LikeUs Network – Vending Mobile Payment Hardware

LikeUs Network

LikeUs_Network_Hardware

LikeUs Network is a mobile payment hardware device for vending machines. When our hardware is plugged into vending machines, it enables them to accept payments from paypal, google wallet, saved credit cards, and other payment solutions. Mark Cuban was an investor in the company, giving us a seed amount of $75,000.

Where the IDEA Came From

So me and Steven Ray were out for a job in Dallas, and I was so tired & thirsty.  There happen to be a vending machine on the trail, so I sprinted for it. Once I arrived Steve let me know that I had no way to pay for it, cause I left my wallet in the car. I said outloud “Why can’t I login to Facebook, and let people spam me for a free drink!”

At that second, I realized we needed to make this a reality. That night I got an old 70’s Dr Pepper machine from my dad’s friend, and had a couple of friends help me get it into my apartment. Then I bought an Arduino and a Make book on Arduinos.  Steve did some wiring, my friend Keyston built us a quick android app, I did some Arduino coding, and before long we had a working prototype. You logged into facebook, it would post an advertisment on your wall, and once it was posted it a credit was sent to the vending machine.

Mark Cuban INVESTED???

About a year before we built our initial prototype me and my wife had dinner with some friends in Dallas.  In some drunken conversation my friend told me about how his brother plays basketball with Mark Cuban at his gym all the time. I asked him what gym, and instantly started talking my wife into going to that gym so that I could meet Mark Cuban.

6 months later we finally shifted over to Lifetime Fitness and I started playing basketball with a group of guys everyday.  I had been going there for a couple of months and no Cuban sightings.  So I had given up on that whole idea of meeting him, him giving me millions investment money, and us screaming at refs together at Mavs games.

Then one day I’m getting ready to play, and in he walks.  Already trying to hold in my crazy fanboy face…who do I get matched up against on the court.  Yep, I am guarding Mark Cuban on a basketball court.  How crazy is this? Let me just add that I was on my game that day.  I drained 5 or so three-pointers in his eye 🙂

So now that I know he’s really a member, and I may have a chance to talk to him more we decide to throw a wrench in the gears.  So at this time, my wife is a couple months pregnant.  Her sister, who lives in Walnut Creek, is also pregnant.  We decide we’re going to move to Walnut Creek so that our children can grow up playing together.

Literally on the last day we’re in Dallas, I go to the gym to play one last round of basketball.  I had already told myself that if Cuban was there, I was going to tell him all about my idea. We start playing, and BAM, Cuban walks in and starts playing with us. We play a few games, and we all finish up.  I tell myself okay lets do this…and then…”nope I can’t do this”. I felt like I was being a dick, going up to him at the gym when he’s just trying to workout. At this time Cuban goes into the treadmill room. I tell myself “I’m gonna go run too, and maybe I can grow some balls and talk to him.”

This is where it gets crazy. So Cuban is in the first row of treadmills, I’m in the 3rd row, and this 7ft tall guy we were playing basketball with gets in the 2nd row.  So we’re all jogging, and suddenly 7 footer stumbles on the treadmill.  I try not to look, cause that’s crazy embarrassing when you get a shoelace caught or something. So a few more minutes go by, and 7 footer goes flying off of the treadmill. I run over there “My pacemaker went off for the first time, it felt like a horse kicked me in the chest” he said.  Cuban runs over, we get the paramedics, people are coming over, tons of water, and bags, and people freaking out.  After about 20 minutes, the paramedics roll this guy out on a stretcher, and it’s just me and Cuban standing there.  He looks at me and I say “Can I be dick, and ask you a business question even though you’re at the gym and all of this?” He quickly responds with “Sure, what’s up”.  “If I have an idea I want to show you, what’s the best way to go about that?” He says “Well here’s my email, I promise I’ll read it, but I don’t promise I’ll respond”

Seemed completely fair to me.  He walks off and heads for the locker room, and I’m still kinda standing there in shock.  When he spins around and comes back to me and asks what the idea is.  I tell him that we’re doing a social currency idea around vending machines.  And how we’ve developed this hardware that plugs into vending machines, and yadda yadda.  He quickly starts thinking about other things this could fit into, and says “lets go look at this vending machine over here.” I tell him how we have this tablet on the machine, and you login to facebook on it. He looks at me and says “THAT IS THE WORST IDEA I’VE EVER HEARD”. Can you imagine the security risks when people are behind you watching you login.  He looks at me dead in the face and says “If you can do it all from your phone, I’M IN.” My cocky ass replied “Give me 2 weeks and I’ll make it happen.”

So a month of emails, charts, talks with vendors, and Cuban’s lawyers he officially invested in LikeUs Network.

What Went WRONG (the first time)

So there was a list of things that went wrong, but the biggest one was that our entire business was based fully around Facebook. We found this out the hard way.  We spent so many hours getting things working, and then overnight Facebook decided to change their Terms of Service to banning 3rd parties to post message on a personal wall in exchange for a reward. Overnight our brilliant idea burned to the ground.

The PIVOT

So during these first phases, we had gone to this giant international vending expo in Vegas and talked to all of the big wigs in the beverage industry.  The beverage guys were all OLD! Like OLD OLD! We told them we were doing things with Social Media and they either said “We already do Social Media” (referring to sending emails – not social media) or “What is Social Media?”

We quickly realized that social media, although extremely current, wasn’t going to work in the vending industry.  But what would work? MONEY. We already had the backend system to send credit to a vending machine, so we brought on Angelo who designed a custom control board for us.  On top of the board design he created custom protocols for adding credit, listening to the machine for errors (things like power outages, errors from other devices, and even cash transactional data), and remotely updating the firmware onto our new hardware.

Once we made that switch, the flood gates opened. All of the same vendors that just didn’t get it, where calling us up trying to buy the device.  We even were asked to come out to New York and demo our device for Pepsi (which wasn’t as great day as it sounds).

How were we DIFFERENT

The biggest feature that made us different is that we were platform agnostic.  The products that are available today are NFC based.  Which meant that a vendor had a buy and install a NFC reader that cost nearly $1000, and it left out all of the iPhone, Windows, and Jitterbug phone users.

Where is it NOW?

As of March 1, 2014 we decided to shut down LikeUs Network.  It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to shut down, but we just weren’t in a position to continue.  Hardware is really expensive to get rolling, manufacture, etc and we didn’t have the working capital. The product is still around, and we’re in talks with a few folks about taking over the project.



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