If Pogo had its way, you’d get paid every time you strolled down Market Street in San Francisco. Or check your e-mail. Or open its app. The only catch is that you give your personal data to consumer-focused fintechs in return.
“We can almost make honey for the real world,” said Pogo co-founder and CEO dom wong, which is co-founding the company along with founders Oscar Melking and Shikhar Mohan. The startup wants to use some of the tech trends to its advantage. First, as data privacy becomes a concern, users are able to choose whether or not to share their information with companies. Pogo argues that if they participate – why not get the benefit?
The second, Pogo is a play on the rise of ecommerce tools like Rakuten and Honey, browser extensions that automatically find cash, coupons and deals in exchange for your shopping history. And third, it’s using multiple APIs to plug in location data from consumers’ inboxes to their transaction history, if they so choose.
To scale data in exchange for cash, the startup raised $14.8 million in venture capital in the form of a $12.3 million seed round led by Josh Buckley and a previously unannounced $2.5 million pre-seed round. Other investors in the startup include Slow Ventures, Village Global, Harry Stebbing’s 20VC, Misterbeast’s Night Ventures, Hyper, Shrug and makers including The Chainsmokers, Sofia Amoruso, Ryan Tedder and Lenny Rachitsky. Additionally the startup has money from the founders of Front, Rent the Runway, and, quite fittingly, Honey.
Here’s how it works: When a user connects to the app, they’re invited to send their data to the company. Once Pogo connects to various sources of information, it starts showing rewards for purchases, or recommendations for “tasking” to save money.
Part of the app is helping people who opt in get paid for their data: “Pogo makes it easy for you to aggregate your data in one place, giving you access to those use cases.” You get the controls you’re comfortable with, whether it’s anonymous market research or personalized marketing from trusted brands.” The other part of the app is similar to Honey, in that it acts as a financial agent of sorts. One that looks at your spending and makes suggestions, both about better deals or promotions you might not have known about.
This is not completely unheard of. For example, Dosh is a venture-backed startup that strikes deals with retailers, brands, and payment providers, and then offers users cash back after purchasing a connected product from connected providers. The startup was valued at $400 million in 2019 as per Meczyki.Net reporting. There’s also Nigeria’s ThankCash, which took $5.3 million to set up a cashback infrastructure, and existing work from PayPal, which launched a new credit card that offers 3% cashback on all PayPal purchases.
It makes sense that there is activity here. As advertising dollars move away from Facebook and Google, retailers and brands are looking to find new ways to reach potential customers. I think of it this way: You can choose to sell your new workout gear while you’re browsing Twitter, or in the locker room at your local crunch gym. The latter finds a consumer when they are more attuned to fitness and style, while the former bets that someone can be in the mood for a new set while surfing tech news.
Pogo doesn’t have exclusive partnerships with local businesses to realize some cashback in return for lead generation, a route that some Neobanks have gone down. Instead, the startup simply brings all existing deals together in one place — and it’s the interactivity between different data sources that gives Wong the biggest competitive advantage.
The real difference of Pogo is the invisible layer it provides for users in the world that can convert information into money. Most users of Pogo link location data as they receive rewards while being present in the real world. “You’re walking by Wendy’s and if you buy it on the app a notification pops up for a free breakfast sandwich. You just have to look at it, and then you get paid and we get paid too.”
Right now, the company is largely paid for through associated fees and the exchange of data.
- Opts for the suggested insurance plan
- Clicks in Location-Based Offers
- Answer market research or campaign measurement questions
- Or scans the Pogo card for discounts when purchasing prescriptions
In the next iteration, Wong says, Pogo will suggest users turn to fee-free banking options, and then Pogo can earn money through affiliate fees.
“We also think about how we can help you take advantage of offers at your fingertips today without a formal brokerage partnership. This may mean that publicly available content, or in the future, Personalized promotions also surfaced in your inbox in a private, secure way,” he wrote in an email. “For example, imagine the next time you go to CVS Pogo gives you 40 off storewide coupons with no items in your inbox. gives a discount of %.”
While Pogo certainly sees itself as aligned with customers, in order to make money, it must prove to other companies that personal data is a commodity. Pogo is going to have an intimate window into someone’s life, from where they live to their favorite coffee shop and how many subscriptions they have. It’s like what a bank would see, but it’s a venture-backed startup it wants you to believe.
Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit that has defended civil liberties in the digital world since 1990, describes the idea of exchanging data for money as a “data dividend.” In an essay, the organization urges consumers to reconsider if getting funding for their data actually corrects the current imbalance between users and corporations. The EFF asks a series of questions such as, who will determine what some data costs, and what makes your data valuable to companies? Also, what does the average person gain from the data dividend, and what do they lose in exchange for that extra cash?
“EFF strongly opposes data dividends and policies that lay the groundwork for people to think about the monetary value of their data rather than viewing it as a fundamental right,” the organization said. written in post, “You won’t put a price tag on your freedom of speech. We shouldn’t put anyone in our privacy.”
Over an e-mail, Wong said current market rates for common data charges are in place, but the startup is working on a pricing strategy based around “a lot of greenfield territory that’s not possible today.”
“For example, our ability to serve location-based offers or advertising that also takes into account your previous purchases allows us to control rates that are several orders of magnitude higher than your typical ad placement, ” He continued. “Another example would be the ability for brands to receive real-time consumer feedback based on verified purchases. The ability to do so today is incredibly slow and clunky, and it’s not uncommon for brands to pay hundreds of dollars per response based on rates set by current behemoths that generate billions of dollars in revenue annually. ,
Wong still isn’t worried about losing user trust. So far, the app has been used by “hundreds of thousands of families” and the startup claims it has generated millions of dollars in savings and earnings. “We are very deliberate about how we think about partnerships here, which is why we want to continue to divide anonymous market research versus personalized targeting based on our Instagram feed.”