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How Mount brothers' $30m app broke into the US market

August 23, 2017

A pair of Mt Maunganui brothers have turned their app idea into a $30m tech business, disrupting the lucrative United States sports sponsorship market.


Brendan Howell, 40, and Peter Howell, 37, founded DROPIT in the Mount in 2015, building on technology from a previous enterprise.


A reverse auction app platform, DROPIT counts down the price of an item to $0 in 60 seconds. The clock stops when someone buys it.


"When we launched in New Zealand we looked at our analytics and we were getting 92.5 per cent of users returning on a daily basis," said Peter Howell, the company's chief executive officer and father of one.


"Those metrics were as good as Facebook, any of the big players. We realised we were on to something."


They decided to go international, aiming straight for the world's biggest consumer market: the United States.


"If you can make it in the States, the rest of the world will chase it anyway," Peter Howell said.

Chief operating officer Brendan Howell moved to San Francisco and began building contacts in the city's humming start-up scene.


The company was accepted into a sought-after coworking campus for tech start-ups, Rocket Space. It was the former home of success stories including Spotify and Uber - rare "unicorns" ($1 billion companies) of the industry.


The strategic positioning paid off: a colleague talked them up to the San Francisco 49ers at a draft party at Levi's Stadium and they got an entry into one of their dream industries, sports.


It was the beginning of DROPIT's evolution into a fan engagement app, running live auctions of premium sponsored items to entertain sports fans in game breaks, projecting the action simultaneously on to massive scoreboards and user's phones.


At a major league baseball training game in March, a US$22,280 ($30,570) car sold on the app for $11,850.


Audiences loved the adrenalin-pumping, bargain-hunting action and sponsors loved seeing people actively engage with their brand instead of checking social media or grabbing a hot dog.


A distribution deal with major electronic scoreboard manufacturer Daktronics followed this year, and next month they expected to go live at a couple of new stadiums. They were also eyeing up potential shopping mall applications, long term.