Walter Cruttenden, co-founder of one of the most disruptive fintechs in the investment space, Acorns, launched a new savings app Tuesday called Blast.
Like Acorns, which has 3.7 million investment accounts in the U.S. and is adding 200,000 customers a month, Blast lets people save money without having to think about it or make a conscious effort.
It lets people connect any Android game app (and in the future iPhone apps) to a checking account, credit or debit card and automatically sweep money into savings. Blast users can stash away set amounts of money tied to how many minutes they play a game or how often they win. The funds would accumulate money in a federally insured account earning 1% interest. It works in the background of games like Candy Crush, Angry Birds or Words with Friends, so game sessions are never interrupted.
The new app grew out of Acorns.
“There was a cohort of Acorns users that would rather save than invest,” Cruttenden said. “They just don’t like ups and downs of the market. Seeing how many gamers there were, we thought we’d merge together fintech and gaming because we thought it would be fun and could help satisfy all those demands we were getting from small investors.”
The app lets people set up savings triggers. One type of trigger is time: You could save 1 to 10 cents per minute. The other type of trigger rewards people for game accomplishments — getting to a certain level or defeating an enemy, for instance.
“Gamers really like that; it resonates with doing something in the game that they might want to try to do anyway,” Cruttenden said.
There are about 150 million gamers in the U.S. and 2.6 billion worldwide. And an untold number of people who would never call themselves gamers play Words with Friends, Angry Birds, Candy Crush or Solitaire or do crossword puzzles online or in apps.
“Venture capitalist Mary Meeker at Kleiner Perkins pointed out in her latest Internet Trends Report that you have an entire generation that has grown up playing games and many of the mechanics developing games are being applied to other industries — for instance, the military uses game controllers to fly drones, Airbnb uses leader boards to show availability of inventory," Cruttenden said. "So all those game mechanics are filtering into industries. And we thought, why not bring them into the financial services industry, too.”
Because many people have tried creating financial games that have mostly been misfires, Cruttenden’s team decided to find out what games are popular already and turn them into conduits for saving.
Cruttenden is still involved in Acorns and the new company is in the old Acorns headquarters in Newport Beach, Calif.
“We acquired a patent from Acorns to get Blast going,” Cruttenden said. “We all realized this had to be done completely separately because it involves a lot of gaming mechanics that wouldn’t fit into the Acorns app.” The patent is for moving small amounts of money.
Cruttenden, who before joiningAcorns founded and served as CEO of two investment banking and brokerage firms — Cruttenden Roth (now Roth Capital, active underwriters of emerging growth companies), and E-Offering, formerly the iBank arm of E-Trade Securities — accepts the label “serial entrepreneur.”
“This is my fifth company, so I’m good for a couple of years,” he said. “I love to help get a company started and ramp it up.” Thirty-four people work at the company so far. One is Cruttenden’s son Alex, a video and product designer.
Blast has some heavyweight supporters. The behavioral economist Shlomo Benartzi of UCLA is an adviser, as is the economist Richard Thaler, who won a Nobel prize in October.
“They make the point that it’s really hard to change people’s behavior,” Cruttenden said. “No matter how much you talk with them and plead with them, it’s difficult. But if you can find something they already do and attach a positive outcome to it, then you have a chance to really change their lives and make a positive impact.”
About 44% of the American population does not even have $400 saved up, he noted.
The self-help guru Tony Robbins participated in the $12 million in seed funding also announced Tuesday, as did CreditEase, a $1 billion fintech fund based in Palo Alto, Calif., and the venture capital fund RX3.
Robbins got involved through a friendship with Benartzi.
“Apparently Tony had already been looking at the growth of the game industry. He’s a pretty successful entrepreneur and invested in quite a few things and was having good success in the game industry, including e-sports,” Cruttenden said. “We’re excited to have him on board, because he’s an ambassador for whatever he gets into.”
Blast previously raised $5 million from investors including the Forbes and Roth families, Core Innovation Capital, Great Oaks Venture Capital, Snowmass Private Equity, Wilson Sonsini and Goodrich & Rosati.