Category Archives: Money

The Move to Loyalty Platforms: Yodle Founder Launches Punchey

In a reflection of the industry’s ongoing interest in developing SMB promotional and loyalty services, Yodle founder Nate Stevens’ venture fund announced last week that it is putting $1.7 Million into Punchey, a new mobile-oriented payments and promotions platform.

The 12 person, Boston-based firm was founded in late 2011 and is focused on SMB “upstream marketing initiatives,” notes Stevens. Features include promotions, customer communications, digital receipts and analytics. About a dozen SMBs have been testing the service in different markets, with new clients signing up daily.

The company’s ambition is to replace cash registers and stand alone dial terminals. Vertically integrated POS solutions will be dealt with through integration/partnership. Today, businesses working with Punchey can accept cards via a mobile phone, iPod, any PC using an independent mobile card reader or a countertop card reader that is compatible with in-store computers. While the whole loyalty and rewards space is converging in many ways, the emphasis on alternative POS suggests that it will seek to directly compete against players such as Square.

Stevens sees a natural progression between Punchey and his work at Yodle, which has focused on getting businesses online and developing their Web presence. While there is “a perennial need to upgrade and improve SMB websites….what we learned is that there is also an opportunity on the processing and loyalty/retention side of the house,” he says. “Everything can be tied together, pre-sale, point of sale, post-sale through an intelligent and integrated payment processing engine,” adds Stevens.

Retention is another big focus for the company. “A critical learning at Yodle was that client retention is important, both as a marketing services provider and as an SMB,” says Stevens. “It allows you to reduce advertising costs and increase overall lifetime value and profitability.”

Defining the customer base is also key. “If (SMBs) can’t define their customer base, how can they even begin to communicate and market to them after they walk out the door?” says Stevens. Data from the processing side combined with loyalty programs gives Punchey that capability, he adds

Trulia’s S1: Strong Focus on Monthly Fees, Mobile Monetization

Trulia, which provides real estate Web and mobile leads, display advertising and real estate-oriented social media services, has followed in the footsteps of its rival, Zillow, and issued an S1 in preparation for going public and raising $75 Million.

Zillow’s IPO has been highly successful – it went out last July at $20 and is now around $35 a share, having fallen a little. Trulia is betting it can be an even stronger longterm player. The issuing of the S1 suggests the end of a great deal of industry speculation that Google or other players would buy Trulia.

The S1 provides a gold mine of new information for connoisseurs of vertical and local service data. Trulia reports that a spending surge in preparation for going public has pushed it to 22 million monthly unique visitors and 21,544 buyers, or “subscribers,” to its real estate marketing bundles – a number that has risen 46 percent since June 2011, and has plenty of potential upside with a pool of 360,000 real estate pros claiming Trulia profiles.

While the company earned $29 million in the six month period ending June 30, 2012, the spending surge has led to consistent losses and an accumulated deficit of $43.8 million. But the company feels its fundamentals are strong, even in the depressed real estate spending environment, as more and more marketing efforts move to digital. It sees a fragmented digital marketplace where its principal rivals are Zillow and Realtor.com, the longtime online real estate leader.

Average subscriber monthly spend has jumped up to $140 from $90 last year, as Trulia has kept adding more services to its bundle. Display advertising, meanwhile, has become a relatively smaller part of the mix – 32 percent — although it’s overall spending has stayed even and it appears to have good prospects to attract business from real estate and consumer brand marketers seeking to get consumers in a house buying mode (or rental.)

Trulia’s monetization of mobile services gets a special focus in the S1 – something that investors will notice after Facebook’s well publicized issues with mobile monetization, which was a major industry wakeup call.

The company reports that since launching mobile in May 2012, it “is monetizing its mobile products at a higher rate than web products.” Moreover, “users are more likely to contact real estate professionals through our mobile applications than our website.” Mobile now accounts for 20 percent of overall user traffic.

FiveStars Lands $13.9 Million; Card-Linked Loyalty Space Heats Up

The card-linked loyalty and rewards space is seen by a lot of the smart money as the next Groupon. Today, we saw new money being poured into FiveStars ($13.9 Million), LevelUp ($9 Million) and LocalBonus ($900,000). The companies have now raised $16 million, $21 Million and $1.4 Million respectively — about half the $78 Million that we estimate has been invested in the independent loyalty space.

FiveStars, a 55 person Mountain View, CA entity, won its new funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners and DCM. Other investors include YCombinator; Mayfield Fund; Hadi and Ali Partovi; and former Facebook and AOL Mobile exec Chamath Palihapitiya.

CEO Victor Ho reported to BIA/Kelsey today that the company has signed up over 400,000 users in 14 DMAs, and that more than 775 merchants are paying it monthly fees, which widely vary but are typically around $50-65 a month.

