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Saints’ Vilma a player in the tech world


Jonathan Vilma

Diagnosing trends and tendencies of the opposing offense is a vital skill for an NFL linebacker. For the New Orleans Saints’ Jonathan Vilma, that ability to spot what’s coming next has led him to a cutting edge venture in his other line of work.

As the owner of two Miami area bars, Vilma noticed a distinct difference in the way his patrons in their 30’s and 40’s went out for drinks versus those in their 20’s.

As for the patrons who were alive in the 80’s, “they all gather, they drink and have a good time,” said Vilma, “but the younger group, I’d say between 21 and 25, 26, what they would do is they would come in and they had their heads down in their phone. They’re either Tweeting, texting, Facebooking — whatever they’re doing, they never look up. That’s how they interact.”

So when Andrew Bennett, a childhood friend of Vilma’s from Coral Gables, Florida, pitched him a partnership in BarEye, a mobile startup that offers a new concept in nightlife — one that incorporated the apps and technology so integral to the lives of 20-somethings — “it was a no brainer,” Vilma said.

“Through the free-to-download Android and iOS app, customers can buy real drinks at participating bars or drinks for others, meaning you don’t even have to be at the bar to buy a drink for someone,” Vilma said.

“Let’s say it’s a girl’s birthday and she comes in,” he said. “She’s having a couple drinks with her friends, and you know they like to post on Twitter and Facebook, and everybody gives her a happy birthday wish.”

“We take it to the next level, where instead of just saying ‘happy birthday’ and ‘I wish I was there,’ you can actually buy her a drink at the bar that she’s at and you can send a drink; she redeems it, and everyone has a good time.”

Drinks are redeemed throughBarEye by scanning your phone on an ipad at the bar.

“For the bar owner, it’s great on three different levels,” said Vilma. “It’s great for exposure, because it talks about my bar. From a marketing standpoint, I can’t get better marketing than having the girl celebrating her birthday at my bar and people buying her drinks, and then from a revenue standpoint, these are drinks I wouldn’t have been able to sell unless the person had been physically at the bar.”

But BarEye is about more than just buying drinks, said Vilma. “You can actually socialize; you can comment, the whole nine.” The app features a ‘Cheers’ button that is similar to Facebook’s ‘Like.’

BarEye employs a franchise business model, Bennett said. “That way we can really attract the person in each city who really sees what we’re trying to do and also knows the bar owners, knows the way the industry works in that local market.”

“The app went live in Tallahassee, Florida, last fall,” said Bennett, “and is already up to around 12,000 users. They are looking to expand into other markets, including the Crescent City.”

“We’re looking for someone in New Orleans, one or two people,” said Bennett. “We sell territories of 100-150 bars for $2500, which is a really discounted price, and they have to have the reserves, the connections the network to execute it.”

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