On Feb. 7-8, MasterCard kicked off its first-ever Masters of Code competition in Sydney, Australia. The 10-city event will traverse the globe, pitting developers, designers and entrepreneurs in friendly competition, using MasterCard-supplied APIs to create the most innovative prototypes for next-generation commerce applications.
Representing MasterCard at all of the weekend-long events will be the company’s Chief Developer Evangelist, Sebastien Taveau. Just after returning stateside from the inaugural round in Sydney, Taveau spoke with MPD CEO Karen Webster about the Masters of Code competition, his early impressions of its progress, and what stands to come out of the hackathon, both for developers and for partners.
KW: So I’m sure you’re a little sleep deprived, because you just wrapped up a really exciting first leg of your Masters of Code Hackathon in Sydney, Australia. I’d love to get your perspective. How did it go? What happened? What came out of the Hackathon?
ST: It was the first edition, and the first time we organized a series of 10 events that will be going around the globe, and that will actually culminate in a grand finale in Silicon Valley in December of this year. We put a lot of planning and a lot of work into making sure that everything was perfectly set for the developers, and we also tried to find the best location.
We picked Sydney because they have a great board of engineers, and also MasterCard has a very strong presence in Australia. So that was for us the natural first step to try and put our toes in the water.
It was a very intense two days. We started quite early on Saturday morning – which for developers is always quite interesting – and went all the way to Sunday afternoon, when we announced the winning team for the Australian leg.
The event was absolutely exceptional; it went beyond even our wildest dream. As an example, the team that won the competition used five [MasterCard] APIs. This is unseen before. Every hackathon we participated in in the past, usually you use one, two APIs, and create a great solution. But in that case they really went all the way through…and, again, five APIs was unseen for us.
KW: Tell us about the solution that they created. It sounds very exciting.
ST: The team that won the challenge was called Cointr. And their goal was to create a way to get all the pocket change that you carry around out of your pocket and put it towards achieving a goal: a financial goal, the acquisition of a good that you want to buy, or maybe giving it to charity. Think of it as a sort of digital piggybank.
Everything that was around that was also very appealing because, when you look at what they were trying to solve – that was a problem that they had themselves; they don’t like to carry a lot of coins in their pocket – the way they built it was really very in line with some of the fields of interest at MasterCard, such as a cashless society, financial inclusion, and helping achieve financial independence to reach some of your goals in life.
KW: It sounds very clever. It sounds like an app that I would love to have. So tell them to hurry it up and come to the United States. How in fact does one get, using their app, the pocket change and make it digital? How does that actually work?
ST: They re-leveraged the Australian fabrics, the way the society works. It’s very interesting, when you participate in this type of event and have different locations around the globe, you start seeing how developers and how the organization of society works in different regions.
For example, they have a lot of chain food stores; 7-Elevens are very popular and you can find them at every street corner in Sydney. For them, that was their way to find a mechanism to actually onboard the cash and make it digital.
One of the angles they took also was using a prepaid card from MasterCard. You just refill using one of our APIs, and you add that card that you can use and start managing most of your cash and onboard more money to make it digital.
KW: Interesting. It’s a very clever solution. So what were some of the other solutions that came out of the hackathon? First of all, how many developers participated?
ST: We had around 80 developers that were on the ground and very active. The teams were formed on the first day. The team that won the challenge, Cointr, two of their members met the weekend before. And they picked up and selected two new members that morning.
The diversity and the way the teams that were formed was very interesting, to see the dynamic and finding the right mix. We could see that the morning of the event, which was great.
The team that got second place, the runner-up, was called Seamless. They took a very different approach, a very different solution; they went for the local challenge, which was the best in-store checkout experience. And they created an integration with IOT. They had a sensor in the basket, a sensor for the shelf, and as you were moving the goods around, these were added automatically to your card, and then the checkout was processed using the MasterPass API.
That integration of hardware and software is something that we see more and more during the event. And that’s how you see the experience evolving into this new generation of in-store and physical and digital store that actually perfectly bridge with mobile device.
