Local Economy

Lion's Lair: Hamilton students on the lookout for deals

Two McMaster students created Nervu, a website to link consumers with the deals they want. Read the next Lion's Lair finalist profile.
Bilal Husain and Mohamed El Mahallway are McMaster students and the creaters or Nervu. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

Mohamed El Mahallawy often pitches crazy business ideas to his father over the dinner table.

One evening, the 21-year-old McMaster student told his dad about a website that would aggregate local deals on everything from groceries to T-shirts and alert consumers only of sales that interest them.

"I'm an eager shopper," said El Mahallawy. "I only want to hear deals from the brands that I want."

Dad didn't love the idea

"He thought it was an awful idea," El Mahallawy said.

But his father eventually warmed up to it and they continued to talk about it. Then, El Mahallawy eventually recruited his good friends and fellow McMaster students Bilal Husain and Shawn McTigue to help out.

They developed Nervu, a website where local business can create a profile and input sales.

"Eager shoppers [log in to the website] and select the brand names they like - Tommy Hilfiger or Victoria's Secret," said Husain. "We let the customers know [of sales] via text message."

Though the website is still under development, El Mahallawy and Husain have been gauging interest on Facebook and visiting businesses to encourage them to register. El Mahallawy said they already have about 1000 consumers who are ready and eager to sign up.

The men

El Mahallawy and Husain met many years ago in grade school. They were classmates in grade six, but didn't keep in touch.

They met again, by chance, through mutual friends when they started their first year at McMaster.

"I didn't remember him," said El Mahallawy of Husain who approached him on campus.

The two make a great business pair. El Mahallawy is the entrepreneur, a brain that continually churns ideas, and Husain is a smooth-talking businessman with a good handle on how to market their website.

Both El Mahallawy and Husain are big men on campus.

Husain is a political science major and plays varsity rugby (although he's benched this season because of arm surgery).  He's also a faculty representative during frosh week.

El Mahallawy is completing a double major in research psychology and economics. He's also a frosh leader and plays soccer recreationally.

They're also the founding members of the McMaster chapter of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.

Now, the pair "live and breathe" Nervu.  Walking through campus after the interview, they threw new design and marketing ideas at each other and reviewed a daily schedule filled of meetings.

The company

Sitting in classroom 122 in McMaster's Burke Science Building, El Mahallawy and Husain explain their company got its legs here.

"It's where the ninja was born," El Mahallawy said, of their company's logo.

Nervu's slogan is 'always on the lookout,' just like a ninja, he said.

Around campus, their fellow students are just waiting to help.  El Mahallawy said they have friends who want to wear T-shirts with the ninja logo.

"This would be the best advertisement for us," he said, adding that everyone he's encountered loves the ninja logo.

Nervu is using word of mouth to get people interested in their product and it seems to be working.

"I posted something on Facebook last night," said Husain. "One friend posted it again and it just spread. Before I knew it, we had [the support] of 200."

Right now, for Husain and El Mahallawy, the days are just packed. They meet with lawyers to work on their corporate papers and intellectual property. Husain said they've found lawyers who have donated their time to help the team out.

"We've had a lot of support, people who believe in the product," said Husain.

El Mahallawy said Nervu almost made it to CBC's Dragons' Den. They went through the audition process and were put on the back-up list for last season but the ninjas never got the chance to take on the Dragons.


The Lions Lair pitch: Why Nervu should win

Nervu registered with Hamilton's Innovation Factory earlier this year. The Innovation Factory helps get businesses on their feet and Husain said they  were very supportive and encouraged them to apply for the competition.

The McMaster ninjas left it late, submitting their business plans in the nick of time - at 11:59 p.m. on deadline day, El Mahallawy said. And, they didn't make the top ten, not right away. But when another finalist dropped out they suddenly got in the game.

"Lion's Lair revived us," he said.

El Mahallawy and Husain say the use of text messaging is on the rise, especially amongst their 18-34 year old target market. "The second biggest users of text messaging is university students, " said El Mahallawy. "And they will maintain these habits when they are older."

Husain points out that not only is their method of notification is inexpensive, it's also accessible. "It works cross-platforms, " he said. "It works on smartphones and flip-phones, for users who just have a device for talk and text."

For Hamilton, the pair is confident local business can thrive using Nervu. "[Nervu] provides marketing and advertising at an affordable cost," said Husain. "So big stores or mom and pop shops can use it."

"And it connects with consumers that will shop," added El Mahallawy. "It'll really benefit students and the people of Hamilton."