Optimizing the Innovation Curve – Primary Goal for MasterCard Open API, Says Dan Martin, VP of MasterCard Open API

The MasterCard Developer Zone provides the developer community with dozens of APIs encouraging them to develop innovative e-commerce and mobile payment applications. MasterCard is also currently running its global hackathon series Masters of Code. The series was initially planned for 10 cities: Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Tel Aviv, San Francisco, Montreal, Istanbul, New York and London. However, with the overwhelming response and sold-out tickets at its initial cities of Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sao Paulo, MasterCard announced the addition of Mexico and St. Louis to its list and made the total count an even 12 for the year-end event in 2015.

With the Hackathon series midway, we had an opportunity to catch up with Dan Martin, the VP of MasterCard OpenAPI, to find out about his views, the evolution of open APIs at MasterCard and the exciting turn of events at the MasterCard’s global hackathon series, which he is closely following up.

LTP: Could you provide us with a broad overview of the APIs that are provided by MasterCard? How did it start and how do you think they have evolved at MasterCard?

Dan: The open APIs, or the MasterCard Development Zone, that are available on the website is a five-year effort. Five years ago, you would have seen around four APIs on that page. That’s what we had launched with and today, there are dozens of APIs available. The path of what we are doing is releasing more and more things as APIs so that developers can consume them and provide innovative solutions that we might not have thought of. I believe that the biggest way APIs have evolved is that today, this program is a key part of our strategy and how we release our projects. When we build products, we are thinking API-first and concentrating on having an API as part of every product release.

As we look at the evolution and relating them to categories, we see that the products that we started five years ago were fairly straightforward and fairly simple things. Now, we see second level APIs, i.e., products that build on our unique capabilities. For instance, we have added an API called Places API. In the past, location APIs provided just the location, like the closest ATM, nearby restaurants, etc. Now, we are starting to add market intelligence into the API, so the Places API can tell you not only where the restaurants are around you but also tell you restaurants that are really popular within a given location or population. This is being built based on the unique MasterCard network intelligence that only we could provide.

LTP: Do you have any segregation for these APIs catering to different segments?

Dan: We are in the process of doing just that: to categorize the APIs and make them easily available based on what developers are looking for. The categories that we have are: payments which include things like Simplified Commerce that allows you to accept things on a website; the second category that we are focusing on is fraud and related services that allow you to prevent fraud. This is interesting as previously, you didn’t have that control. For instance, some of the things like fraud merchant scoring allow our merchant to assess the risk of a payment transaction for which he had to rely on third parties previously. The third major category is data services. These are related to market data and range on various topics from financial data to market data, maps, etc.

For instance, the MasterPass In-App Purchasing API enables ease of payments and ease of checkout while enjoying safe and secure payments. Also, a consumer doesn’t leave the merchant app to finish a purchase process.

LTP: How is your hackathon series Masters of Code shaping up? And what is the underlying motive for this competition?

Dan: Australia was just kicking off the path. We continue to have excellent results and events at each location. In Hong Kong, we had 160+ attendees, 150+ in Mexico City and so, we are having great turnouts and great experiences. We are bringing together a team and potential VC funding. The teams are getting approached by VCs for startup funding and are seeing good results. We don’t want to own what they do; we want them to build products, hopefully with the building blocks we provide, and connecting them with an audience where they stand a chance to succeed with funding. This is really an ultimate result of that.

LTP: Masters of Code provides teams with a lot of APIs and data from MasterCard. How does MasterCard see these events at a strategic level?

Dan: MasterCard’s intention with the creation of the open API platform and a division for that with dedicated resources was to make sure that the innovation curve at the company was fully optimized. We have innovation that happens in our R&D division, that’s called MasterCard Labs. We have innovation that we can adopt instead of sponsor through our innovation program called MasterCard Start Path which is also part of Masters of Code’s prize combo. The third piece of the innovation curve is enabling the outside world to create their own solutions through these APIs. That is where this whole process of a global hackathon series comes in.

LTP: So, you have a specific theme for each city where you host this session. Is it based on any factors out of that particular geography or industry contribution?

Dan: The general design we had for all these sessions was that for each location we have a different theme. The themes are not always industry-based. For instance, in Singapore, our theme was women in technology. Our focus was some tools or things that get women into technology. It’s not necessarily an industry theme although that is very frequent, but not always.

LTP: What are the broad innovative ideas/themes that you see in the completed sessions at Master of Code? Could you tell us about some out-of-the-box or different solutions that you have come across?

Dan: There is a twist in every place where we’re seeing our APIs being used. One of the things we’re seeing a lot is that the teams are using multiple APIs. The winning team in Australia had combined four-five APIs in their solutions.

What we see is we have been applying our APIs in a certain way. But people are coming in with their personal, professional and local agenda. They are using the building blocks we are giving them in ways that we haven’t thought of. We’re seeing culture specificity in these solutions. I think that’s the benefit of doing this on a global scale is; seeing our APIs that cater to the problems of a local area that we as MasterCard might not be able to think of. That’s the major motive of this program; to bring innovative solutions that we would not necessarily be developing in our own labs or through our incubation.

For example, Mexico City had a travel theme. Team Knowhere, the winning team at Mexico City, had a concept which can be thought of as Uber for parking. The project allows a homeowner to rent out his/her unused parking space each day to a commuter who works nearby. As you see fit, you can go to this platform and you can rent out your parking for a specific period of time and have payment automatically processed to get paid for your parking spot.

In terms of out-of-the-box solutions, Tel Aviv came up with weBusking, an app to facilitate people donating/contributing to a street busker but through online/digital channels.

LTP: Would the 12 finalist teams compete with teams from within MasterCard too?

Dan: We invite MasterCard to participate in each event, but they can’t win the event. Winners are from external participants. Like all the other regional winning teams from around the world, the MasterCard internal teams who qualify will also win the Silicon Valley trip but are not eligible to win the grand prize or any part of it. They would be competing head-to-head but ultimately the winner of the grand prize would be an external team.