SIOUX CITY -- Lloyd Lee wants to combine the appeal of local shopping with the convenience and economical benefits of online commerce sites like Groupon.  

With 52.75 million global active customers, Groupon is easily the world’s most popular daily deals digital platform and commands nearly 60 percent of that market share, trumping rivals such LivingSocial, Woot, Eversave and others.

Despite its wide appeal, Groupon and most of those other digital couponers don’t provide an overwhelming amount of offers to smaller metros and rural areas, which is where Lee sees his opening.

The 31-year-old Sioux Cityan is the owner of Qneo, a company he hopes can one day claim a valuable share of the lucrative daily deals market by focusing on areas that his larger competitors often overlook.

“We are the most community-focused coupon app on the planet; that’s what we are striving for,” Lee said. “We do that by offering a cost-effective platform for businesses to reach users in what we like to say is a hyper-local area.”

Lee works with more than 100 businesses across Siouxland to help them offer deals directly to consumers’ phones and enhance digital marketability.

The budding tech entrepreneur is big on supporting locally-owned enterprises and thinks Qneo is the perfect way to back those mom-and-pop types of shops and connect them with locals.

“Facebook or Groupon for example, obviously, they are massive platforms, but you are left to hire that out or do it yourself — the design work, the analytics stuff and all the backend stuff — and we can work directly with the business themselves to find out the message they are trying to send out,” Lee said.

“We are a coupon app, but businesses can use that to try to drive people in by offering new products, old products or use to just say, ‘Hey, we are here. Come try us out, we do this and this.’”

Available free of charge in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, users install Qneo on their mobile device. Then, once a day they open the app to see what coupons or “Q’s” are available to them. If they like a “Q”, they can save it under their profile, but they have to do so within the first 24 hours it’s offered otherwise it disappears. Additionally, users have to use a saved “Q” within a week or it disappears.

Besides the constant rotation of deals, another incentive designed to get users to open Qneo daily are giveaways,.

“We are always trying to reward and be interactive,” Lee said. “Obviously, people like to win and we like to reward people who are active.”

He recalled opening up Groupon and seeing tons of offers for places in Omaha and Sioux Falls, but only a handful for Sioux City. Having grown up in the metro, Lee said he knew there were plenty of businesses in the region that had something to offer and he wanted to highlight them.

To start Qneo, Lee partnered with Travis Hemmingson, who handled the technical side of things while Lee handled the business and marketing end. The duo spent countless hours refining the app before officially placing it in the Google Play Store in March 2016 where it holds a 4.4 star rating. An iPhone version of the app was released that summer and holds a 4-and-a-half star rating.

Although Qneo is out there and being utilized by locals, Lee admits the project taught him patience. He initially envisioned an problem-free launch followed by immediate success in Siouxland, which would allow him to bring Qneo to the more than 100 other similarly sized areas he’s targeting for future expansion.

Things haven’t quite went that way. Hemmingson left Qneo for personal reasons and Lee struggled for awhile to find someone to handle the technical side of the business. He went through two firms before finding a reliable company he could outsource the task to, although he still would like to hire someone to do the job full-time.

Now that things are stable with Qneo, which Lee noted is partnering with more and more local businesses every day, he is starting to think about what’s next for the company.

“When we started doing the research, there were 100 to 150 areas we targeted where we said, ‘Hey, this could work at these place.’” Lee said. “Right now, we’re trying to refine it so that when it’s ready we can take what me made work here and go to the next spot.”

While he’s hesitant to put a date on rolling out Qneo in other communities, Lee said it’s plausible for it to happen within 12 months. However, until that time comes he wants to keep building bridges locally.

“I feel like rural or smaller America really gets behind the community and we want to offer an environment to be able to do that,” Lee said. ”By giving a voice to small local businesses, that will then allow users to see what’s going there and go support them.”

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Business reporter

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