“Treat”: A Clinkle in Time

Whatever happened to Clinkle?

You may recall not long ago when an app by the name of Clinkle was on the tip of every tongue in the payments industry. The brainchild of wunderkind Lucas Duplan, Clinkle looked to be a game changer. No longer. According to Forbes, the company is struggling, losing dollars and employees en masse.

ClinkleLogo

Clinkle had its start when Duplan, then 19, set to work on a mobile wallet app. It promised to be more secure than NFC by transmitting payment data over a short distance via high-frequency sound, and less cumbersome than QR codes and other POS procedures.

Two years later, Duplan wowed investors with his in-progress app—while not fully revealing it to them. Perhaps thinking that Duplan was keeping back details to protect his revolutionary approach, investors showed their enthusiasm by handing over an unprecedented $30 million in seed capital.

Clinkle was off and running. Soon it boasted 70 employees in lavish offices in a not inexpensive part of San Francisco. Duplan tried to impose a corporate culture à la Zappos. Yet despite growth and boasts, no one was quite sure what Clinkle was or how it worked. Rumors of a lack of underlying substance began bubbling up and multiplying.

Hopes rose early in 2014 when Duplan announced the recruitment of former Netflix exec Barry McCarthy and former Yahoo global search general manager Chi-Chao Chang. Chang showed up for his first day and resigned less than 24 hours later. Business Insider reported that “… Chang found the product and its marketing strategy in poorer shape than he anticipated.” McCarthy’s LinkedIn page shows he remained with Clinkle for six months.

Late last year, the app launched with 100,000 beta users, mostly students, including the student body of Weber State University, which is in my home state of Utah. Yet this beta app was a far cry from what Duplan had hyped to investors. Renamed “Treats,” it was no longer a payment app, but a novelty rewards app. And high-frequency transmission was not part of it.

The press pulled no punches. TechCrunch.com ran with the headline, “Mobile Wallet Laughingstock Clinkle Finally Launches To Let You Pay Friends And Earn Treats.” The brief article went on in mocking terms. A Wall Street Journal blogger had this to say under the headline “High-Flying Startup Clinkle Turns Into ‘Treats,’ a Debit-Rewards Program”:

The company revealed to TechCrunch on Tuesday that it has rebranded its app to the name “Treats,” a program that lets users send “treats,” or “rewards,” to friends.

If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Unlike typical rewards card programs, users do not earn points for themselves. Instead, for every seven transactions, they get a “treat,” which they cannot use personally but can send to friends.

In a Business Insider article dated April 14, 2014, writer Alyson Shontell reported that the high-frequency transmission feature wasn’t working because it was easily compromised by background noise. Meanwhile, NFC technology, whose initial unpopularity Duplan had hoped to exploit, appears to have reversed course and is catching on. Shontell goes on to suggest that working for Duplan and McCarthy was far from pleasant. That may or may not be so, but then, not many successful CEOs are celebrated for their sweet bedside manner.

What does the future hold for Clinkle/Treats? It remains to be seen.

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