Liz Gannes

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Loopt’s Sam Altman on Why He Sold to Green Dot for $43.4M

Mobile location start-up Loopt will be acquired by the banking company Green Dot, best-known for its prepaid cards.

The deal is worth $43.4 million in cash, though that includes $9.8 million set aside in retention payments for key Loopt employees.

Loopt’s products are to be shut down at an unspecified date, while its 30 employees will now comprise Green Dot’s Silicon Valley-based mobile product development team.

In a phone interview this morning, Loopt CEO Sam Altman described the deal as an opportunity to make location more accountable. “We’ve been doing cool stuff with deals, offers and loyalty, but we haven’t had a way to tie that to payments. Now, instead of being about check-ins, it can be about payments.”

Funnily enough, Loopt didn’t actually start out with check-ins. It was actually a passive location-tracking app — once you turned it on, it continued to tell your friends where you are. Those kind of apps are the new darlings of tech, especially this week at SXSW in Austin. Back when the trend was toward asking users to actively note their own location, Loopt changed to a check-in model in 2009.

Founded in 2005, Loopt was very early in the mobile location space — it actually made deals with carriers to get its app on their platforms, back when that was essential.

At this point, though, it’s only the latest location app to be acquired and see its own product shut down, following others like Gowalla and Yobongo.

Altman said his acquisition was different, because of the opportunity to work with a banking company. “Many of the companies in the mobile location space are trying to figure out different ways to tie what they’re doing to commerce,” Altman said today. “We’ve all realized the critical piece is how you tie in commerce and payments.”

Altman said he would continue to be a part-time partner at the Y Combinator start-up accelerator program — where Loopt was a very early participant — but that he was committed to working with Green Dot for a long time.

Loopt had raised on the order of $17 million from investors including New Enterprise Associates and Sequoia Capital.

(Image courtesy of Loopt)

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work