These days most of us are trained to roll out of bed and onto our cellphones — checking email, social media, and any texts we received overnight. The average American adult spends 2 hours, 51 minutes on their smartphone every day, according to a recent study. It’s no surprise that dinner parties and weddings are starting to institute a “leave the phone at the door” policy.
While working at Sony, music entrepreneur Courtney “Coko” Eason also worked as an MC and general “hype woman” through her own side hustle, Soundtrack Entertainment. There, she saw the effect phones have on live music events firsthand.
“It was getting more and more difficult to keep people on their feet, laughing and dancing, at each event and I just didn’t know what was going on,” says Eason. “I didn’t know if my events were getting more boring or if I was. I started to review the audience and videotapes and then I noticed that the culprit was the cellphone.”
Despite announcements, signage, and even requests from celebrities and artists, phone usage continued to ruin the experiences. That’s how MILK was born.
Milk is a rewards-generating app under Eason’s Nashville-based company, Milk the Moment. The startup incentivizes you to be present at dinner, at the movies, or during a concert — instead of shaming you into not using your phone, the app rewards you for keeping it in your pocket after you enter a ‘MILK Zone,’ a geo-fenced area set by the event organizers.
Once you enter the Zone, you can start earning rewards, like cash, gift cards and more, the longer you stay off your phone. If you see a friend cheating by checking the screen, you can steal some of their points with the MILK detection feature.
This element of competition is what Eason hopes will help people enjoy moments more and help businesses capture more of their live audience.
“It’s going to try to encourage all of you to come together and make a pact that you’re gonna refrain from using your phone during this experience,” says Eason. “It’s a little bit of a competitive game and I think it keeps things definitely interesting for all the users involved.”
The MILK Zone can pop up at different businesses, similarly to PokemonGO, and offer discounts and rewards to keep users coming back — eventually making those points into a sort of currency.
“We want to get it to the point to where the MILK points are actually like currency and those points can somehow be redeemed literally at the restaurant,” says Eason. “At the movie theater. At the concession stand. To where you can turn your points in and get half off on candy or free popcorn.”
Another possible integration partner? Car insurance companies. Driving and texting is a huge safety problem that presents a much bigger issue than just not paying attention at a concert.
“We’re focusing right now on partnering with insurance companies and getting a headstart on how we can add features to the app that’s going to help detect that a person is in a car and driving,” says Eason.
That way, in a similar fashion to Progressive’s Snapshot program, you can earn rewards if you stay off your phone while on the road.
While partnerships are one stream of revenue, the MILK app will also bring in dollars from in-app purchases, advertisers, and sponsors.
Currently in beta with a full launch scheduled next month, MILK has received positive feedback so far from users, including those using the startup’s name as a verb.
“The fact that some of the tagline, Milk the Moment, is already starting to resonate with people. If they see their friend grab their phone, they say, ‘Hey, you’re supposed to be milking the moment.’ That was one of the biggest things that I was really just overjoyed about,” says Eason.
The beta also helped Eason nail her target audience. While she was initially focused on ages 18 and over, customer feedback directed her to a slightly older audience, those in their late 20’s and early 30’s. — the demographic that didn’t grow up with an iPhone attached to their hand and want to kick (or at least limit) the habit.
Eason was selected as a CODE2040 entrepreneur-in-residence, a national non-profit program in partnership with Google for Entrepreneurs, earlier this year. The program aims to supports and connects black and Latinx entrepreneurs with resources to scale their companies.
MILK received $40,000 in seed capital, an office in the Google for Entrepreneurs hub Nashville Entrepreneur Center, and invaluable support from both the CODE2040 and Google for Entrepreneurs networks.
Currently bootstrapped, Eason says that following the app’s launch, they will be looking for investment from an angel or seed investor.
“I think we’re way too early for VCs, but possibly angel investors doing some type of convertible note,” says Eason. “We’re still looking into pitch competitions, we’re looking into accelerators, and other ways where we can grab a nice lump sum of funding that will hold us off until we are ready to really start approaching VCs.”
While Eason, upon having her initial idea, originally booked a ticket to Silicon Valley to seek investors and talent, she now sees Nashville as a thriving tech scene and the ideal home to grow her startup.
“I definitely want to stay in the Southeast,” says Eason. “I love it here, but not only that, I feel like if everybody keeps coming up with great ideas and moving away, we’re never going to build up the Southeast like it can be built. I want to be a part of that. I want to be someone who helps build the tech community here and show that you can be just as successful here in the Southeast as if you were on the West Coast.”
“I’m hoping to partner up with different firms or investors that actually agree with my vision of trying to build up the tech community here in Nashville and other southern states.”