It took a sort of divine intervention to inspire five friends to launch a local startup.
About three years ago, Thomas Eide reached into his wallet for a few dollars to drop into a church collection bucket, but he wasn’t carrying any cash.
He mentioned it to the church’s reverend and learned that donations were down across all denominations because of the sluggish economy.
“I told him I didn’t think it was just the economy,” Eide said. “I think it’s a big problem, and it’s going to become a bigger problem 10, 15 years down the line as society becomes more and more cashless.”
For the next two years, Eide, 37, waited for someone else to solve the problem. Eight months ago, he reconnected with some old friends, and they decided to solve it themselves.
Eide, along with two fellow Virginia Tech alumni and two “Hokies by affiliation” this year quit their jobs to develop PaidThx. The company’s bread and butter is a mobile app that allows users to send money directly to friends and family with the push of a button on a cell phone or tablet. After entering basic profile and bank account information, members can send money to any of their Facebook friends or phone contacts, regardless of where they bank.
The other founders are Ryan Ricigliano, 28, Rob Kirchner, 29, Hugo Camacho, 35, and James Rhodes, 36. The group brings a variety of career experience, from finance to sales to software development.
The five friends spent the better part of the year developing the app, which is set to launch for Apple and Android operating systems in October. Before the official release, users can request an email invitation through the company’s website.
“We want this to feel as easy and as natural as sending a text,” said Ricigliano, who’s in charge of user experience for PaidThx. “At the same time, you’re dealing with money, so there has to be an added degree of security.”
The operation was financed entirely out of pocket. The team set up a makeshift home office to cut costs, but they want to rent a commercial space within the month.
“Financially, we put it all on the line,” Eide said. “But it was more of an investment in time and energy.”
Anyone can download the free PaidThx app, and there are no service charges to transfer payments. To earn money, the company will offer premium services, such as expedited next-day money transfers, for a fee. The team is brainstorming a handful of other premium offerings as ways to generate revenue.
On top of sending money between contacts, the app allows users to send donations directly to online charities. Several local and national charities have signed on to receive payments through PaidThx, and the company wants to expand the charity base after the launch.
Rob Kirchner, the company’s chief operating officer, said the app also allows users to share the charities they donate to through their social networks.
“There’s this whole idea of social giving,” Kirchner said. “People want to learn about new causes to donate to through their network of friends.”
Online money giant PayPal will be PaidThx’s biggest competitor among a number of companies that focus on connecting donors’ bank accounts to charities online. Another Richmond startup called PlanG recently launched as a way to allow users to donate to charities online and through mobile devices.
Hugo Camacho, who oversees company finance, said the investment in charities makes the app different from other online payment services, as does the free transfers it offers.
“A lot of the other money transfer companies out there, they want to hold your money first,” Camacho said. “That’s how we’re different. We aren’t a middle man.”