Before Visa’s Everywhere Initiative was both an initiative and everywhere, it wasn’t even a project.
At best—its originator and Visa’s SVP and global head of innovation and go-to-market, Shiv Singh, told Karen Webster—back in 2015, it was a mini project, a toe in the water to engage an entirely new audience for Visa: the developer.
Today, that mini project has evolved into, as Singh describes it, “a driving force in many ways,” and the lynchpin for how Visa engages with the FinTech community on a global scale.
This morning, Visa will announce the expansion of Visa’s Everywhere Initiative, which now offers start-ups on five continents and 40 countries a chance to compete to work with Visa on building the next generation of FinTech solutions for their local markets.
An Ends-Oriented Approach
Visa’s Everywhere Initiative is something of a global treasure hunt, according to Singh – where Visa casts a wide net looking for the best and brightest among a broad range of start-ups in a wide swath of regions to solve the commerce challenges of tomorrow.
Participants pitch to a panel of Visa representatives – and a few large client representatives – in what Singh described as a “Shark Tank”-like format. From early stage to late stage startups, all participants are unified by a common thread: They’re willing to take a crack at solving a major issue that Visa – or its partners – faces in that region.
“What can happen on the local level per country can vary quite dramatically,” Singh told Webster – which is why Visa’s Everywhere Initiative doesn’t focus broadly on “everywhere,” but instead on the unique needs of specific somewheres all over the world.
It explains why, Singh said, the program is growing so quickly: It’s rooted in solving real business problems.
And that means, he noted, that start-ups in different regions are given specific business challenges to address as a starting point for channeling their creative juices. In 2018, participating U.S. firms will be challenged to think about using connected devices to facilitate simpler, more seamless and powerful commerce experiences for consumers.
In Europe, on the other hand, the focus is on using mobile devices to transform the experience of inter-city travel, while in Thailand the challenge will be to solve for digital payments experiences in the growing tourism industry.
The Upcoming Season
In spring 2018, Singh noted, the program will kick off the year by opening up in the United States and Russia – meaning that soon, Visa will begin taking submissions in both regions. Kick off means launching a series of educational initiatives over an eight-week period to draw in as many interesting and interested players as possible, including networking with VCs who might offer recommendations from their own portfolios.
Once submissions have been received and evaluated – a process that typically takes two to three weeks – the finalists are chosen, usually 10 to 15. From there, the finalists are invited to their “Shark Tank” presentation, and the top three winners are picked by a mixed panel. The fourth winner, in most places, is a People’s Choice winner selected by Visa employees.
It’s fun, Singh noted, but it also serves a strategic purpose.
“It introduces the start-up to our entire team and gets them invested in their success,” he told Webster.
From there, the winners work with Visa in a variety of capacities – they might build a pilot or develop an expansion plan, based on the needs and desires of the specific firms. And that, he noted, is very much dependent on what the firms do.
One previous winner, LISNR, is exploring ways to transfer payments through sound with Visa and its Asia-Pacific partners. Working with that firm, Singh noted, was mostly about working with – and refining – its very powerful core technology. These days, they are moving to their first round of pilots.
Qpal, a Dubai-based tech startup, on the other hand, was a closed loop event payment solution looking for a means to scale. That meant working really hard to integrate the wider world of the Visa payment experience – to widen the scope of the offering they already had in the field.
Singh also pointed out that some of the firms that Visa’s Everywhere Initiative has nurtured have gone on to be acquired by clients who were first exposed to them through this program. In all cases, giving players tools to scale or perfect their technology means that potential partners get exposure to these startups in a context that would have been impossible without this platform.
A World of Challenges
As their conversation wound down, Singh told Webster that his wish list for the future of financial technology is long and ambitious. He wants better conversational commerce solutions, innovations around open banking, new means of moving money cross-border and easier, worry-free ways to travel and pay.
The easy stuff.
But, of course, not really – which is why Visa’s Everywhere Initiative is indeed about being everywhere, and asking everyone.
Singh says that what Visa has learned over the last few years is that assuming you know who and where the best ideas will come from — is a great way to miss good ideas. It’s better to cast a very wide net — and review ideas in terms of relevance, above all else.
“We like diversity – we get better quality of submissions and winners, and it has been baked into the DNA of the program since Day 1.”