Making innovation stick is a total balancing act.
It’s not just about pushing something out to the market the fastest, as other factors must still be considered — the quality of the product or service, the timing of launch, and especially if the innovation will actually be relevant and meaningful to the customer.
In the latest episode of Commanders In Chief series, Mike Camerling, Chief Product Officer at AEVI, shares why there’s challenges in the balancing act of innovation but sticking it out to get things right is always worth it in the end.
PYMNTS: What does a day in the life of a chief product officer look like?
MC: Most days I wake up quite early in the morning, and after the first coffee, I start by catching up with the business to look after the operations and delivery of our products, whether I am in the office or travelling. I have regular meetings with the team and our customers. We have an international team and customers all over the world, so my day often starts with talking with Australia and ends with the U.S. The rest of the day I am in touch with sales, marketing and business development to check new opportunities and market specifics for certifications or integrations of a product for customer implementation. I love being in front of customers evangelizing our AEVI story. The best part is the positive reactions and sharing these with the teams back home. I have a lot of meetings and calls with the product teams to talk about functionality, delivery and roadmaps. I like the ad-hoc meetings best, where all of a sudden we end up in a deep dive on how we can improve the world [of payments].
PYMNTS: How would you define your company’s approach to innovation?
MC: We set up small development teams with very talented people to focus on what’s coming next. We allow our people freedom to spend time in all these things so that they can bring new ideas to the table, which we discuss within the product development team first. It’s important for me to keep people motivated so that they can get the maximum out of themselves and be involved in the company’s journey. We are really fortunate. Combining the app world into the payment world is so new, so we always check innovation with customers to make it relevant and manageable for them and to see if it fits into our strategy. Although we play at the innovative end, we should never forget that the end customers (merchants) like to use innovation to solve very old problems first. Change doesn’t necessarily have to be extreme to make an enormous difference to their business. I like to summarize our approach as ‘staying in check with reality’.
How distributive is it? After a decision for a new feature or product and checking is made, we make sure it goes through the regular product flow and gets its place in the product road map.
PYMNTS: Where do you look for innovative ideas, and why?
MC: Everywhere. They can come from various angles that are not linked to our industry. Innovation is often using existing things and put them together in a whole new way. Software-wise, we are in a world where we deal with app developers who bring the innovation to us. There are so many great developers with even greater ideas, and we are proud to work with them. They are an inspiration, and together with them, our banks and acquirers, we can bring value to merchant transactions for any market segments from retail to health care and many more. Sometimes it’s just listening to a merchant or consumer need. We look outside the box, beyond payments.
PYMNTS: What is the most innovative thing you’ve ever done?
MC: The biggest innovation was getting Albert to the market. It is the first SmartPOS device of its type combining an open Android app space with secure payments. During the development process, we´ve been addressed by so many people from the industry who did not believe in the opportunity and told us categorically is would be impossible to launch a secure and certified, tablet-based payment terminal, which accepts pin on glass and is based on android to run B2B apps. But, see, it is there today, within less than 2 years we are approaching 100,000 devices in the market up and running! We needed this device, Albert, as a starting point for our Global Marketplace and Partner Community, without it, it did not make sense. The fact that others are now jumping on it, is the greatest confirmation and compliment of all. We are excited to see more and more SmartPOS devices entering the market and are happy to connect them to our open marketplace. All of this making use of a vibrant app community to make a difference in how Acquirers and merchants run their business together.
PYMNTS: How do you trade off getting products in market quickly with getting all of the details perfected, including checking all of the compliance and regulatory boxes?
MC: We really believe it’s all about quality. We tick all the boxes even if a product launch takes longer than planned. It’s important for us to make it as perfect as possible. However it is equally important to develop it fast. Time to market is key and you need to be smart structuring the product map. If you try to do everything in one go, you will fail. The innovators dilemma is real. With such a new solution and customers seeing new opportunities on how to use it, the development never stops. Therefore, we keep it manageable and make smaller quicker releases. Step by step. User groups are also key to make things relevant and find out what is important, and in which order, for a customer when it comes to new features or improving the existing ones.
