Over the past few years, technology has led to massive disruption in commerce, media and recently, finance and investing through the online crowdfunding space. Interestingly, as each of these fields evolves, we’re seeing many of them coalesce in a number of innovative ways. This trend is exemplified in the new startup Peeks, an ecommerce enabled live video streaming platform that allows users to interact and transact with each other in real time, using real currency.
Recently, Equities.com spoke with Peeks CEO Mark Itwaru about how Peeks is pushing the crowdfunding space forward, and what we can expect from ecommerce in the near future. Check out the interview below:
Equities: Thanks for speaking with us today, Mark. So to start, what is Peeks?
Mark Itwaru: We took a look at all the trends in social media, and we saw everything becoming progressively more real time. Facebook has designed something where you post and your friends get back to you. Then you have Instagram, where people snap a picture and within hours, they have even more media. So, it was the real time aspect that we waited on, and we decided to embrace real-time live streaming in the payment space. Typically, social media’s unique ability in business is to attract tens of millions of users in a very short period of time. So, I was looking at that coming from the same space. As a payments company, it took us 10 years to get four million users, and as a social media company we could be getting 100 million in a year.
We knew that if we had the right social media play and customer acquisitions role, we could attract a lot of users and get them interested in a variety of our features. So, after copious amounts of research, designing and engineering the service, we landed on a live streaming economic social network that allows people to interact and transact with their viewers worldwide in real time.
EQ: Can you walk me through how a user could utilize Peeks?
Itwaru: It could be used in a wide variety of ways, but in many cases, users will set up a sort of crowdfunding program. You could upload videos of your crowdfunding goals, tell people when you’re going to stream live, livestream to a global audience. If you have an engaged audience, you could leverage that for a better position in the app, so more people could see you and you could attract a larger audience. Your audience can interact with you, ask you questions, and you can get feedback.
EQ: What types of crowdfunding activities are your users involved in?
Itwaru: There are several types of crowdfunding – everything from the typical type of crowdfunding to equity-based financing, perspective-based financing offerings, and then random-based financing toward public offerings.
Already, we’ve got a great deal of crowdfunding activity going on – including some very interesting co-operative businesses. We’ve got one right now that’s a cooperative grocery store where everybody invests. It’s a wide variety of businesses that are only limited by people’s imaginations.
We have people funding women’s shelters and meals on wheels programs for the needy, things of that nature. We have some celebrities that are going to be live streaming to crowdfund a playground for inner city youths in Philadelphia, and Toronto and here in LA. Doing it in real time really enhances the experience.
On April 17, the OfferBox was deployed to the Peeks service. The OfferBox allows brands, influencers, and consumers to create actionable incentives, which can be distributed to their live audiences. It allows users to tap on the OfferBox on the screen and in a moment you’re one of several people that have invested. The idea being that if you want to raise a million dollars, you broadcast to 100,000 or 200,000 people and you can have a group of them invest if you like and you’ll reach your goal.
The OfferBox can also be used for your personalized shopping network. You can sell pretty much anything. You can sell your services as a computer programmer, you can interact with your audience, sell them course material, you can automatically sell goods and services. Other than that, you can just broadcast yourself live, if your audience likes what you’re offering, they tap on the screen and you make money.
EQ: What would you say are the core similarities of those who use Peeks?
Itwaru: So, all those activities have a couple of things in common: They are all within our universe of e-commerce enabled video streaming. So, whatever type of e-commerce activity that you can come up with that you would like to perform live, we can facilitate it. In addition to that, we also have a lot of live gamers who just sit around and play video games. They set up a crowdfunding goal for people to buy into, and with surprising regularity, these people meet their goal. Our top 10 payouts for last month’s broadcasters were all over $15,000, and then onto hundreds of thousands of dollars divided among smaller broadcasters.
EQ: That’s certainly impressive. How does Peeks make their money through the process?