Roughly half of its merchant accounts are with larger chains, while the other half is to mom and pops. The chains include Subway, Round Table Pizza, Metro PCS, Baja Fresh and TuttiFrutti frozen yogurt.

Ho says the major differentiator for FiveStars from rivals like Belly and LevelUp is that it has been fully integrated with the vast majority of POS systems – something loosely claimed by a number of companies. The patented technology is the company’s “secret sauce,” says Ho.

The live POS integration enables offers to be spit out to consumers based on what they are currently purchasing. It also makes it easier to sign up customers on the spot and allow merchants to see information about the customer at their display. “They can see that ‘Peter is a loyal customer’” and what he purchased, Ho notes.

The POS integration also cuts down on rebate and rewards fraud and/or mistakes. This is a major issue when cash back rewards are being applied, he says.

Ho adds that FiveStars’ Live POS integration (and other features such as social media and mobile marketing) results in the company getting “3-4 times the penetration of any competitors,” and more than 500 members at the average store, compared to 100-120 for other companies in the space. Verde Tea Cafe, a Silicon Valley chain, for instance, is cited as having gained 20,500 members in one year.

BIA/Kelsey’s SMB Digital Marketing conference Sept. 17-19 in Chicago is going deep into the loyalty space with top leaders from Belly, Cartera and Edo participating. Register here.

Visiting with CarWoo: Consumer-Centric Site Does a Zillow

Zillow’s consumer-first approach, which took housing listings out of the hands of the brokerage by posting them on the Web, has since been applied in several local segments: mortgage, home and trade, insurance, recruitment, etc.

Now along comes CarWoo, which has raised $12 Million from Comcast Ventures, InterWest Partners, Ventures, Blumberg Capital and Raymond Tonsing to build out a similar model for the auto industry (Comcast Ventures’ Michael Yang is on the board of directors.) The company collects VIN-specific pricing info from 12,000+ dealers, and matches it with consumers.

Consumers anonymously communicate and make counter offers with dealers, who are mostly concentrated in larger DMAs. They also participate in dealer ratings and reviews. The company also works with most of the mainstream manufacturers.

We recently visited with CEO Tommy McClung and VP Phil Yeh in their cavernous headquarters outside of San Francisco. Under their model, dealers may lose their exclusive hold over car inventory info, but they gain pre-screened, lower funnel shoppers in buying mode. Dealers also get access to competitive pricing information, letting them ditch the mystery shoppers that many have typically employed.

Mssrs. McClung and Yeh believe their model easily beats using online lead forms, which are often old and resold by the time they get to dealers – that is, when consumers bother to fill them out. McClung notes that more than 60 percent of CarWoo buyers get a car from participating dealers “within a matter of days. We are not wasting dealers’ time with high-funnel tire-kickers,” they add.

On deck for CarWoo in the coming year: more dealers and partnership deals; more social media features, and more exposure in the mainstream consumer press.

Constant Contact Buys SinglePlatform for $65 Million

Constant Contact has made a really big bet on presence management with the acquisition today of SinglePlatform, a provider of a one stop “write once, read everywhere” presence management network that provides parsed searching capabilities and services for 600,000 SMBs, including 10,000 paying customers. The service also has valuable partnerships with a growing roster of major media players, including the New York Times, YP (formerly ATTi.com), FourSquare, UrbanSpoon, Trip Advisor, Tribune, Gannett and Village Voice Media.

It has shapedup to be a big week for presence management solutions, with Yext picking up $27 million from investors to build on its base of 50,000 SMBs. The investor group include Marker, a new fund, along with CrunchFund and existing Yext investors Sutter Hill Ventures, Institutional Venture Partners (IVP), and WGI Group. The new investment gives Yext a valuation of $270 Million.

Constant Contact is paying SinglePlatform $65 million in cash, $5 million in employment retention and has set aside another $30 million for earn outs. Single Platform, which is based in New York and has about 100 employees, had raised $4.45 Million from investors, including DFJ Gotham Ventures, New World Ventures, First Round Capital, RRE Ventures, and Seamless Founder Jason Finger. SinglePlatform Founder and CEO Wiley Cerilli becomes GM and VP.

While the acquisition of SinglePlatform is expensive, it certainly makes a nice extension for Constant Contact, which has been evolving from a company that initially provided email newsletter management for SMBs to a broader SMB promotions platform. It now services 500,000 paying SMBs, which are being eyed by everyone from scheduling companies to Yelp, each seeing that social alerts and tagging quickly becomes substitutes for email. But Constant Contact has now really gone on the offensive this year with a number of acquisitions and developments that have greatly diversified the company.

In a conference call this morning, Constant Contact CEO Gail Goodman said to get the full revenue earn out, the SinglePlatform team would need to bring in $74 million over the next two years.

