Developers platforms have quickly gone from being cutting edge to being something like table stakes for serious financial technology players, as Karen Webster observed in a recent conversation with Vantiv’s Head of Developer Integration’s Matt Ozvat — “it feels a bit like everyone out there has their own version of a platform for the developer.”
That is good news for developers — and the path to innovation — but it does create a supply question in a world with a finite number of FinTech developers: how to attract them and how to keep them once they’ve been attracted?
And there are a lot of ways to answer that question, Ozvat said, some of which are rather technical. But, from a bigger, farther back perspective, he explained, Vantiv’s developer platform play is as much about community as it is about technology.
“The platform is in my eyes, from a philosophical perspective … the engagement piece. How are we communicating and engaging with our developers so they can best … [configure] the technical coding piece of the integration,” Ozvat told Webster, in this week’s episode of The Matchmaker Is In, noting that first and foremost he considered himself a developer at heart with something of a unique insight into what first, last and always the developer community is looking for — even as the technical world around them is ever shifting.
Ozvat told Webster that as a developer and a coder, the most important thing is “getting the job done,” as fast and as well as possible. He said that platforms that intend to serve that need well must design an efficient path for those developers to get that job done — and to be there to answer questions when the inevitable speedbumps arise.
Building a Payments Education
One of the better parts of Ozvat’s job, he admitted, is the opportunity to connect with up-and-coming innovators and being exposed to their ideas on how to develop the platform. The biggest challenge, he noted, is helping guide and connect those innovators with the big ideas they bring into the door to the various complicated and at times counter-intuitive minutiae of financial services and payments.
“These guys are so excited to do their … innovation — and we get into that energy absolutely. We listen to them and sometimes we have to lightly steer them so they can enable what they need to, so they get going forward in the right direction.”
A direction, Ozvat pointed out, that brings the perspective of decades of experience in what works at the POS — on and offline — and what’s needed to future-proof how that innovation can fit into the bigger picture of a complicated compliance landscape.
But it’s compliance, he noted, particularly around PCI, that can be a particular stumbling block, simply because among most of the young developers that come through their doors, who know payments as a consumer, the complexity of payments is really just a foreign concept.
As is, Ozvat observed, helping these developers monetize their ideas.
“We help them not get boxed into one service or idea and provide trading and find ways to appropriately suggest how they are thinking about scale,” Ozvat said. “That might be asking about have they considered a future where they have to add bitcoin, or are they built for multi-channel commerce as well as eCommerce. We architect a lot of those basic steps so that the developer can iterate on it and be ready to switch on when they get here.”
Moreover, he noted, all of that education is built around a strong focus on building products to get to market quickly, because developers need platforms that keep on that path. The marketplace moves fast, and what might seem like a small delay — six months or so — can really amount to a lot of lost time and ground.
“You may want to build in a lot of cool features, but if they have to go through the steps that it takes to make it fully compliant, that might slow their time to market. That actually should be the biggest factor in how developers are picking a platform — you need to work with someone who can make it simple, fast and easy to make the product ready for public use and marketable.”
Future-proofing is not easy work, because the future is a dynamic place. Plus, Ozvat noted, it is also a varied place for innovators working with Vantiv, because what they are trying to innovate on specifically varies. Breaking it down into the two largest categories, he said, reveals quite a different set of challenges. For card-not-present (CNP), virtual eCommerce, the strategy can be a bit more broad in terms of offering and what types of firms a developer function might go after. But, he noted, card-present innovations are a much more verticalized technology.
“In card present payments, if we are talking about restaurants, you are thinking about pay at the table, which is a very verticalized technology. And the needs are going to be very different than, say, card present payments in a bookstore, which is why you can’t be … broad about an offering.”
Those tend to be more focused, and developers really need to look to the specialties of the platforms they are involving themselves with to determine whether it matches up to their chosen vertical. If not, think about matchmaking with a different platform.
But caveats aside about different needs for different innovators, there are some areas of interest that have snagged Ozvat’s interest for the future of developers in the Vantiv orbit.
AR/VR, Webster noted, is perhaps one of the more surprising choices, given its status these days as something of a niche area of interest for the super-committed gamer.
But, Ozvat said, last year there were only one or two AR/VR developers floating around Vantiv’s developer platform. In the course of the last 12 months, that has doubled. As theoretical use cases have started circulating in the retail ether, he said, one of the benefits of building a developer community is getting an idea of what the forward-looking are looking forward to.
“We are excited … [about the] innovations they are doing. We’re geeks ourselves here; we like to look across multiple industries in tech to stay with the trends anyway.”
And, he noted, for really geeking right out of the box, there is also Vantiv’s emerging interest in robotics.
“We even have a robot bartender that mixes drinks and takes card payments,” he told Webster.
There are less moonshot areas of interest, of course. Mobile wallets are a favorite among developers and tokenization and its power to unlock and facilitate commerce across channels is a going interest.
The hope, Ozvat said, is to make sure that the platform is one step ahead of what’s next — and keep building that at a constant pace. Because developers all want to design what’s next, he said, and they tend to favor the people who give them the best tools with which to do it.