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February 21, 2013
Mobee's Mobile App Creates a Swarm

Headquartered on the upper floors of
the landmark Old State House Building, mobile app Mobee hopes
to forge a new chapter of history in Boston with its recent foray into some
uncharted territory for a mobile app.

Prahar Shah, CEO and co-founder of Mobee, believes that there have traditionally been only
a few ways to monetize mobile apps: have customers pay for a service, have companies
pay for ads, create a premium (often ad-free) version of a free app, or have
users purchase enhancements within the apps themselves. However, Shah thinks he
may have discovered a new and possibly improved way to make money through
mobile in a relatively niche industry, mystery shopping.

An alumnus of MIT Sloan, Shah had
stints at Bessemer
Venture Partners
, General
Catalyst Partners
, and in Google’s New Business
Development office, before coming up with the idea for Mobee after working
part-time as a mystery shopper. As he put it, “Mystery shopping is an industry
almost no one knows about; it’s a multi-billion dollar hidden industry operated
on pen and paper.”

Basically, mystery shoppers are hired
by companies to keep tabs on their various brick and mortar shops and
franchises. For example, a mystery shopper may be assigned to pose as a
customer at a local Dunkin Donuts.
The experiences are recorded on a three page survey that cannot be taken in the
store; questions need to be memorized, forms need to be scanned and often
rewritten, and the whole process takes anywhere from 72 hours to a couple of
weeks to turn the data around to the hiring companies.

Mobee turns the whole mystery shopping
industry on its head, crowdsourcing tasks vital to large, multiple franchised
companies. Piloted in Boston, the app allows users to complete any number or
“missions” at local stores such as Starbucks,
Panera
Bread, and McDonald’s. Users are awarded points for completing tasks
such as commenting on the speed of service or the cleanliness of a bathroom.
Points can be exchanged for various gift cards and even PayPal credit, a
regular mission can earn a member of Mobee’s “Swarm” anywhere from five to ten
dollars.

Since launching in early November, the
app has surpassed many of Shah’s goals and benchmarks. With 10,000 current
users and 30,000 completed missions in Boston, Mobee has yet to share the
massive amount of data it has collected with the multi-national companies it is
currently tracking.

“We want to go get the data first,”
Shah said. “There are two assets that are valuable: first, the data...a pretty
valuable data set that no one else has. On the other side, basically, we are
developing a mobile workforce. Some people in our “Swarm,” have earned
thousands of bucks.” With the amount of money being made, Shah surmises that
some users are even turning Mobee missions into full-time jobs.

Eventually, Mobee plans to share its collected
data, offering companies an alternative to the industry quality assessment tool
of mystery shopping. In so doing, they will be providing a more accurate,
trustworthy, and expedited service than the current standard practice. Among
the many benefits of Mobee as an alternative to mystery shopping are the
“geofencing” and photo taking capabilities of the app. Before Mobee, mystery
shopping had many loopholes and opportunities to falsify data; the app now tags
each location with GPS and allows for clandestine “Swarm” members to take
pictures and report on service while appearing to just be using their phones.

Mobee expects to begin a round of
Series A funding sooner than they originally expected due to the app’s success.
The company’s original $1.1 million seed round was funded by Jit Saxena,
John Simon of General Catalyst,
Rob Soni,
LaunchCapital, and other angels and angel groups. Current
members of Mobee’s board include industry veterans such as Saxena, the founding
CEO of Netezza; Neal Yanofsky, former president of Panera and current International President at Dunkin' Brands; and Tod Loofbourrow, founding CEO of Authoria and
past president at iRobot
Healthcare.

Mobee
expects to be available on Android this spring. It also will be submitting what
Shah called “Mobee 2.0” to the App Store soon. The new version will add a new level of
gamification to what already exists, as well as new notification menus and
badges.

With the former City Hall as their hub,
Mobee operates only in Boston and its suburbs at this time. However, Prahar
Shah was quick to point out, “The beauty of Mobee is that it is scalable
internationally; the Boston model can work in London and Paris as well as it
could in New York and Chicago.”

Dennis Keohane is a teacher, journalist and contributor to VentureFizz.  You can follow Dennis on Twitter (@DBKeohane) by clicking here.