Digital Start-Ups Face Unexpected Gauntlet of Door-to-Door Sales

It’s Friday, and PayTango cofounders Brian Groudan and Umang Patel are pitching. Over the next two and half hours they’ll hit nine cafés, three gyms, two corner stores, and a music center in San Francisco, from its tony Laurel Heights district to the sometimes-seamy Upper Haight. The goal: To interest small businesses in PayTango’s big idea, a biometric reader that will allow customers to make payments, or verify their ID or gym membership, with a quick scan of their index and middle fingers.

Groudan is wearing a yellow polo shirt and shorts that hit just above the knee. Patel is in a blue-and-white checked button-down shirt and a pair of Levi’s. “We don’t have any empirical data, but if you walk in to a fitness club with a suit on, people are going to look at you funny,” notes Patel.

“You have to be careful,” Groudan adds, then pauses for a beat before finishing, his voice lowered slightly: “not to sound like a salesman.”

Local urban problems and the needs of small businesses are increasingly becoming inspiration for start-ups, and selling door-to-door — that icon of 1950s entrepreneurialism — is back with a new, digital face. Putting on a show for investors is one thing; facing off with an endless stream of bartenders and cash-register attendants over the shop counter is an entirely different proposition. Yet that’s exactly where many members of the newest crop of innovators are winding up as they try to bootstrap their billion-dollar ideas, one customer at a time.

In San Francisco, ground zero for the lean start-up movement, the competition is already pretty stiff. Even the tiniest mom-and-pop shops might already be outfitted with an all-in-one loyalty card and several mobile-payment solutions. Breaking through requires more than just a good in-person pitch; it means finding a way to set your business apart from the flood of other ones trying to get the little guys onboard. And it takes lots of shoe leather.

Read the conclusion over at Medium.

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