Ellicott City couple helps locals create their own coupons with new app

It all started with a pizza party.

Ashish Bakshi was looking for a deal on multiple pizzas for his young son’s birthday party about two years ago. When he couldn’t find exactly what he wanted, he went for full-price pies out of convenience.

It wasn’t until he picked up the food that he was struck with an idea.

“The owner said that he would have given me a deal if he knew what I was looking for,” says Bakshi. “So I started thinking, what if we could tell merchants what we were looking for and they could customize deals just for us? Wouldn’t that make things better for everyone?”

The MyCustomCoupon app was born.

It took about six months to develop the app, which launched in the Apple app store in January. Bakshi quit his job as a software engineer shortly after the app’s launch to work on it full-time. His wife, Beena Bakshi, a stay-at-home mother of two boys, helps market the product.

“We’re empowering the customer to ask for what they want,” Beena Bakshi says.

The app flips the idea of couponing upside down. Instead of customers cutting coupons or clipping them out of magazines, they send requests for deals through the app to multiple area businesses who can respond with coupons and offers for that specific consumer.

The app started offering deals from restaurants, salons and spas, recently adding liquor stores, auto care and their first women’s boutique, Bear Fox Babe, to the list. (Read more about the boutique on page 24.) Ashish says they’re thinking of adding home improvement and lawn service businesses in the near future.

Close to 100 businesses in Howard and Anne Arundel counties use the service for free. As the app ramps up, there will be a subscription fee for businesses, but it will always remain free for users, Ashish says.

“It’s very cost-effective to the merchant,” says Greg Alkire, managing partner at Carrabba’s in Ellicott City, adding that the restaurant has made several deals in the last month and a half of using the app, including a deal for a group of 30 for a dine-in dinner.

“You get more bang for your buck, and it’s unlike anything out there. You can personalize your service and have a captive audience,” he says.

Privacy is a priority for the app makers. The app only shows the user’s ZIP code to merchants, and users only enter their email addresses to sign up.

“I’m big on making sure that I don’t put a lot of information out there,” says Marcus Baynes, a MyCustomCoupon app user in Ellicott City. “I really like the privacy of it.”

Aditi Nadkarni of Marriottsville liked the app for assisting with catering events.

“I put in my request, and in a couple of days I started to get prices from vendors,” said Nadkarni, who was looking for an Indian food caterer for 50 to 60 people. “It saved me so much time. I would have had to spend the time calling each of the restaurants in the area to get prices, and here they just appeared in the email inbox