acquisition engine for small businesses, likely relying on discounts and coupons. It may look a lot like Groupon — if it’s close, it’ll be met with wild derision. But at some point, someone doing this will succeed. And give it a few years, but people will try again. The need is just too big and Groupon’s execution was too obviously flawed. MyTime aspires to be that very Web-based customer acquisition engine for small businesses. But it’s not relying on discounts and coupons to bring in customers -- or at least it's trying not to.

Instead, MyTime wants to be an appointment booking site for time-pressed customers of salons, yoga studios, auto shops, and personal trainers. It allows customers to search for open appointments across a wide range of small businesses, and even offers special deals for booking in hard-to-fill timeslots.

It launched in February in the Los Angeles market, nearly 10 months after a $3 million injection of capital. Some of its key backers include GRP Partners’ Mark Suster, 500 Startups' Dave McClure, Box Group's David Tisch, Brian Lee (co-founder of Shoedazzle, LegalZoom, and Honest Company), as well as the Launch Festival’s Jason Calacanis.

MyTime, which Michael Carney first wrote about in February, is designed to draw in new customers by easing the hassle of booking an appointment, not by offering aggressive and unsustainable discounts. Anderson is gearing MyTime towards today's ever increasingly busy person -- not a couponer.

Businesses post their schedules online free (it’s even integrated into the merchant’s own website) and customers can browse the different auto shops, for example, to find a timeslot that works for them. Let's say you need to get your brakes checked, but you're only available at 1:30 pm. Instead of calling every auto shop to find out what's open, you can do a simple search on this site and find the auto shops that have availability at that time and you can book the appointment right there.


MyTime also has a dynamic pricing system connected to the merchant's calendar, which is based on demand for any particular timeslot. So the more in-demand timeslots are priced higher, and the harder-to-filled slots are priced at a discount.

As we've seen with Uber's surge pricing, people are willing to pay a premium if they need a service at a specific time. There's a lot of power -- and money to be made -- in simply giving time-pressed people the option.

And as for the harder-to-fill timeslots, discounts aren't always enough, if they're just sitting on the site waiting for someone to find them. The system pushes out geotargeted ads to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and affiliates automatically via API, to promote open appointments.

Since MyTime is only promoting a specific date and time to be filled, it won't create a flood of people in one Yoga class, for example. We've all heard stories from friends who've bought a daily deal only to end up in an overbooked class with a bad experience. The result can be bad Yelp reviews and negative word of mouth. Suddenly an investment that was aimed at growing a business winds up not only hurting its margins but hurting their word of mouth too. That's hardly an ideal use of a small businesses' precious marketing dollars.

MyTime curates the businesses featured on the site, and Yelp reviews are integrated into the feed to give customers an idea of the small businesses' reputation. It also has a 100 percent moneyback guarantee for customers unhappy with a service, and if a merchant ends up with multiple returns, they're kicked off the site.

The balance between having enough inventory and maintaining quality will be a tricky one as the company grows.

But the biggest struggle will be whether MyTime can deliver customers based on this ease of scheduling alone. Many of the features seem to veer into discounting to incentive users and that can be a slippery slope. If MyTime goes down it too far, it'll just wind up a latter day, less-well-funded Groupon. In other words: Road kill.

Deals simply can’t be the main driver for booking on the site. MyTime keeps 40 percent of the revenue from each new customer who books through its system, leaving very little revenue for the merchant. MyTime also will have to deliver quality repeat customers for businesses to take the time to use it.

MyTime is wise to cater to the time-poor versus the cash-poor, because the time-poor will frequently pay a premium for convenience. But reaching that audience is far harder than reaching rabid couponers who will go out of their way for a good deal. Time-poor consumers by nature aren't necessarily early adopters, because, well, they don't have a lot of time.

Anderson insists MyTime has a different sales culture and a different relationship with merchants. Unlike deal sites, MyTime provides follow-through and support for its merchants offering customers incentives to rebook. "One of our sales people came from LivingSocial, and they were told to tell their merchants 'Our job is to bring you the customers, and your job is to make sure they come back," he says. "That's outrageous."

Unfortunately, the examples he gave were -- sigh -- mostly just more discounting. For instance, after the first appointment, the consumer gets an email with a $5 coupon to rebook that business, and two $20 gift cards for that business to hand out to friends.

MyTime clearly realizes the challenge and is working hard to add enough scheduling and convenience benefits that it doesn't have to keep falling back into the realm of discounts. It just launched a reminder service to let customers know when to get any of their favorite services again, and sends them discounted timeslots and first availabilities at their favorite merchants, or offers them selections of new ones to choose from as well.

It also recently launched user profiles to keep track of customers' favorite merchants offering quick one-click rebooking.

The question is whether they’ll get enough traction in the Los Angeles market to make it worth their while to scale. They’re optimistically vetting businesses in San Francisco, but with 700,000 appointments open in Los Angeles, they still have a lot to prove before a second city would be wise.

In the video below, Anderson explains how MyTime works and why he believes it could be a business changing tool for mom and pop shops.