If there is one thing that can cause a furrowed brow and mutterings of exasperation in the driving public, it is the price of fuel – or rather the fluctuating price of fuel at the bowser.

Up and down it goes, day to day, week to week, and the difference in those prices can, should the consumer make tank-filling trips at the ‘wrong’ time on the ‘wrong’ days, add up to some serious coin.

It was this scenario that prompted the creation of a new piece of technology that may well change the way fuel is bought and sold, and provide outcomes that will make not only the frustrated motorist smile, but get the service station owner beaming too.

Called Refueler, this tech comes in the form of a smartphone app that enables the consumer to see the price of fuel in real-time and pre-purchase it online from a participating service station of their choosing when it is at the low end of the price cycle. They can then collect their fuel at any time over the following seven days.

It’s an incredibly simple idea – one that can prompt the thought ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ – and is a classic example of what David Ogilvy, the advertising guru of the last century, once said: “Big ideas are usually simple ideas”.

The features of the Refueler app do not stop at the ability to pre-purchase fuel at the best price. Litres of fuel, known in the app vernacular as ‘droplets’, can be shared with others – a useful feature not only for parents who want to ensure ‘petrol money’ given to their socialising youngsters is actually being spent on fuel, but also for fleet managers who can pre-purchase fuel and not have to rely on staff using fuel cards at any time of the price cycle.

There is a Refueler reward system too, in which points, known as ‘fumes’, can be accumulated when purchases are made at participating stores, and which can be redeemed for fuel at a later date, potentially allowing the consumer, once enough ‘fumes’ are amassed, to receive a free tank of petrol.

It’s all very clever stuff.

Two of the company’s co-founders, Luigi Antonuccio and Daniel Devine, are the men to whom the Refueler idea first came and who, along with other co-founders Jitender Soodan and Sabby Soodan, have developed it into an application that is currently being used and tested at a site in Melbourne, and which already has a major independent service station group committed to participating.

And while the benefits of Refueler to the consumer are clear, it is equally beneficial to the retailer. For now, the Refueler team are focusing on the benefits it can bring to those retailers that are not part of a major chain.

“We are focusing at the moment on the independents,” said Luigi.

“They are the ones that cannot offer discounts and are often selling fuel at a loss just to get foot traffic. Refueler can give them that foot traffic even during the high end of the price cycle because, with consumers having pre-purchased their fuel at the lower price, they’ll come in throughout the week to fill up.”

“And Refueler increases loyalty too,” added Daniel. “For example, if a consumer has 85 ‘droplets’ but uses only 79 when they fill up, they will return to that same service station because that is where those extra droplets can be used.

“It’s an app that allows independents to sell their fuel online, gives them a reach to consumers that they’ve never been able to do before, and enables them to run promotions and advertising to those consumers. Basically, we are able to bring independents into the digital marketplace, and it will be a game changer.

“We are not ignoring the bigger service station providers, of course, but we feel that right now, the bigger advantage is there for the independents.”

Established in November last year, Refueler has come a long way in a short time. Already with 14 employees and growing quickly, it’s a testament to the entrepreneurial attitude of its founders.

Still in their 30s, Luigi and Daniel moved from working in the automotive industry as an apprentice panel beater and salesperson respectively to creating their own sandblasting contracting business, and then on to establishing the successful RapidBlast company to manufacture and market their own sandblasters.

While moving from sandblasters to the digital app business might not seem the most obvious of steps, the pair have a shared interest in technology and entrepreneurship that enabled them not only to conceive the Refueler concept but to have the confidence to make the idea a reality.

And that is what brought them to Queensland and into contact with the MTAiQ Innovation Hub.

In Brisbane for a conference on blockchain technology, the pair were amazed at the level of interest and support available to those in the start-up and technology space and were soon in conversation with MTAiQ.

“We came up here in August and really had no idea how tech-friendly Brisbane was, or how much support there was for start-ups and in promoting tech” said Luigi. “MTAiQ welcomed us with open arms and have helped us a great deal.”

Part of the MTAiQ Innovation Hub’s brief is to support automotive-related start-ups and Refueler fit the bill perfectly.

“Refueler is a great fit for MTAiQ because they offer a benefit to everybody – retailers and consumers – but will be particularly beneficial to smaller, independent operators who make up the majority of MTA Queensland’s service station members,” said Nathan Luu Nguyen, MTAiQ Community Manager.

“MTAiQ is about bringing the latest in technology and advancements in automotive to MTA Queensland members and helping them to integrate and be educated about what’s coming. Refueler is a fine example of that through their use of tech such as blockchain.”

Refueler is, of course, an innovative use of technology anyway, but its use of blockchain to make its digital transactions rock-solid secure is a feature that puts it amongst the most cutting edge of apps.

Blockchain, originally created for use with the cryptocurrency known as Bitcoin, is a cryptographically-secure and essentially tamper-proof system used for digital services that ensures transactions are foolproof. In terms of the digital pre-purchasing of fuel, it means that, for example, no one can hack the system and claim fuel they haven’t purchased.

As with all systems – and indeed businesses – research, evolution and development never stops, and there are already plans afoot to make Refueler even more technologically advanced and intuitive to its users’ needs.

“In the future, we’ll be bringing in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Refueler as well as OBD integration,” said Luigi. “The AI will involve predicting the future pricing of oil and allow the app to automatically buy fuel for you.”

“As a consumer, you’ll be able set a weekly budget and you won’t even have to think about it,” added Daniel. “You’ll know when you rock up at the servo that you’ll be buying at absolutely the best price every time.

“We will also be able to connect to a vehicle’s OBD system which will allow Refueler to track every bit of fuel that you use and buy it as you need it.”

While those features will be added in due course, Refueler will roll out in its current form at the end of the year. And with live testing ongoing, the 43-station NUV Petroleum Group signed up and ready to go, and talks underway with a ‘national brand’, Refueler is already proving itself a winner.

And thanks to MTAiQ’s relationship with Refueler, MTA Queensland members can take advantage of an outstanding members-only offer.

“It won’t cost a cent for MTA Queensland members to come on board with Refueler,” said Luigi. “There will be no licence fee, we will install the system for free and, for a limited time, we are also offering no merchant fees on transactions. That will add up to a massive saving.”

It’s a tasty offer indeed, but even without  it signing up with Refueler looks to be a no-brainer.

The game is changing.

Source: Motor Trade E-Magazine (October Edition)

7 Oct 2018

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