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Clinkle's Still a Hot Mess as Its Big Shot COO Departs (Updated)

Former Netflix CFO Barry McCarthy exits.

Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Barry McCarthy was supposed to bring stability to the tumultuous environment at Clinkle, the stealth payments startup he joined in the fall as its first chief operating officer. Instead, the former longtime Netflix CFO is heading for the exit less than five months after joining.

In an interview with Re/code, McCarthy said that when he joined the company in October, he was told that Clinkle’s mobile payment app would launch in November. But the app only went live in a limited beta test in February, according to a blog post written by CEO Lucas Duplan, and it’s unclear when exactly it will launch widely to its target audience of college students later this year.

In the meantime, McCarthy, who was hired to run everything outside of product and engineering, essentially had nothing to do.

“They’re not nearly as close to scaling the businesses as I thought they were when I came in the door,” McCarthy said. “And that’s what I do.”

“They need to hunker down and get the product in the marketplace,” he said, adding that he believes the company is now investing in the right areas and is back on track.

Duplan told Re/code that he was shooting to launch the product in late 2013, but a variety of factors he wouldn’t discuss prevented that from happening.

“We got a lot of heat in the press about why isn’t it just out yet, but hopefully I can help the media understand. … moving your funds around is a pretty serious thing,” he said. “Not many companies are building core payment technology.”

“I wish I could time these things, but it’s also my first rodeo,” he added. “I’m sometimes a little bit off.”

Duplan turns 23 next month. He started working on the company at 19 as a student at Stanford, and later hired a bunch of current and former classmates to work at his startup. Clinkle has raised over $30 million in funding, but there has been heavy turnover at the company in recent months.

In December, McCarthy himself oversaw layoffs that wiped out about a quarter of the startup’s staff. Clinkle now has about 55 employees.

The company also added to its hype when it released a bizarre promotional video last year.

“He’s taking an enormous amount of shit and we would all agree he’s done some dumb stuff,” McCarthy said. “But how many guys his age would have had the vision, been able to attract the capital and people, and have had the courage to go out there and risk it all. I have great admiration for him.”

It’s still not clear what the Clinkle app will look like and how exactly it will work when it launches. At a high level, the app is expected to allow people to digitally transfer money to others, and also be used to make purchases in brick-and-mortar stores. In-store transactions may occur via the transmission of audio signals not detectable to the human ear, according to industry sources as well as other reports. A page on Clinkle’s website has also included mention of a Clinkle debit card.

But how Clinkle will differ from offerings from a wide range of payments companies including PayPal, Venmo, Square and Google is unclear.

Still, it has shown enough promise in private meetings with investors to attract more than $30 million in funding from the likes of Andreessen Horowitz, Peter Thiel, Richard Branson and, Duplan revealed today, Stanford University itself.

SEC filings show that Clinkle has raised $30.5 million in funding to date. But, in today’s interview, Duplan said the number is actually a bit higher than that. When asked for the exact number, he said he had to check a spreadsheet.

Update 10:00 pm ET: More bad news at Clinkle. The company’s new design chief, former Twitter designer Josh Brewer, left Clinkle this week after just a few days on the job.

“When he arrived, he felt he had landed in the midst of things shifting and decided it wasn’t a good fit,” Clinkle spokeswoman Ana Braskamp said in an emailed statement.

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