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SquareUp – Take 4

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27 January 2010 (updated 4March)

www.squareup.com

Venture Beat – SquareUp

New note from VentureBeat yesterday. Jack has certainly assembled a who’s who of angels. Given that these investors are proven winners I’m trying to guess whether they have “bet on the right horse” or have a plan that I’m not privy to (ex PayPal buyout). If it is the later, my educated guess is that prospects will let this bake for a few years before getting serious. There are too many issues which must be addressed for serious acquisition money to chase a customer convenience play.  Some of which I attempt describe below.

I understand that Jack’s vision for the company is to provide payment services to “craigslist” customers as the market place which will drive volume (an attempt to mimic the paypal/eBay synergy). His story is that everyone has a card in their pocket.. and merchants want to leverage this instrument without the burden of becoming a merchant in the network sense.

Of course Jack is competing with Cash and Checks in this pattern.. much different than the remote Card Not Present (CNP) world which PayPal attacked. I must say that many of my colleagues do not share my negative views on Square, and it has led to some very good conversations.  I certainly agree that issuers want SquareUp to succeed (read: interchange), and Square does have a very nice application, however my strong views are:

  1. There is no compelling consumer or merchant driver. Square will find that changing consumer payment behavior is much more challenging than social networking,
  2. Third party payment aggregation at POS is a moving out of favor with respect to network rules
  3. Fraud rates will be very high (see skimming video below) and bank issuers have ability to shut them down through authorization
  4. Volume will be low (merchant costs, competing methods of payment, charge back rules, …) and business will take at least 4 years to build (with sustained marketing).
  5. Competing bank/MNO sponsored “handset based” payments will overtake this approach in 2-3 years.

PayPal excelled because it addressed a clear gap in payments in a new marketplace where a 4 party system (merchant, consumer, merchant bank, issuing bank) could NOT adapt. This 4 party group, combined with the network and regulators, proved to be ineffective in responding to the “change” presented by online marketplaces.  PayPal did much heavy lifting, building “new rails” to manage merchants.  These eBay merchants were a well organized community which collaborated (generally speaking) and shared best practice. There was a REAL business problem in these pre-PayPal days..

Comparatively Square’s “Craigslist community” is not well organized, and the square payment method is competing with well entrenched behavior (check/cash, a 2 party system) in a person-person sale dominated by checks and cash. What is the problem that Square is attempting to address? My belief is that it is a convenience play, which will have  a much different adoption (and profitability model) then PayPal’s.

Top card issuers would love to see SquareUp succeed in order to drive cards (interchange revenue) further into cash replacement. However network rules (like PCI and merchant agreements) exist for a reason. Square’s approach to lowering the barrier for merchants (a valid market need) risks payment system integrity. In other words, the existing card merchant agreement process represents the rules by which the 4 party system has agreed to. If we take the SquareUp model to the extreme, what will stop every business from ditching their merchant agreement and start using square?  What benefits do acquirers/issuers and network have in supporting this model? Is the potential revenue upside for interchange (in cash replacement) vs. downside in fraud and lost revenue (merchant fees)?

SquareUp is acting as a third party payment aggregator (TPPA), a model which banks have adapted to since their experience with Paypal creating significant new rules and constraints (both ACH and Card). The network PCI rules (and certification process) for devices storing card information are also quite cumbersome, and require sponsor for certification. Perhaps this is why Square’s current customer agreement states:

You are responsible for all electronic communications sent to us or to any third party containing Account Data.

The acquirer that takes this on will likely have a few headaches when the first major craigslist merchant starts using the device to skim and resell card information (among other things). There is a reason for PCI compliance and for my “securing” my physical card and CVV. I can’t wait to see Square’s Payment Services Agreement (PSA). Operationally, the issuer’s have control over card authorization through systems like HNC’s Falcon or SAS Raptor. This means that if SquareUp is found to have contributed to a data loss, or has a high number of fraudulent transactions (see link) customer would see their card transaction declined, or the network (Visa/MC) would shut SquareUp down.

The great thing about the PayPal model is that the customer funded the account after agreeing to terms. In Square’s model, consumers are unregistered, Square is acting as an agent of the merchant. For Square’s investors, there is atypical risk which they will see through “unique” bonding/insurance requirements from the acquirer.  Just as with any company, Square will face unlimited liability associated with loss of consumer information (think TJX). To get an idea for potential mis-use see you tube video below.. crooks invest quite a bit in technology here… will SquareUp make it easier for every iPhone owner to become a skimmer?

