Monday, January 26, 2015

Frankly The Best "Ephemeral" Messenger

Disclaimer! SK planet is an investor in Frankly Inc. but this is in no way a “native advertisement” nor is it an official position of Frankly, SK planet, or any other business partner. No one asked me to write this, I just really like the app and want to write about it. Also I may be biased… but seriously Frankly is still awesome and you should download it right now anyway → iOS   Android

Since reading No Place To Hide, a great book about Edward Snowden and many of his revelations, I started to feel less comfortable with how Google, Facebook, or (since I live in Korea) Kakao, and most social media companies were storing my data. Naturally, a lot of people felt that way making anonymity the new black according to Digiday.

Around that same time SK planet invested in Frankly. Since I work at SK planet I’ve had the opportunity to have several great conversations with the amazing people at Frankly, and I know for sure that privacy is top-of-mind and that none of their users messages are stored. They set out to liberate social networking with a secure, snoop-proof messenger platform, period.

What’s Behind Frankly

The idea behind Frankly was that people should have a platform where they can chat frankly with each other without concerns that their conversations are being recorded. Bottom line philosophy at Frankly: our conversations on messengers should be at least as secure as conversations IRL (“in-real-life”).

Frankly gives you total control of your conversations and promises they are ephemeral so you can chat freely. Not too mention that you will have a fun and compelling experience too.  To accomplish that they have built a first class team that shares this philosophy, raised more than $20 million, and recently IPO’d in Toronto. Frankly has the runway to make their vision of a liberated social networking experience as reality.

Compelling and Secure

It can be tough to adopt a new messenger, but by making the experience compelling and totally secure Frankly has empowered early-adopters to stick it out and get their friends on the app. First, your messages will disappear forever after a few seconds. The the app also looks awesome, plus it’s really easy to customize the way your chats look and feel. You can also “pin” your messages so if you want to remember some important info or context that’s totally possible (which I think is a really neat feature), and remove sent messages you didn't mean to send or rather you hadn't sent. Of course you can also share photos, and they will evaporate as well.

Frankly is probably the best application for group chats. When you enter a group chat on Frankly, your messages are anonymous. This is the most liberating aspect of Frankly, and it makes it a great tool for candid conversation among friends and co-workers, or between brands and customers.


Savvy Partnerships To Realize The Vision

Getting user adoption for any app is hard, and for messengers it is really hard. In addition to its own messenger app, Frankly means to achieve their vision of liberating the chatting masses through partnerships. Their SDK is available for any business that shares their philosophy and wants an easy implementation of secure, private, anonymous messenger for their customers.

Last year Victoria’s Secret integrated Frankly’s SDK into their Pink shopping app. The app made it possible for customers, who might be concerned about their privacy whilst chatting-up and sharing photos of lingerie, to engage with the brand with texts, customizable emojis, user photos, and multiple shades of pink

Models were even available for live chat!

Overall My Favorite Messenger…

I really love this app, for being awesome and for executing a strategy that is aligned with their core-values. It’s too bad because more people I know aren’t on it yet, but hopefully that will change in 2015. If you’re a business who cares about your customers, get the Frankly SDK. It's a particularly good idea for retailers who want to integrate social networking into their omnichannel strategy, because they can reassure your customers the channel is secure.

Best of luck to the team, thanks for looking out for all of us, and congrats on the IPO!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Looking Forward to 2015: Part Two

While mPOS will drive significant disruption in 2015 for transaction processing, it is also enabling consumers to embrace mobile payments. That's because EMVco has designed EMV to work with NFC for contactless payments. The rise of Host Card Emulation (HCE), a term attributed to the founders of SimplyTapp, is also a driving force since it lowers the barrier for mobile payments by eliminating the need for hardware called a Secure Element (SE).

It’s all very exciting, and the bottom-line: mobile payments will become a force majeure among payment methods within a few years. Business Insider predicts US Mobile In-Store Payment volume will grow 172% for the next 5 years. Data compiled by has breaking $700B by 2017.
Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 06.10.41.png predicts mobile payments will break $700B in just two years.

Mobile Payments Become a Normal Payment Method in 2015  

First, I wrote about this last year in a post about digital wallets, when Apple Pay was still a blip on the buzz-radar. Digital Wallets really needed mobile payments to come-of-age, and now they are. 

