Interview: “How I got Cristiano Ronaldo to invest in my startup”

As we wrote yesterday, Cristiano Ronaldo is taking a page from Ashton Kutcher’s playbook by investing and promoting a startup named Mobitto. Mobitto is a mobile app that helps local businesses and brands to increase loyalty and brand engagement. But what does that have to do with Cristiano Ronaldo? And: isn’t celebrity endorsement a marketing gimmick? We reached out Mobitto founder and CEO Jose Simoes for answers.

First of all, he said, getting Ronaldo on board was more than a gimmick, he says: it was part of Mobitto’s strategy. (And honestly: would you expect anything less from someone who holds a PhD from TU Berlin in “User-Centric Advertising across Next Generation Networks”?)

cristiano ronaldo mobitto

Jose Simoes, CEO and founder of Mobitto

“Our baseline is that we can create ambassadors for brands and shops. And Ronaldo is not just a very famous football player, but he also has a great track record as a brand ambassador. Everybody knows that he works with Nike.” And it doesn’t hurt that Ronaldo is currently the most popular athlete on Facebook with 51 million fans.

“That’s how we began thinking of trying to sign him on for Mobitto last year. One of our investors had some good contacts in the sports world, and at some point we said: we should really try to get Ronaldo as an ambassador. He said he would try, but that it probably wouldn’t work. But in the end, it did make sense for all the parties involved, and he became an investor.”

When Mobitto says that it can make ambassadors out of your customers, it means that quite literally: where Foursquare distributes honorific mayoral titles, Mobitto doles out ambassadorships.

Jose Simoes: “It’s a lot like becoming the mayor on Foursquare, but a Mobitto ambassador has to do more than just check in: he has to be a paying customer or refer paying customers.”

Users can collect points by inviting friends, sharing activities on social networks, recommending merchants and brands, but also by walking in a store and buying stuff. But you can also get points for bringing in business: by referring friends.

That’s the main difference between Mobitto and Foursquare, says Simoes: “Being a mayor is more of a vanity thing. To stay ambassador, you have to spend money at the merchant to keep your position – it’s based on engagement more than loyalty. That is, after all, the most important thing for a merchant: to have customers who come repeatedly, and who bring their friends. With those ambassador points, you can buy stuff that you like from your favorite brands.”

Mobitto is currently working with smaller merchants, but it’s eyeing the major chains and brands. “We definitely want to get them on board too, but that takes more time. In the mean time, we’re acquiring smaller merchants on our platform and developing use cases to convince the major ones.”

Cristiano Ronaldo’s role in Mobitto hasn’t been defined yet. “We don’t want to overuse him. We don’t want people to use Mobitto because he’s involved in it,” says Simoes. He also won’t say how much Ronaldo invested. “It’s our policy. I can tell you that our total investments to date are at the level of a Series A funding.”

Photo: Nike collection

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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