Mobee, a new Boston-based “mystery shopper” service, is launching out of private beta this week, backed by $1.1 million in seed funding. The round, now officially closed, includes investment from LaunchCapital (YourMechanic and RunKeeper backers), TiE Angels Boston, Hub Angels, Jit Saxena (angel investor in Pinterest, who sold his last startup to IBM for roughly $2 billion), Rob Soni (former Managing Partner at Bessemer Venture Partners and Matrix Partners), John Simon (founding partner at General Catalyst, Board Member on Jumptap, BzzAgent, ProfitLogic), Gaugarin Oliver (sold RedEgg to Thomson Reuters), Prakash Khot (sold DimDim to Salesforce.Com), and others.
Saxena, who sits on uTest’s and Demandware’s boards, is joining Mobee’s board as well. The board also includes Tod Loofbourrow, founding CEO of Authoria, and past President at iRobot, and Neal Yanofsky, former President of Panera Bread and International President at Dunkin’ Brands.
The startup itself was founded by Prahar Shah (CEO) and Thibault Le Conte (CTO). Shah, an MIT grad whose background includes time spent at Google and Bessemer Venture Partners, was also Entrepreneur-in-Residence at General Catalyst while incubating Mobee. Le Conte, meanwhile, is a former Citrix Engineer at Anetys, and completed his masters computer science degree at U.C. Berkeley. There’s a third co-founder, too, but his name is being kept quiet while he applies for his U.S. Visa.
Shah says he got the idea for Mobee, which rewards shoppers for providing relevant feedback about the businesses they visit, from his own experiences as a mystery shopper in years past as well as time spent at Kraft working as a Merchandising Auditor. That’s where he first came up with the idea of using crowdsourcing via a mobile app on smartphones for the type of tasks Mobee allows for.
In a nutshell, what Mobee does is reward users for reviewing businesses. To do so, it uses a concept of “live missions,” where users are asked to rate anything from wait times to cleanliness to the helpfulness or friendliness of the staff, in exchange for gift cards and other prizes. These rewards could include things like free Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, $5 at Starbucks, $10 on iTunes, $25 on Amazon, $50 at Sephora, as well as the chance to win bigger prizes through a lottery-like system.
“We see ourselves as above Yelp, as there’s a little bit more effort in the questions you answer through your mobile device,” says Shah, explaining how Mobee is different from its competitors. “[The questions] are more structured and more specific for businesses – the kind of data that businesses don’t get through Yelp,” he adds. He explains that businesses are interested in this data because it would help them standardize their operations and monitor their stores in real-time.
Consumers interested in helping generate this crowd-sourced data, do so by using a smartphone app downloaded from the App Store, which allows them to launch these “missions” – the local business surveys consisting of 5 to 10 questions – while also allowing Mobee to tap into the GPS on the device to verify the consumer was actually in the store. Consumers can also snap a photo of their receipt to prove they’ve purchased at that location, too.
Data from Mobee’s mystery shoppers is then shared in real-time back with the businesses customers. At launch, Mobee is live in Boston with 5,000 missions underway currently at places like Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonalds, and Subway, for example. To be clear, none of these companies are officially partnered with Mobee at present. The idea is that Mobee will first build up the data, then show the businesses what is has been able to collect.
“We’re collecting that data and then presenting it to Dunkin [and others] – saying, we know what stores of yours are lowest in terms of service, or lowest in terms of customer satisfaction,” says Shah. “That’s part of the strategy. We think that trying to get customers may take longer than trying to get users,” he adds. In talking with businesses in advance of the launch, there was definitely interest, Shah explains, but the question that always came up was “how many users do you have?”
The decision to go after users first was also the recommendation of Yanofsky, who told Shah that when he was at Panera and Dunkin, if he had access to this real-time reporting and data, he would have spent millions on it as the companies already spent millions on mystery shopping and merchandising audits.
The Mobee app is live now in iTunes, and works in the Boston area only. An Android version is in the works.