Late last year, Clinkle gave away $20 bills in a vending machine to promote itself to college students and get them to sign up for the app. The $20 bills were part of the $30 million raised for the company which was ridiculed in the press, experienced a talent exodus and numerous product delays. In fact, the $30 million was raised before Clinkle even had a viable product, according to reports.
TechCrunch called Clinkle "a laughingstock" and "vaporware" last September when the app launched, although it wasn't quite ready. The app is a kind of payments app aimed at college students, but uses debit cards or credit cards to actually send money to other users. The difference is that Clinkle would "gameify" the process. From TechCrunch last September:
When people use their Clinkle card to pay, they fill up a reward meter. After every seventh payment, Clinkle card users are awarded a “Treat”, such as free coffee or ice cream. They can send that Treat to a friend, who must make some payment with their Clinkle card to open it. Those wide-eyed and bushy-tailed enough to still be on the app can use a gesture to “spin” their treat for a chance to get their last purchase refunded.
The only problem is that Clinkle launched late last year just as better payment apps were being banged out. Peer-to-merchant payments are now de rigueur, an peer-to-peer payments Clinkle had to remake and rebrand itself using what differences it had -- Treats. Now the new beta product is all about earning Treats.
Essentially Clinkle, a Stanford StartX accelerator participant, is making money through "interchange fees" each time a purchase is made with a Treats card. It's unknown if this will catch on, but there are 140,000 people on the waiting list so anything is possible.
To sign up for Treats, you also order a debit card and add money to it. You can use it to make purchases, although there are fees for ATM use. Every seventh purchase earns a Treat which can be sent to a friend, who buys something and swipes the Treats card which unlocks the Treat. If it's a winner, the entire price of whatever was bought is refunded. If it's not a winner, you just get your purchase.
It sounds complicated and clunky for most college students, but it's what Clinkle has. The digital lottery ticket, or Treat, is supposed to get users to buy more. If that's the case, Clinkle can catch on and gain more bargaining power with merchants, but for right now it's really just a more interesting-seeming debit card.