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Daniel Wagner and Joe De Pinto developed Virra, a marketing platform which enables anyone with a legitimate Instagram account to become a “nano-influencer” and help monetize their Instagram account. (photo by Michael Hixon)

Joe De Pinto and Daniel Wagner met when they were roommates playing minor league baseball for the Chicago White Sox organization.

That's when they began developing the idea for Barpay, an app that helps customers order drinks at busy bars through mobile ordering and payment.

Barpay was kickstarted in 2015 and has expanded to 30-plus venues.

Now the Manhattan Beach residents want to help local businesses through a marketing platform called Virra, which enables anyone with a legitimate Instagram account to become a “nano-influencer” and help monetize their Instagram account.

“The incentive is you are getting real people, in a real community, posting about your product,” Wagner said.

The goal of Virra is giving “brands a more targeted way to get content in front of potential customers on social media, with much higher engagement rates and a more organic feel than promoted posts or traditional influencer campaigns.”

In today's social media world, influencers, those who use a niche to promote brands to a particular audience, can have sway on trends.

While the likes of soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo have more than 200 million followers on Instagram, or Kim Kardashian has 160 million followers, they might have around a 1.5 percent engagement rate. Studies show, according to De Pinto, Instagram accounts with less than 2,000 followers, average above a 10 percent engagement rate.

“You have these influencers who are making thousands of dollars with 50,000 (to) 100,000 followers,” De Pinto said.

“Of those 100,000 people, how many are targeted in the South Bay?," asked De Pinto. "How many of them live in Manhattan Beach or Hermosa Beach and know the actual company they walk by like Java Man on a Thursday morning?"

De Pinto said by focusing on real people who actually interact with their Instagram followers, someone with only 100 followers can have the same amount of reach as someone with, say 1,000 followers.

To become a “nano-influencer," you sign up for a free Virra account and select the brands they want to work with. After a vetting process, you either post content provided by the brand or create your own based on the brand's guidelines.

“Virra gives the every day average person a way to actually monetize their content,” Wagner said.

For businesses, De Pinto said, Virra allows organic engagement with its customers. With a minimum budget of $500, De Pinto said it's a “way for smaller business to get the type of benefits from promoted content with their budget.”

Wagner was born in North Carolina, went to Belmont University and was drafted by the White Sox in 2009 and was in their organization for six years. He moved to the South Bay in 2016.

De Pinto, who moved to the South Bay around 2013, is from Pasadena, attended USC and was drafted by the White Sox in 2011.

The two knew there would be life after baseball and raised some money to develop Barpay. First launched at USC, they took the app to UCLA and then Charlotte.

“I think it's a little naive to not think about life after baseball," Wagner said. "We had our head screwed on right and decided we weren't going to be identified, going to be labeled as: 'the baseball guy.'” 

For more information, visit govirra.com, or barpay.com.

Contact this reporter at mhixon@tbrnews.com or on Twitter @michaeljhixon.com.

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