The challenge any analyst has in assessing strategy is information. Given Square’s potential to drive electronic payments, either a card acquirer or PayPal interested … certainly a partner capable of managing the remote risk. If I were interested in acquiring, I would certainly let Square burn money gaining adoption,  changing consumer behavior, gaining approval from the networks, finding an acquirer and learning to manage the fraud issue… then if they are successful join in. At GartnerGroup we would call this approach  a  “late follower”. There is no revenue in this business for 3-5 years… my guess is that competing technologies like NFC will step all over this by that time… at least I HOPE SO!

Previous/Related Posts

https://finventures.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/squareup/

http://tomnoyes.wordpress.com/2010/01/26/usregs/

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Written by tomnoyes

March 2, 2010 at 6:23 pm

SquareUp – Updated from Previous Post

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Updated Dec 10, 2009 (Previous Post Here)
http://squareup.com/

Twitter founder Jack Dorsey. Card swipe on iPhone.

More info today (Dec 2, 2009) from Venture Beat. The updates are based upon business model of card-card vs. Card to existing POS (or receiver registering as a “merchant”). Will I see my local ticket scalpers and hot dog vendors taking credit cards on their iPhone? Data we know:

  • Plug in Card reader into Audio input Jack
  • Pilot with a couple small merchants
  • Not open for business yet (as of 12/2/09)
  • Mind behind it is Dorsey
  • Khosla is Seed Investor.
  • Very US centric.. no EMV (Chip and Pin)
  • “Picture” for risk management
  • Unclear whether model is Card-Card or SquareUp is acting as a merchant aggregator (see IPSG in Here)

Updated Analysis:

  • US Centric Consumer play (no EMV)
  • Credit Card transactions with 350bps… not the greatest for a “cash replacement” value proposition (PIN Debit is 150)
  • Issuing Banks have control over card-card transactions. Pilot likely used SquareUp as merchant.
  • If SquareUp is acting as a Merchant Aggregator, then they will own all fraud losses (CNP Transaction). Assuming that the  “merchant”  swipes the card, it is assumed that the “merchant” did not sign the merchant agreement (ie. visa/Mastercard), SquareUp would be the Merchant in this case and the card was not present at SquareUp’s POS for inspection.
  • Consumer population is limited (how many of your phones have an “audio input jacks”)?
  • Model competes heavily with both bank initiatives (in mobile) and those within Visa/MasterCard. (MasterCard MoneySend, Visa Money Transfer)
  • Merchant incentives are weak vs. Cash or PIN Debit.
  • Issuers will not jump on board with this one. 1) competes with other projects 2) fraud controls are not proven, 3) Consumer demand, 4) Issuers want to own the consumer experience,
  • MNOs will likely also resist, as they have no incentives to support.
  • Device is not certified by Visa or MC, where Verifone’s payware is http://www.paywaremobile.com/

My guess is that squirrel has the technology working.. but haven’t figured out the “banking side” and how to expand beyond the cards that they can directly control. This team should have partnered with either a bank or an MNO as it will require some significant marketing dollars to move customer adoption.. even for a pioneer in social networking like Jack.  Differentiate this approach, with the “partnership” approach taken by teams like BlingNation (see post here)

In addition to BlingNation’s partnership model, integration of NFC into existing handsets will presents a much larger “global” opportunity. See

Innovation in payments is tough… if I were going to add something the Steve Job’s product plan for the iPhone what would it be?
• Global
• Ubiquitous
• Unique to every person
• Globally Accepted for use in Payment and Authentication, by merchants, banks, networks, regulators
• Low error rate
• Impossible to clone
• Difficult to crack
The answer is… ( ). OK so nothing fits my criteria, but any appendage on my iPhone must certainly seek to optimize the goals above. Only item I’ve seen that comes close it IRIS scanning.. now being miniaturized to fit on a chip the size of your thumbnail (below). Just for fun.. I bought “paybyiris.com” domain as I finished this article (today).

http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/2002/01/07/2002-01-07_credit_card_cloners___1b_sca.html
http://4g-wirelessevolution.tmcnet.com/news/2009/08/19/4331395.htm

Written by tomnoyes

December 2, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Vendor Review – Monitise

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November 13, 2009

I’ve been fairly negative on a few vendors lately. In the long term, Capital is attracted to success and growth. Perhaps it is time to look at a few “successful” start ups. Success is a relative term in the mobile payments space as both public and private companies have been challenged to generate revenue. What we see today is established players making “bets” in the form of investment capital and revenue guarantees. Because of the breadth of this space, there are multiple (overlapping) bets being made by existing players.

