Becoming a billionaire from problem-solving: Could Jim McKelvey’s Invisibly be his next big fix?

    By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology

    For just a moment, imagine skipping the paywalls and reading articles you desire without spending your hard-earned cash!

    “You hit a paywall, and it says you have to subscribe,” said Jim McKelvey, billionaire businessman and serial entrepreneur from St. Louis. “I hate when somebody sends me an article and I can’t read it. And that happens all the time.”

    But publishers need to get paid or they risk getting sunk! McKelvey is co-founder of Block, formerly known as Square. Among Block products, Cash App is one that’s widely known and used. Now McKelvey is focused on a new, hassle-free way for people to access news and magazine content without spending their own money. And publishers get paid at the same time! That is a difficult task, but McKelvey is a self-made billionaire from being a problem-solver.

    “I’m driven with frustrations with problems I can’t solve or haven’t been solved,” he said.

    In this case, that frustration began when a journalist asked McKelvey a question and he didn’t have the answer.

    “I was in Miami, talking to the Miami Herald. And I was giving this lecture about programming,” he said. “And a reporter raised her hand, and she says, ‘I don’t care anything about what you just talked about for the last hour, how are we going to save journalism?’”

    That very question really had McKelvey thinking about problems and solutions for publishers and readers.

    “That got me invited to this sort of secret conclave of big, big publishers whose names I still can’t share. These were media companies that seven years ago now, asked me if I would build them something,” he said. “They realized they couldn’t build it themselves. And they’re all in the same boat, which is the internet model where their content can be stolen and resold, has wiped their revenues out. And without them, we can’t get truth anymore.”

    That ‘something‘ McKelvey said publishers asked him to create became the Invisibly app. McKelvey is the founder of Invisibly.

    “We give you access to all the news. We have relationships with literally hundreds and hundreds of publishers. We have a backlog of probably 1,000 publications,” he explained.

    Publishers are getting paid for their content without inconveniences for users. Invisibly app users are buying subscriptions that interest them with articles they read on the app.

    “You should pay for it. But if you pay for it with one of the Invisibly tools, it feels invisible,” McKelvey said. “It feels like you’re just walking through these paywalls. Invisibly makes those paywalls invisible.”

    Invisibly app users can easily access the content they want, without spending a dime of their own money, because they are also paid!

    “Give us a login and a password to your bank account, and we can’t touch the money. But what we can do, is see where you spend that money. That information is super valuable. That value then gets paid to you in an account. So, you get paid. And then you spend that account to access stuff that would normally be behind paywalls,” said McKelvey.

    “Every week, we’ll go out and we take your data. And we sell it so that marketers know how their products are doing. I mean, that data is actually valuable. Well, first of all, your bank sells it anyway. So, it’s not like the information isn’t out there. But we are the first time somebody will have asked you for this transaction.”

    The points earned by users become real dollars to buy subscriptions and unlock paywalled articles.

    “Every month, we’re gonna pay you and it’s gonna go into this account. So, you give us the login one time, and if it doesn’t creep you out, then every week we’ll sell your data and take that money and give you 85% of it. We take a 15% cut.”

    McKelvey said Invisibly is not selling a user’s contact information, so users will not get blasted with spam and it will not increase the amount of advertising people receive. But if Invisibly users don’t like the idea of sharing financial data from their bank account, McKelvey offers another way to earn points, or money, for spending!

    “If you’re creeped out by the idea of selling financial data, which half the population is – cool, take surveys!”

    Users get points for answering surveys that are designed to be easy to complete on the app. People may even feel engaged by answering surveys that create some fun and interesting moments. The attention-grabbing questions are relevant to daily life, making users think. The surveys may even become a fun way to pass the time and earn some bucks to spend within the app.

    “You basically give us your attention, or you give us your (bank) information, and we then take that information and sell it. We’re like your agent, as 85% of the money goes back to you in the form of content.”

    And Invisibly is getting a great start in St. Louis, McKelvey’s hometown.

    “We’re still figuring this out. I mean, it’s been seven years and we’re still figuring it out. But I think we’re gonna get there. And the reason I think this is because a year ago I wasn’t using the product myself every day, and now I am using it every day.”