Архив метки: NFC

LevelUp Now Has $21M To Take On The Squares Of The Mobile Payment World

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Mobile payment service LevelUp, an off-shoot of Boston-based SCVNGR, announced this morning that it has raised $9 million from T-Venture, the venture capital arm of Deutsche Telekom. The investment is the second tranche of a larger funding round and brings the total raised to just over $21 million. SCVNGR itself has raised over $31 million. As a result of the investment, T-Venture Senior Manager Randeep Wilkhu will join the startup’s board as an observer.

As for some context: Every day there’s a new headline about mobile payments solutions. It seems that every carrier and credit card company has its own system, while all the big mobile players are working on one or have one already on the market (Google Wallet). The rumors indicate that the iPhone 5 will have NFC functionality to enable Apple’s entry into the mobile payments game. The point is: It’s easy to be skeptical of new solutions, especially when it comes to long-term viability.

Yet, in spite of the apparent saturation and the success of Square and others, no one solution has emerged as the outright leader. That’s why Seth Priebatsch launched LevelUp (as an off-shoot of SCVNGR) in beta last July, hoping to create an easy, carrier and card-agnostic payment and loyalty system that could be used everywhere.

Since then, the company has grown its U.S.-based staff to 162 and Priebatsch expects the team to grow to 200 by the end of the year. As of today, LevelUp users can pay with their mobile device of choice at 3,000 participating merchants, which include Ben & Jerry’s, Quizno’s and Johnny Rockets, and more than 200K users spend a total of $2 million per month using LevelUp. In turn, Priebatsch wants the service to be in 50 cities in the U.S. by the end of the year and said that they plan to announce some even bigger nationwide chains this fall.

So, while there’s plenty of speculation over which of the major mobile payments players will crack the mainstream first, whether it’s Google Wallet, Isis, Pay With Square, or PayPal, perhaps the biggest validation for the service comes from the fact that several of LevelUp’s backers are now investing in the startup on top of their own mobile payment solutions. T-Mobile lent infrastructure and hardware to LevelUp to help it get off the ground, the founders of Discover invested in the startup’s first tranche — and now Deutsche Telekom via T-Venture.

Priebatsch said that he believes this a result of the fact that the startup is religiously attempting to remove the major barriers that prevent people from paying at local merchants with their phones. For now, that means LevelUp relies on the QR code as its main payment mechanism, but down the road that will mean adopting NFC. “We’ll do whatever it takes to get LevelUp into the hands of the masses,” Priebatsch tells us, “and that starts with providing value to merchants so they actually want to consider adopting another mobile payment network.”

To do this, the startup recently announced that it has lowered its merchant interchange rate (a.k.a. “the swipe fee”) to zero. Now, LevelUp merchants pay 35 percent to the startup each time a consumer redeems first-time and loyalty rewards, so, because the revenue from this charge matched the interchange fees, Priebatsch says, the company decided to just go ahead and cover those fees itself. Why not?

In turn, the team hopes that this will offer a better acquisition strategy, removing the friction for many merchants that would participate otherwise. With Square charging 2.75 percent and most others at 3 percent, LevelUp starts to look good in comparison.

Merchants still end up paying more to LevelUp as part of that 35 percent charge, but the founder thinks that it can make up the difference by offering merchants one single solution for customer acquisition, retention, and analytics — exchanging zero credit card fees for a share of that business it creates by way of its loyalty rewards campaigns.

There’s no reason that other companies with big mobile payments solutions (like Starbucks) couldn’t eliminate credit card processing fees, which would mean that LevelUp would have to compete with name brands — further tilting an already uphill battle. In the meantime, Priebatsch and the LevelUp team are pushing to scale the system in the U.S. (and internationally) as fast as possible, hoping to achieve enough penetration in the next year so that, when the cards fall, LevelUp will have a presence that will be hard to ignore.


LevelUp Now Has $21M To Take On The Squares Of The Mobile Payment World

NFC Still Has Legs: Flomio Closes On Half A Million In Seed Funding For NFC-Based Products & Services

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Because we’re in need of some brighter NFC-related news today, Flomio, a TechStars-backed startup, and makers a platform for building NFC and RFID enabled applications, has closed a seed round of $525,000. The round was led by RMR Capital, and included participation from TechStars, the Cloud Power Fund, Matthew Lally (Augme, Pickflair), and Clint Watson (FASO).