I am told I am the scariest tester for the team. I do love to test our products myself and I nearly always find something, and try to help the team to improve it. Testing is an art form, do everything you’re not supposed to do. Put yourself in the end-user’s shoes. You can’t do enough. I love seeing our products being used, sometimes staying in restaurants way too long to see how people react on paying with Albert.
PYMNTS: What do you wish you had more time to do?
MC: I love running the business, from the most detailed product development meetings to the more strategic board meetings. The only thing I am missing is being creative in a way of actually producing a piece of product, such as writing some code or designing and icon. I appreciate and respect my teams very much as they not only come up with great ideas but most importantly, they make it happen. I try to take time whenever possible to enjoy and get involved in early stages of the process with the product managers and Arif, our Chief Architect.
PYMNTS: What do you think that most people underestimate about innovating in payments?
MC: Innovation is just the small part of the adventure. It’s the actual execution of the idea where most people fail. There are many obstacles on the way in a heavily regulated industry. To do something new, you have to do a lot to make it happen. Perseverance is key and when you do, it will always be worth the ride.
PYMNTS: What advice would you give a young innovator in this space, and why would you tell them to heed it?
MC: My advice: The innovators dilemma is not just a phrase, it is real. Equally you cannot push out an unworkable solution in the market either. You need to have the right balance between perfection, quality and time to market.
It can’t be perfect, make it great, chop it into manageable chunks and get it to market with good operating quality. You can’t wait for the final perfect product, we all aim for the next version to be even more perfect, otherwise you’ll simply be too late.
PYMNTS: What’s been the biggest impact on payments?
MC: For us it is that we are now fully in the impact of mobile devices. Payment terminals did not change drastically for 30 years, nor did the services provided with it. With smart B2C devices now in the DNA of the next generation you see many interactions changing. Mobile phones and tablets brought us apps, mobile wallets and are going to be used as identification and payment tools. The mobile world has made the biggest change when it comes to payment capabilities. People expect to simply do more on a [payment] device, interact via apps. move around with it, without limitations. SmartPOS is not a new term anymore, the good old plastics bricks are getting replaced with more stylish devices with payments becoming a more attractive process for consumers and even more integrated in their private lives.
PYMNTS: How long after you open your eyes in the morning do you reach for your mobile device?
MC: Thirty seconds to five minutes, maybe. I first check my email and social networks, all the red dots on my phone. I have set up Google Alerts for any kind of combination of topics, which I go through in the morning.
PYMNTS: What is the biggest unfulfilled potential — and how are you helping your organization realize it?
MC: We are looking for more App Partners every day to sign up on our Global Marketplace. A large part of our activities goes to partner engagement which ranges from initial conversations, to assisting them in their development with the SDKs, to going through the vetting process and getting their apps listed on our Global Marketplace and Acquirers’ local marketplaces.
Depending on the combination of apps this can result in new business opportunities for new verticals such as health care. There are a few more major areas we’re working on currently which we will announce over the year at product launches.
PYMNTS: How do you determine whether a candidate shares your company’s vision?
MC: More important than all the requirements and capabilities on paper is the stomach feeling you have when you meet a candidate for the first time. It is very rare a candidate fully understands the whole vision and especially approach of the company from the outside. For me it is the questions they ask during the interview that defines whether someone will understand or not. We often let candidates present our solutions back to us based on the information they could find. The level of creativity, passion and commitment is what defines whether someone is suitable, not how ‘technically’ correct they were. They need to fit into the team and culture.
You can talk about innovation as the ultimate goal, but what is innovation for one is a logical next step for the other. For us one of the key ingredients is that you love what you do and you believe in it. Being enthusiastic and proud when you see your solution out there, being used in real life, making a difference, that’s what makes it special.
To hear more from Mike Camerling, chief product officer at AEVI, check out the upcoming The Matchmaker Is In episode featuring AEVI on Tuesday, April 4, 2017, at 12 p.m. ET. Register here.