In the mid-1970’s Visa introduced one of the most memorable corporate slogans of all time:
“It’s everywhere you want to be.”
Those five words are a simple and easy way to remember the value proposition of their product: ubiquity.
Fast forward to a digital world, and being everywhere customers want to be is more of a challenge – since everywhere is, well, literally, everywhere.
Thus the genesis of the Visa Everywhere Initiative - one intended to spur the creative imaginations of developers to help extend Visa’s reach to those “everywhere” places that consumers and their digital devices take them.
“We launched this program last year based on the thesis that every day we have more and more exciting - and bigger and bigger - business challenges. And we now live in a world where the best ideas and thinking don’t just come within the four wall of any company, but can come from everywhere,” explained Shiv Singh, Visa’s SVP and Global Head of Digital and Marketing Transformation.
The two-year old program is a fairly straightforward plan to integrate new thinking from the start-up community into Visa’s digital expansion plans. The Everywhere Initiative opened up three such business challenges to the startup community this year - expanding Visa’s API, supporting cardless payments and maximizing the impact of global events - in an attempt to find “unconventional and innovative ways” to move the needle to complement what Visa was pursuing in-house.
“We’re on this mission to be as successful in the digital world as we are in the physical, which means we are looking for partners that are able to work quickly and flexibly,” Singh explained.
And, yesterday, Visa selected those new partners in short succession - three start-up firms that get $50,000 to fund the pilot they’ve proposed and a year of mentoring with Visa team members.
The Road To The Finals
Getting down to three winners is actually no small feat, given that the program attracted 400 or so applications during its first run and 520 for the second year of the program. That’s a lot of material to go through, Singh noted, but well worth the effort.
“We will not only be able to do an amazing amount with the winners, but we learned a lot going through and evaluating the many applications we received.”
Specifically - by seeing a crush of applications, Visa got an early preview of the shape of the market to come. And, in this case, just how dominated by mobile it is likely to be.
“Seventy percent of applications we saw were for mobile. We all know mobile is big and important, but when I think about where any company is, 70 percent is not currently being spent on mobile in terms of focus, or money.” Singh noted. “It is really telling for us that this area is accelerating so dramatically.”
The process also taught Visa what to look for most closely, since the first phase of the Everywhere Initiative is to turn 520 applications into 15 finalists spread across three categories. That was done by evaluating across a handful of criteria.
First and foremost - the start-up had to closely answer Visa’s stated business problem. Secondly, Visa looked for ease of use and speed to market, since flexibility has proven to be such a key asset in the digital world.
“Hockey sticking - really rapid consumer adoption, of course is always desirable,” Singh noted.
And lastly, the applicant's main business proposition had to be looking at solving more than a one-off problem - and instead be focused on tapping into a larger consumer or business trend with a plan to successfully ride (and gain momentum from) that wave.
Finally, Singh explained - from there the 15 finalists went into the “shark tank,” making ten minute presentations about their pilot programs - and taking five minutes worth of questions from a panel of judges from within Visa and outside.
The judging, he noted, was tough - especially in the API category, which was crowded with good ideas that were a coin-flip apart in terms of judges’ esteem. This, Singh notes, is why although there are only three official winners, Visa tends to think of the final 15 at the Everywhere Class of 2016 - and will continue working with some of them going forward.
“We think of the 15 finalists as a class – The Everywhere Initiative class of 2016 – and we were interested in more than just the three winners. We will be working with some of them through the year. We’re like parents, we just want everyone to succeed.”
But for the three winners, he noted: “The real fun and exciting part begins now,” with funding and mentorship from Visa.
And The Winners Are…
After what Singh noted was a tough race, yesterday afternoon did end with three new Everywhere champions.
Everywhere API Challenge: Stamplay, makes it easy for developers and non-developers to combine APIs as if they are building blocks.
Everywhere Cardless Challenge: msg.ai, allows brands to use artificial intelligence-powered chatbots to provide consumers on-demand support and experiences via messaging apps.
Everywhere Global Events Challenge: Hyp3r, a platform for engaging influential fans and guests at specific locations on a personal level, in real-time.
Those firms, Singh notes, will become part of a Global community - as Visa has already concluded an Everywhere initiative in China - with efforts in Australia, Dubai and South America planned for the immediate future.
If you want to know more about those Visa Everywhere firms - tune in next week - we’ll have PYMNTS podcast conversations between MPD CEO Karen Webster and the various founders who will enter their next phase of start-up life.