Itwaru: We make our money in a wide variety of ways, but primarily from charging a payment processing fee. We only charge a platform fee for money raised. So, if you’re performing, we charge the clients one fee. If you’re performing and people are tapping the screen for you, the highest percentage that we charge is typically around 30%. You’re either going to get anywhere from between 30-50% of your crowdfunding goal, and depending on what it is, the platform fee is raised from 5% to 15%.
If you’re selling goods and services, again the platform fee raises from 5% to 15%. The variation in the fees we charge is a result of somebody’s status level, and their status level is based on their rank within the network. The ranking is an aggregate of a variety of different activities. So, if people complain about you, your ranking goes down. If people like your broadcast, your ranking goes up. If people rate you as a good seller, it goes up. if they rate you low, it goes down. If you’re harassing on the network, your ranking goes down. So, there is a wide variety of factors that determine what somebody’s status level is, and the status level ranges from 1 star to 5 stars. There is a special category for those people who are just exceptional on the network. The better the ranking, the lower the fee that we charge you. So, it’s a self-managing environment where people are encouraged to behave properly and to provide good quality performance or a good quality product to their viewers.
EQ: What are the main challenges in the crowdfunding space right now for people who are trying to fund their goals and their projects that way? How is Peeks attempting to fill the gaps in the space and handle or address the issues that people have faced?
Itwaru: That’s a great question. The main problem with crowdfunding is pretty obvious if you think about it: People being able to gather an audience. Crowdfunding is based on a crowd, and if you’re not a popular person, you don’t have a lot of people that know you. So, to gather a crowd to get followers is probably the biggest challenge that all these crowdfunding programs have, and we’ve solved that by putting crowdfunding in a social network. So, a piece of that is that it’s a social network. Being a social network allows you to engage in social interactions with other users and gather a large audience.
We allow our users to pay us for premier positioning in “Popular” or “Featured” categories. So, that exposes them to millions of viewers a day, and it allows them to gather a larger audience. In addition to that, it allows us to get advertisers that other social networks don’t get. So, if you take a look at Facebook, all their advertising revenues are pretty much from large to medium size businesses that pay to advertise on Facebook. They have a billion users and the users don’t advertise. That was the case with pretty much all the social networks. We thought “our objective over the next year is to get one hundred million users, and we we’d like to provide incentives for our one hundred million users to want to advertise themselves.” If you’re trying to crowdfund a project, advertising yourself for a few thousand impressions is actually very attractive. Almost everybody that joins the crowdfunding program ends up spending at least $8 on advertising themselves. So, economies of scale.
EQ: Crowdfunding and ecommerce are industries that are going through a lot of changes, and will likely continue to for some time. What do you see happening to the online payments and crowdfunding space moving forward? How is Peeks preparing for these changes?
Itwaru: Well, by creating a social network and a payment platform, we have brought to the forefront something called Contextual Commerce. And Contextual Commerce is really obfuscated mobile payments and payment processing. So, we are providing people engaging experiences with offers that are contextual to what they are seeing, that have a higher response rate than traditional type advertising. By having the payment mechanisms built in, what we’re finding is that we’re able to charge people a much higher rate for payment processing than we would if we were to do a more standard payment processing. So, the future of payment processing is obfuscating the actual payment processing through engaging experiences.
EQ: Fascinating stuff. Is there anything else specific to Peeks or the industry that you wanted to touch on?
Itwaru: Just that convergence is also a big trend. So, at this stage in the early key battles, what we’re really seeing is a convergence of several types of digital media – mobile payments and social media unifying as single platforms. So, in our view, an ecommerce-enabled video streaming network, to a large extent is the next evolution of television, and specifically television advertising. It’s the next step in the evolution that stems from people buying different services off of TV. Say, You’re watching a travel show and then you see a package you can purchase from Expedia. That’s not something that’s ever been able to be done effectively on television. So, convergence is key; converging technology that provides users with an organic experience where your content and commerce are meshed together in a natural way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re being sold to.