Flip's shopping app relies on cash and reviews to get you to buy

Do you want to know how much your friends are worth? Meet Flip, the shopping app that will put a price tag on every person in your phone's contact list.

Convince one of them to sign up for the app and you'll get cash (up to $130 per person) to spend on Flip.

“The crazy thing is that people are worth different amounts of money if you can get them on the app,” said Lily Goldfarb, 27, a Flip user from Silver Lake. “I had a friend who was only worth like $25. He was really very sad.”

In some circles, this referral challenge has created a frenzy for rewards for the most valuable friends. And it has earned Flip a moment of buzz, a valuable currency in the competitive landscape of social shopping. Some estimates put the app's total downloads at around 2 million.

El Segundo-based Flip, which sells a variety of products from trendy direct-to-consumer brands to snacks, presents itself as a rare marketplace where customers can trust product reviews and is willing to pay top dollar in fulfillment costs. user acquisition to implement this vision.

The referral game is just one of the ways the app compensates users. Flip, which officially launched about six months ago, will pay you to comment on video product reviews and even just passively scroll through the app's TikTok-style feed with seemingly endless content. If you review a product, you get a share of the app's ad revenue, regardless of whether the review is positive or negative.

Does Flip offer something that's too good to last? Probably. Allow consumerism on a whole new scale? Likely. And yet, it might be better than the status quo.

At the very least, Flip aims to respond to the ills of today's online shopping landscape: fake reviews, discrepancies between product photos and what arrives at your door, and influencers endorsing mediocre products with unwarranted enthusiasm. The company promises another way of shopping, a way in which the consumer should feel like a winner.

bounty hunting

It's easy to get carried away with the cash in Flip's referral game. Each user's potential earnings are displayed on a thermometer-style graph in the app: the names of their phone contacts are displayed next to their “value” and the total value of their potential earnings is front and center. For many users, this figure runs into tens of thousands of dollars.

Goldfarb, who works at a nonprofit, was initially cautious when a friend sent her a $75 referral coupon to join Flip, but it was hard to say no to what she called “free money.”

Seeing the $75 in her account, the former skeptic was transformed. Goldfarb quickly became one of the most avid Flip users among her friends. In November, she earned nearly $850 by recommending the app to 14 people, including her mother. She spent the money on skin care, hair products, and kitchen items.

Flip's founder keeps how the company determines the value of his friends a secret, but many have noticed that Flip syncs with a user's phone contacts, and those who already have more friends on Flip get higher referral bonuses.

Lena Renshaw, 25, a software engineer and business school student living in Brooklyn, has earned nearly $1,000 in referral rewards. The most she earned from a referral was $100. “She was definitely my most popular and coolest friend,” she said.

But the most valuable contact Renshaw saw was surprising: his high school driver's ed teacher. “I had all of these students' numbers saved throughout history, which I thought was funny,” Renshaw said.

She used her winnings to outfit her kitchen with Flip products: plates, cups, cutlery, a lemon squeezer, and Tupperware. She also bought books and a projector that makes her room look like a planetarium.

Come for cash, stay for anti-influencer reviews

“The whole concept of Flip is: how do we build honesty around commerce?” said Noor Agha, co-founder of the app.

For starters, the company eliminated five-star product ratings, which are increasingly easy to fake online. Instead, users flip through review videos before adding an item to their cart, using the same addictive thumb scrolling as TikTok and Instagram Reels.

Unlike TikTok and Reels, product reviews on Flip are mostly done by regular people, not professional influencers who get paid thousands of dollars. Brands are prohibited from sponsoring video reviews. And everyone involved in the process (from creators to viewers to commenters) can make some money along the way.

“Who do you trust more: Flip or the brand? Or the person who bought it before you? Agha said.

Flip assumes that when you incentivize everyone to give the pros and cons in their own product testimonials in exchange for a little money, you'll get an honest space online.

“If everything is positive,” Agha said, “it means it's all a lie.”

The company is betting that this value proposition will differentiate it from its rivals, such as Tiktok Store, which already has a built-in audience; TikTok has 150 million users in the US, and teens spend an average of nearly two hours a day using the app. The TikTok Shop is packed with influencers featuring products, many of whom have discovered they can earn enough commissions to make reviews a serious side gig.

Flip reviewers automatically earn money, and the amount varies depending on how much engagement a video gets. Brands cannot pay creators to create content, and the app pays all creators the same fees, regardless of the number of followers. These profits represent a portion of Flip's advertising revenue, although the company is not yet profitable. (“It's still early,” Agha said, adding that Flip has about 150 advertisers so far.)

“I saw a lot of people doing video reviews of products they had purchased and saying, 'this is terrible,'” Renshaw said. “I thought the app was unique and something you wouldn't find on Instagram.”

This is a new phase in the influencer ecosystem, said Blake Michael, partner at CreatorLed Ventures, an influencer venture firm. The first phase was the original mommy bloggers – genuine people who accidentally blew up online. The second phase was that of professional creators, those who set out to make a living from shilling products.

“I think today we are seeing the third step. … People are a little more skeptical about trusting these people who are famous just for being famous, and they would rather listen to a real, normal person,” she said.

Creator earnings on Flip may vary. One user posted a video review that attracted around 5,000 unique views and seven comments, earning him $31 in three days. Another earned much less: $13 in one month from three video reviews that attracted nearly 4,000 cumulative views. Agha claims that some super users earn between $5,000 and $10,000 a month. That cash can be applied to in-app purchases or deposited directly into your bank account.

Users can also earn small amounts for watching, liking and commenting on videos, a few cents per action. Those earnings can only be credited to in-app orders.

The real question is whether all this money really buys legitimacy for a new market in the face of considerable competitors. Not everyone is sold.

“It was really difficult to gain people's trust,” said Uma Bates, 28, an editor and fiction writer who lives in New York. “I think convincing them that [the app] was legit and your information wasn't going to be stolen was an incredibly difficult thing to do, and I can't say I convinced many people to use it, just a few here and there.”

Confusing economy, great competition

Flip is funding this effort so far with $95 million in venture capital backing. The company closed a $60 million Series B funding round last summer led by WestCap, according to a company press release. Mubadala Capital and Streamlined Ventures also participated in the funding round.

Flip said it is currently focused on expanding its product offerings. “I promise you that between now and the next three months you will start to see everything,” Agha said. “And by June, there shouldn't be anything you want to buy that you can't find on Flip.”

The task is facilitated by the company's main distribution model: dropshipping. Brands handle their own shipping, and Flip handles the less capital-intensive customer service and returns business. (The company will arrange shipping for some brands for an additional fee, but less than 5% have chosen that option.)

Although Flip appears to be flush with cash, the startup's expensive user acquisition strategy (and gamified signup process) worries some in the venture capital space.

“I just don't know how long that's going to last, especially if their product in the market revolves around people basically getting paid to use the app,” Michael said. Bigger rivals TikTok Shop, Amazon Inspire and Instagram Reels have a big advantage in the social shopping space. Michael also wonders how many users will be willing to stop using their referral rewards and switch to using their own money.

Agha dismisses skepticism. “Our job is to add products, offer the best e-commerce service and people [will] talk to each other,” Agha said. “Whether it's positive or negative, you get paid.”

Uncertainty about its future aside, this much is true: Flip offers something hard to come by these days in the noisy and often dystopian world of social media: fun.

“I noticed that every time I invited someone who had a much bigger reward, I wasn't the first one to text them,” Michael said. “[They’d] say, 'Blake, 20 other people have texted me about this,'” he said.

The bounty hunt continues.

scroll to top