Imagine meeting up with a technologically sophisticated American in February 2005 – a Blackberry and iPod owner, a person who video chats with eBay’s latest acquisition Skype, one of the 17.2 percent of Americans with high speed internet access, a Facebook early adopter – and it being your task to tell them about the future.
Now imagine uttering the following:
“Ten years from now, 75 percent of Americans will have internet access as fast as what you have today – through their phones, which will actually be small touch screen computers that they keep in their pockets. Some of them are the size of waffles and called phablets, which is a portmanteau of phone and tablet – because keyboard-less computers called tablets are also really popular. A primary mode of communication between human beings will be 140 character phrases called “Tweets.” Twitter is the company responsible for tweets – and it’s worth $30 billion. The biggest IPO in history will be for a Chinese B2B e-commerce company that a high school teacher started in a two bedroom apartment in Beijing – they are called Alibaba, find a way to buy in now. Also, you should really consider investing in Apple – they are going to change the world of everything, including payments.”
While perhaps an exceptionally knowledgeable or technologically far-sighted sage might find that plausible, it’s probably safe to assume that, to an average listener in 2005, the above would sound like some combination of science fiction and gibbering lunacy, with the possible exception of the part about Apple.
While the world we live in doesn’t feel radically different from the world we lived in back in 2005, the way we communicate, consume, shop, share, pay and think about doing all of those things would look almost unrecognizably weird to us ten years ago. (And, if you don’t believe that, all you have to do is ask your kids, who don’t understand why you still bother to read the newspaper…)
Which is why a good short list of “What’s Next in Retail and Payments” is so hard to make – how can you possibly know what will hit big, when the really big ideas are the things that are most distinct and different from what came before?
As with all things, it helps to be in the know early on and to take the good ideas that are bubbling under the surface, getting ready to burst through – and make sure that 2025 looks as different from 2015 as 2015 looks from 2005. PYMNTS is gathering some of those best and brightest in the innovator underground at this year’s Innovator Expo, taking place at the Innovation Project 2015. We hand-pick 40 of the most interesting up-and-comers across all of payments and commerce and give them a chance to strut their stuff – and maybe even change their future, and the future of the space in which we operate.
So, check out a few of the innovators who made the short list of the ones to watch today so that you can lead the conversation when everyone else is talking about them tomorrow.
Trak Pay is what founder Keith White called “a mobile solution for the micro merchant,” when he spoke to PYMNTS about his soon-to-be-launching firm’s purpose. Trak Pay wants to fill what White sees as a developing hole in the mobile payments market: small retailers that cannot easily or practically upgrade to the NFC-compliant POS that mobile schemes like Apple and Google require. Trak Pay offers a scaled down and easier to use option that allows smaller merchants to generate QR codes that users can easily use – all they have to do is scan those codes and go. Door-to-door, White estimates the process for a consumer to complete a transaction takes about 3 seconds and doesn’t require any switching of screens.
Trak Pay is going after a market largely overlooked by the mobile wallet crowd: individual small businesses that don’t operate at the scale of big merchants like McDonalds or Macy’s. Not all small merchants can or want to invest in new terminal technology. Plus, Trak Pay has a lot of cool features, like a tokenized mobile wallet and the ability to be navigated entirely by voice commands.
Five years ago the idea for SpyderLynk was born out of a frustrated consumer’s desire to easily buy goods and enter contests she casually encountered. That consumer became the co-founder and CEO of SyderLynk, and the solution she created was the SnapTag – a company logo inside a circle with breaks in it that consumers can photograph with their mobile phones to connect to online promotions.
The idea has since grown to become a mobile activation and marketing platform company that delivers interactive marketing programs directly to mobile phones. Consumers get a chance to react and interact with marketing content when they are most curious and most ready to convert their desire into action.
First of all, you have to admire a firm with a sense of humor, and anybody with a landing page that begins with, “Who the heck is SypderLynk and what are you doing on my phone?” cannot be reasonably accused of taking itself too seriously.
On the other hand, you can’t exactly accuse them of being self-deprecating either, since the same page also offers an answer to that question: “Mobile marketing geniuses? Well, now that you mention it …”
Their confidence is warranted, considering that they have been named one of the top ten most brilliant companies by Entrepreneur Magazine. The SnapTag also won Citibank’s Citi Mobile Challenge 2014 as the “Most Innovative Solution for Small Business.”
“We are extremely excited about the collision that is occurring between mobile payments, authentication, and marketing,” Skogg noted. “We look forward to bringing our mobile marketing expertise to mobile payments and authentication with our new SnapTag Pay and SnapTag Login technologies.”
