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Let’s Talk Tech: NFL Bruiser Bets Bank on Bar App

In addition to being one of the hardest working players on the football field, New Orleans Saint’s linebacker, Jonathan Vilma, is also braving his way into the mobile technology field. Last year he joined forces with Andrew Bennett, an old high school classmate, to help hatch BarEye, a mobile app that allows users to buy drinks for themselves, for Facebook friends, or anyone else checked into a BarEye bar. The team piloted the app in Tallahassee and now has more than 10,000 downloads. They’ve also got a lot of people tipsy from the number of drinks they’ve sold through the app, which is available for both Android and iPhones. Now, the bar app is expanding into five major markets: NY, LA, Miami, Atlanta and Austin.

JET Magazine stole some time from Vilma during his pre-season training to find out more about BarEye and how the app is making waves in the nightlife community.

JET: How did you decide to join Andrew and invest your time and money into this venture?

Jonathan Vilma: Andrew explained how his social platform had the ability to monetize a social network within the bars and lounges. My interest came partly from being on the owner side of the bars. I own three. Bars have been stuck with the same business model for centuries.

I did more research, and started noticing the demo in the bars and how 20-25 year olds were always on their smart phones. Andrew explained why it would be a really good idea to integrate the BarEye network into their world. I thought it was a very great product that would make moves among the nightlife.

JET: How does it work?

Vilma: Here is an example of the most practical application. When a customer goes into a bar to celebrate his birthday with friends. He will post on twitter. “I’m at this place. Its my birthday.” All of his friends will respond Happy Birthday. Now, with BarEye, they can also send him a drink. Bareye users have the ability to purchase drinks via the application even if they aren’t there. The birthday boy redeems the drinks from the bar. The tip goes 100% to the bar owner. That is one of many scenarios.

People can buy drinks if they want to catch someone’s eye. You can also buy drinks for yourself if you don’t want to open a tab. The college students in Tallahassee love the bar seen. They were really receptive to BarEye. They didn’t have to bring credit cards.

JET: How does BarEye make money from this transaction?

Vilma: We receive an 80:20 split. Eighty percent of BarEye transactions go to the bar owner, 20% to us. Also, BarEye is a franchise business model so locals in each market will sell and market the product. This will encourage targeted promotional campaigns with individual bars and clubs. As part of our five-city expansion, BarEye is recruiting promoters and professionals in the bar/lifestyle industry to become franchisees. Entrepreneurs can purchase a license from BarEye for $2,500, which gives them exclusive access to a selected area of a city.

JET: What makes BarEye unique from other location-based apps that allow you to check-in to a retail establishment?

Vilma: Bar owners can reward patrons with free drinks. Also, we have a feature called “cheers” that motivates people to socialize on BarEye. “Cheers” is similar to “Likes” on Facebook.

JET: How do you balance your time being a professional athlete while running a fast-paced technology company?

Vilma: First, I have to trust the people I’m in business with. Andrew takes a lot of pressure off of me. Business is a grind just like football is a grind for me. I have to have a lot of structure. I know how my days are going to go up to the minute. Also, I apply principles that I learn from football into business. A perfect example is knowing your role. If you’re not the head honcho you’re not the head honcho. By having a co-founder, I realize that I don’t have to be the chief all of the time.

Read more about Vilma in the upcoming issue of JET Magazine.