Dozens of customer loyalty apps have emerged over the past several years, looking to bring the relationships between brick-and-mortar shops and their customers from the times of paper punch cards into the digital era. But the space has thinned out lately, with several startups being acquired (or acqui-hired), and many others fading into oblivion.
It turns out that amidst all the changes in the landscape, the Chicago-based loyalty startup Belly is still kicking, and appears to be stronger than ever: It’s now active in a total of 6,500 locations in 18 geographical markets across the country. Now, the company says, it has its eye on owning the loyalty market once and for all, and taking the “in-store experience” overall to the next level.
To help in that aim, Belly is announcing today it has secured $12.1 million in new funding from a cadre of big name venture and strategic investors.
The funding, which serves as the first tranche of a Series B (word is that more money may be on the way, but has yet to formally close) includes the participation of new investors New Enterprise Associates and DAG Ventures, existing investors Andreessen Horowitz and Lightbank, and strategic investors Cisco Systems and 7-Ventures (a subsidiary of convenience store behemoth 7-Eleven.) This brings the total amount invested in Belly since its inception in 2011 to $28 million.
Belly founder and CEO Logan LaHive came by TechCrunch’s San Francisco headquarters this week to talk about the new funding and catch us up on the latest with the company and the plans for the future. We also had him give us a first-hand look at the app from both the perspective of the store and the customer. Check all that out in the video embedded above.
It’s interesting to see Belly in action, because it shows clear rewards for both the customer and the business. Data analysis is key for any business nowadays, and many small brick-and-mortar shops just don’t have the technology capabilities in-house to monitor their analytics themselves. And of course, customers love to get recognition and perks at the places they patronize regularly.
Of course, that’s been the promise of many of the loyalty apps that have emerged over the past several years. But it looks like Belly has been one that’s survived and thrived through the shakeout in part because it has paid special attention to details and the real, specific needs of local merchants. For instance, Belly provides businesses with all the tech hardware necessary to run its app (namely, iPads), the app is easily customizable, and it doesn’t hassle business owners with frequent manual updates. Also, on both the business and customer ends, the user interface design is really quite snappy.
Going forward, LaHive says the aim is to just take that traction and turn it up, by expanding geographical reach, focusing more on large enterprise customers, and the like. And all this is projected to bring growth at the bottom line, too: According to LaHive, the company, which currently has just over 100 staffers, is on track to be profitable without any further funding necessary.
That financial muscle will come in handy, since in the future Belly’s real competitors may not be other loyalty app startups as much as larger tech players such as Foursquare and Facebook who are clearly making moves in the space. But for now, Belly looks to be taking on the competition from a place of real strength.