Based in Miami, Florida (“Silicon Beach!”), Flomio has a different approach to NFC, which will be reflected in a website redesign going out next week. In short, it wants to humanize the technology. Originally a side project from founder Richard Grundy, Flomio was recently accepted into TechStars Cloud, the cloud computing-focused incubator which held its first demo day in April.

If you had checked out the Flomio website in the recent past, you may remember that it was touting how its technology could be used to build NFC applications, and it offered a store where you can buy NFC tags and readers. While it will continue to sell tags, stickers and hardware devices, the company’s focus going forward will be on targeting consumers and specific vertical markets (e.g., art) in order to make NFC technology seem more accessible to normal folks…and even fun.

Flomio competes with another NFC startup we’ve previously covered called Tagstand, but has a different point of view about the space, according to company founder Grundy, whose background includes 12 years at Motorola. “We have a different approach,” says Grundy. “We’ve done events, just like they have. We’ve done outdoor deployments just like they have, but what we focus on the most is on this instrumented space model which is all about using peer-to-peer to allow people to engage physical spaces.”

Grundy explains that NFC had been traditionally modeled around passive tags – that is, a combination of a reader and a tag that responds when excited, e.g. by waving your device over the tag or tapping it. But what really inspired him about NFC’s potential was the newer “peer-to-peer” technology, which was introduced in 2009. This allows two readers to talk to each other. The newer technology could enable wild, sci-fi stuff. For example: “if you want your cell phone to talk to your microwave, and download a recipe about how to bake a potato and it just programs the microwave for you,” explains Grundy, “that sort of use case can only be enabled through a peer-to-peer solution. We were enabling developers to put that to action,” he says.

Unfortunately, though, developers weren’t biting. “That’s so far ahead of what people are doing today, we found difficulty gaining traction,” Grundy admits. So now the company is dialing things back a bit…for now. Instead of targeting developers, they’re going to focus on popularizing NFC with users, in a number of different ways. Some of these details are still under wraps for a few more weeks, but the long and short of it is that they’re going to help make NFC fun, not scary, not confusing, and not geeky.

As CXO (that’s “Chief Experience Officer”) Timo Ronan explained to me, “we understand the human side of life, we’re not just engineers.”

“We figure if Touch is the next wave, it conceptually needs to permeate our brand. We want to be real people to real people. We just happen to be pretty smart and stuff,” Ronan says.

OK, then.

Here’s a sneak peek at the new website, to give you an idea:

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And here’s a concept video of a tag they’re working on (note: there’s no deal with Starbucks, it’s just an idea. BACK OFF LAWYERS):

And just for the heck of it, here’s a video, entirely unrelated to product, of something awesome they filmed the other day:




NFC Still Has Legs: Flomio Closes On Half A Million In Seed Funding For NFC-Based Products & Services

KillSpencer Goes Against The Grain With New Wooden Card-Carrying iPhone Case

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I’m still not convinced that mobile payments via NFC are on the road to ubiquity, but these fancy shmancy iPhone cases that double as card holders are all kinds of awesome. KillSpencer just debuted its latest, made almost entirely of exotic rosewood. It’s a beauty, to be sure.

The front and back are both attached using a removable adhesive, though there’s no side coverage for the iPhone. I’d have to review it and throw my iPhone across the room a few times before I could be sure, but it doesn’t look as though this case offers the most protection for your phone. But that’s not always what a case is about.

With the iPhone, you’re essentially walking around with the same exact phone as quite a few people. Most look at cases as a form of personal expression, with a little added protection as a bonus. The KillSpencer Precision Pocket case is a lot like that, though we kind of wish that the company had offered this as a front/back panel replacement kit rather than as a case.

Either way, the case holds up to three cards with a card lock and thumb slot to help you push a credit card or ID out with ease. It costs $89.00 and can be purchased here.

Click to view slideshow.


KillSpencer Goes Against The Grain With New Wooden Card-Carrying iPhone Case