New mobile app lets consumers wait in line remotely

1 November 2011

Brits may soon no longer need to queue patiently, thanks to Supalocal’s new technology. Founder and UCL alumnus Obi Nwosu wanted to find out whether his SMS queue management system would be of benefit to healthcare providers, and he asked HELO to put together a team to conduct market research into this area.

Supalocal

London Business School MBA Pascal Wittet, leading a group from LBS and UCL, found that the answer was no, which helped Supalocal to concentrate on other areas such as banking. The team also suggested other markets such as embassies and consulates for visa and passport applications – “an invaluable reference point,” says Obi.

A passion for queuing is often seen as a quintessentially British trait, along with moaning about the weather and drinking copious amounts of tea. But that’s changing: challenging the queue is a faster pace of life, higher expectations of customer service and a growing intolerance at being kept waiting. Enter Supalocal, makers of an SMS queue management system using their patent-pending Supaqueue technology to manage the process of queuing via text message.

Founders Obi Nwosu (UCL Computer Science, 1994) and long-time friend Brian Downer started the company in mid 2010 as an SMS messaging platform for restaurants to deal more efficiently with spikes in demand for tables. Then frustrations over a hospital appointment led Obi to wonder whether the system could be better used in healthcare facilities; to find out, he approached HELO for help.

Pascal Wittet, an MBA at London Business School and a former chartered accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, was looking for new experience. “I wanted to understand what start-ups are going through, what issues they are facing.” Leading a team of five from LBS and UCL, Pascal analysed healthcare markets across Western Europe, examining market size, growth rate, sources of funding and budgets. After two months the team concluded – as did Obi and Brian, conducting parallel research – that the healthcare market was not an attractive proposition for Supalocal.

Obi says: “We found it was a crowded market, with a lot of players offering reminder services, and our platform could easily have been subsumed into a more generic offering. But sometimes finding out what won’t work for a start-up is as important as finding out what will.” Pascal and his team went on – above and beyond the original HELO remit – to suggest other markets with higher-value transactions and longer queues, such as embassies and consulates for visa and passport applications. Obi found this “an invaluable reference point,” leading Supalocal to its current focus on the banking sector.

Pascal says his time working with Supalocal was “a source of inspiration for starting my own business.” Obi adds: “We encouraged the students to test business ideas by identifying a problem first and then finding a solution, rather than the other way around. It’s a more pragmatic way of working, and essential if a start-up is to survive in a tough operating environment.”