Yves Benchimol’s way to walk
Ever dream of earning money with every step you take? With his app WeWard, the entrepreneur from Nice wants to encourage the general public to walk more by paying its users. The goal is to improve public health and revive city centers.
With his youthful face and bright eyes, fast talking 28-year-old Yves Benchimol is restless. He’s driven by his desire to innovate, and his schooling and professional life attest to his entrepreneurial spirit. After completing specialized, advanced math classes in his native Nice, and graduating from the prestigious École Polytechnique in Paris, in 2012 he headed for New York for an internship in the aerospace industry at Dassault. He then got some Silicon Valley startup experience before going back to school. In 2014, he began a Master’s degree in innovation and entrepreneurship at the prestigious University of California, Berkeley, where he got the opportunity to learn, observe and broaden his knowledge before he headed back to Paris a year later to start his first company at the age of 24. “I’ve always been like this, and the idea of starting from scratch to release a product has always appealed to me. As soon as I closed my first company, I instantly wanted to start another. ”
Combating inactiveness and reviving city centers
The failure of his first company did anything but deter Yves, who is a combat sports fanatic. In April 2019, together with his three business partners, he launched an application to promote walking: WeWard. The idea is to encourage pedestrian mobility to give city centers a fresh lease of life and to attract more customers to businesses. “We noticed that footfall was sharply decreasing in city centers, and that people now prefer to do their shopping online. At the same time, inactiveness is increasing, which leads to health problems,” said the engineer.
With WeWard and its geolocation system, every step is calculated to earn you “wards”, which can then be converted into euros, and exchanged for products or access to a wide range of gifts, including gift cards, concert tickets, spa vouchers, gym memberships and discounts on restaurant bills. And the more you visit cultural sites, such as monuments and squares, or the more you purchase from businesses referenced on the application, the more “wards” you earn. “It’s a bonus we offer based on the distance people walk. After all, it’s our job to generate traffic for our partners – the sites and businesses – that pay us,” explained Yves. Inspired by Waze, the app allows users to identify these “well-being focused” partners by dots on the GPS map. Partners either pay a subscription to appear on it, or they pay for the service depending on how many visitors they attract.
Gamification to promote mobility
enticing as it sounds to earn money by walking, some users think that the
concept is more advantageous for businesses, and that earning “wards” is not an
easy stroll. “People won’t be able to pay their rent or get rich through
WeWard. The app is first and foremost recreational. It aims to encourage users to walk more, thanks to small, yet
symbolic, monetary gains, and gifts,” explained Yves. “In the space of three
months, the most active users can earn €35, or treat themselves to a concert
ticket worth €60. But the more
partners we have, the more we’ll be able to pay users, so things might
ultimately change.” Partners are often unearthed thanks to
recommendations from users – the majority of which are tech-savvy city dwellers
between the ages of 18 and 35 – who enable the app to continuously improve.
With 150,000 users
accessing WeWard on a very regular basis, the app is in full swing, and has
given itself the goal of “having partners in every city and every neighborhood
in France by 2020.” Another of its ambitions is to “organize personalized
challenges based on users’ walking habits to increase overall walking time,” a
concept based on giving users a gentle push, which is not a nudge. What’s more, the app is
already catching the eye of politicians and mobility and health organizations,
because the data the app collects can allow us to analyze flows of people, as
well as their habits. Its rewards represent an undeniable – and very attractive
– lever to facilitate mobility. “When we increase monetary benefits for users
of the app, we notice that walking times increase”, said Yves confidently. At a
time of rising environmental awareness, the reappropriation of public spaces by
users, and strong competition from e-commerce, WeWard really does have what it
takes to charm users and businesses alike, as well as to allow Yves Benchimol
to conquer the world with his app. On foot!