Mobile payments got a huge injection of consumer confidence from the release of Apple Pay. Anyone would assume Apple’s share of global mobile payment transactions will be significant, eventually. But remember, there are several very real competitors. Just a few years ago many predicted that PayPal would “win” the mobile payments market, now Apple Pay is all the rage. The reality is there probably will not be any clear winners, not for a while anyway.

Products like Softcard, MCX, Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and not to mention whatever Amazon is cooking-up, are all vying for transaction volume in 2015, with a tipping-point of relevancy approaching somewhere between now and 2017. Venture Capital, Credit Card Networks (Mastercard and Visa), Banks, OEMs, everyone seems to be making some bets on mobile payments.

Apple Pay

Apple is driving US merchant demand for NFC, period. Other solutions existed for years, but in the US they never drew merchant adoption en masse. That's not the case everywhere, in fact NFC payments are so common in South Korea that literally everyone uses some form of stored-value payment card which is enabled by NFC. However, the unique position of the US means global adoption is now underway.

US merchant adoption was slow until Apple Pay. Business Insider reported that VeriFone, the largest provider of countertop-terminals in the US, has seen a spike in sales of NFC enabled devices since the launch of Apple Pay. That said, Apple Pay is unlikely to become the leader in mobile payments in spite of the important role it plays in growing the market. 

And in fact Apple Pay is not garnering the kind of adoption many had hoped for. Some reports show 1% of transaction volume on mobile can be attributed to Apple Pay, not bad I guess but nothing to really brag about. One report also showed that less than 5% of iPhone owners who could enable Apple Pay had done so, and among them on 30% had used it. That said, Wholefoods (one of the most popular merchants for Apple Pay) claims they are witnessing “significant growth” in usage. So there is a ways to go for Apple yet, but integration of BLE and facial recognition software not to mention the Apple Watch will all drive further use of this payment method.

Google Wallet and Paypal

How do Google and Paypal feel about Apple Pay?

  1. Happy, because people with Samsung phones will start using mobile payments too!
  2. Frustrated, because they’ve had NFC mobile payments for years and nobody cared.
  3. Worried, because this means Apple will sell more phones.

For sure A and B. Not so much C. 

Paypal and eBay split just weeks after the launch of Apple Pay. It’s unclear that Apple had anything to do with that, but it is telling. Paypal was once considered the front-runner, now they are just one in a peloton where Apple appears to be slightly ahead.

Paypal has an advantage though, it’s really a payments company and builds at least some of the components driving the competition. Braintree, now part of Paypal, supports Apple Pay and enables it for merchants along with Paypal. Paypal has solid legs in mobile payments, announcing partnerships with Samsung, Microsoft, Blackberry (um, the third-leg?), and it works on every platform. Not to mention they own the coolest P2P payment app around, Venmo.

Google has stayed in the peloton on sheer force of will. Sources say they are running a substantial deficit with Google Wallet, desperately trying to get adoption. While Apple generates demand for NFC enabled terminals literally overnight, Google couldn’t pay merchants to enable NFC and accept Google Wallet for years. That's about to change.

Google Wallet represents 4% of mobile payments while Apple Pay is estimated at 1.7% (those numbers will probably increase rapidly in 2015 for both Google and Apple). Google Wallet is also available on iOS and supports TouchID.  Google could conceivably ride the Apple Pay wave to attract iPhone users, and there is some indication this has already begun to happen. Since the launch of Apple Pay, Google Wallet usages is up 50% by some accounts. I can see Google using the powerful brand and software ecosystem to subvert Apple Pay even on iPhones, perhaps by managing receipts and bills in Google Drive. Google is already flexing its software muscles with APIs for Objects and Instant Buy.


It’s hard to write better fiction than Softcard. The history of this telco-startup reads like historical-realism: US telcos launch mobile payments venture called ISIS, several months later a major terrorist organization called ISIS wreaks havoc on innocent people in Iraq and elsewhere, destroying all hopes of the ISIS mobile payment method becoming a household name. 

Well, ISIS is a household name but that’s not exactly what At&t had in mind.

