Sebastian is a puzzle solver, a strategic thinker, a beyond-the-horizon watcher and a hands-on doer. Sebastien’s technical and professional experience spans more than 20 years in various industries. He has shaped ecosystems and products around POS, mobile payment, mobile security, mobile identity and consumer solutions even when he was told it was not possible. As such, he has provided expert opinions for and has been quoted in the WSJ, Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Reuters, Mashable, USA Today, CNN, CBC, Forbes, etc. on topics ranging from mobile payments to mobile identity, and consumer biometrics and security. Sebastien now serves as Chief Developer Evangelist at MasterCard.
He recently shared some thought provoking insights on MasterCard in an exclusive interview with Amit Goel from Let's Talk Payments.
Q.) What was the tipping point for MasterCard (founded in 1966), an established payments powerhouse, for it to consider open innovation as a strategy and work with those who are trying to disrupt the traditional payment rails?
Seb: First, we have to understand that MasterCard is a technology company today and not just a payments company. Lots of innovation has come from MasterCard and we expect it will continue. So, I would like to say that there was not a single tipping point, more like it has happened naturally. Beyond payments, we are working on loyalty, commerce, fraud, information services, merchant APIs…so the scope is big and broad – powering the next generation of commerce apps.
Q.) You have been in this new role for more than 6 months now. What are the first impressions? What have you been focusing on as the Chief Developer Evangelist?
Seb: These are terrific times. I am very happy in this role. I get to work with startups and I am close to innovation. On one hand, I am part of the fast pace of the startup world and at the other end, as a part of a big, resourceful company I help in creating a rich open development program and leveraging the great technology of MasterCard.
The focus on our team is on Open API innovation, building and making our products and services available to developers through APIs. Startups and early stage players are very exciting. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, At MasterCard, we are working hard to keep up with startups and support their commerce solutions needs and startups also need us. Startups can build and focus on cool UX/UI and designs targeted at consumers or merchants, but when they need to integrate payments or fraud solutions or locations data, MasterCard has the powerful network connecting billions of consumers to hundreds of millions of merchants through tens of thousands of financial institutions, the necessary infrastructure and a whole lot of other things. Using APIs, developers have the support of MasterCard behind their great innovations. We think of ourselves as the bridge for them to go mainstream. We are the team that understands the core payments infrastructure and the need of the developers.
Q.) MasterCard was one of the first major players to attempt this open innovation approach a few years ago. You are now leading a fresh initiative. What's different this time?
Seb: Open API development work with third parties has been going on for some time with MasterCard. You also have to consider, five years ago nobody was talking about mobile applications and APIs were not common in this space. During this time MasterCard also transformed from a payments company to a technology company. A natural evolution is to make our technology open to different kinds of players and innovators in our space. So (say) if some of the entrepreneurs and tech guys don’t have the knowledge or they don’t want to focus on payment rails and layers, MasterCard is a good partner for them, so they can focus on building their applications and use our APIs for the rest.
This is a critical position to hold in a collaborative economy. Now is the time to cooperate and work together.
Q.) You have been involved in a number of hackathons and competitions. Are there any themes that seem to be most popular among developers? Any themes that you wish were being addressed more?
Seb: One is the energy. When someone has not been to a hackathon, it’s difficult to describe the energy. As an example, I can think of the “entercharge” team who won the MasterCard challenge at Money20/20 and then, went on to CES and won there. Theirs was a simple idea around simplifying a restaurant experience. On your table or on the plastic base on the drinks counter where you usually slide the cards showing the special of the day or the cocktails or desserts, you could connect to the charging port and see the menu on your phone, special of the day, and place the order. The plastic base has all the necessary contactless technology tools such as BLE, NFC, etc. It helps the consumer to charge the phone if the battery is dying, and do a simple checkout. The “entercharge” team used our payment APIs, particularly Simplify Commerce. They were very smart to use hackathons as platforms to focus on one component of their apps and aim to improve it more than just participating Hackathons give them access to experts in respective fields and the knowhow they may need at a specific stage of development of their products. MasterCard APIs l help developers gain direct access to more players, just like the connective tissue to the banks, merchants and other stakeholders. We also have a team that specializes in data and insights, along with the capacity to offer an analytics engine.
Q.) There seems to be a lot of significant new activity going on in the payments and commerce space in general - NFC, tokenization, EMV, biometrics, real-time payments, etc. From your perspective, is there one that is the most impactful for the industry? Is there one that seems most over-hyped?
Seb: The direction MasterCard is taking is to cover the whole commerce experience and not just payments. People want to buy their goods and we have to make sure as providers that payments and security is a seamless, simple experience. Developers want access to APIs or expertise, so for them we have many tools to enable the functionality of a traditional payment network as well as next generation capabilities.
I cannot really say one of them is more significant because in the commerce blend, it is a mix of various components. What is the best user experience is the first question a developer will ask, not what the technology I need to use is. What's going to be the winning combination is not evident. In a collaborative economy, everybody wins. Apple Pay created the “collaborative" ecosystem and involved issuing banks and processors - that’s a model for the industry to emulate.
This is the prime moment for the industry.. MasterCard is opening a MasterCard lab for Financial Inclusion in Kenya in collaboration with The Gates Foundation. We are organizing global competition called “Masters of Code” a 10-cities hackathon series in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Tel Aviv, New York, San Francisco, Istanbul and London. The Open API team’s Developer Evangelists attend every hackathon to hear firsthand developers’ feedback and support them in real time.
In addition, with the data that is available to MasterCard, we can offer amazing insights. An example of awesome application is a luxury car manufacturer using our location data for spotting ATMs or to find a gas station. That could make that car smarter than all the others on the road.
Q.) A sizable portion of our reader-base is from innovation hubs such as Silicon Valley and Bangalore. Any specific guidance for this community as they consider using the MasterCard API portfolio in their propositions, relative to other alternatives?
Seb: I would just offer some brief words of advice:
- This is not the time to contrive limitations.
- The ideology should be to be demanding and at the same time be creative.
Q.) What are the two things that keep you awake at night? Any challenges?
Seb: Sometimes I think about the teams who win these hackathons and wonder if they are taking their idea, product or company to the next stage.
I am always thinking that even after they have won, entrepreneurs need mentorship and resources strong guidance and expertise to stand their business up. MasterCard can open doors, but I worry about where they are taking it and if we have helped enough. These entrepreneurs need to take their innovation to the market. We work with the VC community and help startups accelerate their business – this is the aim behind our StartPath program. We even cooperate with some of the direct or in-direct competitors (think Braintree and Stripe) for them to use our security APIs and we do not say No. Again, because this is the new collaborative economy.