MasterCard’s Masters of Code Hackathon Series officially kicks off today in Sydney, Australia, focusing first on mobile commerce innovation. Following Sydney, the series will move to other parts of the world, encompassing themes like security, financial inclusion and commerce innovation. In a recent interview, Mario Shiliashki, SVP of Open API for MasterCard told MPD CEO Karen Webster MasterCard’s reasoning behind this global Hackathon, how the company aims to help construct the next operating system for digital commerce, and how it is enabling developers, startups and non-traditional partners to access its APIs and further fuel that objective.
KW: So there’s lots of excitement coming out of MasterCard this year so far, and we’re just getting started. One of those exciting developments is the MasterCard Masters of Code Competition which you announced at the end of last year. That 10 cities hackathon series starts this week in Australia, and the first installment, which is the Sydney event, is focused on Mobile Commerce Innovation. So why did you guys decide to do a hackathon? And why did you decide to start in Australia?
MS: We are super excited to be on this path. This is actually one of a few ways in which we are looking to engage with developers, startups and innovators across the world and in commerce in general.
Let me just start with what the vision is for us to even conceive this Masters of Code Hackathon Series. We’ve been working hard at bulking up more of the assets and products of MasterCard via API to be more accessible to developers, startups and non-traditional partners, with the hope that we can power and enable new innovations that happen in commerce and payments. We hope that all the unique products we’ve built over the years will become kind of the operating system of the next generation of commerce. One way for us to generate this set of innovations around the world is to present and enable startups, businesses and developers with APIs that they can use to connect to the MasterCard products and services.
So why a hackathon? Well, that’s kind of where the rubber meets the road for developers, right? They come in with their ideas in teams and really implement the tools and products that we’ve built into their ideas to help them grow those ideas into businesses. The selection of Sydney is due to the vibrant community of developers and startups in general and is very much focused on innovation in payments and commerce. So it was a natural choice for us in the Asia-Pacific region. Of course, the series goes around the world. It’s a multi-city, multi-geography series of developer events that culminates with a grand finale in December in Silicon Valley where we will invite each of the winners from each city to compete for the grand prize of being named the “Masters of Code.”
KW: That sounds really exciting and like a really great idea. Let’s talk a little bit about the tools that you are making available as part of the hackathon. So what is it that the entrepreneurs and developers who participate get to access?
MS: They get access to the sandbox for each of the products that we’ve built via API. We have a range of products that are already live and have a whole set of others that are in the pipeline. They range from MasterCard’s wallet platform MasterPass, to loyalty platform products, to fraud services and solutions, and to products that leverage the data that MasterCard has, and package that all up.
An example of that is location: ATM locations, merchant locations, cash back locations. That data package is developed in the API that developers can utilize and develop into their applications. All of that is there for developers to use in whatever application they’re building. Along with that, we encourage developers to utilize third-party APIs. In fact, we just had an internal developer hackathon last week in the MasterCard New York City Tech Hub. It was fantastic to see our internal teams utilize a bunch of APIs from various providers that enhance the products and services they’re creating.
KW: So do each of your cities have different themes?
MS: They do, yes. So in Australia, we are starting with mobile commerce innovation. We have various themes depending on the geography and what each market is focused on. In Tel Aviv, we will go with security, as there’s a lot of innovation happening around cyber security. In Brazil, the theme will be around international inclusion and commerce innovation. So yes, each city will have its own theme and its own set of featured API services from MasterCard along with some partner APIs as well.
KW: Interesting. So part of the fun of a hackathon is really letting the creative juices of these innovators flow and for them to develop their own ideas and applications. But I’m curious, do you have your own wish list of things that you’d like to see come out of this?
MS: Part of the reason for doing this hackathon series is for us to truly open it up to any idea, any developer, and any startup around the world. We are trying to attract the best and brightest of the world to focus on innovation in commerce and payments. That said, we do tend to have areas of focus. That’s one of the reasons for us to have themes for each of the hackathons so that we can further refine the focus of the teams.