KW: It sounds like you had a really clever, energetic group of developers that really took full advantage of the tools and the APIs that you provided them. What tools were available to these teams?
ST: We have a set of public APIs that MasterCard has been developing and exposing to developers, that you can find on the website developer.mastercard.com, which is the MasterCard developers’ own area. And all these APIs have been designed and crafted to help the nontraditional MasterCard partners – traditional partners are banks and a lot of merchants, but now we’re really opening the platform to third parties. That includes small developers, entrepreneurs and startups. We really designed these APIs to allow these developers to create what we would like to see: the new generation of commerce apps, because that’s where sometime you see your assets – the product, the services, the data – being used in such a way that it can go beyond the wildest imagination of what you’re building today.
Seeing how these teams actually on the ground were using some of our APIs and incorporating into experiences that are not the traditional commerce experience that you may find here in the U.S. or in Europe, for example, was very, very interesting. And I think that’s how you initiate innovation in what’s going to be the next generation, the next big thing.
KW: I would agree with you that the beauty of having this kind of an ecosystem that you’re nurturing is you’re able to leverage the creativity of developers who have ideas, who see problems, and you enable the piece of the solution that is the hardest to actually solve, which is enabling payments and some of the other commerce opportunities that come along with it. It must have been very, very exciting for you.
Was there a particular concentration of these solutions in any particular category? Were they all retail-focused? Were there any that kind of touched on some of the broader financial inclusion or financial services initiatives?
ST: We had very different, diversified apps. They touched more than just payments; some of the APIs were used to reward the behavior of teenagers, more like the family structure, dynamic.
One app, for example, came from a team called Piccolo, which was composed of three teenage high school students. And they had a fourth friend who was actually not allowed by his parents to come to the event because it was overnight. So they were having their friend helping them via Skype, and they stayed actually all night, and they created this app, which they were thinking their parents should use to reward them for what they were doing.
And that’s very inspiring. When we talk about the next generation of applications, we also have to talk about the next generation of developers. And they really displayed what was great about this type of event: these young developers, they were able to develop it and present it; they were very, very bright programmers, very great presenters, too. And the nice part is, even with the help of their friend on Skype, you could see also the other developers at the event, they were checking with them. If they had a question – we had MasterCard experts on the ground that could also help them with the question, but you could see also the other developers trying to help them. “Do you have any questions? Do you have any problems?”
So you see also this community. Even if it’s a competition, even if it’s an event where there’s only one team that will win the big prize, you still see what a collaborative environment. And I think that illustrates very well what’s going on in the world of technology today. It’s what we call the collaborative economy, where everyone can’t make it alone anymore. You have to work with third parties, you have to make your technology available to other companies, so that can create an ecosystem that fosters innovation.
KW: What does Cointr get as the grand prize winner in Sydney? I know that Cointr will go on to compete as part of the broader competition. But what do they get for their accomplishment in Sydney?
ST: What we crafted is something a bit different than other events: they won a “Priceless Experience.” So, for MasterCard, what it means is we are going to fly them to Silicon Valley two days before the grand finale, and there they will be treated to what we call an “exceptional visit of Napa Valley”: they will discover great Michelin-star restaurants and very exquisite wineries. And then we will take them to a tour of Silicon Valley, where they will meet some technology companies, see the special vibe that is here in Silicon Valley. And then, that evening, the Friday evening right before the event, they will be hosted at a very special gala dinner where they will be able to mingle with MasterCard executives but also with some of the top Silicon Valley executives, and some of the top Silicon Valley investors.
KW: That is a very priceless experience; it sounds like you might need a chaperone, Seb – I’m volunteering.
ST: The idea is really: we want to give every one of the 10 teams that will be present a chance to pitch their ideas. Because we know that at the end, there will be only one winning team that will be crowned the Masters of Code, and that will be the team actually that we will really help to build their business and take them to the next stage. But we want every one of these 10 teams to still be able to create a Rolodex of contacts here in Silicon Valley and with MasterCard, so that we can follow up, too. Because if they have reached that level, that means that they have been building something that is of great interest not just for MasterCard but for the entire industry.
