Greg Goldfarb may be one of the only merchant innovators Karen Webster has ever talked to whose company is not about to develop its own mobile wallet.
The reason, says Goldfarb, CEO and co-founder of Flint Mobile, is that “simplicity is king” – for small business, for consumers, and therefore for Flint.
A mobile payment service for small businesses that operate outside of traditional retail stores, Flint was a part of the Innovator Expo at PYMNTS’ Innovation Project 2014, where Goldfarb and Webster – the CEO of Market Platform Dynamics – had previously crossed paths. Webster recently reconnected with Goldfarb for a podcast recording, during which they discussed what has been happening with Flint in the time since, and what lies ahead for the company.
When Flint – which started in 2011 – was at Innovation Project 2014, it had just launched its first application (for iOS). At the time, Goldfarb says, “Flint was all about simplifying payment acceptance for service-centric businesses on…mobile devices by eliminating the hardware and using the camera to securely scan cards.” Today, he explains, Flint is in the business of enabling service-centric businesses to run their entire operations from the palm of one’s hand.
Not only has Flint expanded from iOS to Android, not only does it allow for on-the-spot payment acceptance, but now – based on customer demand – Flint users can create invoices and get paid online, as well as power their websites and email campaigns.
The platform has also integrated with Apple Passbook, so that, as Goldfarb tells Webster, “as things like Apple Pay start to grow, we’re providing small businesses with a really easy way to gain consumer exposure in the Apple Passbook with really easy couponing tools.”
Webster observes that Flint’s take on mobile point of sale (mPOS) – software that allows cards to be accepted without external hardware – is a unique one. She asks Goldfarb why he decided to approach the market that way.
Goldfarb explains: “It really started from the point of view of who the customer was, or where we saw the customer opportunity, and looking at how those types of users really were using mobile devices and mobile applications. And so, in terms of customer target, we were always intrigued and fascinated [by] all the business that’s being done outside of retail – or ‘off the countertop’, so to speak.”
In his previous experience, Goldfarb had observed that the fundamental way the shape of the workforce and the shape of small business was shifting was “to a much more flexible style of client interaction – much more on-demand, much more mobile – and the fact that the mobile device effectively has become a connected computer has enabled much of that.”
Goldfarb was further inspired by the phenomenon of separate-purpose-built devices – such as digital cameras, handheld GPS, alarm clocks, and calculators – having converged to become simple apps on phones and tablets as those devices have become more connected.
Keying in on Flint’s strive for simplicity, Webster points out that it is most often the simple concepts that are the most difficult to bring to fruition. What, she inquires, was the hardest part of getting Flint ignited?
Goldfarb concurs with Webster’s premise. “The things that are simple in the hands of users are often the hardest to do in terms of…really making it solid and making it work and robust.” Such was the case for Flint in developing its technology. Another challenge, Goldfarb says, was figuring out how to educate users about Flint – that not only was it available, but that it was also simple and, very importantly, secure.
Speaking of the user, Webster asks, how does Flint actually get the application into people’s hands?
In addition to simple online and mobile marketing, Goldfarb attests that Flint’s predominant method of achieving brand awareness thus far has been word-of-mouth. The company does not have a sales team; at the end of the day, says Goldfarb, “we really want our customers to be our best salespeople.”
Given that networks view payments handled through Flint as card-not-present transactions, Webster inquires if that matters to the user.
Goldfarb thinks not. He believes that what matters to the user more than whether a transaction is technically card-present or card-not-present is whether or not the transaction fees are competitive. That’s what Flint has focused on with regards to transactional processing, and it’s led the company to do “something that’s a bit different than others in the space.”
Early on, explains Goldfarb, Flint recognized that signature debit was (and is) used quite heavily by its audience – it actually constitutes the majority of transactions by count. With that in mind, Flint structured its fees as 1.95 percent for all debit card transactions and 2.95 percent for all credit card transactions. Therefore, on balance, payments handled through Flint – though technically on-the-rails – come through essentially as e-commerce transactions with a per-transaction merchant fee of roughly 2.5 percent.
By implementing the unique strategy of separating debit card and credit card transactions, Flint (thanks in large part, Goldfarb acknowledges, to the Durbin Amendment having dramatically reduced the cost structure of debit) has been able to save small businesses money.
With respect to the small-business segment that Flint serves and the changes going on in the mPOS space, Webster wonders what is on Flint’s road map for 2015.
Offers Goldfarb, “I think this year, one of the things that will change is that business apps will be payment-enabled and of course they will be mobile. And Flint will play, I believe, a significant role in that fundamental transition.”
As part of that transition, prompts Webster, how will Flint enable payment options like Apple Pay or PayPal?
Goldfarb points to Flint’s existing seamless integration with Apple Passbook for loyalty offers as the company’s likely access point to “another potential area that could get interesting.” What interests Flint is anything that will drive productivity and make things “easy and low-friction” for businesses.
“All [a small business] should need is an app,” says Goldfarb. “There’s no hardware, [no] need to go get a separate merchant account. And on the consumer side, we can prove the richness of the business-to-consumer relationship with what consumers already have in their hand[s].”