Blackbird Labs, the high-tech loyalty startup from the founder of Resy and Eater, has raised $24 million in a Series A funding round.
The investment was led by high-profile venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and featured other big names including Amex Ventures.
Founded in 2022, Blackbird uses sophisticated technology to help independent restaurants collect more data on their customers.
It has generated a lot of attention in part due to founder Ben Leventhal, the entrepreneur behind reservations platform Resy and food news site Eater. With Blackbird, he wants to put local restaurants in direct contact with their guests, which he views as the key to solving other problems.
“We've just experienced two decades of declining margins and eroding direct customer relationships in the restaurant industry,” Leventhal said in a statement. “I love this industry, but it is time to face industry economic challenges head-on and make bold changes. Loyalty and connectivity are the next frontier and we're excited to be leading on this path forward.”
Blackbird has also turned heads with sleek software that connects to the blockchain and involves a proprietary digital currency. (It has elaborate plans for that currency, by the way, which are detailed in a white paper on its website.)
But today, Blackbird acts much like a regular loyalty program, albeit with some unique features.
When a customer visits a restaurant using Blackbird, they can tap their phone to a dedicated NFC reader and enter their phone number to create their membership. After that, they’ll start earning benefits and perks each time they tap in. Those could include free drinks, special off-menu items or the ability to text with the restaurant in real time. Each restaurant can design its own program.
Tap-ins will also net the customer some $FLY, Blackbird’s digital currency that essentially acts as loyalty points. Customers can use $FLY to buy rewards or access exclusive events. And they may eventually be able to use it at other restaurants or businesses that use Blackbird.
Unlike other loyalty programs, restaurants also earn $FLY when customers tap in, pay their bill or take other valuable actions. Restaurants can use their $FLY to fund rewards or incentivize guests to share more data.
Where it gets really interesting is that customers can opt in to sharing their data with all of the restaurants they interact with on Blackbird. That means one restaurant will be able to view a person’s status and behavior at other places. In exchange, the customer will earn triple the amount of $FLY when they tap in.
The idea is to create a mutually beneficial ecosystem that encourages customers to share their data and grows the pie for restaurants in the network.
Twenty-two restaurants are currently using Blackbird, and about 60 others have signed up. Many are trendy New York City spots like Corner Bar, Principe and Momofuku.
In conjunction with the fundraise, Blackbird is expanding from its New York test market to other areas, including Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Charleston, S.C.
"We are excited about adding Blackbird into our restaurants," said Jon Shook, owner of Jon & Vinny's in LA, in a statement. "This impressive technology will actively help us serve and engage our great customers on an even deeper level, and, in turn, allow them to further invest in their relationships with our restaurants."
Loyalty has become one of the biggest trends in the industry in recent years as restaurants look for ways to drive guest frequency and collect more customer data. But the right way to do loyalty is far from decided, and brands are continuing to update their programs.
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