Annmarie Lanesey, RebateHero

RebateHero screengrab

A screengrab from RebateHero.com.

In the grand scheme of things, the internet hasn't been around for a very long time. Yet sometimes it seems like there's already a website or app for pretty much whatever you want. So when you hit on something you can't find, well, it makes you wonder.

That's what happened to Annmarie Lanesey, the co-founder and president of Troy-based internet consulting firm GreaneTree Technology, when she started to investigate rebates. She was surprised that when she went looking in 2010 it looked like there wasn't an online solution for finding and organizing rebates. "It seemed as if we had found one of the last corners of the internet that remained untouched."

Three years later, Lanesey has launched RebateHero.com, which aims to bring the old-school rebate process into the 21st century.

Where did the idea behind RebateHero come from? What is the moment when you decide you're going to spend three years building a website dedicated to rebates?

AnnmarieLanesey_Headshot.jpgIt was based on kind of a thought I had in 2009 or 2010 -- deep in the time when the economy had just tanked and everyone lost 35-40 percent of their 401Ks and people were so worried about money.

I have a family member that is really interested in coupons and rebates and finds deals all the time and says, "Look at all the stuff I got at Rite Aide or Staples or wherever -- but almost all for free." Every week. Next to nothing on rebate.

So I had to pay attention to that. But I quickly realized that with rebates you have to do a lot of searching, and I didn't want to have to search. There was no place on the web for rebates. And we've been working on RebateHero for three years and that hasn't changed much.

Also, I have this consulting firm, GreaneTree, and I wanted to train employees on Ruby on Rails -- a programming language -- so that's what we used to create RebateHero and we are still using it to train new people. If you come in and need to learn Ruby on Rails, you're going to work on that project.

So how does RebateHero help people?

The current version is a rebate aggregator. Right now we have the most extensive database of rebates anywhere. We have a database of about 10,000 or so rebates and we do daily updates. So if people want to buy a new washing machine they can search washing machines and see what rebates are available. It's a free service for users. We are in the process of forming partnerships for manufacturers and retailers to work with us.

But we're not only an aggregator and one-stop shop for all things rebate, we also built in tracking. Most people can forget they have a rebate and forget to mail it in, so we built in a reminder. Again, simple things -- people are reminded, "You need to be sure to mail this in." And then once they do we remind them to keep looking for the check to make sure they get it.

Is there a plan to be able to submit your rebates online? Rebates are one of those things that seem like such an old-school process. You have to physically mail them in, which seems strange these days.

In the next phase once we start working and forming partnerships with businesses, we are hoping to create some submission online. Even though we think this application has helped to bring rebates into the internet age, that's one of the problems we are trying to solve -- why is this still in the stone ages? This is weird, why don't we do something about it.

There's a lot being written now about the "bro culture" that's predominant in the tech business these days.

Yeah. No doubt at all. I think that it comes down to culture and I have done a fair bit of my own research on this. When I was at RPI [studying electronic media] I wanted to find out where were the girls, where are the women.

But there is a woman that works for us and went into computer science in the early 80s. She says back then the culture was more welcoming to women, and that over time gotten less so. I think the change has something to do with the gaming culture. I think that is where the bro culture came into it. "Wait, but I don't play World of Warcraft..." I think that's a stereotype, but I think it's everywhere.

I think there is a real push right now to get more women into computer science and I think that is a good thing, but the larger problem is that there are not that many people going into computer science in the United States in general.

What would diversity change?

So there is a belief I hold that we are what we make. So here in the software space we are making the tools people use in their everyday lives. People are spending time on the internet in different ways, and because there are fewer women having a say, fewer women in the concept stage, the ways the users interact with the design, I think if was have more women in the planning state you have more diverse ideas.

I think fundamentally, the interfaces would be different -- not that it would be good or bad -- but that we would be seeing more diverse ways of doing things. When you have more diverse minds at the table it informs things in different ways.

So how is your way of looking at things helping you? How much have you saved in rebates?

Well, I got my free mascara last week from CVS -- $10 mascara for zero dollars. (laughs)

I haven't really started to track that yet, but I should. I've been in the process of buying a house so I'm looking for appliances -- washing machines and dryers. Wearable technology is pretty popular on the site -- watches are pretty popular. Also baby stuff -- diaper genies and formula. And tons of paint rebates.

A day or two ago I saw a robotic helicopter that my nephew would love. And some sort of dog hair cleaning robot vacuum. (laughs)

This interview has been lightly edited.

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