Rebranded as Softcard and invigorated by Apple Pay, this digital wallet is signing deals with McDonald’s and Microsoft. While speaking at a conference the CEO of Softcard said he is excited about 2015 since “finally people know what my company does” thanks to Apple Pay. However, the road ahead is going to be filled with challenges for Softcard.


Apple Pay was the clear buzz winner in 2014, but MCX was a solid second. The Merchant Consumer Exchange (MCX) is a consortium of the largest retailers in the United States -- in some cases the world -- which has committed to launching its own mobile payment method in 2015. The total transaction volume for MCX members was estimated at $1 Trillion last year. MCX made headlines after Apple Pay was launched when some of the member retailers, including CVS, “unplugged” Apple Pay citing an exclusivity clause in their MCX membership agreement.

There were a slew of negative posts by Apple aficionados from well known tech news sites, but many of them exaggerated the situation. The reality is that MCX is in an excellent position because it is retailer owned, which means loyalty rewards can be built in. It also means retail members are incentivized to promote the payment method, because it is designed with consideration for what merchants consider most valuable: consumer data.


Starbucks continues to be the unlikely leader in mobile payments, to the tune of $1.5 Billion in transaction volume, or 15% of all transactions in the United States (6 million transactions per week).

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 23.50.42.png

Starbucks mobile app has altered the course of mobile payments, proving that loyalty is a driving force for mobile adoption. By combining loyalty and digital stored-value Starbucks created a model which is the envy of many retailers and technology companies. According to Starbucks’ CEO, they are receiving numerous request to white-label their app for other QSRs.
Just how far ahead of Apple is Starbucks? According to Wired, each of the 1 million Apple Pay users who registered in the first few days of the launch would have to buy a cup of coffee every day to match Starbucks weekly transaction volume.


Mobile Payments will take over… in time

The sheer number of viable mobile payment methods means that for the next few years we won’t see a clear mobile payments champion. In addition to those I’ve briefly covered here there are several well-known startups including Square, Clinkle, and Coin. Some are apps, and some are programmable cards. Samsung is yet to respond to Apple Pay, but it is coming. Several friends at Samsung have been working on this since mid-2014, so it won't be long before Sammy's massive market share further accelerates mobile payment adoption.

Though it is unclear who operate the dominant mobile payment method, consumers will continue to use more than one for the next few years.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Looking Forward to 2015: Part One

Last year saw some major disruptions begin to take hold in finance and payments. While the jury is still out on some of these disruptive technologies like Bitcoin, others are going to continue to reshape entire industries including mPOS and a host of mobile payments options from Apple Pay to Coin.

Bitcoin or Bust in 2015?

As did many people, I got very excited about Bitcoin in 2014. I watched some documentaries, read some books, downloaded some apps…. As I dove deeper into this incredible technology the more I wondered if it could really turn the corner, become mainstream. Bitcoin certainly made steps forward toward becoming mainstream, including integrations with Paypal and recently Microsoft (sort-of).  Coindesk, and important source of information about the crypto-currency, publishes and maintains a list of ways you can use bitcoins to make purchases. However, while at first glance it is impressive, considering the currency is only a few years old. there are some important retailers (most?) absent from the list.

Bitcoin’s biggest problem has been price volatility (aside from highly publicized thefts). Key to solving this will be an increase in real transactions. More retailers accepting bitcoin means more transaction volume, and the general reasoning goes that the price of a bitcoin will then reflect that transaction volume rather than speculative trading causing spikes in the crypto-currency’s price.

Yet despite the philosophical reasons why many people choose to use bitcoin, many people are attracted to bitcoin and other crypto-currencies by stories of massive fortunes being made out of seemingly thin air. As the price stabilizes (it hasn’t, it’s been going down most of 2014 and is now at around $280) we may see less people attracted to the currency as its attractiveness to speculators wanes. PYMNTS recently published a nice overview of Bitcoin’s interesting 2014, and the conflicting views for its future in 2015.

Challenges aside, the technology behind bitcoin… um, Bitcoin(?)... is truly revolutionary and lot’s of investment is pouring in. There are thousands of startups (more than 500 on Angel List alone) working with bitcoin. We’re probably passing over the hype-hump, and coming down to reality where real innovation is going to get traction, companies like Ripple or Blockstream.  

