Categorized | Shoestring Startup

The MyChinoki Story – Where Deals Come to You

Ideas are a strange thing. They come at odd times in your life and, too often, they get thrown on top of the that-will-never-happen pile. It seems so easy to get inspired, yet so difficult to take action. In this day and age, we are conditioned to believe that a standard way of life is the best way to go. Why shake things up when you’re getting a steady paycheck? For Matt Balin, steady paycheck or not, he needed to find something he believed in and pursue it with as much passion as he could find. Here begins the story of MyChinoki, a business endeavor that, as so few ever do, landed on the I-can-do-this pile.

The dream started in May 2008 when, like most of America, Balin was struggling. The real estate and mortgage market was at an all time low along with his spirit and drive to keep it going. Amidst the economic downturn, Balin became a coupon clipper, constantly looking for ways to save but aggravated by the overload of irrelevant deals. If people could pick and choose what businesses they wanted to receive notifications from, the clutter would be gone and the incentive to pursue the deals would be revived. So when faced with the option of shrugging his shoulders and walking away from the problem, Matt conjured the energy he lost from working in real estate and put it toward option number 2, creating MyChinoki.

The website functions as a place where people can “cherry pick” (Chinoki’s Japanese translation), which restaurants, retailers, and organizations interest them. When the business has a deal, special offer, or announcement, those who have signed up will receive a text message with the details. They can then redeem the deal simply by showing their phone to the cashier, waiter, etc. Balin’s idea is revolutionary in the market, overcoming barriers that their competitors have yet to acknowledge. Unlike similar efforts by sites like Groupon and Living Social, MyChinoki eliminates the need for time sensitive sign-ups, inconvenient e-mails and, most importantly, lack of specific interests. In an increasingly personalized world, Balin is attempting to make the Sunday sales circular obsolete. Why sort through the catalogs for children’s clothes if you don’t have kids? With MyChinoki, you pick your favorites and let the companies come to you for once.

Now comes the big question- what do you do if you have a big idea but no funding to make it happen? Balin’s answer- you empty your wallet. For Matt, making it happen meant more than losing money. It meant focusing on the bigger picture and believing that one-day it would all pay off. But if it didn’t pay off, at least he could say he tried. The project has been fueled primarily by what Matt calls “sweat equity.” As he encounters people willing to join his team, the most he can offer them is ownership of a portion of the company. To the few who have signed on, the offer was more of a hopeful promise for the future than a guarantee for today. If that wasn’t enough for them, they didn’t belong on the team.

Matt Balin

In May 2010, the site was officially launched in beta and now, merely 9 months later, over 40 businesses have joined the “orchard” of options for the nearly 25,000 users to explore. This growth is the product of a shoestring budget at its finest- coffee shop meetings, asking for favors, and word of mouth. The main source of success is rooted in Matt’s insistence on only hiring people that were more talented than him. To do this, he had to come to terms with his own strengths and weaknesses while creating the perfect blend of complimentary qualities. His high standards are to thank for the fourteen-person team he has assembled. Fourteen people share one dream and one common goal, all with eyes pointed to the future.

From real estate to entrepreneurship, Matt’s transition came with the need to learn as he worked. Though some may be daunted by the thought of diving headfirst into developing, marketing, legalities, public relations, and media, he embraced the task and took it as a personal challenge. Throughout the journey, he fueled his efforts with the belief that the work would pay off and he could stand at the end thankful that he never let the idea slip away.

To this day, none of the businesses available on MyChinoki have paid a dime. They were offered the opportunity to give the site a try and see if they benefited from the chance to reach out to their customers. This offer falls right in line with Balin’s business model and personal philosophy that before they put their money out, they need to believe in his idea. In the meantime, he’ll spend his own money giving them reasons to believe.

Hoping to spread his vision, Matt is pursuing the option of angel venture capitalists and the funding that they could provide in his start-up phase. With each addition to the team comes a dilution of the company percentage for the previous members, something Matt would like to avoid on the basis of their loyalty. When asked about the potential for revenue in the future, Balin seems to fumble over the numbers and simply conclude that it doesn’t matter. When you start with nothing but your dreams, you have to end with them too.

Down the line, the thought of another company acquiring MyChinoki doesn’t alarm Matt in the least. Whether or not he’s the head of the business, his only requirement is that he stays involved in the decisions and direction the project takes. For Balin, his success will be measured by how close the final product matches his original dream. If it stays on track and goes where he hoped it would go, that’s ownership enough.

Ideas come in all forms. They strike us when we least expect it and carry with them the burdens of logic, money, and practicality. But if you have the strength to dismiss the logic, to look past the nonbelievers and focus on the end result like Matt Balin of MyChinoki, your idea is already a success.


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One Response toThe MyChinoki Story – Where Deals Come to You

  1. Mark Paul says:

    In life you must give to get back. Matt Balin’s ‘Textsales concept is just that and will be a GREAT SUCCESS, especially to those who have supported his ‘Dream’! Go, Matt, Go!


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