Earlier this year, Visa announced the start of its second annual Everywhere Initiative, where startups go head-to-head to imagine the future of commerce.
Three real-life business challenges gave 15 competing companies the chance to flex their commerce chops. Participants could use Visa’s APIs to create a payment solution, leverage social media channels to engage people at Visa-sponsored events or persuade Visa cardholders to go cardless.
Three winners emerged: Giuliano Iacobelli, co-founder and CEO of Stamplay (API Challenge Winner), Puneet Mehta, founder and CEO of Netomi.com (Cardless Challenge Winner), and Carlos Garcia, co-founder and CEO of Hyp3r (Global Events Challenge Winner).
Karen Webster sat down with the winners of the competition to learn more about the inspiration behind their innovations and why they walked away with the prize.
Here’s what she learned.
Is Messaging The Browser Of The Future?
There’s approximately 3 billion people globally that utilize the top four messaging applications.
Yet, many brands and retailers overlook the power that lies in the messaging platforms and instead attempt to engage with consumers in less meaningful (and sometimes more friction prone) ways.
That’s the opportunity and the challenge that Puneet Mehta, founder and CEO of Netomi.com, the Visa Everywhere Cardless Challenge winner, believes he can help companies achieve.
Netomi is a global artificial intelligence platform for “conversation commerce.” As Mehta explained, Netomi helps brands build and manage chatbots that consumers can use to transact inside popular messaging apps.
"Messaging happens to be the top consumer habit on smartphones,” Mehta said. “So why are brands and retailers trying to build yet another digital habit when they can ride on top of an existing one?"
Though Mehta acknowledges that there are different drivers and usage for consumers located in the Eastern part of the world versus the West, brands and retailers can still take advantage of the opportunity to use conversation interfaces to change the way they engage with consumers.
In the U.S. specifically, Mehta pointed out that over the last 12 to 18 months the number of new app downloads has dropped to an average of zero for 65 percent of people. This shows that users aren't interested in downloading apps for services they may only use infrequently.
Commerce through messaging apps may offer a solution, as it meets consumers within an app or service that they are more likely to use on a frequent basis.
Despite the potential he sees there, Mehta made it clear that there’s still plenty of work to be done.
"We have to be aware that it's still early days and the rules aren't completely defined yet,” he noted.
“I don't think any of the chatbots launched yet are the gold standard."
That “gold standard” Mehta acknowledges will most likely evolve over time, but for now means “meeting consumers where they are” and understanding the context around the interaction.
That, Mehta says, means addressing four things:
- Understanding the customer context: The ability to know, in real-time, who a consumer is and what they are trying to get done;
- Having memory: Understanding what that consumer has asked for in the past to add further context to the experience
- Knowing where the consumer is on their shopping journey: Having clarity around how the consumer is engaging and transacting based on where they are in the purchasing journey.
- Adding value to an interaction: Making the consumer interaction mirror an engagement with a trusted friend.
Looking forward, Mehta explained, the hope is that Netomi can continue to work with the entire ecosystem to address payments, transactions, and how the checkout happens across conversational interfaces. All stakeholders, Mehta believes, are looking at the messaging ecosystem as “the browser of the future.” If that holds true, he says, the commerce implication “would be gigantic.”
A Visual Take On APIs
In today’s digital landscape, commerce and payments experiences must cross various platforms and applications, which make enabling these services a complex process.
The goal of Stamplay, co-founder and CEO Giuliano Iacobelli explained, is to provide a way for developers and non-developers alike to easily combine APIs as if they are building blocks.
The winner of the Everywhere API Challenge is a development platform for API-driven applications that has taken the entire process of API integration and turned it into a visual development experience.
Iacobelli says that applications today have no choice but to speak with other APIs in order to piece together services such as payments, messaging and CRM, among others. Stamplay, he said, has created a way to simplify the interaction with those APIs visually - to “chain them together” as if they are Lego blocks. This helps developers create new APIs and services by more easily combining the existing ones available on the Stamplay platform.
Iacobelli explained that the goal is to help lower the barrier of entry for a broader audience of developers by streamlining the way they build their systems internally.
