Let’s say I wanted to send a surprise ‘happy birthday’ cash gift to a friend; my first thought would be to ask for their bank account number. I would do this for people I know very well but also for someone I only know on social media. 

But what if my virtual friend, feeling we are not buddies as such or having been scarred by online money doubling scams, hesitates to share such personal information? Can I thrill them on their special day by using public information I have about them?

Sometime in June, I tried Vendly, a web app that is trialling a solution for this need (or desire, if you’re not yet persuaded). ‘Payments made Social’ the landing page declares on a light green background. Bob Nzelu, the brain behind it, described it to me as a way to share and receive items of digital value – money, crypto, airtime, e-tickets – over social media.

“Like sending money through email addresses using PayPal, Vendly hopes to replicate that using social media handles,” he said.

But that is just the basic use case he anticipates, cutting in to assuage my skepticism that money transfer on social media is a compelling enough value to build a (potentially venture-backed) company on. Long-term, Vendly will help social media users monetize their social media presence, the CEO said.

Back to social money vending. Nzelu believes Vendly is similar to Cash App and Venmo because it seeks to simplify transfers between people who don’t know each other. “Vendly is not built for chummy friends who have each other’s account details.” 

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For this type of relationship, creating a ‘vend’ with a social media handle and sharing the link with a beneficiary walks a fine line of not being too personal or invasive while caring. 

It’s the online equivalent of a co-worker dropping a birthday cake with a card at your desk but not inside your drawer. 

Someone who receives a vend can decide to either make a claim for or ignore it by clicking the link in their DM. The message states the amount sent; recipient inputs the bank account where they want the cash to go. And like cakes, the link expires after some time (Nzelu sent me a vend of about $1 as a demo).

Vendly stores the recipient’s bank details to make future transfers seamless but the sender never sees the account information. Because a sender can create one vend to go to multiple social media handles, Nzelu thinks it should appeal to brands or influencers who target giveaways at 3 million Nigerian social media users who have a bank account and phone number.

Vendly is part of a crop of social gifting apps seeking to delight people online. 

A few months ago, after my managing editor promised to get me a book, I got a Tweet from Showlove, a Lagos-based company, with a voucher to claim my books at a particular bookstore (thanks again, KK). Getcards, a product of the cryptocurrency startup Buycoins, was floated last December for people who want to gift services like a Netflix subscription, an Amazon or Delta airlines ticket to friends and family.

Like these two services, Vendly hopes that its first platform for traction will be Twitter, because the platform is the most friendly for services that require people to click links to claim rewards. 

But Nzelu knows that can’t be the long-term plan. After all, Twitter is officially banned in Nigeria at the moment, an event that currently hampers Vendly’s ability to be fully functional. An alternative is to send vends using phone numbers, although that option might raise privacy concerns. Integrating other platforms – Instagram, Facebook – is on their roadmap.

Right now, Vendly is a prototype undergoing iteration. It may yet face hard questions about monetization, like Abeg’s mobile app which launched last year to enable peer-to-peer money transfers using social handles. But Nzelu says Vendly will answer most user concerns at launch in a few weeks. 

He’s been working at it for two years now and feels the time is right to tap into the social and creator economy bump that started last year. Being Nigerian, his home country is the market of choice. But if it proves tough for a start, Vendly will seek initial users in Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. 

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Alexander Onukwue | Author

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