Working in a startup in the coupon industry, voice from an insider

Photo by Marco Gattello

It all started from "Hey, you are Jonny, I saw you on Dragons Den” and after 4 hours of interviews, to “Marco! We really like you and want you to be on board”.

I’ve just finished my 6 months of contract and founded The Wild Touch LTD, my first dive into affiliate marketing. I thought that working for a startup would have been the perfect next step for me. And that’s when I started to look for new opportunities. Trying to keep doing what are you good at, was the lesson I learned. My experience working with retailers and as a founder of The Wild Touch LTD led me to consider applying for a startup named Pouch. That’s when I first learn about Shopping Assistants.

The interview

The process of hiring people in a startup is not the same as that of other companies. Yes, you might have the same frame and stages but that may end up being a bit unconventional.

The first step was a filter interview where they asked me questions to assess my technical knowledge. I remember ending up talking about the Critical Render Path in a lot of detail. After successfully passing the first stage, the second step was an interview vis a vi.

My first introduction to Pouch was with the Co-Founder Jonny Plain. People on television always appear bigger than they are. It’s really true. The first time I saw Jonny was on Dragons Den, presenting a methodic pitch to the dragons and exiting the room with a deal from 3 of them.

My first impression of Jonny was that he’s an enthusiastic person, happy to be recognised and associated with a big show such as the Dragon’s den. Obviously, after shaking hands, we started talking about my experience in retail, affiliate marketing and about Pouch and its vision. After that, I was supposed to have a 1-hour technical interview with the Senior Developer and another hour to meet the rest of the team, the CTO, the Product Manager and a Junior Developer.

After 4 long hours spent in the office, I had what I thought would be the final meeting with again the Co-Founder and the CTO. “Marco! We really like you and want you to be on board” said Jonny. I couldn’t contain my excitement, but my past experience as a Salesman reminded me that: is never a done deal until you sign. So I tried to keep my emotions in check.

I had ongoing interviews with other startups, and Pouch was one of the top 3 I was considering. For this reason, I decided to move forward. The last stage was with the CEO of the GSG UK office. Turns out that Global Savings Group was the company that ended up, acquiring Pouch. What happened to the deal with the Dragons? Keep reading to find out.

After a brief meeting discussing my passions and past experience, I was told that I would have received an offer in the incoming week. Finally, the offer arrives. After finishing all the other interviews and a careful evaluation, I decided that working at Pouch would have been the right choice.

The job is never the one on paper

I wanted to make a good first impression and also show my willingness to learn. For this reason, I would show up before everybody else and be the last one to leave. In the morning I would focus on certain topics that I wanted to be better at. Whether to learn a new design pattern or maybe just read something new about browser extensions.

Months passed and I’m familiarizing myself with the tech stack, tools and code. I’ve worked on multiple tasks already. The environment is relaxed and we are still having a small team. Didn’t really have someone to guide me or a mentor, but I was quite happy to find my own path and learn things along the way. I felt it was great to have the flexibility and the curiosity to search for my answers.

In a startup, you don’t have defined processes. I’m not going to lie, sometime you might have the feeling that we were disorganised or not aligned on things, but that was partially due to disruptive events or again to the fact that Pouch was a startup. We had to improvise and make the most of the resources we had at hand. Without forgetting the last-minute bug on a Friday night.

Along the way we had lost our Product Manager at the same time our Senior Developer decided to leave. It was though, but I didn’t care that much as I was more focused to get things done. At that moment we needed to be Developers, Engineers and Project Managers. You would have worn multiple hats at the same time.

The road is not the map

A year is passed and I’m now familiar with the Business Structure, the different departments etc… We finally have a clear roadmap and one part of the plan is to work on a new market in Germany. We start to hire people to develop relationships with german retailers and in the meantime we keep working on the UK market.

It is now that I started to unravel part of the mystery around the Dragon’s deal and more. I never asked Jonny what happened with the dragons, also because at that time I was too busy and focused on the job at hand. Looking back I wish I would have taken the time to ask.

Global Savings Group is a platform for Commerce Content with 100+ digital assets from the world’s leading publishers. In the UK, for example, operates the website. Pouch was launched to the public in 2016 and sold to GSG in January 2019. Here’s when Pouch received the necessary push to hire new people and when, the role I will then fill, came into existence. “What about the Dragon’s deal?” You might ask. It never happened.

In the same year, GSG will acquire iGral a French cashback company and in January 2021, Shoop another cashback platform, this time, based in Germany. After this last acquisition, we had to stop all our efforts with the German Market. GSG's plan was very simple, become the European market leader.

“The deal strengthens GSG’s position as European market leader, building the largest global digital rewards, savings, and shopping content platform,” says Gerhard Trautmann, CEO of the GSG, in an interview happened the 8th January 2021.

All the effort made in Germany had to cease and the question now was: what’s next?.

The loyalty platform

After an entire year at Pouch, I was ready for the next level. My work with the Dynamic Landing Pages was a success. Without even noticing, I became a point of reference. People started to come to me to ask questions. My strong attention to detail was a quality, recognised by many; in particular, by the new Product Manager, that decided to give me the opportunity to become the Front-end Team Lead for the new incoming project: the Pouch Loyalty Platform.

I was hiped by the idea of having a team to work on this project. The problem was, there was no team. In the beginning, it was just me. The plan was to build a loyalty platform while creating the team. Tedious of course, but exciting nonetheless. Without too many comments, I started working on the project and in the meantime, helped with the interviews.

Fast forward to 5 months we finally hire 2 new Developers that are going to help with the platform. Only 1 month left to the end of the project. There was no time to waste, but decided to onboard the new hires the best I could. Spending time to pair-programme together was an investment for me and Pouch. The better the onboarding, the quicker the new hire could have been an active contributor to the team and the project. After several delays with the deadline, we successfully released the loyalty platform.

I was thrilled and exhausted. Although the team was created almost at the end of the project, I was grateful that I could count on other people to finish this project. Through interviews, onboarding and other hiccups like people leaving and a global pandemic, It was a never-ending list of obstacles to overcome and distractions that would challenge our creativity and our ability to solve problems. I had to recharge and take a break.

Due to COVID and being busy with the project, I decided to see my family in Italy after a long absence of 2 years. This is when I started to reflect on my next steps. I wanted to have a clear mind and decide what to do next. The latest company’s acquisitions made me think about the future of Pouch and also MY future as Software Engineer.

The final decision

In my entire journey at Pouch, I had the opportunity to see the evolution of this product. From a basic extension that would apply code for you, to an entire loyalty platform with rewards for its customers. From the Affiliate Marketing business to the Coupon and Cashback industry. At Pouch, I did not only have the opportunity to specialise myself and strengthened my Front-End skills, but also learnt and became an expert in this industry.

When I took my break to think about my next move, I looked back and started to have a more distant view of things. I didn’t have any Pouch shares, and even if I wanted I couldn’t buy any. Didn’t have any perks or benefits. The team was changing continuously. In fact, I was the only developer left in 2019. Instead of promoting within the team, the decision was always to hire new engineers. My only emotional attachment was to the project and my work.

Also, the latest acquisition of Shoop, made me doubt the potential growth at Pouch. Adding the global pandemic to the mix, in the end, I decided to leave. Several months later my departure, to my surprise, I saw a LinkedIn post from Jonny announcing that he was leaving Pouch to start something new.

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