Clinkle, the payments app run by a tyrannical 22-year-old Stanford grad, is cloaked in roughly the same amount of mystery as the island in Lost. A source tells Valleywag that the app, which raised between $30 million in venture capital without a product, may deliver the same disappointing ending.
According to the source, who played around with a recently released beta version of the app, the money transferring service still "looks the same as the previous version." It also takes "too long to register." The source says beta-testers are required to sign non-disclosure agreements before trying service and have to send in a photo and driver's license information for the physical debit card portion. It's almost like "a goddam credit check."
Once beta-testers have signed the NDA, they can invite friends, just "no journos or competitors." After a disastrous year, which saw both layoffs and experienced executives run out the door, it seems Clinkle can't afford the extra scrutiny. Better to keep the public thinking that you can do something more than every other player in Silicon Valley's financial services shell game.
In response to questions from Valleywag about the beta version, Clinkle spokesperson Ana Braskamp wrote:
We're not commenting on the specifics for now. What I will say is that we're testing and rolling out a limited scope of features and functionality with different demographics. We're excited to be adding users week over week.
In March, Re/code reported that Clinkle had pushed aside development of "a secret technology, dubbed Aerolink," that would let users pay for stuff in stores without using cash or a card. Aerolink was supposed to:
. . . let the app transfer money from a shopper's Clinkle account to a business without the business needing to replace its checkout equipment.
Instead, Re/code said that Clinkle electronically transfer money just like Venmo, PayPal, Google Wallet, Square Cash, etc. It would also have a "Clinkle-branded Visa prepaid debit card," issued Bancorp, the same payments processor that worked with another financial startup called Simple. (In February, Simple was acquired by an incumbent it was trying to disrupt.)
How will Clinkle compete against these more established rivals, besides its stated target user being students on college campuses? At least initially, mostly with design and rewards, one of these people said. Duplan is spending much of his time on product design, according to two of the sources.
"It really is a super slick-looking app," one source said. "And it's going to have a whole social aspect around sharing and earning rewards."
Clinkle has been in the Apple App Store since September, 2011. When I tried to register last night, there were 143,068 people ahead of me. (For comparison: Mailbox, the much-anticipated email management app, once boasted an 800,000 person wait list. It's currently ranked no. 108 among productivity apps for U.S. users on iOS.)
In a blog post earlier this year, CEO Lucas "Look at My Cash" Duplan revealed that Clinkle went "live with real money" among its employees in February and would be expanding access to friends and family. Duplan promised public availability later this year, but only on college campuses. He also said that he employed all that unnecessary subterfuge for your own good:
With live transactions now occurring on our payment platform, we're gaining valuable learning that will be folded into the rapid expansion of beta testing with hundreds of users in the coming weeks. It's a key step on the path to public availability of Clinkle on college campuses later this year.
And while many people think we've been unnecessarily mysterious, one thing I'd like to make clear is that creating smoke screens hasn't been our intent. It's all about creating a great experience for our users.
One mystery that's already been solved is how Clinkle will use your personal financial data. Under "Clinkle Consumer Consent and Directive," it says:
Despite delays in launching that fine print as been effective since January, 2013. And they say kids don't know how to run a company.
If you've beta tested Clinkle and want to share your experience, feel free to email email@example.com