SELECT: Turning The Concept Of A 'Black Card' On Its Head

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SELECT is an experiential, membership only rewards platform that transforms any credit or debit card into a black card. For an annual fee of $300, SELECT offers exclusive pricing and VIP treatment at hotels, restaurants, retailers, entertainment venues and more.

SELECT Founder and CEO Carlo Cisco’s accomplishments range from time as an equities trader, a financial analyst, helping to establish Groupon Japan, and founding the restaurant search engine FoodFan.

Benzinga spoke with Cisco about SELECT and how it has grown from a simple concept to a network of 10,000 paid members.  Cisco also shared his plans for the future of this unique platform.

Benzinga: What is SELECT?

Carlo Cisco: SELECT is a service that turns any existing credit or debit card into a black card that provides access to exclusive events, insider pricing, and VIP perks at thousands of different locations across the globe.

We are reaching out and partnering with top-tier local restaurants and nightlife venues as well as premiere global brands in travel, retail, entertainment, and more to give our members access to exclusive benefits.

We offer up to 60% off top-tier hotel rates, discounts off the full bill on dining, and experiential perks like a free round of drinks for your entire party. The idea here is to curate the best of the best.

Where did the idea for SELECT come from?

Carlo CiscoCarlo Cisco
We launched in July 2014. We had been testing the idea for about a year before that. We saw two big opportunities.

One was that merchants and customers were looking for a new way to connect. I was with Groupon previously, and certainly saw tremendous demand for something new there, but felt that model didn’t really serve premiere brands. Including a membership that users had to apply for access and had to pay an annual fee for unlimited usage meant better brands and so forth.

Second, there are a lot of credit cards differentiated only by the rewards they offered. Even at the most premiere levels, the benefits are pretty much the same stuff. There are some useful benefits to be sure, but also a lot of stuff nobody wants. We wanted to do something better.

So how is SELECT better?

For one thing, members don’t have to use the card. They can access all benefits through the members only website and mobile app. On average, members use the app about 12 times a month.

The standard has always been cashback, accrued points, or a one-time travel credit. With SELECT you’re getting a significant benefit every single time you use your membership. There are no restrictions and no limitations on use.

For the most part, things we offer are exclusive to SELECT. We have more than 600 relationships with partners, and most of those partners do not work with anybody else. We offer benefits at over 800,000 locations across the world.

The average member saves about $240 a booking, or about $80 a night. This is, I believe, about 30% below the lowest rate they could find anywhere else, on average.

What’s the membership vetting process like and what is the target demographic?

The process is pretty straightforward, basic biographical: name, age, employment, education, income, general interests. The main goal is to make sure this is going to be an active member. We know, for example, active members will refer additional members. They will enjoy the program and make all the partners happy.

Initially, we assumed our demographic would be millennials. For the most part our core age ranges between 25 and 40.

We’ve also noticed that 15-17% of our membership is over 50. Mostly it’s people who want to enhance their day-to-day and travel experiences. The common threads are higher income and the availability of disposable income.

How does SELECT work and what are some of the benefits?

SELECT isn’t actually a credit card. It’s tied to an existing credit or debit card. That means you not only gain the benefits of your SELECT membership, you also get whatever benefits you have on the credit card such as points, miles, cashback and so forth.

In addition to dining and hotel discounts, sometimes there are complimentary room upgrades or a complimentary bottle of wine. This includes everything from movie theaters, to Broadway shows, to cooking classes and gym memberships. Some also involve VIP access like priority booking.

The last piece is what we call “member events.” We host events for SELECT members only in our main markets – New York, D.C., Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Where is SELECT available and what’s in store for the future?

Dining, nightlife, and member events right now are concentrated in those cities I mentioned – New York, D.C., Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The other benefits are available nationally and globally. We have members in Chicago, London, and Hong Kong. Really all over.

We are going to be opening new markets quickly. You can expect most of the major cities in the U.S. to be open in 2017. It’s also possible that we’ll be opening some international cities in 2017.

You’re going to see different membership tiers. There will be a higher priced high-tier, which has been a frequent request. There will also be a tier specifically for travel that will not be geographically limited.

We have started testing a night life membership add-on for places you normally couldn’t get into. Or if you could, you’d pay a $20 to $80 cover charge.

We’re also likely going to introduce something for business use where, for example, business owners could start booking their travel through us and saving there. There may also be certain business services added to that program.

This article is exclusive to Nasdaq.com.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

This article appears in: News Headlines , Technology , Credit Cards , Entrepreneurship

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