Ben Leventhal Discusses Raising $24M for Web3 Restaurant Loyalty Platform, Blackbird

This week, Blackbird, a startup building a Web3-powered restaurant loyalty platform, announced it had raised a $24 million Series A funding round led by a16z’s crypto team with participation from Amex Ventures and Bolt by QED, among others.

With the news, the company lifted the curtain around its platform and how it works. When customers arrive at a restaurant, they initiate membership by tapping their smartphone on Blackbird’s NFC reader. From there, Blackbird issues an NFT, which acts as an identity card that keeps track of the customer’s relationship with the restaurant. When a customer returns and taps with the NFC reader, it acts as a digital handshake that sends info associated with a customer’s membership to the restaurant, such as first and last name, address, and dining history.

In short, the platform is designed to work without burdening the customer or the restaurant with technical know-how. The Web3 technology works in the background, creating a wallet for customers to hold their NFTs and the $FLY tokens earned over time.

It’s clear from the announcement that the company is not leaning too heavily in branding itself as a Web3 company but instead emphasizing what founder Ben Leventhal sees as a friction-free, next-generation loyalty platform that helps smaller operators who may not have a significant technical staff or internal resources.

“Blackbird works very well if you couldn’t possibly care less about the blockchain,” Leventhal told The Spoon. “That’s crucial because the adoption of blockchain and the passion around the blockchain is rather specific and limited right now. And we need to create magic for all guests, regardless of how they think about tech, or if they think about tech at all.”

Still, while Leventhal and Blackbird aren’t emphasizing the platform’s Web3 underpinnings, there’s no doubt that much of the buzz around the company and the reason it was able to raise money from blue chips like Andreessen Horowitz in a challenging environment is precisely because it’s a web3 company; there’s a sense among investors and early partners that the company’s technology could, in some way, upend the traditional restaurant loyalty technology market.

I asked Leventhal how he thinks his company’s Web3 tech differentiates itself from what’s out there today. He pointed to a campaign his early trial partners ran this summer in partnership with Coinbase called the Summer Sweet Pass as part of Coinbase’s OnChain Summer.

“If you’re somebody who likes dessert, you have a sweet tooth, and you’re in New York in August, we curated eight restaurant desserts for you that you could, by virtue of having this pass in your Blackbird wallet, enjoy. I think that there are potentially several layers of community and connectivity that we can power for restaurants.”

It became clear during our conversation that Leventhal thinks his company can appeal to the passionate – but relatively small – community that wants to leverage blockchain and Web3 today to tap into experiences in the physical world while also helping restaurants build loyalty platforms that have more headroom to grow in the future while not putting any significant technical burden on their small staffs or the customer.

According to Leventhal, a low technical burden is especially crucial for smaller independent operators, the type of customer that Blackbird is targeting.

“We’re trying to focus on independent restaurants to help them level the playing field against some of these, you know, very, very serious competitors,” said Leventhal. “The average independent coffee shop is competing with Starbucks for their customers. The average independent restaurant competes with Sweetgreen and PF Chang’s for their customers. So they’re going to need some tools to do that effectively.”

This is Leventhal’s third restaurant industry startup. He founded the food media company Eater nearly two decades ago before selling it to Vox and started reservation tech company Resy in 2013 before selling it to American Express in 2019.

I asked Leventhal how things compare today to those previous eras.

“Twenty years ago, and the average restaurant is making ten to twelve percent margin,” said Leventhal. “Today, it’s three to four. So, we need to continue to think about what the future for restaurants looks like. And to me, a big part of the problem is not around the kind of reservations technology – that is now a pretty mature and robust area of technology – I think it’s about core connectivity to restaurants and guests and giving restaurants to make the most of their most loyal customers.”

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This post originally appeared on TechToday.

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