The team behind a new app that delivers promotions from local retailers directly to the phones of customers tell Pádraig Hoare why they believe their platform could one day be as successful as Uber.

It is an app born and nurtured in Cork that is fast gaining momentum with business and customers alike.

The team behind Mocal insist they don’t want to get ahead of themselves, yet they are ambitious enough to say it can one day be a global phenomenon.

The premise behind Mocal is simple, says the team.

More than 60 businesses so far will contact Mocal to say they have an offer and Mocal sends it out through their platform.

Users receive it on their phone as a notification, they get a voucher into their app that they can then present to businesses to redeem.

Mocal community manager Micheál McGrath said: “There is everything on this app. It has been described as anything from bagels to paint. There is health and beauty, there’s health shops, food and drink, gyms -- there really is something for everybody.”

Sceptics will ask how it’s different to other business promotion companies that send daily emails. Mocal is different because it tailors offers to the preferences of its users, according to Mr McGrath.

“People are getting tired of their mailbox being full of vouchers they don’t want. Mocal puts it all on your phone. Our big focus is that we don’t want to give people vouchers that they don’t like. 

"If you use vouchers for the likes of Duke’s Coffee Company or Hey Presto, then you’ll get more lunch vouchers. Customers choose the type of notification they want to get,” he said.

A business will call Mr McGrath and relay an offer they want to be uploaded on the app. Mocal does the graphic design and all the technical aspects.

Businesses can monitor the performance of the voucher with users, and customers save money. A win-win, says the Mocal team.

Mocal co-founder Oscar Manzano explains that the concept of “machine learning” is key to the project for customers.

Machine learning, as defined by artificial intelligence pioneer Arthur Samuel in the 1950s, means computers can actually learn without being specifically programmed.

In simple terms, it analyses data patterns and then makes predictions.

Mr Manzano said: “It learns about your habits and your consumption. We know then that you prefer these vouchers so we can serve you more. Mocal is a link between local business and consumers. We join these two together and we serve local businesses and we assist the people of Cork in giving good promotions. 

"We let people know about new businesses. We feel we help local business in the main streets, to promote their services, reaching an audience that maybe shopping centres are not getting into. The channel we are using is a mobile one. It reaches everyone’s hands.”

Mocal was born and developed in UCC’s Western Gateway Building by Mr Manzano and co-founder Tim O’Riordan, a civil engineer since 1989 who has managed projects for some of Ireland’s biggest companies.

Mr Manzano, who self-taught himself computer programming as a child, has published papers on subjects such as the Internet of Things and energy efficiency and is seen as one of the sharpest minds in academia.

The founders have some of the most highly-regarded computer programmers, engineers and marketing specialists on board since 2015.

Mr Manzano said the ambition for Mocal is to one day be as successful as Hailo, the taxi ordering app that was recently merged with Daimler subsidiary MyTaxi.

“Cork’s 96FM’s PJ Coogan was telling us he was in the presentation for Hailo years ago, with only 30 people in the room. Mocal has the potential to become the next Hailo”, he said.

“Mr Coogan is now like a brand ambassador for us and coming from a person like him saying something like that about us is a real boost. It is Cork now, tomorrow it may be Galway and the next day in Dublin. 

"Maybe then into London and then into Europe. We just need the spark to ignite it. As successful as Uber? One day at a time but why not,” Mr Manzano said.

The development of the app had to be done as much with businesses in mind as users, said Mr McGrath.

“We went to businesses last September, and more from a user point of view, we said what would be good for us. But they didn’t feel it was good for them. So we listened and we learned. 

"They have shaped it since the pilot launch. We’ve taken things out and added things in. Businesses are flying in, we’re up to 60 now.

“We didn’t want to launch into the city unless the businesses were getting value right away. This is why we’ve waited until now to really push it out. We feel now the whole system is fitting into place and is at a good point. 

"We’ve talked to hotels, concerts, all these types of venues. They’re all seeing the potential because there is no limitation to the types of business that can come onto it,” he said.

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