Add one more company to the ranks of hopefuls that want to own the space where dongles and mobiles are used for card-based payments. mPowa, a UK-based startup, is launching in the U.S. today with a solution that looks a lot like Square, Here from PayPal, and others. But while Square and the rest currently target smaller merchants that do not have card facilities already, mPowa is first going after bigger fish: the large enterprises that do.
“Our main focus are those businesses who already take cards but lack the mobile point of sale facilities to make transactions on the go, the Whirlpools or charities of the world,” Dan Wagner, the founder and CEO, told me in an interview earlier today. “Now they can make home visits or collect money anywhere.” And that’s not the only difference. The service works on devices covering four different platforms: iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows, another way to aim for mass coverage.
Wagner is coming at mobile payments from his experience in e-commerce and analytics. His first company, the market analytics startup M.A.I.D., was sold to Thomson Reuters years ago for $500 million, and his second company, Venda, has developed e-commerce sites for companies like Tesco, Orange, and the Universal Music Group.
On paper, the service certainly sounds compelling and designed for as flexible a deployment as possible. In addition to having both platform neutrality and the ability to integrate with any existing banking relationships, mPowa offers dongles that cover both chip-and-pin transactions — the standard in Europe and other markets — as well as magnetic strips — dominant in the U.S. It connects by Bluetooth or through the headphone jack on a device; says it will take payments in any currency; and can even be used to process checks and cash payments. (One credibility knock: the odd images on the site that show the dongle in action with credit cards upside down; one pictured here.)
Wagner says that the solution is already available in all markets. And while Wagner says there is no point in trying to “take a position against Square or PayPal” in the U.S. market, it is targeting smaller merchants elsewhere, like Europe. In all cases, mPowa’s commission is a flat 0.25 percent fee. (Square’s is 2.75% per swipe, with manual payments at 3.5% plus a 15-cent fee.)
The company also plans to offer a white-label service for carriers or others that want to move into the area of mobile payments but do not want to invest in the infrastructure to do so. Wagner also notes that mPowa owns five patents that cover the process and encryption that are used in its service.
Wagner says the company is already in “late-stage discussions” with large corporate customers in the U.S. In the UK, where mPowa first emerged earlier this year, it is already picking up large businesses. One customer, the publishing and events company Informa, offers mPowa dongles at all of its many trade shows to stands so that they can make transactions on the showroom floor. “That’s been working very well,” he says.
That’s not to say that mPowa will not come up against existing players later, if not sooner: Square, for example, is still growing strong, now processing $6 billion in payments annually, and is adding new features on a regular basis. With Square’s $141 million in backing and a lot of mindshare to boot, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it begin to aim its service at larger companies, too.