Category Archives: Money

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.”

ILM East: Ted Leonsis – Local’s All About Scale, ‘New Currencies’

Ted Leonsis, Groupon Vice Chair, American Express Board Member and Internet Pioneer , emphasized the importance of scaling for local in a global economy during a keynote at ILM East yesterday. “Indiana really matters. India matters more,” said Leonsis, pointing out that for larger companies, most growth will come from outside the U.S.

The way that growth is measured, however, is rapidly changing. “I try to follow the new currencies: time, attention and clickstreams,” he noted. “Now you see payments in pixels, facebook newsfeeds, or points and rewards. Amex has trillions of points.

While growth for “the biggest companies” comes from serving the entire international marketplaces, local needs are universal.

“I love local; we built Internet on businesss created about ‘you,’ said Leonsis. There is no bigger business imagineable. He noted special opportunities in “MoSoLo….the convergence of mobile, social, video.” Mobile will make up 88 percent of digital advertising, he suggested, citing analyst projections. “One thousand cities are ready for MoSoLo.”

Leonsis believes that the largest companies will soon be making spending sprees in the local arena. Local entrepreneurs should realistically shoot for selling their companies because only a couple of companies end up IPO’ing in the public market, added Leonsis, who is, of course, a major investor.

Leonsis noted that the largest companies such as Google, Microsoft and Cisco are sitting on almost a trillion dollars of retained earnings. “That’s pent-up cash. They will want to fill in their value chains.”

Channels are also changing, and quickly. Email usage is way down and has “become a deliverer for ecommerce push. Email is for manicure or pedicure deals,” said Leonsis, noting that Groupon and Facebook are really poised to leverage this with their massive email lists. Phones, meanwhile, are for texting. The average teen sends 70 texts a day and barely use any minutes to talk.

But Leonsis predicts that video will emerge as the new killer app as it becomes the core medium for self expression and sharing. “The YouTube phenomenon is truly amazing. We’re all become Cable MSOs.”

Video also will be key to the future of retail and education. Retail site visitors who view video are likely to stay on site two minutes longer on average and are 64 percent more likely to purchase than other site visitors, says Leonsis. Video is a foundation for “next generation commerce.”

The pursuit of closed loop network is the really big game here, Leonsis noted. Amazon has made everyone an affiliate and a reseller. Similarly, PayPal made made everyone a small business with 100 million plus accounts for money transfers and payments. eBay has made everyone an entrepreneur.

Moreover, Google has eight million advertisers on file, and invoices 20,000 advertisers. Amex has developed a closed loop system of its own, and Groupon has created “curated local commerce.”

But Leonsis is skeptical that the world of interactive local commerce is something that startups can gain traction in. “No one will give an eight person startup their social security number. Payments are not for the faint-hearted. Startups are better off looking for margin opportunities.

“I don’t want to see any business plan saying ‘I’ll be the next Groupon.’ Verticalization happens.”

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Google Offers’ Nitin Mangtani Set to Keynote at ILM East

Here’s what we’ve been waiting to announce: Google Offers’ head Nitin Mangtani will join our great list of keynoters at ILM East March 26-28 in Boston. We believe Mangtani’s appearance marks one of the first public debuts of Google Offers, which is playing a major role in Google’s vital local strategy, along with Google Places, Google Maps and Zagat ratings and reviews.

Previously announced ILM East keynoters include Groupon Vice Chair +++ Ted Leonsis; American Express SVP of Social Media Leslie Berland; CityGrid Media CEO Jay Herratti; New York Times Research Ops VP Michael Zimbalist; and New York Magazine Digital GM Michael Silberman.

Mangtani joins Google Channel Sales BizDev Head Christine Merritt at ILM East. Merritt will provide Google’s perspective on its emergence in the local ecosystem, and the most effective way to work with Google as a partner.

The next wave of Deals is, in general, a key focus for us at ILM East, along with mobile local media, social local media, video local media, hyperlocal and locally targeted national advertising.

In addition to the keynotes from Google Offers and Groupon, we have a special Day 1 session dedicated to the next wave of deals, featuring EverSave’s Jere Doyle; Find n Save’s Christopher Tippie; Closely’s Perry Evans; and Boomtime’s Bill Bice. That session will be followed by a broader view of deals and ecommerce, which featured NextJump’s Charlie Kim; Cartera’s Jim Douglass; and Bundle.com’s Jaidev Shergill.

Other recent adds to the program include The Boston Globe’s Lisa DeSisto, who joins Boston.com VP of Digital Products Jeff Moriarty as a presenter; and MIT Sloan Associate Professor Catherine Tucker, who gives the low down on the effectiveness of local social media.

Before the show, we’re making a special trip to The Boston Globe’s R&D Lab (Limited Space, RSVP required). Or come to Andrew Shotland’s SEO for the Enterprise session, which also features SEO Expert Will Scott and Advance Digital Media VP John Denny. We’re looking forward to a great show.

Venture Capital
•David Hornik, Principal, August Capital
•Scott Maxwell, Senior Managing Director, OpenView

Mobile Local Media
• Walt Doyle, CEO, Where
• Doug McDonald, Director, dotMobi
• John Valentine, VP, East Coast, SCVNGR/LevelUp

Hyperlocal
• Merrill Brown, Principal, MMB Media
• Josh Fenton, CEO, GoLocal24
• Zohar Yardeni, CEO, Main Street Connect

Social Local Media
• Geoff Cramer, CEO, Social Made Simple
• Adam Japko, President, Digital Sherpa
• Jeff Moriarty, VP, Digital Products, Boston.com
• Mark Schmulen, GM, Social Media, Constant Contact

Video
• Juan Delgado, Managing Director, Americas, Perform
• John McIntyre, CEO, Pixelfish
• Randa Minkarah, SVP, Revenue, Fisher Communications

Deals and Promotional Ecosystem
• Bill Bice, CEO, BoomTime
• Jere Doyle, President and CEO, EverSave
• Perry Evans, CEO, Closely
• Christopher Tippie, CEO, FindNSave

Transactions
• Charlie Kim, CEO, NextJump
• Jim Douglass, EVP, Retail Advertising, Cartera Commerce
• Jaidev Shergill, CEO, Bundle

National/Brands
•Adam Epstein, President, AdMarketplace
•Pete Gombert,CEO, Balihoo
• Steve Sherfy, Local & Mobile Search, GroupMSearch
• Karl Siebrecht, President and CEO, AdReady

Elections 2012
• Andy Slater, VP, Digital Agency Sales, Katz 360

SMB Marketing
• Dave Galvan, President, Schedulicity
• Maria Kermath, Director, AT&T Ad Solutions
• Randy Parker, President, SMBApps
• Darren Waddell, EVP, Reply.com

Sign up now (and hint: reserve your room earlier rather than later).