Revel started out in September 2010 as an ordering app — “kind of like a GrubHub,” says Chris Ciabarra, Revel Systems’ co-founder and CTO. In dealing with its merchant customers, the company realized that the majority of their concerns were around the need for a better POS system.
Realizing that such a pain point existed, Revel decided to pivot — and create a better point of sale solution.
“Ever since we started doing that,” Ciabarra continues, “the phone’s been ringing off the hook.”
The company’s aim, says the CTO, is “to build the best point of sale out there for enterprise.” But Revel also caters to “mom-and-pop” stores, which share a similar need. Presently, according to Ciabarra, Revel’s client base is divided about equally between multi-store locations and smaller independent businesses.
Revel was initially a direct seller in the POS industry, but has since expanded to work with resellers. Ciabarra cites Intuit and Apple as two major channels in that regard – both companies came to Revel, he notes, having kicked the tires and come to view it as the most viable option for them to enable enterprise POS solutions.
Ciabarra contends that “Revel is the only enterprise tablet point of sale out there today. If you look at the space, no one is in more than like a 10-location-store-type chain. Revel is the only one that has a-thousand-plus-store chains on its roster, and we’ll continue to [build that out].”
Revel – which raised $100 million in funding in November — has expanded well beyond its restaurant roots. Its product is also used in the retail space, at grocery stores and at gas stations…with plans in the works to move into hotels.
In the lead up to Retail Reinvention, PYMNTS spoke with Ciabarra about where Revel has been, where it’s going, and how he sees the POS space evolving – particularly as it applies to mobile.
The panel you’re joining at R2 is all about how the POS has evolved over the years. It’s been 5 years since Revel was founded: How have you seen POS systems evolve in that time?
CC: We were one of the first in the business doing POS on a tablet. You have Square, of course…but five years ago, there wasn’t a lot of understanding of what a tablet was. It was really thought of as a consumer-based product, so there really wasn’t a whole lot of [businesses] wanting to move to it.
We kind of proved to merchants that consumer-based products can really hold up in businesses, and really have a lot of flexibility, more so than their current point of sale systems. They actually last longer than the current point of sale systems.
We had a manufacturer customer who, every six months or so, had to get a new screen for their POS because the plastic buttons repeatedly wore out. The iPads are glass, and they don’t wear out. It’s really a great product to be put in place as the point of sale system, and that’s what we solved.
As the evolution happens, more and more contenders are starting to pop up out of nowhere. You have the Android market coming into play, of course… And what people really want is a flexible point of sale system. It’s not just a payment terminal. Like Square and other players out there…they kind of just do payments, and that’s what they have the point of sale for. Businesses want a system that’s agile, very intuitive, with a lot of features and plugins. That’s what we’ve done.
We’ve pretty much created a product that has open cloud API that anyone can connect into. We have over 50 companies connected into us today, and there’s many more coming at us all the time.
That’s what the industry is turning into. If you’re going to compete in this industry, you have to have a really open API platform, the product has to be very intuitive, and it has to be able to onboard quickly.
What are some the obstacles that you’re dealing with in the space?
CC: The biggest obstacle today – and for the next six months – is really going to be EMV, and getting the merchant to understand, “Hey – this is coming; you need to upgrade your product to this.” No one’s really moving. No one really cares, apparently.
It’s definitely frustrating on our side. It takes us a lot of time to educate the client, and they don’t see the benefit. Their point of view is, “Before, I could just swipe my credit card; why do I have to use a machine that’s going to take twice as long to run? It’s not really giving me that much benefit.” That’s what we’re running into on our side. People want the speed rather than dealing with the new type of technology.
You recently announced a partnership to bring mobile technology to restaurants. Explain how mobile payments is changing the way we dine out.
CC: The mobile payments spectrum is growing. There was a big push for it about a year ago, and it kind of died off a little bit. Everyone blew a lot of money in the mobile space, and it hasn’t really gone anywhere, the reason being that it’s really hard for the consumers to take on that type of product – it’s a generational thing.
I’ve been saying from the beginning that you’re not going to get an entire user base to simply switch to mobile payments. It’s just not going to happen. There’s a generational gap that prevents that.
In 10 to 20 years, though – once that gap has been closed — mobile payments are going to take over. Apple Pay, of course, has just jumped into the ring, and that’s definitely going to help the whole space move a little bit quicker, because everyone follows Apple and what they do.
But still, even though Apple is behind it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to go anywhere this instant. I know a lot of people that have tried Apple Pay; they like it – but when they go to the store, they don’t use it.
It’s a barrier, and I think it’s going to take a while to pan out, honestly. It’s a generational issue, in my view.
It doesn’t matter how you view the mobile space, and there’s so many different kinds of mobile payments. Split the bill at the table, pay the check at the counter – they all do the same thing, and for widespread use of them to occur, it’s going to have to overcome that generation gap.
People will almost always give something a try, but you have to think about what problem it’s solving. That’s the biggest issue with every new product that comes out. Anyone that’s at a startup, the first thing you’ve got to ask yourself is: “What problem am I fixing?”
If the answer is “not really anything,” it’s really hard for that company to succeed.
When you look at mobile payments, what is it really fixing? As far as the consumer is concerned, nothing’s broken. The merchant and the acquirers have problems, of course; they’re getting hacked. But the consumer isn’t as concerned about that, for the most part.
To try to get them to make a change that they don’t necessarily see as having an immediate, direct benefit to them is a losing proposition. Consumers will use a new mobile product to get promotional freebies when it first comes out, but they’re likely to stop using it after that.
It’s going to take time for mobile payments to take hold and affect real change in dining out, or in any other usage.
What aspects (loyalty programs, for example) do you think mobile payments could eventually solve for? Conversely, what outside factor might change the mobile payments space?
CC: What I really think is going to change the mobile space is EMV. And the major factor in that regard is time.
It takes twice as long to conduct a transaction with EMV than it does with a regular credit card. Mobile payments will take a quarter of the time – and I think that’s what might drive the consumer to make the switch more so than loyalty.
You can have loyalty programs with or without mobile; I don’t think that’s a big deal to the consumer.
The implantation of speed is a more tangible fix, and that’s something that could compel people to adopt mobile payments, for sure. Consumers just first have to realize that the lack of speed is a problem for them.
Chris Ciabarra, CTO, Revel Systems
Christopher Ciabarra is the Co-Founder and CTO of Revel Systems, an award-winning iPad Point of Sale solution for single and multi-location businesses. Upon founding the company with Lisa Falzone in 2010, the team embarked on a mission to change the world of Point of Sale. To kick off this journey, Ciabarra developed the technology behind Revel’s iPad Point of Sale and continues to lead the technological advancements and security of the system. He is an anti-hacker expert and has a strong background in PCI compliance and P2PE. His expertise ensures that Revel Systems provides the most secure iPad Point of Sale on the market.
In addition to his ongoing development of Revel’s iPad POS, Ciabarra’s list of inventions and designs includes the Revel Ethernet Connect, Interceptor.net, Scan-On-the-Go Secure, Adrenaline (app), and Nano-Stealth. Chris holds an MBA from Alvernia College and a Computer Science degree from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.