You launched the It’s On Me app (originally Drinkboard) in August 2013. What does it do, and why do we need it?
It’s a simple solution that allows consumers to gift in real time. We live in a real-time society and economy, with consumers using on-demand services. You need a car right now? Uber. Need a reservation right now? OpenTable. … But if you want to say “thank you” or “congratulations” to someone in real time, your only two choices are really 1-800-Flowers or Nothing Bundt Cakes. We thought it was crazy that someone couldn’t say “This round is on me”— that someone in London couldn’t have a friend in New York who is having a birthday or who just got engaged, and be able to buy them a drink at their local bar.
What does the It’s On Me app mean to that local bar or business?
For a business it’s really a direct-to-consumer engagement platform. Brands such as Absolut, Bacardi, Heineken, Guinness, Grey Goose and Titos are trying to expose their products, venues and merchants to consumers who have lots of choices for where to have lunch, a drink or dinner. Our marketplace gives them the opportunity to create updated marketing programs, loyalty programs and mobile-first solutions to expose their product based on the demand of the consumer.
What sorts of things can I gift? We’re not just talking about drinks anymore, are we?
No. We’ve been contacted by museums, spas, salons. … Any merchant that has a brick-and-mortar business can join, and anything they put on their menu is giftable. And we do it at full retail price. If I was sitting next to you at a bar on your birthday, I would ask you what you wanted to drink and I would buy you that drink. But I wouldn’t say, “Hey, do you guys have any specials right now?” and then get you a [discounted] happy hour cocktail. That’s kind of ridiculous. So the DNA of the [It’s On Me] platform is to support gifting in our own communities and to do it all at full retail price.
How does buying those drinks or shopping locally this gift-giving season affect the community?
The impact is incredible. American Express does it very well with ShopSmall.com and Small Business Saturday after Thanksgiving. [It has been estimated that] for every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $73 remains in the local economy. That money goes to local supplies, wages, services, taxes and community donations. With national chains, the money goes to non-local supply, wages and services. You can buy a gift basket or you can gift someone into a local business, and that decision affects you, your child, school, neighborhood—everything.
How can we make every day “Small Business Saturday”?
Gift-Local.com and ShopSmall.com support local brick-and-mortar businesses, but the difference is that Shop Small is an online directory that allows someone to spend money in that local area. Our program allows anyone in the world to gift local. It allows someone in Hong Kong to spend money here at a locally owned business. This radiates out to the more than 40 million people a year who come to Las Vegas—and most of them are celebrating. If just a million of them received $100 local gifts from five friends, that’s $500 million coming into our locally owned businesses. That’s what really gets us excited: letting the world know that we can gift local and support local businesses no matter where we are.
What do you think about the creep of Black Friday store-opening hours from early Friday morning to late Thursday to right in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner?
A lot of those people are focused on material goods, and they’re being sucked in by marketing, and it’s sad. It’s the same as someone at a concert filming their favorite song for 12 minutes instead of watching the song and enjoying the experience. People are forgetting how great this day is and [instead] are thinking about this sweater they can’t afford, but they can get it [on Black Friday]. At the end of the day, who cares about the sweater compared with the relationships and friends we have?
What damage is done when we spend money at the big-box stores?
People say they don’t have money to shop local sometimes, so they need to do these things. But [studies have shown] the opening of a Walmart reduces retail employment by an average of 150 jobs in that county. So while someone might save $1 on T-shirt or a few cents on an apple, it really hurts their community. Your neighbor owns a hardware store and your other neighbor owns a landscaping service, and everyone is shopping at a Walmart—it hurts all their businesses. You might save 50 cents on that T-shirt, but it’s going to cost you somewhere else.
If you had one minute in a boardroom in front of the CEOs of the big corporations that have decided to open on Thanksgiving, what would you say to change their minds?
I don’t know if anything can change their minds. As much as we’re two different people, we’re almost two different species—theirs focused on the bottom line and mine on community and people. I’d probably try to make a bottom-line argument, the only argument they would hear: Give your employees the day off, and I guarantee you’ll see the return on [that day’s paid holiday] over the next year.
You’ve mentioned real-time gifting. What about using drones for delivery?
Drone delivery is a PR ploy—and kind of comical. I cannot imagine a world where there are hundreds of drones flying around, dropping off books and sweatshirts … and if that does come to bear, I can’t wait to see how many kids will be in their backyards with wrist rockets, shooting them down and picking up gifts as they fly by.
So, what are you giving your friends and family this holiday season?
All the love I have, a couple of bad jokes, a couple of good dishes and obviously a lot of great gifts through It’s On Me.