The beta test is done, the app is out and now it’s time to scale. Susan Langer’s Red Wing-based startup Live Give Save has reached that turning-point moment when a startup begins the push for customers. She’s eager for consumers to try the company’s app, called Spave (a melding of spend and save), that lets them direct money into savings accounts and to charities based on a percentage of other spending. Buy a coffee for $2 and Spave will direct your debit account to, for instance, put an extra 20 cents into savings and another 10 cents toward a charity of your choice. Live Give Save is recruiting nonprofits and charities to market the app to their donors. And Langer says employers can use the tool to develop incentive programs for workers and match their charitable donations.
Q: What’s the latest development with Spave?
A: We’re in market finally. We rolled out in July. That was a huge milestone for us. We’re ultimately going to be a business-to-business solution but the app is for consumers. And we had to prove that this engine could work. We’ve done that.
Q: You tested the product in Red Wing. How did the beta test work?
A: Plaid [a financial technology platform company] was the aggregating partner we were working with because they had a sandbox that allowed for 100 free users on it. We knew that having 100 would give us a really good sample size. Then we partnered with Red Wing Shoe, the Red Wing Y and the Red Wing Credit Union to identify users.
They all represent different business relationships we would be having. We’re targeting nonprofits to drive our consumer product forward. We’re also targeting banks. Our solution can sit atop their mobile platform. They can label it and use it as they want. And then employers because they are finding it increasingly challenging to more relevantly engage their employees, incentivize and motivate.
Q: What did you learn from the test that surprised you?
A: In working with Red Wing Shoe, I learned how needed this was. I knew this could be a new way for employers to engage their employees. But I was surprised at how much. You have employees who are part-time, or contract workers or gig economy. They generally aren’t participating in the benefit programs that employers have. And the result is there’s not a lot of ways for employers to incentivize them and to connect them to the organization. There needs to be more glue for them to stay.
Q: Did you make any changes to the product because of the testing?
A: Yes, we have a function we added. We learned we need to give people an opportunity to act to save or give even if they’re not going to spend. So we created a function called Spave Now.
Q: You first got the idea to put together spending and saving when you made a trip to Africa in the 1990s. How did it happen?
A: I was working at Periscope [the Minneapolis ad agency] and was marketing U.S. Bank’s credit cart portfolio. And the trip was expensive. And I thought, if I’m going to be this extravagant, I ought to be as generous.
I spent my days thinking of ways for people to use their credit card more. With points, frequent flyer miles, discounts. Why not allow them to put money in to savings or to give it? The problem with that idea at the time is we would be helping people incur more debt. The technology didn’t exist until recently that allows us to take these micro amounts from their checking account and distribute it according to their wishes.
Q: People around the world are making this idea happen. What have you seen that impresses you?
A: M-pesa in Kenya is the most innovative, most transformative technology in the last two decades. It made the ability for microentrepreneurs and women living in poverty to transact and protect their money.
With M-pesa, a woman in rural Kenya can have a dumbphone and find out what the price per pound of potatoes is in the city. Instead of being taken advantage of by someone who comes out to buy potatoes, she knows the price and can barter better. And she can accept payment on the phone.
Q: As an entrepreneur, what has turned out to be more challenging for you than you thought?
A: Raising investor dollars. I’ve raised money for nonprofit organizations. I’ve helped build businesses for existing corporations but it was their funding. I was arrogant and naive, a bad combination, about raising capital.
Q: What is your long-term goal?
A: By the year 2030, for 100 percent of the working population between the ages of 35 and 60 to have long-term savings accounts that they’re contributing to regularly and that they’re donating measurably more to charity.
Q: Why do you think that is possible?
A: Because if you are employed, you should be able to tip or tax yourself on your spending, a portion, no matter how small it is. And if you are an employer, you should be doing something to help the community you’re in.