Cincinnati fintech PayTile aims to combine AirDrop, Pokemon Go

Oct 12 2022
By Liz Engel, Business Journal

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Even before Anu Vora sold her first company, AdmitAlly in late 2020, she was whiteboarding her next business venture. After months in stealth mode, the company is ready for its public debut: PayTile blends first-of-its-kind features so users can pay or tip people nearby – albeit privately – while businesses can offer rewards to increase foot traffic, using proprietary geolocation and proximity technology. It’s best described as a blend of AirDrop and Pokemon Go.

To launch, Vora is using StartupCincy Week as the company’s official coming out, which offers a captive audience of founders, funders and local executives, and the platform recently launched in Cincinnati, its first test city with rapid expansion planned across other U.S. markets. The goal, she said, is to bring people together. PayTile also solves a pain point since younger consumers, in particular, are less likely to carry cash. Her other motivation? To build up Cincinnati’s fledgling roster of unicorn companies, or those valued at $1 billion or more.

“I’m super motivated by wanting to build a ubiquitous product the whole country knows (is from) Cincinnati,” she told me. “Having that household name is so important to get people to think of this city as legit.”

On PayTile’s Platform, Privacy is King

PayTile, which Vora launched full time in January 2021, is the world’s first location-based mobile peer-to-peer payments app to allow private cashless payments – users can send money to people nearby, without sharing personal details.

PayTile is Essentially AirDrop, But for Money.

Other apps typically require the parties in a transaction share information (a phone number, email, full legal name), “information I’m not willing to give up to a stranger, whether it’s the valet, the barber, a Facebook Marketplace seller, or a vendor selling honey at the farmer’s market,” Vora said. That’s PayTile’s main hook, Vora said, and how it differentiates itself from Venmo, Zelle, Cash App and PayPal.

PayTile’s Reward Drop Technology Is Pokemon GO for Businesses

With PayTile’s proprietary “Drop” technology, businesses can deliver location-based prizes – cash, coupons or other digital rewards – to customers within a particular geographic area, at a specific date and time. It works a lot like Pokemon Go.

Prizes could include $5 at a local restaurant, a coupon for half-priced tickets at the Aronoff Center for a show that night, free plays at the Hard Rock Casino or low-cost hotel rooms.“Drops” cost less and have a better success rate than, say, a Google Ads campaign, she said, since the user has to show up at the location to redeem the reward.

“Businesses need in-person foot traffic, and this incentivizes people to show up for their community,” Vora said. “We built this product to help businesses increase their incremental revenue, and decrease their marketing and operational spend while bringing people together.”

Vora Comes From a Family of Tech Entrepreneurs.

Anu Vora’s father is Mahendra Vora, founder of Blue Ash-based Vora Ventures, a private equity holding firm. His firm routinely ranks as one of the region’s largest private companies. He was the first in the family to immigrate to the U.S. in the ‘80s. His singular goal, she said, was to become a tech entrepreneur.

Mahendra Vora co-founded several hi-tech startups (ICC, which sold to Attachmate; Pioneer Systems, which was acquired by Unisys; SecureIT, which sold to VeriSign; and Intelliseek, which merged with Nielsen-Buzzmetrics). He then founded Vora Ventures in 2006, and the portfolio, which spans software, services and infrastructure solutions, and companies like AssureCare, ShakeDeal, Talentnow and CenterGrid, employs more than 2,100 people worldwide.

“He’s the best mentor a founder could ask for,” Anu Vora said. “It’s not easy to manage a team, manage payroll, build a product and figure out sales. I don’t know what it would be like to not have that support or guidance on the toughest days.”

He also taught her the value of betting on herself, Anu Vora said. After she sold AdmitAlly, a video chat platform that matched students with mentors to navigate the college application process, to California-based Nestlings in 2020 for an undisclosed sum, Anu Vora launched Candid Ventures, a startup venture studio, with $1.5 million in seed funding. She also became an active partner in Vora Ventures after the sale.

PayTile is entirely funded by Candid. The move to bypass outside funding, at least to start, was intentional, she said. Candid primarily invests in tech startups run by women and diverse founders (one of its portfolio companies includes Mindfully, which just acquired Resolv, co-founded by former P&Ger Lydia Henshaw).

In 2021, less than 2% of venture capital went to women, the smallest share since 2016, per PitchBook data. That percentage was even lower for minority founders. The company is just now considering a more formal raise.

“Second-time founders know a bit more about what they’re doing, and given the market, (funding it myself) was the fastest way to build the product,” she said. “Our product roadmap is bold, and now that we have something exciting, we can bring on additional partners. We have a huge market differentiator."

As part of her local rollout local, Vora has planned several reward “drops” during StartupCincy Week, the ecosystem’s marquee celebration, which kicked off Monday and culminates Friday.

Donna Zaring, director of external relations and development for Cintrifuse, a startup catalyst group and the lead organizer for the event, called it a brilliant move. Vora has other ideas, future additions she said would make PayTile the stand-alone payments app. Zaring is already convinced.

“Anu is a dynamic founder with a disruptive technology that is on the cusp of catching fire,” Zaring said.