But its flight to success hasn’t been without some turbulence. In its early days, Thanks Again struggled with undercapitalization because some airlines required that it prepay for miles. “We had to raise upward of $3 million, and it took about three years to do it,” says Ellis. To recruit merchants for the rewards program, he went door to door to small businesses in so-called fragmented industries—“industries in which there’s no dominant player,” says Ellis. Thanks Again was particularly successful recruiting dry cleaners: Ellis once managed Madison’s Bag, a branded promotional vehicle for dry cleaners in select metropolitan areas.
Ellis, who graduated from Morehouse and earned an M.B.A. from the NYU Stern School of Business, says that soliciting business was a nonstop process. The company eventually got the attention of American Airlines, with its network of millions of rewards members. Thanks Again developed a way to have those members earn extra miles when they patronized its network of dry cleaners—and offered the dry cleaners access to a powerful marketing platform.
It wasn’t long before other airlines followed suit. “The minute we provided that solution to American Airlines, about five of their competitors immediately called us and asked for a similar solution,” says Ellis. “We came up with the registered card platform, which linked small businesses to the airline’s world-class rewards program. When consumers enroll their debit or credit card, we track their usage and rewards on the back end. There’s no tracking or administrative hassles for the merchant, and for consumers it’s a completely secure environment.”
Delta Air Lines also partnered with Thanks Again. “One of the things that’s attractive about Thanks Again is that they’re local, they’re in the airport, and their platform is a way of keeping our customer base engaged,” says Scott Miller, general manager of partnership marketing for Delta. “This happens not just when customers are flying on the plane, but when they stop to buy their coffee or their magazine, they can pick and earn miles for that transaction as well.”
(Continued on next page)