Visa Places Bet on New Approach to Payments With Rare Investment in TrialPay

Visa, Greylock’s Reid Hoffman and others are pouring $40 million into TrialPay, which helps companies like Facebook, Gap and Fandango increase sales through the use of incentives.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company tries to boost online companies’ revenue by placing targeted promotions and offering incentives at the point of checkout.

It’s a bit similar to how grocery stores try to boost sales by strategically placing tabloid magazines, gum and candy bars at the register to spur last-minute impulse buys.

Instead, TrialPay makes last-minute offers to give people incentive to make a purchase when they are on the fence.

As an example, TrialPay’s CEO Alex Rampell said that when people visit Fandango’s site, they may get an offer for a free movie ticket if they sign up for Netflix. Or, in a Zynga game, you might be offered a virtual bouquet for free, in return for purchasing real flowers on Valentine’s Day.

Visa’s participation in the investment, which is being announced later this morning, is rare. Over the years, the payments company has made a few acquisitions, including PlaySpan, CyberSource and Fundamo, but Visa’s only investment in recent memory was in payments darling Square, which allows anyone to accept payments using a cellphone.

Rampell said that with Visa’s help, TrialPay will be able to expand to offline merchants from working exclusively with online retailers, by giving it a way to track if a person visited a store and made a purchase.

“The question is, how do we send traffic to Starbucks or McDonald’s or any other offline merchant?” Rampell said. “We already have access to people online who are buying or thinking about buying something. It would be great if we could could give you 20 virtual coins if you shopped at McDonald’s. But how do we close that redemption loop?”

Today, TrialPay, which has 130 employees, reaches more than 70 million monthly active users worldwide. In 2011, Rampell said, revenues more than doubled; he declined to offer specifics.

Rampell also declined to provide details about potential partnerships with Visa. Visa also declined to comment.

Investors in the company’s fourth round included new investors Greylock Partners, Visa Inc., T. Rowe Price, DAG Ventures, DFJ Growth and QuestMark Partners. Existing investors also participated. To date, it has raised roughly $70 million.

For more of Rampell’s opinions on how the payments space will evolve, check out his Web 2.0 speech from October:

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