June 16, 2011

Why we abandoned Scvngr . . . and you should too.

One of our jobs is to find technologies that will help the wine industry succeed.  We often look outside the wine industry to find incredible solutions that help wineries in any way possible.  Through extensive research, analysis, and lots of white board sessions we try to surface the technologies that seem most helpful.  Fortunately we have only made two mistakes in technologies that we have strongly supported in our three year history.  Our most notable was Scvngr.


In the beginning, Scvngr seemed like it had innovated where other platforms had stagnated (Gowalla and Foursquare were struggling to innovate at the time).  They offered a level of interactivity that was not just about checking in but about engagement.  They had fair pricing and a rapidly growing user base.  We loved the way they viewed game theory.  So as a location based service that would work for the wine industry, we chose them.

Everything was champagne and roses at first.  Scvngr offered rewards for engagement.  In a hospitality industry, this seemed like a perfect fit.  They had unique features (taking pictures, answering quizes, etc) and fun mapping tools called Treks to tie locations together to earn rewards.  Scvngr loved the wine industry because we represented a use case for regions that could easily overlay a game layer with mass tourism and strong hospitality culture.  For us it also represented an innovative way to engage consumers in both the digital world and the physical world and deepen the engagement when people visit any winery tasting room.

Scvngr made us promises to ensure this was a giant success (with the potential that they could roll it out to other tourist/hospitality based locations with our case study like Las Vegas, Disneyland, et al).  This is what they committed:

  • Promise: They promised to give all Napa merchants (restaurants, retailers, hotels, etc) free Scvngr rewards programs and games.  They also promised to support businesses with training and help to understand how to build rewards and more.
  • Result: They soon released this feature to all businesses nullifying the value and barely touched anyone who signed up.
  • Promise: They promised to have a Mashable party in Napa to celebrate their new launch with Robert Mondavi Winery and Franciscan winery as part of a major release.  They even talked about it with a strong press initiative.
  • Result: We are still waiting.
  • Promise: Setting up multiple Napa treks to make game play in Napa incredibly interesting for Napa tourists.  This was intended to spread to Paso Robles, Sonoma, Walla Walla, and beyond.
  • Result: Pretty much the same as above.
  • Promise: They assured us that they would add new game mechanics that would be extraordinarily useful to the wine industry.
  • Result: The platform has been stagnant since their VC investment of $15 million dollars and their focus completely changed to a new product called thelevelup.com (yes, another “flash in the pan” – flash sale site).
  • Our promise: We would share our passion about their innovative product, our time, and our relationships to help the wine industry benefit from this new type of engagement.  We signed a contract for biz dev fees which we waived to give discounts to all wineries that work with us on digital brand management so they could be involved in the treks and more.  Three of our wineries signed up, one pre-paid (and was fortunately refunded but only after threatening legal action).

I recently saw a Scvngr campaign with the Napa Valley Vintners for the annual auction (I am curious how successful the campaign was) and upon calling Scvngr, their statement was, “We don’t have the time or resources to dedicate to those previous promises.  If you can find us some resellers . . .”  Uh, no.  How about you fulfill your promises made to us and the wine industry as a whole.

All indicators pointed to Scvngr becoming a winner and helping wineries deepen their engagement with consumers.  Sorry to all that joined us in this debacle.  We really believed in them and made a rare mistake betting on their horse.  The net net is that we picked the wrong horse.

Perhaps it was the money that diluted their focus. Perhaps the VC’s shifted direction and the young management didn’t have the experience to properly communicate. Perhaps they don’t understand the meaning of a partnership or a promise.  Maybe they don’t like the wine industry.  Whatever the reason, the lesson for us was make sure vision is supported by execution and find partners that really keep their promises.  In this case, we have ALL deleted Scvngr from our mobile phones and we are back on Foursquare (who has lapped Scvngr times ten in the last six months with awesome functionality) and Gowalla.

Visit us anytime at the “tank” and check in (with Foursquare or Gowalla, that is).


  • Louis

    I remember your statement about switching from Foursquare.
    Sorry to hear it didn’t work out Paul.

  • Ouch.

  • Any yet here we are in Napa, waiting to see if any social media really translates to increased direct sales.

  • Yaverb

    Thanks for posting this.  It’s very useful to have reviews of social media technologies from people who have actually used them.  There’s so much hype and very often the reality doesn’t meet with the hype.

  • John Miller

    Paul, your honestly and openness is refreshing in an industry where everyone seems afraid to call anybody out on their misdeeds.  I was impressed at the scvngr presentation at Vintank.  I can see why you were enthusiastic in the beginning…but you never really know do you?

  • Swordfish

    Always be weary of those who refer to themselves as “rockstars” and “gurus.” These are titles that are earned over time and given by others. Why don’t they just focus on building a product that people actually want to use before professing themselves as Ninjas, Rockstars, Kings, Guru’s, or whatever. 

    • Anonymous

      Those are the titles you use when you think more highly of yourself than you really are.

    • Christopher Allen

      Always be wary of a ‘gaming platform’ built by a boy who proudly proclaims to work 24/7 and sleeps in his office.  If you don’t have friends, how can you understand real fun and… games?

  • Paul, kudos on your transparency! …. Cork

  • Anonymous

    I applaud your courage to post. I was particularly interested in scnvgr for the hospitality industry and appreciate your important heads up. 

  • Bud

    Drink beer instead.

  • Alpha Dog

    I never understood the SCVNGR concept… and why anyone would use it. I laughed at LevelUp – clearly they needed a shift if Google ever wants to see any of their money back. Nice going Ninja Seth! But seriously… its time to step up your game and make sure your customers and users have a “rockstar” experience otherwise give back the money to investors. It’s not too late.

