Vouchr is a technology company, but its founder, Robert Balahura — along with many others on his team — comes from the world of gaming. He discussed with PYMNTS how his unique background influenced Vouchr’s strategy to drive engagement in the mobile gift card space by making transactions an interactive experience all their own.
PYMNTS: What was the inspiration behind Vouchr?
RB: We're a technology company, but my background — and the background of the lot of guys on the team — is in mobile gaming development. Working at companies like Electronic Arts (as I did, running their mobile social games), we learned a lot about engagement from a gaming perspective.
Part of the inspiration for Vouchr came from the WeChat red envelope program that was introduced in China last year: a virtual version of the Chinese tradition in which money is gifted in red envelopes on holidays and special occasions. Beyond virtualizing the concept, WeChat added a number of engagement features; for example, in one version, the recipient receives a notification on his or her phone that they've received a monetary gift, but he or she has to shake the device to reveal the value. So there's a delight moment there when a person receives the gift. And, of course, the recipient and the sender are able to chat with each other on the platform.
It was a huge success in China. In a few days, WeChat did about $2 billion worth of transactions, and hundreds of millions of users adopted their brand new payment system as a result.
It shows, concretely, the importance and value of engagement — how it can be used to drive transactions, to get adoption of a payment system, to differentiate a payment system from others.
PYMNTS: How is Vouchr innovating in the space?
RB: In the mobile banking space in general, there's going to be over a billion users this year. There are thousands of mobile banking wallets out there. Just about every one has a "send money" functionality, and the gift card programs that they offer are all pretty much the same. There's not a lot of differentiation.
In order to differentiate and drive adoption, drive transactions, and appeal to the new millennial market — what we're doing at Vouchr is basically wrapping that red-envelope-style engagement, gamified layer around the money transfer and the gifting program to make them both more fun and engaging.
PYMNTS: How does the gamification element play a role?
RB: One of the core ideas of our product is that the sender of a gift chooses a game — from six options right now — that the recipient needs to play to "unwrap" it. The sender can set the difficulty level of that game, or even set a score threshold that the recipient has to reach.
The gift can be delivered through any instant messenger, SMS or email program that's on a mobile phone. Following that "delight moment" that the recipient experiences after completing the game, there are additional features, such as the recipient redeeming the gift by taking a selfie that goes back to the sender, and a chat feature between the two of them.
We also have Venmo-style feed on our platform through which users can see what all their friends are doing with Vouchr, and what's happening in their area; it's kind of a Venmo on steroids.
PYMNTS: How does the functionality of Vouchr's offering operate?
RB: We're focused on bank mobile wallets; currently, we're working with two of the largest banks in North America. We have an SDK (software development kit) and we layer that on top of their existing payment methods that power their money-transferring capabilities as well as their gifting capabilities. We also come with existing gift card partners and other payment partners that further enhance the gifting experience beyond the engagement by expanding the banks' reach.
Another piece that's notable from a technology and payments perspective is that we have a switchable payments platform that makes it very easy to integrate a new payments partner or gift card partner. Whatever the specific offering — whether it's, for example, a Gap gift card, a money transfer from a bank payments system, or a virtual Visa card — we switch them out with the goal of having ubiquitous coverage. From our gifting program, that enables a user to send a gift at any merchant location in North America — whether it's a big brand (like the Gap) or a small boutique coffee shop — both online and off, it enables peer-to-peer money transfer, as well.
Similar to the red envelope programs in China, there's also a merchant and brand-facing offering in our product, where merchant brands can give gifts through Vouchr to their social media followers. The gaming aspect of revealing those gifts can be customized to their brand.
PYMNTS: What’s next for you guys?
RB: We really want to reach more bank mobile wallets by making banks more aware of our offering. So, we will be in search of more of those partnerships since we think we have a lot of value to add, especially to the millennial crowd that the banks are seeking.
Speaking of bank partners, we’re planning to launch with at least one of the two bank partners I mentioned in mid-March – which we hope to demonstrate at the PYMNTS Innovation Project. Fingers crossed we will be able to reveal who they are and show the live product there. So stay tuned.