Can a Venmo alternative work without the social hook?
Tipping the valet can be tough without cash in hand. It’s only one of many cash-payment scenarios that frustrated entrepreneur Yuval Brisker in his travels.
“I had Square, I had Venmo, I had PayPal, but none of these apps let me pay in the same way that I give cash to a stranger,” Brisker said, explaining why he developed Mezu, a P2P app that prioritizes privacy.
A first-time recipient of funds sent via the Mezu app needs a one-time-use four-digit code from the sender to access those funds through the app, bypassing the need to exchange names, phone numbers or account numbers to get a tip, one-time payment or a donation, according to Brisker.
For Brisker, that anonymity is key, especially when he’s traveling.
“What you do with your money should be your business, and you don’t need to broadcast all your payments to the world—that's why we’re the opposite of Venmo,” said Brisker, who is Mezu's co-founder, CEO and president.
The Israeli-born Brisker — who sold a 750-person field marketing company called TOA to Oracle in 2014 for an undisclosed sum — has gathered $10 million in venture capital funding for Mezu, touting the notion that consumers are increasingly uneasy about sharing information.
Addressing another consumer gripe, Mezu vows not to share users’ transaction information with other parties for marketing purposes.
Mezu’s concept gained significant utility last month with the addition of Mastercard debit functionality through an issuing partnership with Community Federal Savings Bank.
There is no physical card associated with the account, but users may activate a digital Mastercard within the Mezu app for purchases, which Brisker said immediately increased the app’s appeal in focus groups. Consumers are not required to have a bank account to use Mezu.
“Adding Mastercard brings more flexibility and utility, and we’ve preserved privacy,” Brisker said.
Launched a year ago with a name derived from the Hebrew word for money, Cleveland-based Mezu in recent months has been promoting the app by word-of-mouth and a grass-roots marketing campaign in Los Angeles that will soon be supplemented with a push in Denver, according to Brisker.
Brisker declined to say how many consumers are actively using the app, which has received mixed reviews on Google Play and Apple’s app stores.
One analyst said Mezu’s biggest challenge will be achieving scale in a market with many competing products.
“The bottom line is that any company that’s depending on a direct-to-consumer growth channel via app stores, requiring one individual to motivate another to use the same app, needs a remarkable value proposition and almost perfect execution,” said Patricia Hewitt, CEO of PG Research and Advisory Services.
To overcome these hurdles, Brisker and Mezu co-founder Pedro Silva plan on building hubs of users who might drive viral awareness. One example included getting members of the Cleveland Symphony last year to adopt Mezu to receive donations from audience members during and after performances.
Another Mezu feature is the ability for users to create a location-based “MezuBox” within the app to receive funds when they don’t have their mobile device handy.
Each MezuBox is associated with a static five-character code Mezu users could print on a badge or a business card to solicit funds. Senders must be in close proximity to where the MezuBox was created and use the app to search for the specific MezuBox they want to fund, with the option to leave a message for the recipient. Users may create up to five different MezuBoxes.
Users may remain anonymous or opt to use their device’s contacts to send P2P funds to other Mezu users.
By linking a bank account, users may load or withdraw funds from Mezu, though it could take up to three days for withdrawals to settle, the company said. Currently Mezu is offering free, instant withdrawals within 30 minutes of completed transfers, but that service may eventually carry a fee, the company said.
Mezu expects to earn revenue primarily through payment card interchange, but it’s also looking into marketing partnerships with merchants, the company said.
Brisker emphasizes that Mezu isn’t a vehicle for illicit transactions and the company observes all routine industry AML and KYC practices to verify customers’ identities.
“We’ve built safeguards into our platform to ensure we’re not supporting terrorism, money laundering or any other kind of bad actors,” Brisker said.
Mezu is currently available only to users in the U.S., but Brisker said the company has expansion plans, which it has not yet disclosed.