Vayana’s goal in the marketplace is to offer a simple and practical approach for financial institutions to scale their program to fund SMEs’ receivables and payables.
The service allows financial institutions to roll out a transaction-based working capital financing program to SMEs with no investment in infrastructure or operations. After qualifying, Vayana integrates into the financial and accounting systems of the financial institutions and SMEs. Daily reconciliation is provided. Vayana seeks to solve the problem that exists when banks that want to lend to SMEs can’t (and can’t achieve scale) because they are unable to connect the last mile to SMEs in a cost effective and timely emanner. Vayana can get both a small business and its corporate partner online together in a matter of a few days.
Vayana is a finalist for the 2015 Innovator Awards, including Vayana Pvt. Ltd. in the Best Credit Innovation category competing for the Gold medal prize. Apart from the stamp of approval from the PYMNTS panel of judges, Vayana’s service lets smaller business and their partners forecast their receivables and payables with accuracy and also integrate all transactions to their ER. Vayana makes it possible for small businesses to access cheaper institutional financing without the investment in IT or new processes. Meanwhile, everything can be integrated into the ERP systems.
Viewpost is dedicated to easing the friction that seems almost endemic to B2B payments. It does this by offering e-invoicing and e-payments services, but by also going the extra mile and allowing buyers and vendors to see, in real-time, the current status of outstanding invoices and cash flow data.
“When we think of B2B payments, we think of it at a holistic level. In order to really solve the problem, you have to be able to connect businesses with one another,” Eliscu told MPD CEO Karen Webster in a PYMNTS podcast.. “You have to be able to deliver information, you have to make the ability to pay your trading partners and receive payment from your trading partners simple, regardless of the payment method. And you have to be able to deliver information along all of those rails. That’s a lot, but that’s really what it takes in order to cure the disease, and that’s what Viewpost has set out to do.”
B2B payments is widely regarded as the nearly eternal sickman of the payments ecoystem, and insofar as Viewpost wants to step in and cure the disease, it is impressive in its own right. What really makes Viewpost shine, though, is its commitment to solving the problem on both sides of the B2B transaction, not just the buyer’s side.
“Right now, it starts with connecting businesses with one another, and not having a focus on solving for the benefit of just one segment of the ecosystem or another,” Eliscu noted. “If you look at the historical players, you really see companies that have been designed to solve big company payables problems – big, expensive software for big, complex companies, like Ariba or OB10 in Europe.”
Armor is another player dedicated to healing the B2B payments market, in this case by making payments that are at once secure, easy to use and cost-effective. Last week the company stepped up its efforts with the launch of an Internet-hosted escrow service for B2B e-commerce sites and e-marketplaces. Armor’s Escrow-as-a-Service model provides an API and a software development kit to help clients connect their e-commerce sites to the escrow payment service.
“PayPal, and credit cards for that matter, are expensive, particularly for the larger transactions that are part of B2Bcommerce,” CEO Scott Reynolds noted in a PYMNTS podcast. “In addition, the chargeback structure tends to be optimized really for the consumer market. So with Armor Payments we can provide a similar level of protection to buyers with an escrow process and our integrated dispute platform, and we can provide guaranteed funds to the supplier. All at a significantly lower cost.”
For one thing, the good people at Armor really know what they’re doing. It was founded by long-time industry veterans from MasterCard, PayPal, and iContact, among other places. Armor also has a novel approach to working in the B2B space: soliciting B2B commerce enablers such as marketplaces, online directories or B2B e-invoice providers to collaborate with as opposed to soliciting buyers and sellers directly.
“So we’ve seen interest really from a wide variety of potential partners, ranging from wholesale fashion to refurbished electronics,” noted Reynolds. “Quite a wide range of channels where these marketplaces are bringing together buyers and suppliers but they still don’t have a viable secure method of payment that they can build into their marketplaces.”
And Armor has global ambitions – and is looking to work with marketplaces that need help working internationally. And one should always keep eye on B2B escrow companies with big ambitions – after all, that is how Alipay – now with 800 million users, got its start.
Reserve is a digital concierge service focused on making every part of the dining experience smoother and more seamless by allowing users to make reservations, see suggestions and then pay their check from the app when their meal ends.
To use Reserve, customers enter a date and time they want to eat, and the app takes it from there. Users can also pay a bill that includes the tax and tip as well as Reserve’s flat $5 fee.
“We’re seeing a tremendous amount of interest in our service from both restaurants and guests, and we’re looking forward to bringing Reserve to more cities, expanding more deeply in our current cities, reaching more people on more devices and making Reserve your dining concierge for every meal,” Hong noted.