Sounding off on Facebook’s IPO: The BIA/Kelsey Webinar

via CNN
via CNN

If anybody wonders whether the considerable “legs” of Facebook justifies a valuation now set for $83 Billion, have a listen to a terrific BIA/Kelsey Webinar on Facebook’s IPO, featuring Trada CEO Niel Robertson Wildfire CEO Victoria Ransom, and Plink Co-Founder Peter Vogel (and BIA/Kelsey analysts Jed Williams, Matt Booth and Jeanne Dattilo).

People have to understand that “Facebook is more than advertising,” said Trada’s Robertson. “It is a platform that takes people through the digital marketing funnel. It lets you acquire prospects and move them through the different stages,” he said.

It will be more of a challenge over time as Facebook moves its client relationships down scale from the giant brand companies to mid market brands and SMBs. Creative is really hard at those levels. But the basic idea of collecting fans is a winner all around. “It’s like collecting email addresses you can use over and over again,” he said. “Fans amplify your own message.”

Wildfire’s Ransom said that most of the trends for Facebook in social media are very positive. “There was a lot of anxiety from businesses about the Timeline,” she noted. But Wildfire studies show that Timeline has proved to be a smashing success, with a 22 percent jump in photo sharing, and a 90 percent jump in video sharing.

The challenge for Facebook is get beyond the sheer quantity of Facebook friends. “How do you engage them? Who are the right fans? The valuable fans?” asks Ransom. Facebook is getting better and better coming up with answers. And “there are more tools coming out.”

Plink’s Vogel, meanwhile, noted that Facebook watchers are looking for signs that the company will break out big in transactions and payments – an area enabled by its games-based Credits feature. It hasn’t happened yet – perhaps the Facebook’s 30 percent “tax” on transactions performed via credits.

Vogel, however, expressed confidence that the transactions and payments space will soon break out. The company is known for constant adjustment until “it gets things right,” he said.

If Facebook does get transactions and payments right, that “will be more than enough to justify its valuation,” added BIA/Kelsey’s Matt Booth. Facebook is “the biggest website that’s ever existed,” said Booth. Indeed, classifying it as a ‘website’ is misleading since the company encompasses so many things. And will encompass even more as it begins to buy a lot of companies to round out its offerings. “The entire U.S. display market won’t sustain Facebook,” he said.

BIA/Kelsey’s Jed Williams said one of those forms will inevitably be an ad network – an ‘AdSense’ for social,” he called it. Williams also predicted that Facebook will march quickly into the deals and offers space. It will introduce a new offers tool for managed service accounts such as Macy’s and extend down market, he predicted. Mobile is another mega-opportunity, although a risk as well since it hasn’t yet been monetized.

BIA/Kelsey’s Jeanne Dattilo, a BIA/Kelsey valuation expert, said signs were very good for Facebook’s valuation to hold up. She noted that Facebook’s EBITDA of 56 percent last year has got to be considered “really impressive.” Google was in the mid-30s; Yahoo was in the mid 20s.

Listen to a replay of the Webinar here:

Swipely: Loyalty Program Links Purchase Behavior to Promotions

One of the big bets in 2012 is that merchants will transition from one-time deals to loyalty efforts that keep bringing customers back. Swipely is one of the more ambitious efforts in a loosely defined space that also includes players such as Cartera Commerce, Edo Interactive, LevelUp, CardSpring and Kostizi.

Swipely’s ambition is to provide a “turnkey loyalty program” to merchants, who pay the company based on generated sales. It is targeting “Big SMBs” with revenues between $500k to $3.5 million who accept credit cards — beyond Square.

The Providence-based company has raised $8.5 million from investors that include Index Ventures, FirstRound Capital, Greylock Partners, Lowercase Capital and angel investor Ron Conway. Launched in May 2010 in Providence, the site has now launched in Boston and San Francisco, with launches imminent in New York and Washington D.C.

It has outside sales in those markets, and some inside sales as well. Over 350 merchants have signed up.

Consumers sign up to the service once, providing a credit card of their choice to link to merchant deals. They can sign up via word of mouth, or come in via merchants’ email lists or social media. After consumers opt into a merchant deal (typically $10 off and/or merchant loyalty points), they receive followup email promotions based on their purchasing history and purchasing frequency, and guided by day-parts, day of week and other factors.

We talked with CEO Angus Davis, a co-founder of TellMe and also a Netscape vet. Swipely has the advantage of not requiring any change in consumer behavior, he says, noting that 93 percent of people can just deploy their pre-existing credit cards. “There are no coupons, no vouchers. And merchants don’t need to upgrade in the store.”

The service has been especially built “with the goal of calculating the information behind transactions and tying the Web to payment networks,” adds Davis. “It is about more than moving money.”

And apparently, it is about more than social media, which was the site’s initial focus. “Social media is not as compelling as saving money and (receiving) rewards,” says Davis. He suggests that in the context of working with merchants, social is primarily useful to “review purchases in a seamless way.”