Once investment capital flows into a venture whose business model is “in progress” information concerning its current state is hard to obtain. A top VC constantly reminds me that Google had no plan for revenue when it first started. However, it remains to be seen HOW the highly regulated and highly competitive world of payments will adapt to this “innovation” and invested capital.  The complexity and profitability of mobile payments within the emerging market “sector” is further aggravated by new participants: Philanthropic Organizations and NGOs. These groups see tremendous potential in mobile to address financial infrastructure issues in developing markets (CGAP Articles).

Criteria for “success”:

  • Consumer Metrics (Active Customer Growth, Revenue)
  • Dependencies (Behavior, infrastructure, technology, …)
  • Value Proposition
  • Market Opportunity
  • Financials (Invested Capital, Burn Rate)
  • Competition
  • Ability to Execute (Team/Partnerships/Regulatory Issues)
  • Intellectual Property

A more detailed list can be found here

Vendor Assessments

Monitise PLC (MONI on London Exchange)

Investor Relations Website

As one of the few public companies in this space, an analysis of their annual report (Aug 2009) is highly recommended. They have evolved substantially over the last 6 years morphing from a closed mobile banking fat client that resembled an ATM (in direct conflict with Bank brand), to a bank friendly vendor with over 150 active bank customers globally and over 1 million users globally.

Just 2 years ago, Monitise and Firethorn were in direct competition, both agreeing on a future in which fat mobile clients would reign, all while resisting the iPhone (dismissing it as being a small niche). The current service has some substantial short comings as their card-centric approach means that a customer cannot get access to all their accounts, but rather just those linked to a particular card. Another example is that their card-centric “ATM like” approach results in a paucity of transactional information — for instance: “DEBIT $25.32” instead of say “Walmart $25.32”.

Monitise tends to emphasizes that mobile as a separate channel from online and that more consumers have cards vs. online banking, but the bankers don’t like offering a product that is deficient to their online banking. US banks have realized with Firethorn, it is rather expensive to create yet another servicing channel, particularly one that is used infrequently (see Firethorn is dead).  Recent PR indicates that they are continuing to make progress as an account servicing tool (Lloyds TSB 6/09).

Today, Monitise is attempting to move from its role as a “mobile banking” application provider to mobile payment platform. Currently, no bank customers for this service have been published. Monitise has a solid reputation with banks, and existing bank contractual agreements represent a substantial asset. Because of these contractual agreements, and their global footprint, Monitise is the vendor best positioned to execute against a “bank play” in mobile payments.Monitise Vendor Assessment

4Q09 financials show that Monitise had a 2009 operating loss of £13.1 MM on £2.66 MM in Revenue.  They have taken on additional capital as Visa International subscribed for £4.2MM shares (announced on 30 June 2009) and is now the largest shareholder representing a 14.4% stake (in the issued share capital). Visa’s agreement also provides revenue worth a minimum of $13MM over a five year period.  Visa’s capital has enhanced MONI’s cash to just over £10MM, with the expectation of the 2010 burn rate coming down from £13.1MM, they will have sufficient liquidity for the next fiscal year but will be challenged to generate new revenue streams from their existing customer base without substantial consumer marketing assistance from Visa.

The Visa partnership may provide an avenue for MONI to expand their footprint within their existing customer base, and also help them expand addressable market by leveraging Visa’s Brand and Marketing prowess. The initial focus of Monitise mobile payment services seems to be cash replacement with current customers, increasing card use (debit/credit/pre-paid) in both Tier 1 OECD countries and emerging markets. Although their bank friendly model will insulate them from many of regulatory issues (which affect their competitors), they will be severely challenged to generate incremental revenue from a new payments business. Banks hold the keys to success here, and will not invest until: consumer demand for mobile payment picks up, or other revenue streams (interchange) enable them to fund the expansion.

Key challenges for Monitise to execute in mobile payments:

  • Making the Visa relationship work (marketing)
  • Consumer Interest/Competing models ( ex. http://www.payforit.co.uk)
  • Financial crisis impact on bank customers
  • Bank Consumer marketing budgets
  • Risk Management (mobile fraud)
  • Regulatory initiatives as SEPA/ UK Faster Payment

http://www.paymentsnews.com/2009/06/visa-monitise-form-strategic-alliance-for-mobile-payments.html

Vendor 2 – BlingNation

See Blog here

Vendor 3aKos Corp

Coming Soon

Written by tomnoyes

November 13, 2009 at 9:37 pm

PaybySquirell and iPhone Payment

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Twitter founder Jack Dorsey. Card swipe on iPhone.

http://www.finextra.com/fullstory.asp?id=20618

http://www.engadget.com/2009/10/17/twitter-founder-jack-dorseys-squirrel-project-revealed-as-th/

