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Startup Founder, Debra Taylor, shines bright on her journey to OpenSparkz

Debra Taylor, COO of OpenSparkz, at Wynyard Station standing beneath Chris Fox's 'Interloop' sculpture (supplied)

Debra Taylor is well-known amongst fintech circles as a leading female founder. A Stone & Chalk Board Member and COO of innovative startup OpenSparkz, Debra has over 25 years experience in providing commercial services. In short, she knows what she’s talking about.

Having a penchant for a good Cab Sav, Debra views OpenSparkz as an “enabler of rewards and offers in real time to consumers”. Think about all of those loyalty points you accrue on various cards. OpenSparkz is an innovative technology platform that streamlines the entire loyalty and offers process. In short, OpenSparkz is helping loyalty companies give you more bang for your buck.

“And we’re also sick of having so many loyalty cards and coupons. How many loyalty programs can you be a member of?” Debra asks.

“The technology platform we’ve designed allows for the ease of large scale integration to multiple loyalty programs. Customers can shop at a large shopping mall and have all points collected into one.”

OpenSparkz was recently accepted into MasterCard’s prestigious Start Path program, based on their potential to scale globally, making it one of only three Australian companies ever to be selected for the innovation program.

But how exactly will we see OpenSparkz’s solution come into play? According to Debra, it’s all about taking the friction and the cost out of loyalty.

Debra Taylor, Stone & Chalk Board Member and COO of OpenSparkz

“You need a two-tap solution for loyalty programs now, which essentially requires two cards. The card that identifies the user for loyalty, and the payment card. Our technology means the payment card can now double as your loyalty card.”

If it all sounds too easy, that’s because it’s designed to be. OpenSparkz sits in the Online-to-Offline (O2O) space, a term used to describe a variety of ecommerce services that assists instore buying decisions as part of the offline shopping experience. Ultimately, O2O strategies seek to render online and offline channels as complimentary rather than competitive. It’s in this area that OpenSparkz is primed for global success.

“You can also use your phone or your wearable tech. In fact, you can use whatever tool you have to make a payment that goes over the Scheme payment rails.”

All in real time. Automated. Frictionless.

And all at a disruptively low cost.

It’s a nifty solution that poignantly frames the journey she’s taken in getting to OpenSparkz. Unlike the ease and usability of her technology platform, the road to commercial success, at least for a startup founder, is fraught with hardships.

It does, however, have something to do with resilience.

“I went to a business meeting one day and I got a phone call from my daughter’s doctor, who said there was something serious and that I should take her to hospital straight away. Within hours she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.”

“TJ was just two years old and I was running my family owned company.”

For two months Debra worked from a hospital room, waking up at midnight to continue business that constantly punctured the day-to-day care of her daughter.

“I had lawyers come into the hospital to have me sign documents; I had my staff coming in to work with me; I had my laptop there, but my focus was on my daughter.”

The juggling of “two different time zones”, where her daughter was top priority, was only possible because Debra had the authority and flexibility as a startup founder to operate outside the strictures of a 9-5 job.

“That was by far, and absolutely the biggest challenge I had to face: how to manage my personal life in such a traumatic environment and operate a business as well?”

What does she credit her strength to?

Life on a farm, for one thing. Growing up in Yerong Creek, a tiny town near Wagga Wagga in southern NSW, farming, with its twenty-four call of duty, created the bedrock of her character.

“Dad would be out there all day planting or harvesting the crop, tending the sheep. You don’t stop. You have to problem solve all the time. That’s just how I grew up.”

She also believes stories are powerful, and she shares hers in the hopes of challenging others to see vulnerability not as a weakness, but as a strength in the work place.

“How do you teach someone resilience?” Debra queries.

“I think you can teach that by inspiring people. We don’t share our personal stories enough and I think our personal stories are what can inspire others to do well. I want to know who people are, how they’ve come to be where they are now, and that’s their personal stories.”

For now Debra is gearing to take OpenSparkz global after securing $1.5 million in an over-subscribed second seed-funding round in February 2019, leading to talks of implementing localised loyalty programs in shopping centres across Asia.

The question still begs to be asked: did she ever think of giving up her business when she was in that hospital room?

“No,” Debra answers, smile sparkling, thinking of her now seventeen-year-old daughter. “Not once.”

If you’d like to learn how OpenSparkz is revolutionising your loyalty membership experience, get in touch.

29 February 2019

Filed under: founders, startup
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