Though there was stiff competition in the Everywhere API challenge, Iacobelli said Stamplay’s differentiator was its ability to have Visa’s APIs available on its platform and serve as additional distribution channel for those tools.
“By adding Visa APIs to our platform, we lowered the barrier to entry for how these applications can be built and provided benefit for the ecosystem of people using Visa APIs, from developers to system integrators to issuers,” he explained.
The next step for Stamplay will be to continue working with Visa to add more of the company’s APIs to its platform, starting with those related to data and analytics, risk and fraud.
"This could be really important and transformative for our business because Visa will provide a huge validation,” he added, noting that the win is likely to provide a model to integrate both Stamplay and Visa APIs into large, complex global organizations.
Humanizing The Brands
Social media can be a very influential tool for brands, but sometimes the overwhelming volume of communications going back and forth can make it challenging for companies to reach their consumers in a truly personalized way.
Carlos Garcia, co-founder and CEO of Hyp3r, the winner of the Everywhere Global Events Challenge, said that the use of location can add powerful context for meaningful consumer engagement.
Hyp3r is designed to help venues not only see everything that is posted publicly on social media where they are located, but also use this information to enhance the experience customers are having there.
"What we set out to build was not an advertising platform to broadcast a message to people, but rather one that could enable human-to-human marketing," Garcia explained.
With Visa sponsoring some of the biggest events in the world, from the Super Bowl to the World Cup, Hyp3r’s location-based engagement platform is able to provide an opportunity for these venues to engage directly with fans using personalized engagements.
Garcia used the example of the Golden State Warriors utilizing Hyp3r to engage with fans in real-time by not just interacting with fans on social media, but liking their posts or even offering seat relocations to diehard fans, including calling out Visa customers with special offers. A person at an event or venue that’s celebrating a birthday could offer a great opportunity for a brand to engage with them in a very personal and intentional way, delivering what can be described as human-to-human marketing, Garcia noted.
Hyp3r’s approach, Garcia said, goes beyond the typical shotgun marketing method of targeting everyone, and instead allows a company to zero in on influential customers that are there in the moment.
"It’s the people there right now, sharing their experiences on social media – they are the people that a brand should prioritize," he added.
Rather than relying on beacons or installing software, Hyp3r doesn’t require the venue to take on any additional technology and allows customers to engage without any change to their normal social media behavior.
"For the longest time we've seen companies spend tens of millions of dollars installing beacons at stadiums and prompting people to download an app so that hopefully they can interact with them once they are there," Garcia said.
But with the opportunities to engage with people being very few and far between, Hyp3r looks to instead aggregate all of the content people are sharing at concert and sports events, and then identifying the right engagement opportunities.
This could be as simple as a couple checking into a Marriott hotel and posting that they are there to celebrate an anniversary.
Garcia said that knowing this information can provide the hotel with the opportunity to engage with those guests just like a human would, by telling them they can come to the concierge desk for a surprise like a hotel room upgrade or another meaningful offer.
He added that some of Hyp3r’s partners have seen as much as 80 percent ROI, meaning the people that are responding and mentioning the brand on social media are posting again to share their excitement.
For this year’s Super Bowl, Garcia said Hyp3r found that 97,000 people were in attendance but the reach of those who were there and also posting on social media was 156 million people – that’s about 40 percent more that the millions who were watching the event on television.
This underpins the massive amount of influence that can take place just from people using social media at a live event.
Garcia used the example of the Super Bowl, suggesting that in “the sea of content that's being shared from the Super Bowl” brands using the Hyp3r platform can pinpoint the influencers, who follows them on social media already or go deeper into the integrations to find customers posting from an event. That, he says, opens the door to doing customer appreciation on a global event scale, he explained.
Garcia said the beauty of Hyp3r is that the platform is able to deliver something that’s both personalized and contextualized.
“When we saw that we were able to pinpoint the exact location of a social media post in real-time, we saw the opportunity to build a direct engagement platform on top of that data.”
Garcia said that people rely on social media to make their experiences known to the digital world around them, and giving brands context can provide a chance to offer more than just a discount, offer or promotion. It can, he said, be an experience that’s helping to enhance the one people are already there to be a part of.
"For brands to be able to be more human, that is what marketing should be, especially in businesses where location is important," Garcia said.