Inevitably, you’re going to see ads on every digital screen you interact with — television, computer screen, tablet and mobile device. One founder with a background in both technology and entertainment thinks you should share in the spoils of viewing those ads.
Vernell Woods is a Georgia Tech engineering grad who has employed technology across a wide variety of industries. Beyond the requisite software development, he served as the Technology Director for Georgia Senator David Perdue’s reelection campaign, and now is Technology Director for Grand Hustle Records, the independent label owned by rapper Clifford “T.I.” Harris and Jason Geter.
A few years ago, amidst his other projects, Vernell learned about a government program that helps low-income individuals get subsidies to pay for cell phone bills. He wanted to figure out how technology could expand that concept to a wider audience.
His startup, Moolah Mobile, allows users to pay their phone bill or earn gift cards by installing custom home screens (which contain ads) and collect digital currency while using the phone normally.
The earnings — 10 percent of the total ad revenue — are then applied directly to their phone bill. If they don’t hit the full bill amount, Moolah also has quick, easy surveys that users can complete for extra income.
When Woods described the startup to his colleague T.I., the rapper came on board. He had previously invested in another of Woods’ startups, an event data app (now-shuttered).
In a statement, T.I. called Moolah “one of the few tech companies I’ve seen who truly want to help everyday people have access to technology.”
In total, Woods has raised $250,000 to build the first version of the app.
The home screens don’t look too different from typical Android screens, says Woods. There’s a version which looks similar to a Samsung phone, one that mimics “the look and feel” of an iPhone, a very simple screen with bigger typeface for older users, and a few others.
They’re continuing to develop more options, says Woods, including one for kids.
While the app already has a few thousand users, it has now announced a partnership to enable seamless transfer of Moolah currency to the phone bill. SurgePhone Wireless, a pre-paid phone company owned by Surge Holdings, will employ Moolah to subsidize free talk, text and data for an estimated 1 million users in the U.S.
Surge will offer the service on custom Google-Certified Surge Volt Android phones, initially distributing devices to 3,000-5,000 locations in Florida, Virginia, Georgia, and Texas. The phones will eventually roll out across the country, reaching 40,000 locations by the end of the year.
Each phone comes with a kit to easily install Moolah, along with a SIM to pair the service with. Once paired, Moolah revenue will be automatically applied towards the bill, which is about $10 per month.
Woods says a typical user earns $10-$25 a month, more than enough to pay the bill. If a user earns extra income, they can purchase items on Amazon or buy gift cards from retailers.
Non-Surge mobile users can also download the app from Google Play to make purchases.
While some might be concerned with the data the program is capturing from your phone, Woods says that they keep no personal identifying information and do not sell data.
“What we have been figuring out is what type of information can be sent without compromising the user’s private profile, but still allows them to customize [the ads],” he tells Hypepotamus.
To make the financial portion even more secure, Moolah will switch to a blockchain-based system later this year.
After this rollout, Woods plans to turn his attention toward fundraising. He’s looking to raise a $5 million seed round and is actively meeting with investors.
“This is something that can help a lot of people in the low-income community, and be both really useful and impactful,” he says.