How do you convert an online consumer into an offline one, and convince someone playing an online game or surfing the Internet to go visit an offline restaurant or retailer? Peter Vogel, the co-founder of Plink (www.plink.com) tells us how the Denver-based company has created a service that helps drive consumers online to offline stores, by tapping into social games, rewards, and gift cards to consumers who spend their money at offline, retail locations.
How does Plink work?
Peter Vogel: Plink is an online-offline loyalty program, which means we are driving our members to eat and shop offline. We do that, by tracking their behavior via their credit card, and giving them rewards for their purchases. The big picture is that we're tying together online consumers with their offline purchases. We have some big partnerships with companies like Burger King, Outback Steakhouse, Regal Cinemas, and Quiznos, where you can actually get rewards to eat and shop at 35,000 locations nationwide. We now have nine national brands signed up, and have gotten some really good feedback from them. Also, those deals are with their corporate headquarters, not just their franchises.
How did the company start and get into this?
Peter Vogel: We starting building Plink over a year ago. We were incubated by our parent company, Adperio, which is also here in Denver, and we still share office space with them. They've been a Denver-based, online marketing company for a decade, and are really big into the social gaming space. They're the agency of record for brands such as Netflix, Discover Card, and Experian's Free Credit Report. They were giving consumers Facebook credits, which they could use in Farmville and other games for signing up for free Netflix trials. It was hugely successful. They were spending three, four, five million a month on those promotions. We saw this huge opportunity with online consumers, where we could motivate them by giving them rewards and online currency, and thought--how can we do this for restaurants, large offline retailers, and how can we create this bridge between online and offline? That's how we came up with the idea for Plink, which was born essentially to drive social gamers on Facebook, to go out and eat at the largest restaurant brands in the country. Restaurants were the vertical we started with, because it's one of the most competitive verticals, and tends to be challenging for brands to reach online consumers, and to drive them into restaurants without resorting to huge coupons. We've even described Plink as the anti-Groupon. Consumers go into restaurants and pay full price, and we give them a reward on the back end. Plus, what we do is recurring -- they can earn those rewards over and over and over again, versus a one-off from Groupon.
How is it you already have so many major brands using your company's services?
Peter Vogel: There's a couple of reasons. One, is our model is 100 percent performance based. They only pay only pay a percent of the total business driven into their stores. A company like Outback, hypothetically, might pay around ten percent of a sale. If a consumer spends $40, we get paid four dollars, and half of that is paid back to the consumer in rewards. For lots of restaurants, that's an easy thing to test. It's easy for us say--hey, we're going to drive sales into restaurants, and there's no upfront cost, no setup fees, and it's one hundred percent performance based, so it's low risk. Plus, when we started Plink, although we're now transitioned to be more broadly focused, when we started we were one hundred percent focused on Facebook social games. We were acquiring members from Farmville and Cityville, and motivating them to go offline by giving them credits as a reward. Those large brands were eager to reach that demographic, the Facebook social gamer, and also eager to do some testing with Facebook credits, which were kind of a hot area. That, combined with the performance-based model make Plink appealing to brands.
What's the background of your team?
Peter Vogel: Five of the six people all come from Adperio, the marketing company, with about half of them on the technology side, and the other on business development. We've all worked together for as long as ten years together, and some of us a couple of years, others for five years. We've all pretty much got an online marketing background, working to some extent on the technology, selling it, marketing it, all of us in some kind of online marketing.
Has having that team together before been an advantage for you guys?
Peter Vogel: Definitely. We've all built companies before, failed together, succeeded together. I think it has helped us not make some of the mistakes startups often make when they first get going. We've all built websites together, spent millions on marketing before, seen what kinds of things work, and so on. I think that can't not help, because it helps you avoid making the same mistakes. Also, because we all know each other and how we work, we already have that trust built up that only happens when you work with someone for five or ten years, and you know what to expect.
Can you talk about your expansion beyond Facebook games, and your experience with Facebook credits?
Peter Vogel: We were acquiring members in games, and love Facebook credits, but one disadvantage was that we were kind of limited in acquiring members from only games. No one outside of Facebook games cares about credits at all, which is one of the issues we ran into. We also thought Facebook was going to push credits more aggressively and put lots of muscle behind it, and roll it out across the Facebook platform, such as for purchasing entertainment, movies, and media--but they didn't. They essentially did nothing to promote credits, and I don't know if you saw recently, but they're essentially phasing them out completely. There will not be any more Facebook credits. That was a disadvantage to where we were focused. That's why we started offering other rewards, allowing people to get Amazon and Starbucks, and other gift cards from other places. We expanded our reward catalog so that you can get gift cards from anywhere, from The Gap to Home Depot, to Starbucks, to Amazon iTunes. Plink now is appealing to every consumer, where before we were limited to the vertical of social games. That increase the market we can target by twenty times.
Having lived in the social world of Facebook, can you tell us anything you've learned about that environment?
Peter Vogel: One of the biggest things that is, it's hard to predict what Facebook will do next. Because of that, it's difficult to rely on Facebook as too heavy a component of your business. We really thought that Facebook Credits would be the next, huge currency across the Internet, and we've obviously pivoted and transitioned from that. Facebook just gave up on an entire currency they created from scratch, which was something that, for most people, came as a surprise to everyone.