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When Ross Basri ran into his old college friend John Timoney during his lunch break in Manhattan last fall, the 28-year-olds quickly fell into conversation about their shared passion for cryptocurrency and blockchain. They were so enthralled by the topic that they skipped their afternoon plans and spent hours on a park bench brainstorming a new business.
What riveted the Columbia University alums most was the potential for Web3 — a new iteration of the internet that uses blockchain technology — to create a crypto-based economy built upon ownership by individual users instead of big platforms. Aware that small brands face challenges in developing successful loyalty programs, they thought an NFT-based loyalty program would be a killer use case that could drive the technology. It would be a way for customers to connect directly with brands they’re interested in while also building more utility into NFTs, which have been used mostly as collectibles.
“We were excited to explore a new use case for Web3 that people could incorporate into their everyday lives,” Timoney says. Basri quit his blockchain engineering job and Timoney left his blockchain research role at PayPal in January to start Uptop — the name is a reference to a high five.
“High fives are always free, but they make you feel good,” Basri explains.
Uptop founders Ross Basri, left, and John Timoney. (Photo courtesy of Uptop)
Encouraging consumers to sign up for loyalty programs has long been core to brand marketing, but it’s proving increasingly expensive and tricky to build the personalized customer relationships needed to drive repeat business, especially for small businesses with fewer resources.
Besides that, grappling with multiple loyalty programs can be frustrating for consumers as they rifle through emails for discount codes, clog their smartphones with brand apps and stuff their purses with dog-eared loyalty cards.
So, instead of signing people up for yet another traditional loyalty program, Uptop gets users to claim a free NFT that acts as a digital version of a rewards account.
“Loyalty is extremely powerful for top merchants,” says Basri, a former Goldman Sachs trader. “We’re basically trying to democratize that digital strategy for every merchant.”
Their idea quickly snagged the venture capital needed to get their startup off the ground, and they began recruiting a small remote team to get their platform into beta mode. Now the pair hope that signing up for the Mastercard Start Path Crypto startup engagement program will give Uptop a kick start as they collect insights from industry mentors and introduce their Web3 concept to merchants.
They want the NFTs companies mint with Uptop to be more than just collectible digital images, but to instead serve as building blocks of Web3 loyalty schemes that funnel discounts and offers to consumers for in-store or online use.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Brands can use NFTs to open access to special live events, subscriptions or memberships. Using them as sweepstakes tickets is another way to engage customers.
By sending NFTs directly to an Uptop digital wallet, companies can avoid handling sensitive customer data, while consumers can safely store their rewards program NFTs from multiple merchants in the same place.
With the world’s biggest brands already debuting their Web3 strategies, Timoney and Basri are hoping to give smaller companies the chance to mint the NFTs that can help them get closer to their customers.
For instance, they are launching a new loyalty campaign with Brooklyn’s Threes Brewing, with the goal of getting customers to try more of the brewer’s flavors. Threes Brewing is adding QR codes to the sides of their cans, which people can scan to claim a free NFT. Trying different flavor combinations unlocks achievement NFTs, and top collectors will appear on a digital leaderboard. Reaching the top of the leaderboard unlocks a unique NFT that grants perks and discounts at Threes Brewing in perpetuity — and keeps those customers coming back.
The duo is betting the decentralized economy starts to bring in more users as it quickly revolutionizes how we shop, live and work.
“What we’re building offers folks something they can touch, feel and own, just with an internet connection,” says Timoney. “It’s really this critical infrastructure — the picks and shovels — that will power the next billion users to adopt NFTs and crypto.”


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