    • Anonymous

      They’re going for the quantity over quality approach. You know, since that always works so well…

  • Chrisjames232

    Vintank-another crack pipe idea gone sour. Wine and gaming was a stupid idea in the first place.

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  • Good post.  You learn more from bad decisions than you do good decisions.

  • Seth Priebatsch

    Paul, I appreciate your frustration, but misrepresenting facts and slandering our name is not an appropriate outlet for that angst.

    To all members of the wine industry who want an accurate, unbiased (3rd party reported) take on the situation, which I think fairly represents some very real mistakes made by both parties, please read the following article published by Business Insider:http://read.bi/mfXkOi

    • Anonymous

      Seth, we did nothing but state the facts.

      Your article, however, is false, slanderous, and potentially libel.  We have responded factually below it.

  • Christopher Allen

    Seth, Paul lays out a balanced and insightful look at the SCVNGR/VinTank relationship, speaking of his own experience and the disappointment when expectations were not met. Your rebuttal is a juvenile piece of work, only underscoring an already demonstrated inability to appreciate the full weight of a business partnership.  Instead of taking responsibility for a failure to deliver, your arrogance and overdeveloped ego provoked you to lash out with spiteful jabs and misinformation, regardless of how much can be discredited with a quick fact-check? What sort of message does that send to your potential clients? I imagine it won’t be long before the leaders in all industries wise up and give SCVNGR a wide berth when considering new media partners for their own work.

  • False promises are rampant these days it seems. I recently vetted a business and found that there was nothing but smoke and mirrors behind it. Thank God I didn’t go as far as introducing them to my friends/partners.  I’m sorry that you had to go through this and I admire you greatly for publicly warning folks under the circumstances.

  • I highly recommend this times article (mostly) on the founder of Scvnger http://nyti.ms/bNKP76
    Just Manic Enough: Seeking Perfect Entrepreneurs. “I want to build the game layer on top of the world.”

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  • contracts might be better than promises.

  • Anonymous

    Flame wars make for great spectator sport, but the one between VinTank and SCVNGR is now over.

    Some business partnerships aren’t meant to be. We both apologize for crossing the line a number of times as we came to this realization.

    For example, VinTank made a bad call by posting the initial public blog.

    And SCVNGR’s subsequent characterization of VinTank as a bad agency was unfair.

    While we won’t be nominating each other for any industry awards, we now understand each other’s position much better. We share a healthy respect for each other’s business. And wish each other the best of luck.

    • Dan

      That being said though, pmabray, have you continued to grow an develop? It’s been a year, is there any movement?

      • Anonymous

        Dan, Please see my comment below. We have experienced incredible growth in business, press, and strong business relationships (such as Foursquare and more).

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  • Scammed by SCVNGR

    Check out comments posted in reply to Downy’s most recent post on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/downy.
    SVNGR just held an event with Downy yesterday in Las Vegas with a
    supposed $20,000 grand prize. I participated, and it turned out to be
    the hugest scam ever. The winners were all hired staff/actors. When the
    winners were announced, several people called BS immediately right in
    the room.

    “My sister and I were in line
    with our partners before the race started. The couple that ended up
    winning was standing RIGHT behind us! Someone with a Downy staff
    shirt came up to them and handed the cameraman that was standing with
    them a STAFF BADGE. He put it in his pocket. Then the staff guy tried
    to hand the male of the couple one and he said he didn’t wanna take it
    right at that moment and mumbled something to the guy so the female said

    to just give it to her and she would stick it in her purse. The
    camera guy that was with them took NUMEROUS pics of them AND stayed in
    line with them!! Lo and behold, THEY were the “winning” couple!!! It
    was freakin’ FIXED!!!!!!”

    Who knows if Downy was really in on the scam or not. Maybe SCVNGR did with Downy what they did with Vintank and offered up their own prizes to give out, which all they did then was award their own staff the prizes so that the money never left their pockets. And apparently, this has happened before with SCVNGR, where people felt cheated and ripped off when the winners were announced.

    “Weird, because a similar race
    SCVNGR did here a few months ago – Diamond Dash – had a similar
    outcome. Lots of shady stuff. Most of us are looking for a fair,
    competitive, fun day… so its disappointing when this stuff happens.”Yes, SCVNGR appears to have a winning business model and premise and I’m sure they impress companies with their presentations, but their corruptness and shadiness makes them completely worthless. Apparently, they not only cheat the consumers and participants who play the game, they also cheat the businesses who hire them to promote their company/brand. If Downy had no idea about the scam that SCVNGR pulled, unfortunately, their brand image will now suffer as a result of it, and so will other businesses who hire SCVNGR.

  • Dan

    It’s quite disingenuous that you would not provide an update that balances your interpretation of events a little. Business Insider ran the story of the above described events, but then also provided the startup a chance to respond. I was looking up Scvngr for my own purposes and ran across this little squabble, which, I have to admit, turned me off for a moment. But once I read the above and felt like Scvngr was bad news, I read an additional article that Google brought up that provided the said response that can be found http://www.businessinsider.com/scvngrs-response-to-angry-client-vintank-our-sales-person-screwed-up-but-vintank-never-paid-us-a-dime-and-is-using-us-as-a-scapegoat-2011-6 It seems that vintank wanted to get stuff for free and got a little greedy when they didn’t get for free what they surely felt giddy and entitled to getting when some overzealous sales person acted without authority. After reading both sides, I have to say Scvngr’s story sounds far more plausible, even though it might not be the exact course of events.

    • Anonymous

      Dan, we will not be updating our perspective per our agreement with Scvngr. That being said we have grown our business 400% since this post and have a strong and meaningful relationship with Foursquare.

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