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Clinkle, the start-up that may change mobile payments

By CJ Castillo / August 1, 2013


When news broke that mobile payment app, Clinkle, had received $25 million in funding, many wondered how this relatively unknown start-up could receive so much money. Founded in 2011 by Stanford computer science student, Lucas Daplan, Clinkle received most of its funding from Stanford professors and prominent Silicon Valley investors, including the chief executive of Salesforce.com, Marc Benioff, and PayPal co-founder, Peter Thiel. So what is it about Clinkle that caught the eye of such prominent backers?

How does it work?

Until recently, all we knew about Clinkle was that it allows users to make payments using a smartphone that’s tied to a credit card or bank account. According to Valleywag, the app also has a “wallet” feature that looks like PayPal and allows you to transfer money to friends and family. And for vendors, Clinkle has incorporated card.io to make transaction processing fast and painless. Based on those features, it sounds like every other mobile wallet available, but there is something else that has people excited.

Why all the buzz?

What sets Clinkle apart is the technology behind its payment method. An article by TechCrunch revealed some of that technology, with an anonymous source indicating the app “uses high frequency sound to communicate between devices.” The Valleywag source also revealed that Clinkle allows users to do “phone-to-phone payments via ultrasound exchanges,” a process they call Aerolink.

This technology is a big differentiator between Clinkle and the other major mobile payment providers, such as Square, PayPal and Google Wallet, but it still needs the infrastructure to support it. There’s currently speculation that Clinkle may partner with VeriFone to create new point-of-sale terminals that receive and emit audio signals.

Students first

Just like Facebook, Clinkle is being offered to college students first. The company has a pilot program in place at Stanford, and students from college campuses across the U.S. are invited to register for the wait list on Clinkle’s website. App creator, Duplan, told TechCrunch, “The best way to form a new network is to start with small, close-looped groups and expand slowly from there.”

Clinkle is also hoping to be “social and fun,” which may appeal to their initial audience. “Sure, people are driven by things like cash back, but that’s not the only thing they’re driven by. Our approach has to do with social, and it’s going to be really fun,” Duplan told All Things Digital.

In that same interview, Duplan said his product would give people a good reason to shop with their smartphones. “What we’ve done is create a system of incentives for consumers and merchants that’s orders of magnitude better than the status quo,” he said. Duplan said Clinkle may offer incentives such as lower transaction fees and services merchants may not currently have access to.

Only time will tell if Clinkle will revolutionize the way we pay for things. The new sound-transmitting technology sets Clinkle apart from other mobile payment apps, but is it enough to help it go mainstream? When giants like Google struggle to convince people to use mobile wallets, it doesn’t seem like there’s much hope for the little guys. But then again, that’s what they said about David and Goliath.