LevelUp: “We’re an Advertising Network”

As a payments innovator, LevelUp receives no shortage of attention these days. The company recently reached 1 million in late February – just its 18th month in existence – created a white label service in the latter half of 2012 and is widely lauded for its zero-interchange platform.

So why does Seth Priebatsch, “Chief Ninja” at LevelUp, say his company is not quite a payments company at all?

“Probably the most accurate description of what LevelUp is, is we are the world’s most effective advertising network, masquerading as a payments company,” Priebatsch said. “We make money off of advertising, so at our core that means we are actually an advertising company.”

Market Platform Dynamics CEO Karen Webster spoke with Priebatsch about LevelUp’s unique approach to payments, it’s rapid growth and how he plans to solve the problem of innovation and scale.

“Down at SXSW, I was talking about this idea that the challenges that modern society faces: things like global warming and the need to educate billions and billions of people, are problems that naturally scale with population,” Priebatsch explained.

“You can’t move the economy fast enough to solve these problems running on the old plastic card rails. You also need a new infrastructure there, and that’s a constant focus for me: how do we not only create new inventions, but create inventions that enable us to invent faster in the future?”

According to Priebatsch, that’s what LevelUp is aiming to do by rolling out its SDK for iPhone and Android, allowing developers and businesses to alter or add to LevelUp as they see fit. This allows them to “do things with the data coming form this new data infrastructure that we’ve never even imagined,” he said.

Webster then asked Priebatsch what advice he’d have to give many of the established payments players about innovation, and the answer he gave was telling of LevelUp’s success.

“Even though payments hasn’t innovated a humungous amount in the last 40 years – we’ve been very happy with our plastic card infrastructure – that is not a good indicator for the speed of innovation moving forward,” he said. “Just because it’s been slow doesn’t mean it will continue to be slow. And in fact these major embedded industries, like payments … you sort of hit a tipping point where something changes that means everything else can change very rapidly.

In this case, that change is the fact that we can now run our financial lives from a mobile device.”

To hear more Priebatsch and Webster on LevelUp’s approach to innovation and some lofty goals Priebatsch has set for his company, listen to the full podcast below.


*If you have trouble with the audio player above, click here.

Seth Priebatsch
Chief Ninja, LevelUp

At the age of 12, Seth Priebatsch founded his first web startup. It failed gloriously. He launched his second startup in high school, which did much better, but by college he was ready to build something even bigger. After completing his freshman year at Princeton, Seth took a “leave-of-absence” to found SCVNGR, now parent company of mobile payment network LevelUp.

Now 24 years old, Seth is the CEO of LevelUp. Seth has helmed LevelUp’s “Interchange Zero” strategy, which offers zero transaction fees to merchants, and has successfully grown his company to include more than 160 employees. With major investment firms taking notice of LevelUp (Google Ventures, Balderton Capital, Continental Advisors, Highland Capital, Transmedia Capital and T-Venture, the venture arm of Deutsche-Telekom), Seth Priebatsch is well on his way to change the way we pay.

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