Update: Corrected Valentine’s educational background, Tapinko status.
When talking to SCVNGR’s John Valentine, be warned: his phone will ring constantly.
“It’s been crazy,” he says after hanging up with Chickie & Pete’s, the legendary Philadelphia sports bar. The bar agreed to use SCVNGR’s new local rewards program, but needs to turn off the demo that the company prepared for them as customers are beginning to already use the demo mobile coupon.
Valentine, who left his job at a law firm to work for the company, can tick off nearly a dozen cities he has been to in the last month, pitching business owners, delivering printed SCVGNR materials and holding events.
Boston-based SCVNGR, a DreamIt Ventures grad, is making waves as the scrappy upstart in the social check-in space. In an industry where Foursquare is getting all the buzz while Gowalla is nipping at their heels, SCVNGR is quickly growing, accepting $4 million of investment from Google while rapidly expanding the size of the company from 11 employees to 70 in 11 months. And, after being one of a handful of companies to get early access to the Facebook Places API, SCVNGR claims that it saw 100,000 downloads of its iPhone application in 48 hours.
Valentine, who met the SCVNGR founders at DreamIt while he was working on Tapinko, is tasked with rolling out SCVNGR’s new local rewards program. That is, the service that allows users to accumulate points for doing challenges. Users can then use those points to redeem rewards like free stuff, discounts and more. This Wednesday marked the Philadelphia release of rewards, making it the second city after Boston to have the feature available.
We chatted with Valentine at Kraftwork in Fishtown as he took a break form his whirlwind sales adventure through his old stomping grounds. We asked him what’s it like to get money from Google, how he’s stalking TechCrunch and what VC firm once gave him ice cream.
When we ask people to list of the successes of DreamIt, most people say SCVNGR.
No way! You have SCVNGR, Notehall, Vuzit and Seatgeek. Those are the four monsters right now. And if you look back at the other companies that didn’t work, you’ll find the biggest element for a successful company is the team and the leader. [CEO and Founder Seth Priebatsch] is only 21 but he’s handling himself incredibly. For example did you see his TED talk? The kid’s a statesman.
How does Philly rank in your roll out schedule?
It goes: Boston, Philly and then San Fran. It’s funny, for San Fran we’ve surrounded TechCrunch. We know where they eat, we know where they get their coffee… Philly is where SCVNGR all began. We have a ton of relationships here. DreamIt is huge and me and [COO] Michael Hagan have connections to the area.
Give me an example of a SCVNGR challenge, the feature that you’ve been promoting as you travel from city to city?
An example would be, at an ice cream place, ask a staffer for their favorite flavor and try a scoop and take a photo of your reaction. It’s not only experiencing it, but as a business, I can see what peoples favorite flavors are.
Is that what separates you from Foursquare? The gaming element?
They are only focused on “Where am I?” They don’t see all the pieces to it. In our eyes: It’s “Where am I? Who am I with? And what am I doing there?” Plus people can now earn stuff.
What was it like getting a $4 million investment from Google?
It was probably my second month in when we got that. They sent the UI developer from Gmail to help us out with interface with app. Google has been fantastic for development purposes. And launching at the Google I/O conference doesn’t hurt either.
What was it like prior to that investment?
We knew we had to raise a round. We had some VCs come in and throw us ice cream parties. I won’t name names. But when we found out that Highland Ventures and Google wanted in on our second round, we got really excited.
So whats the plan going forward?
We’re focusing very heavily on expanding the [large] brand side and the local side. We really want the big brands. We want you to be able to walk into an AT&T store, for example, and do a challenge to get $50 off of a phone. People want that. That’s special.
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