David Leibner is a hospitality guy. At 41, he’s lived in New York, New Orleans, and for the last 17 years, Las Vegas, almost constantly working at, working with or owning restaurants and bars. But after discovering a passion for technology through a consulting job, he began to build something of his own.
Now he’s the founder of ItsOnMe: a mobile gifting app that allows users to buy something—a drink, a round, a cheesesteak, whatever—for someone else without actually being there to pick up the tab. It’s a digital version of something we all do every week, and the more you talk about ItsOnMe with Leibner, the more it seems like he’s created the next big thing ... and the more you wanna buy him a drink, too.
What was the inspiration for ItsOnMe? Working and living in New Orleans, there was such a tight group of friends working at the bars and restaurants. People started buying drinks for people that weren’t there. “Dave bought Jimmy a drink yesterday, but he was working, so I’m giving it to him today.” So they built this drink board, and the original just had three columns: To, From and What. To Jimmy, from Dave, a shot of Jim Beam. It was a simple idea, but eventually we realized that this chalkboard behind the bar was the first social network. People would come in and see their name behind the bar and they’d be so happy that someone was thinking about them. It was so personal, and they wanted to reciprocate.
How does that idea become an app? I never thought about it for maybe 20 years, and then I’d moved out here and started Social Office Suite, which is a social media management platform I built. The motto of that company is social media is for people, and real-time brand management is for business. If someone says, “I’m starving” online within a mile of your restaurant, and your restaurant is empty, you should be responding to that guy: “Check out our lasagna today.” So we are tracking all these conversations and realizing it’s incredible that no one is monetizing it. If I’m in New York and you just updated your Facebook status that you got a new job, what am I gonna do? Send a Nothing Bundt Cake or 1-800-Flowers? I should be able to say thanks or congrats in more than just a Facebook post.
So how does it work? It’s just a form of payment, delivered through the mobile marketplace. It’s a way for you to interact with people when you can’t be around, to say, “Thanks!” or “Congratulations!” or, “Remember that time in college we had shots of Jameson? I miss you, man. Happy birthday, here’s a shot.” It works more like a voucher, like LivingSocial or Groupon, except at full retail price, because businesses have discovered those didn’t work. Once someone pays $10 for a $20 cheeseburger at your restaurant, they’ll never pay $20 again, ever.
We can build something that not only allows people to digitize these personal experiences, but also to support local brick-and-mortar businesses at full retail price. It’s like Amazon, though they’re a whale and we’re a minnow, but we’re doing the same thing—building a global marketplace that allows anyone to buy anything anytime, but instead of having it delivered to your doorstep, you’re driving people into the community, into a local restaurant to support the local economy.
Merchants can use it, too, right? Merchants can send out gifts as invites, say, if they are starting live music Wednesdays and they want to send an invite with a drink card. “We’re trying something new, feel free to come down, and if you do, the first round is on us.” There are a ton of other scenarios. One of the uses I never imagined is people are using it when they can’t make it out to meet with friends, as an excuse. Maybe I had a long day or my kid’s crying, but here’s four shots of Patrón for you and our buddies.
The app is free and it’s been up for six months. Where do you go from here? We have 40 local businesses on ItsOnMe and we’ll be over 100 in a hurry. Las Vegas is a great place to start because so many people come here to celebrate. But we’re in the process of launching 25 merchants each in San Diego, San Francisco and New York City, too, and we’re getting inquiries about launching in Austin, Houston, D.C., Miami, New Orleans, Philly and other cities. I think it will get huge, but how fast is relative. ... We have to be mature and methodical about not launching too much too fast because we have to be able to support it.