KW: That sounds really quite inspiring, as well, to give these individuals and these teams the opportunity to get that exposure. It’s certainly priceless, and once-in-a-lifetime.
I understand that the next step is Hong Kong. Tell me when, and how you came to choose Hong Kong as the next stop on your journey.
ST: The event that we will have in Hong Kong is a bit more than one month away. It’s going to be on March 21 and 22, and that following weekend we’ll be in Singapore, on the 28 and 29. But the reason we picked Hong Kong is that it’s a very dynamic area for the banking industry and for a lot of merchants, also. It’s like a platform for merchants in Asia. And also the proximity to mainland China is of interest. And what we’ve [seen is] some very creative applications and companies actually being born in Hong Kong. We’re trying to reach out to a very dynamic country in Asia and make sure that we can also expand to the other countries.
KW: I’m curious to get your perspective on one thing as we wrap up: You’re obviously getting to see a lot of developers approach problem-solving using your tools and access to your APIs in a very, very different way. What are you learning from this experience?
ST: We are exposing our services and products and we are packaging them in such a way that we think makes sense for developers. However, it’s a two-way educational process. As the developers are learning about our APIs and our tools, we are also learning of what are their needs. And you have to differentiate between the amateur, the small, startup developer and the enterprise developer — they all have access to different tools; they all have access to different solutions. And their needs are sometime the same but sometime they will be different. And for us it’s important so we can craft, actually, our tools and our services in a way that makes sense to the vast majority of developers.
And that learning exercise, you can only gain it by making yourself available to developers, being very open on the communication—you have to be as transparent as possible, and make sure that these developers are not shy or reluctant to share their experience.
So at the event, for example, we add a survey where we ask the developer, after the event was done, what was their experience? How did they perceive our technology or API, the integration process? And we heard good things; we heard things that could be better or done in a different way; and it was a very important exercise because now we can bring that back and start crafting the next wave of APIs and making sure that they will fit and they will be usable right out of the box.
KW: It sounds like a really amazing experience and opportunity for MasterCard and those who participate in the hackathon around the world. I hope that one of the solutions that comes back is a way to make global travel a little less friction-filled, since it sounds like you are going to be traveling a lot over the next couple of months.
ST: Every stop that we have around the world, we can feel that they are trying to do better than the previous event, which is great for us, to see that very energetic, dynamic, internal competition of “we can have the better Masters of Code than the last one,” and also they try to select the best to represent their country, so that’s great.
But from the theme point of view, we definitely need to have something about travel, and definitely something trying to make it much easier when you are changing countries all the time.
KW: I will stay tuned to that, since I also travel myself, but I’m not planning to go around the world in the next nine months.
Best of luck to you; look forward to catching up with you as you finish Hong Kong and go on to Singapore, as you make your way around the world.
Chief Developer Evangelist, MasterCard
Sebastien serves as Chief Developer Evangelist for the Open API team at MasterCard where he leads the outreach to the global developer community. Puzzle solver, strategic thinker, beyond-the-horizon watcher and hands-on doer, Sebastien has technical and professional experience spans more than 20 years in various industries. He has shaped ecosystems and products around POS, mobile payment, mobile security, mobile identity and consumer solutions. He has provided expert opinions for and has been quoted in the WSJ, The Huffington Post, Reuters, Mashable, USA Today, CNN, CBC, Forbes, Dark Reading, Digital Transactions, Newsweek, etc. on topics ranging from mobile payments to mobile identity, consumer biometrics and security.
Prior to joining MasterCard, he was CTO at Validity where he was part of the executive team leading to the successful acquisition of the company by Synaptics for $255M. He was also instrumental in the launch of the first payment with fingerprint in the combo Samsung S5/PayPal/Synaptics Sensors.
Prior to Validity, Sebastien led the Mobile Ecosystem and Technology Integration effort at PayPal. He was also a member of the exclusive eBay Inventors Club for his multiple contributions to the patent portfolio as well as a 2-times recipient of the PayPalian Award.
Sebastien held a postgraduate degree from the Universite de Paris 1 – Panntheon Sorbonne and a MSG from the Universite de Tours in France.
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