Reserve is certainly not the only reservations app out there, but it is novel. Unlike apps like OpenTable, users don’t already have to know where they want to go – this app is instead focused on helping the users make a choice. And Reserve is growing – though it started out as an iOS only app, in early February the company officially made the jump to Android.
Plus, it’s hard not to like anyone or anything offering to buy you a drink, and at this year’s Innovation Project “the first round of drinks are on Reserve,” the firm noted in an email with PYMNTS. “We’ll also be offering attendees a $50 credit via the official Innovation Project mobile app that they can apply to get $50 off their first meal.”
What’s not to love?
Consumers love personalized experiences, but they dislike the feeling of being spied on so that retailers can mine the data needed to provide them. InfoScout has come up with a novel solution for that problem: just ask consumers for their personal information and reward them for giving it to you.
InfoScout uses fun and engaging apps designed to motivate its proprietary consumer panel to share with the company the details of their purchases across all retailers where they shop, regardless of payment method. The company then provides insights using the item-level content and payment details back to brands and payments companies. “The challenge in this industry has long been that any approach that relies on agreements with merchants is going to have a number of restrictions in terms of which merchants are willing to share [and] how much they’re willing to share,” Schrieber told Karen Webster in an interview.
InfoScout, in a comparatively short amount of time, as drawn some pretty high profile attention. Procter & Gamble Co., Unilever and Nestlé are on its client list. Tesco-owned Dunnhumby is an investor and is also behind adding e-commerce and other “omnichannel” tracking capabilities to the service. And those are capabilities it is putting to good use, following e-commerce receipts from more than 100,000 of the 175,000 households that already use its apps to scan receipts from offline sales.
Access to this data allows CPGs to see “individual households shift from brick-and-mortar to online, including which categories, how it starts, what the snowball effect is leading into other categories and how it changes frequency of purchase and loyalty to brands,” Schrieber told AdAge.
Buy Master offers an innovative platform for posting special deals; this, in turn, allows merchants to effectively target customers in proximity. Users on the go have the advantage of being instantly informed of special deals nearby, and of having those deals customized to their needs and preferences.
The premise is intriguing and offers a strong value proposition for physical retailers that are trying to replace the foot traffic that is lost to formidable ecommerce players by giving on-the-go consumers a reason to respond to deals.
Also, there’s the sense of mystery involved with their pending launch. Buy Master’s website, with nothing more than a countdown clock, is certainly intriguing. Plus, their teaser video is almost guaranteed to brighten your day.
Modo payments seeks to make the payment process smoother by streamlining it. Through its platform, Modo can take any source of value – credit cards, bank accounts, offers/promotions, loyalty programs, gifts or any combination of those – and “fuse” them into a one-time-use digital card for use in-store with retailers. Moreover, Modo looks to work with their merchant partners to build better experiences, premised on the idea that the merchants are best qualified to build the right transactions for the customers that they have come to know.
While there are certain buzzwords that describe the universal goals of the payments and commerce ecosystem – seamless, ubiquitous, innovative, disruptive – looking to build “beautiful” payments experiences certainly make Modo a standout.
“We’d like you to build a beautiful buying experience, so we are putting some skin in the game. Bring us your idea for a beautiful buying experience,” said CEO Bruce Parker. “If it’s designed like Apple, and frictionless like Uber, we’ll build it for you and get it out into the app stores. Then you can start earning your percentage of the 12 cents of every sales dollar that passes through your app.”
Insurance companies have a problem. Typically, when payments come through, the company sends them through to a bank account on a line-by-line item basis – an extremely inefficient process that One Inc is trying to solve.
“When payments come through, they literally take all of the payments for yesterday, which might be tens or hundreds of thousands of payments, and they reconcile them on a daily basis to the bank account on a line-item-by-line-item basis,” Ewing explained to Karen Webster. “That just seemed nuts to us, so we created a product called ProcessOne, which is a payment and reconciliation solution for the P&C space to do batch processing. That was the core problem we solved.”
Taking a day’s work for ten men and cutting it down to an hour’s work for one is a pretty serious accomplishment. And One Inc does so interestingly, since they bring some very unique background to the scene.
“Think of ProcessOne as a traffic cop. At the end of the day, it solves the problem by posting the payments to the various modules,” Ewing explained. “It posts the timing for the bank account payments, and for the payments to go into the system itself. Because it’s at the center of all of it, all of the timing matches up so it’s easy to reconcile.”
Some of these companies you have heard of, others are still gearing up to launch publicly. But what they all have in common is a potential to change things – for consumers, for businesses trying pay each other, for companies trying to figure out the best way to place themselves in a new and increasingly digital economy.
One of them is even looking to buy you a drink! Don’t you want to come and find out how they are going to do it?