Over the past few months, I've been using the private beta of Venmo, a new, flexible payments platform built by my friend Andrew Kortina and his friend Iqram Magdon-Ismail.
On the surface, Venmo has some similarities to PayPal and a few other payments systems, in that you can text "pay so-and-so $10 for whatever" and, if that person is on the service, they get a message to approve the payment. If they're not, an invite to join is sent.
Boring? Not so fast.
Where Venmo shines is in the trusted network you build up. Andrew and Iqram realized something insanely important, that other payment sites (and social-networks) have failed to realize, and can't really implement: that many of us have friends and contacts we'd trust enough to take money right out of our wallet!
With that realization, Venmo also has a "Trusted Friend" feature, in which I can mark my roommate, girlfriend, and brother as "Trusted" friends, allowing them to "charge innonate $14 for dinner" without having to get me involved!
This feature is already proving immensely valuable, taking 50% of the hassle of mobile payments right out of the equation. Whereas before you had to ask to be paid and then have that payment approved, transferring money among friends becomes super simple.
Of course where this will get super interesting is when restaurants and other venues get into the mix. Andrew and I had lunch today at Simple Kitchen in Chelsea, where both of us eat several times a week (I'm currently the Mayor on Foursquare, for what it's worth). After the 10th time eating at Simple Kitchen (a few months ago) I started building a rapport with the locale and its employees to the point in which I'd say I "trust" them.
So, how great would it be if Simple Kitchen, along with other places I like and trust, could automatically charge me for everything I eat there? "Accounts" used to be things for Country Clubs -- a service provided to make the most elite customers feel appreciated. Well, combine Venmo with our personal relationships with people and places and we can all feel like elite customers.
And that's good for business.
These are early days for Venmo. But they're moving a mile a minute and I've already gotten 10 invites from friends today, so the growth curve has got to be exciting for them (by the way, I have 6 invites to give out, so comment below if you want one).
I'm looking forward to using Venmo more and seeing where they take the product.
Good luck, fellas!