Matt Balin, a graduate of Fox School of Businesses, is the CEO of MyChinoki, a company breathing new life into how businesses and consumers interact in Philadelphia.
The entrepreneurial trail comes with mixed results for its travelers. Some, like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, attain the highest echelon of success through brash boldness. Others, like Lenny Dykstra, former center fielder for the Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies, lose their net worth gambling risky investment models. But others, like Matthew Balin, seek neither fame nor fortune, but instead attempt to streamline lifestyles and give back to their communities.
Balin, a 1997 graduate from Fox School of Business, is the founder and CEO of MyChinoki, a Philadelphia-based service that connects consumers with the businesses of their choice to learn about exclusive offers via text messages. He launched MyChinoki–Japanese for “cherry picker”–on Jan. 11.
Balin owned several Hollywood Tan locations and a real estate and mortgage company from 2002 to 2008 until the housing bubble burst. Balin said the idea for MyChinoki came to him from his previous entrepreneurial experience.
“I recognized there’s no tool for a small business [that] does not have a big marketing budget to do marketing,” Balin said. “Basically, I wanted to be able to reach someone that asked to hear from me. TV, radio [and] billboards are all very expensive. It’s a long process to get started and it’s just too expensive for a small business owner.”
After Balin’s hairdresser set him up with two developers, the three sat down and began brainstorming for MyChinoki. The concept developed into what it is today.
Users sign up for free on the website, where they choose the various restaurants, bars, spas and retailers from whom they want to receive offers. Then, whenever these companies, found in the user’s “basket,” want to advertise a promotion, they send text messages to the consumers.
“The whole concept of the site is that the consumer is in control,” Balin, 36, said. “MyChinoki is a tool for a business to have a one-on-one conversation with the consumer.”
But unlike offers that businesses can post on their social networking sites, MyChinoki requires the businesses to send deals exclusive to MyChinoki members. For example, Balin said, on the night of a Flyers game, a bar might offer dollar drinks and half-priced appetizers for MyChinoki members.
During the next few months, the site is expected to grow even more. After receiving funding from the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, MyChinoki will be rolling out new features, including push notifications and check-ins, similar to Foursquare, in which users can check in to a location and see what kind of deals they’re offering, as well as the option for companies to create a custom coupon based on the demographics of its users, analytics which Balin and his team provide.
Some of the businesses signed up for MyChinoki’s services include Barclay Prime, at 18th and Locust streets, World Café Live at 31st and Walnut streets and Charlie’s Jeans at 18th and Chestnut streets.
The site is focused on “local marketing,” as Balin said, funding from PREIT will allow them to expand into national retailers. He added that the company will hopefully expand into other cities within the next year or two.
He said that although he is excited to cultivate his business within the next few years, he also wants to return to Temple as a resource to alumni and become more involved in the university’s entrepreneur community.
“Temple right now is working really hard to create a start-up community,” Balin said. “Janie Lucas is at Temple full time and is leading a great campaign, which I’m trying to be active in, where Temple finds other entrepreneurs or other graduates who are working on start-ups and [is] working really hard to put the right resources around them.”
Within the next few months, MyChinoki also plans to host a contest for students on Main Campus in which the company will give away money for textbooks, free iPads and other gifts, in acknowledgment of the rising expenses of college life.
“I would love to be able to give back to other Temple students,” Balin said. “The one thing I’m finding out in the Philadelphia entrepreneurial community is that other people have extended their hand to me, and really guided me, consulted me, acted as an advisor.”
“I didn’t have to pay them,” Balin added. “So if there’s anything I could ever do for other Temple students, I would like to.”
Balin said the spotlight isn’t for everyone, and it doesn’t necessarily denote success.
“I guarantee you the list of really well-known people [who] went on to lead companies like Oracle or Fortune 500 companies [is very long],” Balin said. “Their names might not be out in the spotlight as frequently as Steve Jobs or [Mark] Zuckerberg, but they’re the minority, the extreme minority. They’re the .0001 percent.”
Alexis Sachdev can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.