Aaron Belsh, co-founder of Dealio
Aaron Belsh, co-founder of Dealio

Here’s the ‘Dealio’ on a startup that offers discounts at East Bay businesses

Just before sitting down to Rosh Hashanah dinner at a Chabad house earlier this month, entrepreneur Aaron Belsh checked his email and saw that his fledgling business had been admitted to Launch, a University of California accelerator program for startups.

“I had a great Rosh Hashanah,” Belsh, 39, later told J. “It was fantastic.”

Belsh is the co-founder of Dealio, a new website that offers coupons and discounts at East Bay businesses. For instance, users can claim a deal to get 20% off flowers at an Alameda florist, or half off waffles at a Mexican café in Berkeley.

And after redeeming a one-time discount of 20% or better, the customer will get a recurring deal of 10% off at the same business — an incentive to go back.

The deals are comparable to what one would find with, say, Groupon, but Dealio claims to take a much smaller cut of the profits — 50 cents per coupon.

“I care about small business owners,” said Belsh, who moved from the San Fernando Valley to West Oakland two years ago. “The idea is to give [them] new customers and turn them into returning customers.”

Covid-19 pandemic closures, inflation, worker shortages and crime have all made it difficult for small businesses to stay afloat. Last month, eight restaurants from Berkeley to San Ramon called it quits, according to the Oaklandside.

Rooz Cafe, a fixture near Oakland’s Lake Merritt for more than 20 years, shut its doors Sept. 9, with the owner pointing to a rising crime rate as a major factor. “It’s been rough doing business in Oakland with all the nonsense and no accountability from city officials,” the business posted on Instagram.

Over the last year, Belsh knocked on 300 doors of small East Bay businesses, offering them a chance to advertise on Dealio as pilot businesses. In February, he got his first two yeses: a Thai restaurant and framing store, both on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. Since then, 11 other businesses in Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville and Alameda have signed on.

In February, Belsh recruited two UC Berkeley undergrads with computer science backgrounds as co-founders: Richard Zhouren, 23 who graduated in May, and Milad Brown, 19 and a sophomore. This month, Stephanie Boyle, a 2015 grad of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business who is Jewish, joined the team as chief experience officer.

To get the word out, Dealio set up a table at UC Berkeley and offered free doughnuts in exchange for signing up. Multiple days of tabling netted them 274 signups, Belsh said.

Since launching in August, Dealio has recorded fewer than 30 coupon redemptions — which totals to $9 in billable revenue. “Everyone starts somewhere,” Belsh said. His goal is to see Dealio go nationwide.

Being one of the 22 startups out of more than 90 applicants that were admitted into the Launch accelerator should help. Dealio will begin the three-month program on Sept. 25, getting development help and mentorship; at the end, there will be an event similar to the TV show “Shark Tank” in which each startup will present its business model to a panel of judges.

Belsh grew up in Granada Hills, in Southern California, and had a bar mitzvah at Temple Ramat Zion, a Conservative synagogue in Northridge. As a teen, he was diagnosed with a mood disorder, and he struggled at UC Santa Barbara, dropping out several times due to what he called stress-inducing episodes. (He did eventually complete his degree in 2009, and also earned a certificate in technology management and entrepreneurship.)

In 2007, he tried to launch his first business, Phat Deals, with 30-page printed coupon books for local businesses and online deals that could be printed out. However, later that year Groupon emerged, and Phat Deals didn’t survive past 2010. “We paid our rent, but we didn’t pay ourselves,” said Belsh, who had a six-person team.

For the past 11 years, he’s worked as a business development representative at several tech companies. Last October, after being laid off from LaunchDarkly, a software company in Oakland, he thought about how to reimagine Phat Deals in today’s digital consumer landscape.

Dealio is the result.

“Every time you get knocked down, as long as you get up, you’ll win eventually,” Belsh said. “I’ve been knocked down a lot of times.”

While talking to J. on Zoom, Belsh pointed to his UC Santa Barbara diploma on the wall when reflecting on his uphill climb. He recently got the diploma framed.

“I got it done by Artistic Picture Framing,” Belsh said, naming one of Dealio’s pilot businesses. “And he gave me 10% off.”

Emma Goss
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.