Roberto Garavaglia was nice enough to share this finextra story on linkedin. Is this a consumer play.. or a “merchant play”? Will I see my local ticket scalpers taking credit cards on their iPhone? This start up was certainly “in the black”.  Data we know:

  • Squirrel has a “signature” line in the app
  • Have hardware on the phone
  • Alpha test in NYC
  • Receipt in engadget pic above shows consumer payment (you paid)
  • Mind behind it is Dorsey
  • Top VCs know about it, and seem to think it is a merchant play.
  • Very US centric.. no EMV (Chip and Pin)

There are certainly some conflicting data points. If a consumer play.. this signature will not be valid… and transaction will be treated as a CNP (so why the signature?). If this is a merchant play who would possibly want to act as acquirer (fraud loss)? The merchant use would make most fraud heads loose a little sleep, for they would have a whole new threat vector. Can you imagine the buyers of the merchant use?.. The bank and I will have to worry about every kid in a fast food window and every waitress holding my card swiping on their iPhone (in addition to paying for my dinner). My guess is that squirrel has the technology working.. but haven’t figured out the “banking side”.

Fraud attacks the “weakest link” in payments quickly. Would love to hear from others on the community, but my view is:

  • Interesting as a merchant play…. but acquirers will shy away from originating transaction in either network without solid fraud controls. The merchant owns the loss here by rules of network in a “CNP transaction”. Signature capability will be debated…
  • Squirrel biz model.. questionable as anything but a hardware business. The fraud numbers of leading merchant selling digital goods is astounding. All top merchants have had to develop their own internal specialist teams to handle.  If Apple and PayPal have trouble with teams of 300+ (after 10 years) this will be a challenge for any new “merchant”. As a payment method, squirrel will have to take this on. Having access to the physical card may allow them to try something disruptive like MagTek which reads the randomness (noise) in the card stripe to establish a “unique” card… which has the downside of card registration. Something like this would push squirrel further into a “US centric” model as it appears that they do not support EMV (aka Chip and PIN).  
  • “No go” as a consumer play. Why not just keep my card at the Apple app store? or at PayPal? What is the incremental value that this provides me? Why not just key in my card data.. why add a reader to my sexy iPhone .. .in its sexy case.

Innovation in payments is tough…  if I were going to add something the Steve Job’s product plan for the iPhone what would it be?

  • Global
  • Ubiquitous
  • Unique to every person
  • Globally Accepted for use in Payment and Authentication, by merchants, banks, networks, regulators
  • Low error rate
  • Impossible to clone
  • Difficult to crack

The answer is… (   ). OK so nothing fits my criteria, but any appendage on my iPhone must certainly seek to optimize the goals above. Apple has a payment patent around a semacode displayed on the screen and “scanned” at the POS (Starbucks in trial).

Apple has been VERY non-committal with respect to NFC, as it develops strategies to get a cut of the transaction revenue … merchants would be insane to put yet another vendor in the mix at the POS (apple Semacode reader)… I don’t see it on HP/Verifones product plan either.  We may be left w/ putting NFC stickers on the back of our beautiful iPhone.. . of course that is better then a card reader.. or a semacode… but not as nice as NFC embedded w/ chipset with software providing OTA capability.

Apple’s instance in getting “control” in payment, combined with same tendencies at carriers, is leaving the door wide open to Android and competitors. There are some super start ups with plans to enable all kinds of services through NFC. Imagine using your iPhone to open doors, store coupons, vending machines, college campuses.. a whole new ecosystem all locked up because Apple wants to control the payment channel (and refuses to embed NFC).

Regarding this Apple payment patent: What is starbuck’s business case? is it driving traffic? How many more stops will the average iPhone user make because of this app? My guess is that this was funded out of Starbuck’s marketing budget.. and payback will be minimal. But it is cool. (I wish I could make a living out of being cool.. of course I would first have to be cool… not currently the case)

https://www.starbucks.com/mobile-apps/#num=01&id=coffee_home
https://www.starbucks.com/mobile-apps/StarbucksCardMobile/default.asp
http://www.genoco.com/link/interactive_iphone+starbucks.html
http://www.forbes.com/2007/12/26/apple-patents-iphone-tech-wire-bc_1227appatent.html

Perhaps a more ubiquitous form of payment is something coupled with authentication. Perhaps IRIS scanning, which is now being miniaturized to fit on a chip the size of your thumbnail (below).

Iris Reconition Built into Phones

Iris Reconition Built into Phones

http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/2002/01/07/2002-01-07_credit_card_cloners___1b_sca.html

http://4g-wirelessevolution.tmcnet.com/news/2009/08/19/4331395.htm

Written by tomnoyes

October 20, 2009 at 1:14 pm