In 2015 new innovations using the Blockchain to create “sidechains” like Blockstream, or bitcoin inspired technologies like Ripple’s protocol, may become the true legacy of Nakamoto. Some of the most notable entrepreneurs and investors in the Valley seem to think so.

The Unstoppable mPOS

While mPOS growth was steady it’s unlikely anyone in the mainstream had it pegged as one of the most disruptive technologies of the next couple years. That is, until millions of credit card and other personal information was hacked from major retailers in 2014. Right?

Wrong. 2014 seemed like one of the worst years for privacy in history, but it wasn’t. Starting the year off with Target (which really happened in 2013, but anyway), we saw Staples and Home Depot have severe security breaches, not to mention Sony. It was bad, but it may have been exaggerated. In fact, since Target was hacked in 2013 and can be excluded from any lists of 2014 data breaches… other than Home Depot (maybe) the 2014 hacks don’t make the top 5 according to CNN. 2013 probably cost more, an estimate $7.1 billion; and according to credit card fraud fraud in the U.S. accounted for 47% of all credit card fraud worldwide in 2012.  

The real story in 2014 was the U.S. payments industry is finally making changes to address problems which have seen data breaches as severe or worse than 2014’s since the 80’s. Mastercard and Visa both announced that as of October next year they will be penalizing merchants for fraud that occurs because the retailer does not have an EMV payment system. This has prompted retailers, payments processors and acquirers, retail software companies, around the world to take action, fast. The migration to EMV alone is going to cost billions of dollars in spending, and has many retailers looking at mPOS as their next upgrade. The resulting displacement of entrenched incumbents could mean untold fortunes for challengers.

mPOS is at the center of a dramatically changing payments landscape. Startups like Square, ShopKeep, Revel Systems, or Poynt arguably have a headstart on entrenched giants like Verifone, NCR. In addition to the accepting EMV, the advantages of mPOS are cost (they’re cheaper), integrated software for inventory or marketing, they arguable reduce wait-time (at least at restaurants), and may even increase sales due to reduced abandonment. Some major players like First Data and Heartland Payments are beginning to acquire mPOS startups to gain an advantage. PYMNTS recently published an excellent overview of the advantages of mPOS, what the incumbent POS providers are doing about it as well as some of their challengers.

Bottom line is more than half of retailers surveyed by RIS (Retail Info Systems) plan to buy one or more mPOS for the next upgrade, and 25% say they are going to decrease spending on fixed POS. The number is higher when you look specifically at restaurants. Business Insider estimates the share of U.S. retailers who implement mPOS is going to grow up to 50% by the end of 2015, and reach almost 80% by 2019.

Expect to see lot’s of new mPOS systems in 2015… not to mention most of your favorite stores accepting one or more type of mobile payment method [to be continued].  

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Jamming with Storybots!

Though last year my worked pivoted away from EdTech to stored-value (aka eGC) I’m still facinated by the way technology is reshaping the way we learn at all ages. Of course, since my son is almost 4 years old I’ve been mostly fascinated by EdTech for him. These days, it’s amazing what he finds on YouTube and our latest awesome discovery has been Storybots.

I’m So Hot

Most people my age (late Millennials in their early 30s) are familiar with JibJab, and if you’re not please go here. Back during the Bush Jr. years, JibJab made hilarious political parodies and became one of the funniest web services around. A couple of years ago they refocused that creative genius on teaching children, launching Storybots. At the time JibJab already had something like 20,000,000 registered users for their eCards service (which allow you to put your face in some pretty funny places… just check the link above).

When asked why, the two founders pointed to the fact their own kids don’t watch TV, they watch Netflix on the iPad. And I’m guessing Youtube. Storybots was born to be a compelling place for kids and parents to engage with each other on the new mobile medium. The suite of Storybot apps include “Starring You” books and videos, learning videos, abc videos, and activity sheets.  

Really compelling content YOU WANT to watch with your kids

While the other apps are fun, my son and I are raving about the learning videos. The content is so compelling we even play it in the car. Songs range from smooth raps about space which will remind you of old school rap, hilarious folk-rock about animals like the Chicken-bob or Tiger In the Jungle, and even songs that teach children how their body works.

The list of amazing content is pretty long, and getting longer.

If you have a young child and an iPad, you need to get into Storybots. Their learning apps are affordable and the videos on Youtube are free… check it out!