What you can do with $30 million of venture funding

Have you heard of Color? It’s the start-up that raised a staggering $41 million without a product. Unfortunately,  that capital didn’t translate into a hit and Color soon folded.

Clinkle could be the next Color. Clinkle raised an amazing $30 million, also on the back of concepts and not actual product. Unfortunately, that capital didn’t translate into a hit and…Clinkle is now pivoting.

TechCrunch has a story on the pivot, now called Treats, and it basically sounds like a debit card with rewards you give to your friends. I use the word “basically” because I’m still confused by the mechanic, despite TechCrunch laying it out in point-by-point form.

That’s got to be worrying for Treats.

People are busy and have enough problems; most won’t learn something new that’s complicated when there are already so many good alternatives.

Here are those TechCrunch bullet points:

Vague descriptions of Clinkle have proliferated, but Duplan gave me the specifics on how his new app Treats will actually function:

1. You sign up for Treats, order its debit card, and add money to it.

2. You swipe your Treats card to make purchases like normal, with no extra fee, though there are charges for ATM use, etc.

3. After every seventh purchase you earn a Treat.

4. You take a photo to create a virtual gift card, and send the Treat to a friend. You can’t redeem it yourself.

5. Your friend is notified they have a Treat waiting to be unlocked.

6. Other friends can see the locked Treat and its photo, and can “Boost” aka Like the Treat to increase the chance it will be a winner.

7. The friend who received the Treat swipes their Treats card to make a purchase, unlocking the Treat.

8. If the Treat is a winner, they immediately get refunded the entire price of the purchase they just made.

9. Whether or not they win, they then see the photo gift card you sent them.

OK, let’s see if I can do better than TechCrunch. On your seventh purchase with the Treats debit card, you can give a friend a Treat. When said friend buys something with her Treats debit card, there is a chance she can get that purchase free.

Hmmm.

I like the idea of earning rewards for friends, but I don’t like Treats’ execution.

The first problem is a chicken and egg one. How many of my friends would have a Treats card? Few, I suspect. Moreover, how many would actually have gone through the cumbersome process of adding money to it? Even fewer.

Without friends to give Treats to, the entire value proposition collapses.

The second problem is that the probability of a successful Treat is hidden. As a customer, I would have the sneaking suspicion that the probability is dynamically lower for when I’m making a big purchase. In other words, it’s difficult to trust that Treats is fair.

The trust problem extends further. Would you deposit money with a start-up you’ve never heard of?

And then there’s the complexity. This thing is hard to understand, and most won’t bother.

Finally, and probably the biggest problem of all, most people don’t need another debit card. The one they already have — with the bank they know well — works pretty well.

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