She won’t stop talking. Whilst extremely friendly and jovial, as is required in her world of PR, her jaw line is moving as fast as Lindsay Lohan’s on uppers. Our conversation spirals down to Obama’s healthcare plan, peace in the Middle East, and a phenomenal wine to water program delivering clean water to developing country natives in need. Okay, maybe I lied. Current events for our date-ly purposes deal with topics that feature: judging guys based on the Kool-Aid they’re drinking—turns out, I’m never ordering a mixed drink on a date again— pub crawls in Boston, best nachos in Boston, the plight of the hipster, who ate the first oyster, Boylston street, and other trivial topics pour out of both our mouths. Oh no, I’ve gone cross-eyed.
All for the sake of LevelUp. We dined at Sel de la Terre, a participating LevelUp restaurant.
LevelUp is a program that allows the people of Boston and Philadelphia (going coastal in the near future!) to pay for their coffee, snack, dinner, late-lunch, brunch, and all other edible transactions that enlists the help of pen and paper as a middle man (aka, a receipt), via a QR barcode. Brilliant. I set out to use the program to scope out my blind date’s reaction when I whip out my smartphone and rest it on the bill, with a QR bar code waiting in the wings for our waiter to do his part. I was also curious about how the idea and the program itself came about, from a twinkle in Seth Priebatsch’s eye, Chief Ninja of SCVNGR and LevelUp, to an actual program that is infecting many of Boston’s trendy eateries.
Seth began his innovative smartphone application empire with a program known to many as SCVNGR. You’ve probably seen store entrances with SCVNGR’s seal of approval—Dunkin Donuts in Allston comes to mind, as an example. SCVNGR set out to connect people with the places they love with a game-play interface that makes LIFE not just a board game, but also a lifestyle. A year and a half later, eclipsing 2 million users and major brands like Coke, Cathay Pacific and TopShop all on board, Seth gave man birth to a little application known as LevelUp. Although not stylistically inclined, as per GQ’s standards, Seth has a proclivity of bettering consumerism from a shopkeep’s income statement, all the way down to a consumer’s wallet.
“On the consumer side, how do we make transactions more fun? How do we making saving simple and elegant? How do you get rewarded for frequenting your favorite businesses? All the current solutions suck and we need something better. On the merchant side, how do we combat the Groupons and Google Offers of the world to drive businesses loyal, repeat traffic? How do we enable them to connect with potential customers without having to damage their brand?” Seth Questioned.
Push! … Push harder! And out comes LevelUp at 10 healthy ounces of credit at your local eatery if you pay via your unique QR barcode.
“It boils down to: pay with your phone and save.”
The logistics of LevelUp’s functionality lies in a credit (credit = money, wampum, rhinestone cowboys) that is placed on everyone’s account that can be used at participating restaurants. Go out. Eat. Pay the bill, and your credit is applied to make your experience that much better, and cheaper too. By spending more, you unlock more credit.
Users typically save about $50 bucks a month and businesses experience a 34.73% return of new customers that test out LevelUp on their business within the next 30 days. Groupon’s rate of return is allegedly around 2-3%. And if I’m using Groupon on a first date I’m allegedly going to be labeled a college student, which simply isn’t the case, anymore.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m conjuring up the spirits of the happily retired Bob Barker to guess the bill, and then if all goes well, he’ll wire over the money, via text message or QR barcode on my phone.”
“Does that work?”
“I hope he factors in the oysters, wine—and doesn’t guess $420 like that stoner contestant in years past who guessed the price of the Teflon kitchenware blazed out of his mind. And yes, it works… I hope.”
Waiter walks over with a cellphone that scans my QR code.
“Is that it? It worked?!!” My date says ecstatically. At this point, everyone is staring in our general vicinity as my QR code was beamed up and bill paid, with the tip meter adjusted to thank the waiter for a job well done.
While conversation between my date and I flowed like an endless summer, the LevelUP experiment was complete. We had our ups and downs, but our relationship didn’t curtail into an antiquated Italian marriage, where we’re both sleeping in the same room in separate twin sized beds. I plowed through dealing with a softly spoken waiter who muttered the daily specials incomprehensibly. Frankly, all I heard was shaved cheese on risotto. Luckily, my effervescent date had perfectly honed PR skills and was able to repeat the specials verbatim. I ended up going with the Halibut.
Seth is perfecting a monster of an application, with the Xanadu of work fortresses located in Cambridge to boot. Rumor has it, the office has a War Room with contractible walls; perhaps a little homage to Star Wars one might say. And if working in a nice bachelor pad isn’t your forte, then the free lunches might do the trick. And yes, they’re hiring.
We now take the time for a closing eulogy from our man of the hour, Seth. A few words on the death of the paper receipt:
“The paper receipt was loved by many an IRS auditor. His interests included adding things, wrinkling and getting lost. The paper receipt will be missed by a few, most notably its long-lived cousin, the fax-machine.”