7-Eleven isn’t exactly known for investing in tech startups, but the convenience store chain is making an exception for Belly, a Chicago startup with an increasingly digital loyalty and rewards platform. 7-Eleven’s new venture capital arm 7-Ventures joined Andreessen Horowitz, Lightbank, New Enterprise Associates, DAG Ventures and Cisco Systems(s csco) in a $12.1 million funding round, Belly announced Wednesday.
Belly initially focused on small, local businesses that didn’t have the resources or scale to develop loyalty programs of their own. It created the Belly Card — both in plastic and app forms – which acts as a universal loyalty ID for any merchant participating in Belly’s program. As customers rack up points at a particular business, they claim rewards, which can range from a cup of coffee at a café to a free cooking lesson from a restaurant’s chef.
But Belly started to attract the attention of bigger retailers, particular in its hometown of Chicago where its merchant network is most extensive. Last spring Belly started launching pilot programs with 50 national chains. It never revealed which ones, but living in Chicago where most of the pilots took place, it was pretty easy to find out. McDonald’s, Dominos Pizza and Chick-fil-A all joined, but one of the big participants was 7-Eleven, which installed Belly’s tablet in multiple locations. (For future reference, it takes a lot of visits to the 7-Eleven before you can claim your first reward: a free banana.)
When I spoke with CEO and founder Logan LaHive in June, he said that while Belly welcomes the enterprise business, its focus on small, local businesses hasn’t changed. Those big retail chains will help Belly get more customers and make its universal loyalty program that much more useful, LaHive said. But he added Belly’s eventual plan is to expand beyond loyalty into retail merchandizing and marketing services, which is where local businesses need much more help than big chain stores.
Still, if 7-Eleven is willing to fork over capital, its interest in Belly may be much broader than its current pilot project. Belly now has about 2 million loyalty card members and is increasing that number by between 4,000 and 6,000 members a day. They’re logging a combined 300,000 check-ins a week at the 6,500 retail locations in its merchant network.
The $12.1 million round is technically a series B1, expanding on the $10 million in funding Andreessen Horowitz plopped down last May. Chicago’s Lightbank funded Belly’s series A, which means a gaggle of new investors are coming to the table in this latest round. Belly reported that it has now raised more than $28 million in total.
Feature photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Tupungato