Tilt.com was launched in 2012 as a crowdfunding platform by James Beshara and Khaled Hussein. Beshara, a development economist who graduated from Wake Forest University before working in microfinance and micro-insurance, was the company’s CEO. Hussein was then working with Rackspace, the Texas-based cloud computing company. The two worked together to develop a platform that would enable peer-to-peer payments (Source).
The peer-to-peer payment space is crowded today, between Venmo (owned by PayPal), Zelle (funded by banks such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo and others) and Google Pay.
Try to find Tilt.com today, and you will discover that it no longer exists. One would wonder where the company, once valued at almost $400 million, disappeared to. We took the time to find out.
How Did Tilt.com Work?
Crowdtilt (as it was originally known) was a platform for communities and groups to collaborate and raise money for a shared goal. The groups would set a minimum funding target and then users could pledge a dollar amount towards hitting the target. The platform would only tilt (ie collect and distribute the funds from the users) if the goal was reached. Fundraising happened both on the Tilt website and via the mobile app (Source).
In a 2012 article, Venturebeat reports that “86% of campaigns (were) successful, and on average, raised almost twice as much as they needed to tilt.” The same report also notes that once a campaign was able to raise 34% of its target, its chance of reaching its goal became 99% (Source).
The History of Tilt.com
While in a small township in South Africa, Beshara observed groups collecting money for school kids, the sick, and community projects. This led him to create a platform to enable communities to pool their money together.
Beshara’s main objective was to enable college students to collaborate and raise money for things like parties. In 2011, he returned to the United States, where he developed Crowdtilt with the help of Y Combinator, the American seed accelerator credited for launching companies like Reddit, Dropbox, and Airbnb (Source).
Immediately after it was launched, Crowdtilt raised $14 million from its Seed and Series A rounds. Andreessen Horowitz, a private American venture capital firm, and others led this initial funding. In 2013, Crowdtilt raised an additional $23 million. The support from Andreessen Horowitz, together with other participants like the venture firm Felicis Ventures, helped the company achieve its expansion plans (Source).
The Name Change
In 2014, the company changed its name from Crowdtilt to Tilt. The name change was a reflection of the business’ changing model and becoming a platform for funding a wider array of projects. Beshara was then quoted as saying the company’s activities were being streamlined and the website redesigned to make things simpler for users (Source).
What was the Culture of Tilt?
In a Question and Answer session captured in 2012, Beshara paints a picture of a fast-growing company, servicing $1 million in funding projects within six and half weeks after it was launched. Impressed investors continued to make funds available to the company. By 2013, Tilt’s valuation stood at an estimated $375 million.
Soon, concern about the company culture started to surface. Writing for Collapsed.com, a website that provides information about failed startups, a contributor says: “Tilt’s bro-culture shut down internal criticisms and concerns.” The same contributor quotes a source who says: “People would ask simple basic questions about profitability, but they would get platitudes.” It’s also claimed that Beshara paid little attention during meetings, and would make big plans unilaterally (Source).
Beshara was more focused on creating Tilt to be the “social media” of mobile payments for young and hip communities of mostly college-age users. This led him to spend high amounts of money marketing the platform and paying little attention to getting more revenue for the company. FastCompany.com writer Ainsley Harries, summed things up: “Beshara hadn’t built a business; instead, he had manufactured a classic Silicon Valley mirage.” (Source)
Tilt up for sale
In January 2017 initial reports surfaced that AirBNB, the home-sharing company, was interested in buying Tilt at a sale price of between $10 and $20 million. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said in December of 2016 that the company was “looking to create more flexible ways for groups of friends to pay”. They were apparently interested more in the Tilt team’s expertise in international payments than in the Tilt product itself.
Airbnb officially acquired tilt in February 2017, returning $12 million to investors and, according to TechCrunch, providing “tens of millions” in employee retention packages.
After the purchase, Airbnb decided to keep the Tilt application operational for a short period. Some described the whole process as an acqui-hire, where Airbnb agreed to retain most of the Tilt employees.
In May of 2017, the Tilt team posted a blog post titled “Plans to retire Tilt”. They announced that users would no longer be able to create new campaigns, but they could contribute to existing campaigns until June 4th. Users that managed campaigns could request withdrawals until June 12th. The site itself remained online until September 2017, after which time their web server no longer responded to requests.
- Tilt logo, created by GunkHead, no changes made, shared under the Attribution-Share Alike license
- James Beshara, Tilt Co-Founder. Photo owned by Techcrunch, no changes made, shared under the CC BY 2.0 license.
- AirBNB HQ, created by Dllu, no changes made, shared under the Attribution-Share Alike license