The team at Popular Pays is not the first to tackle the concept of social media currency, but the beautifully designed app integrates seamlessly with Instagram and has struck a chord with customers and vendors throughout Chicago. Now your artsy pic and clever filters can get you a cup of coffee or a slice of pie in a simple and mutually beneficial exchange.
While the service only works with businesses in Chicago for now, Popular Pays is looking to expand by engaging with its followers on Twitter to decide where to bring the app next. Their answer so far? Istanbul, Turkey. I got a chance to catch up with Corbett and chat about his thoughts on Chicago, Istanbul, and of course Popular Pays.
On some fateful day in October 2012, my co-founder Allan was drunk and leaning against our fridge when he said, "I want to throw a party that you can't get into unless you have 500 followers." True story.
Q: Are there vendors/businesses that work better with Popular Pays than others?
It works when you have a product worth sharing. But then again, in this digital age, if you don't have a product worth sharing then you don't have a product at all.
Besides that, it helps to have a well-lit space. We've shown that Pop Pays works for everything from a cup of coffee to a skydiving trip, but it can be hard to take a photo in a really dim bar or restaurant. Still, our users have surprised me – I've seen some really good and creative pics in spaces I didn't think would work too well.
Q: How does the process of creating transactions/barters work?
In terms of the process, it's simple:
•Users look at our app to see what Swaps are available to them (we call deals "swaps" as in swapping your social currency for a product)
•They pick one.
•They extend their phone to the cashier to confirm the transaction; the cashier swipes the screen to confirm (just like you swipe a screen to unlock an iPhone).
•The cashier gives the user the product that appears on the screen.
•The user shares a photo (we don't charge merchants unless a photo is posted. Even if users don't post, it's still worth the merchant's time: 23% of our users in August bought an extra product once inside the store. And they often become long-term customers – something we're working on tracking.)
Q: What if I only have 100 Instagram followers, can the platform provide value to me?
Not yet – we've started out by focusing only on Instagram, and only with those who have 500+ followers. But we think social currency is universal, and we do plan on expanding in terms of opening it up to everyone and every network.
Q: How do you and your co-founders (Allan Holmes & Nathan Michael) work together, who does what?
Between myself/Nate/Allan, we act as GM/Biz Dev/CMO, but it all blends together. And we live together, so we have those roles too. Those are more like Chef/Interior Decorator/Social Butterfly.
Q: So whats the deal with Istanbul topping the leaderboard?
They love us over there! And we love them. We asked our followers on Twitter to vote with a Tweet to pick what city we go to next, and Istanbul is kicking ass: seventeen tweets in the first two weeks after we started asking people to vote.
Q: What has it been like working out of Chicago's 1871?
Phenomenal. The network effects are a huge plus. We've met everyone from mentors to experienced lead developers. Plus it's open 24/7 with super-fast wifi and a better selection of food than your neighborhood 7Eleven. There's even an Intelligentsia inside the space. And scooters and skateboards lying around. Start-up heaven.
Q: What other startups or founders do you look to for inspiration?
Elon Musk – it's pretty cool to make your millions and then bet it all again on a new project. There's also that dude who named his company after a fruit. He was OK too.