Serial entrepreneur Ben Leventhal has raised $11 million in a seed round for his new web3 hospitality platform Blackbird.
Leventhal previously co-founded two startups that have shaped the restaurant industry: the food publication Eater and restaurant discovery platform Resy.
Eater was acquired by Vox in 2013 and Resy was acquired by American Express in 2019.
The round for Blackbird is co-led by Union Square Ventures, Shine Capital and Multicoin Capital, Leventhal said. Other backers include Variant, Circle Ventures and IAC, according to a statement from the company.
“I love building things from scratch,” said Leventhal in an interview with The Block.
“I think when you can take an idea and bring it all the way to fruition and form a real enterprise and a real product around it, there's nothing more exhilarating,” he added. “Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, but it didn't really occur to me to do anything but this.”
What is Blackbird?
Blackbird is a web3 platform purpose-built for the hospitality industry with a focus on creating a direct connection between the restaurant and their guests through loyalty and membership services.
“In many ways my thinking is around, how can I point technology at restaurants to help them solve problems and to help create magical consumer experience?” Leventhal said. “So, the enticing question is, how do we point crypto at restaurants in an exciting way? And I think very much Blackbird is the result of that thinking and those conversations.”
Leventhal observed an increasing disconnection between restaurants and their consumers with technology companies often sitting in the middle.
“Hospitality is very much an intimate relationship, and that direct connectivity matters a whole lot,” Leventhal said. “What we intend to do with the product is really create something that facilitates that direct connectivity.”
What that means exactly? Leventhal is still figuring it out. He's first going to explore loyalty and memberships.
Bringing web3 to consumers
During the pandemic, consumers really showed up for the restaurants they loved. Leventhal wants Blackbird to help formalize this relationship.
“You could think about products in the loyalty and membership space that reward frequency of dining, that reward spend, that reward various behaviors,” Leventhal said. “In the end, we think those things are going to increase the lifetime value of an individual consumer and if we do that then obviously, we're going to improve the restaurant business overall.”
The tech stack for Blackbird is still up in the air, but Leventhal expects that web3 components will need to be abstracted away to make it appealing to a mainstream consumer audience.
“Hopefully, for consumers Blackbird feels like magic,” Leventhal said. “We want it to feel like a magic decoder ring in your pocket in terms of how the consumer product feels.”
“For a crypto native audience, I hope that they're thrilled by how we're thinking about pointing this at a specific use case,” he added.
Leventhal started raising for Blackbird at the tail end of the bull market and into the bear market. The round ended up being oversubscribed.
“I think we could have raised a lot more money,” Leventhal said.
“Given the macroeconomic environment and the overall landscape, it felt prudent for us to probably go a little bit smaller than we could have and a little bit more conservative on the valuation,” he added.
Blackbird’s $11 million raise is above the average check size for a seed round in August, according to data from The Block Research.
Union Square Ventures' Fred Wilson will join the board and a minimum viable product of Blackbird will likely ship in the first half of 2023, Leventhal said.
“We will crawl before we walk," Leventhal said.
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