Mobile-payment company Clinkle officially launched its app this week, following months of scrutiny and well-documented upheaval. And it is a bit underwhelming.
The San Francisco-based startup was founded three years ago by its now 23-year-old CEO Lucas Duplan, a Stanford University grad who raised $30.5 million from 22 investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Accel Partners, Diane Greene, Intel, Marc Benioff, Peter Thiel and Richard Branson, according to CrunchBase.
At the time, Duplan didn't have a working prototype but instead focused on the potential of what the Clinkle app would be able to do. The investors took the bait. (His original seed round was $25 million, which was supposedly the largest in Silicon Valley history.)
It was initially thought that maybe Clinkle users would be able to enable money transfer through sound waves with the company applying to patent that kind of technology last year. It was also rumored that they were going to integrate some sort of virtual currency and points system into the platform. While in development, it remained a well-funded yet troubled mystery.
During its three-year beta period, the company had a revolving door of big-name executives come and go. Former Netflix CFO Barry McCarthy had a six month stint as Clinkle's COO and exited in March. And in November, Chi-Chao Chang, a former Yahoo exec, was reportedly hired to be the VP of Engineering and left after one day. In addition to these high-profile departures, Clinkle laid off a quarter of its employees in December.
But after months of jokes about the company that had punchlines akin to "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain," Clinkle's app is now up and running -- yet somewhat different than what people expected.
It is basically a pre-paid credit card program aimed at college students and available now at "select colleges" according to its website.
A user is sent a Clinkle Visa Prepaid Card to connect with their bank account. With each seventh purchase, they can get "treats," such as free coffee. Treats can be sent to friends, but they have to make a payment in order to receive them. The app can also be used monitor spending and pay back another Clinkle user. The account is insured by the FDIC for up to $250,000 and protected by a secure pin number.
Clinkle's Facebook and Twitter accounts have been silent since January, when former PayPal exec Mike Liberatore's hiring as CFO was announced. Whether the underwhelmed reaction to the new app signals more trouble for Clinkle remains to be seen.
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