We’re looking at innovations around the consumer-merchant experience. We’re looking at innovations around person-to-person payments. We’re looking at innovations around utilizing our data in new and unexpected ways.
We recently saw that one of the winners of a previous hackathon competition we had participated in at Money 2020, team entercharge, just won one of the tracks in the CES Hackathon. Their idea was for restaurants, making the experience of having to wait for the waiter a much more of a seamless experience.
The vertical focus of each of the merchant and consumer experience is one for which we are looking for solutions, especially ones that are not very efficient today and heavy in cash usage. An example of that is parking – a lot of the parking structures around the world leave much to be desired in terms of experience and cash usage. Of course, any idea that converts cash into digital payments ideally for MasterCard is one we will embrace.
KW: It’s also interesting to see how just the ability to embed payments into an idea creates a whole ecosystem that wouldn’t have been able to survive if payment wasn’t possible. There are so many examples of the collaborative sharing in the economy that it will be interesting to see how all of these efforts that you are supporting through the hackathon create new ecosystems.
MS: That’s only one of the ways in which we engage with developers. We have a whole set of other partners that we work with that are equally as focused. San Francisco Airport and American Airlines are examples that are very interesting and unique, as well as various other partners around the world. And our Start Path program is one way for us to help these teams really turn their ideas into a business.
So we work with these partners around the world to engage with the right sets of developers to bring those ideas on board. The hope is that we will attract the brightest developers and the ones that are truly interested in building businesses from the APIs that they use for MasterCard.
KW: How will you decide who will win? What’s that process like?
MS: In a typical hackathon, once the development is complete and everyone has submitted their ideas, we will have a panel of judges from the industry, the region, from MasterCard and from some of our partners. Generally, the criteria include how creative the solution was, how much it solves for a pain point, what the user experience was like and how well that was designed, and of course how well was an API integrated into that experience—especially a MasterCard API. Lastly, we determine how likely that idea or prototype would be successful in the market.
KW: So what happens after Sydney? Where are you off to next?
MS: We have a whole series of events. After Sydney we are off to Singapore, Hong Kong, Brazil, Tel Aviv, Europe, the U.S., and a bunch of other cities around the world. We then conclude in December in Silicon Valley, where we will have each of the winners compete for the grand prize. The grand prize is not just the ability to call oneself a “Master of Code,” but it is also a monetary prize of $100,000. Plus, winners have the ability to take advantage of some of MasterCard’s business-related services, like some free processing from Simplify Commerce, up to $250,000 for their business, as well as the ability to be a part of Start Path incubation program and work with the open API team for the first six months to help you grow their business. Finally, there is a surprise practice experience in California.
KW: Wow. Well I hope one of the apps that someone develops is what to do with the frequent flyer miles that you’ll be racking up, Mario. Sounds like you’re going to be on the road this year.
MS: Yes! Travel is definitely one of the areas that the developers are focused on because there is much to be desired from the travel experience. We did a very interesting hackathon with American Airlines last year, which focused on the flight experience. That was a very interesting format where the prototypes were actually demoed on a commercial flight from NYC to San Francisco. Maybe we will do something similar this year.
SVP of Open API for MasterCard
Mario Shiliashki is senior vice president and group head, U.S. Emerging Payments Lead, responsible for U.S.-based development and commercialization of payment product platforms, including e-commerce, Mobile, Chip, P2P, Transit, PayPass, inControl and Bill Payment.
He was previously general manager of PayPal in Southeast Asia and India. In this role, Shiliashki built and led the business development, sales, marketing and product development teams in Singapore and India. Under his leadership, PayPal developed key partnerships across the region and launched products in key new target markets, including Japan, Malaysia and India.
Shiliashki began his career at PayPal as head of European Financial Planning and Analysis in London. He was then promoted to director of PayPal International and eBay North America Financial Planning and Analysis in California.
Prior to PayPal, Shiliashki was a Consultant at Bain & Company in London and a Financial Analyst at Goldman Sachs in New York.
Shiliashki holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance and Economics, summa cum laude, from Bryant University.
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