A new app launched last Tuesday, Pay Finders, helps users easily find local merchants who accept Apple’s mobile payment service, Apple Pay. People can also give their feedback on the Apple Pay experience at a location. This crowdsourced feedback can help others to make a decision and also help stores to improve service. The app that currently covers US and Canada (yes, in preparation) will see updated features and more countries soon. The app was created by Brian Roemmele, renowned mobile payments/Apple Pay expert, an advisor and an avid blogger. Brian is an Apple enthusiast and has deep interests in writing about new technology in FinTech space. LTP recently had an opportunity to interview Brian Roemmele (@BrianRoemmele) about his new venture.
LTP: How did you get this idea?
Brian Roemmele: Fundamentally, my empirical research over 30 years in the payments industry informs me that any new payment system and/or schema requires a few things:
1. Lots of locations
2. Lots of users
3. A better user experience than what it is replacing
4. Neutral or lower costs to the merchant and consumer
5. A higher perception of security
I knew NFC fit the criteria in 2002 but required the correct set of circumstances and events. In 2012, I was researching NFC locations in the US based on some work requested by a client and some writing on Quora I was doing on the patents Apple was filing that lead me to believe they were going to get into payments. It was quite a radical notion to suggest Apple would facilitate payments and even more radical that they would use NFC technology to do it. It made debates from experts interesting in that period. Thus, my research produced all these NFC locations in North America; when Apple Pay came out, I fully expected Apple to have some of this data and use it to help users find Apple Pay locations. Turns out they didn't do this.
So there I was, I had built the largest database of NFC locations in North America and it was really the results of a hobby and to answer a few general questions for some clients. In late 2014, I was consulting my database for Apple Pay locations and a friend asked if they could use the database too. So I put it up as a private website and they, along with a few friends, started to use it all the time and began to add even more locations. That grew to a few hundred enthusiasts. Finally, over dinner, my wife and a few friends just casually stated that I should just make an app. It hit me and I’d already had a vision of what this simple utility would do: allow the crowd to find, review, rate and submit NFC locations, along with using GPS geofencing to notify the user as they enter a store where NFC payment devices are available for use.
So, I went about learning and relearning to program in Xcode, and with the help of a friend in India, built the Pay Finders app and back-end systems through early 2015. The data is growing really fast from dozens of sources including merchant account sales people, banks, processors and merchants self-reporting, and thousands of Pay Finders users crowdsourcing new locations & experiences. The same sources also report when a business has closed, and this is as important. This is quite unique since there is not a central database for active NFC devices in any country; even if it were to be required, it would take years for it to be useful.
Since Apple Pay was announced, we can be very comfortable stating that it’s a wonderful success. It is the fastest growing payment system in history. All studies show high satisfaction and growing adoption. However, the common theme to all studies and my field research distills down to two issues:
1) Where can I use Apple Pay?
2) How can I remember to use it?
It is really these two questions that are at the core of why I built Pay Finders. It is my hope that some folks find that it addresses these very issues.
LTP: We have known you for a while as the foremost payments expert and an Apple Pay expert more from a business and techno-commercial perspective. I’ve heard that you developed this app yourself. When did you learn to code?
BR: I started to program computers in the late 1970s and taught my myself machine/assembly languages for the Zilog Z80, Intel 8080 and Motorola 6502. I also learned a number of programming languages from FORTH to ADA on to Smalltalk, C++ and AI languages like NASA's CLIPS system. I used these skills on and off through the years but the last 15 years, I let most of programming go dormant to the point that I had very little knowledge on modern programming tools and procedures. I felt that it was very important that I was very close to the code of this project and forced myself to become a coder. This experience alone made this project an amazing adventure.
LTP: Your idea of letting people discover merchants that accept Apple Pay is simple and makes so much sense. I can see that you could expand the scope with location awareness and also with other wallets.
BR: Absolutely! Pay Finders can become a platform for notification and communication of not just new payment systems but perhaps other systems and technologies that are available in the retrial space. For example, Bluetooth-based systems.
LTP: What are the next steps: monetization, feature addition or just more hobby/fun?
BR: It is just a hobby at this point and I am quite happy if just a few folks find Pay Finders useful. Thus far, that seems to be taking place in a far larger scale than I could have imagined. With just a few days in official release, a dozen companies have contacted me about alignments and alliances with other systems. Card-issuing banks have contacted me about their desire of promoting Pay Finders with their cardholders. Some see it as a very useful way to gain “top of wallet” status and usage, especially before the holiday shopping season. I have not focused on anything but improving the product and growth. However, I do see the possibility of revenues in the distant future.
LTP: What can be expected from Pay Finders 2.0?
BR: I will release version 2.0 very soon and this version will notify the user when they are within 100 feet of a business that has NFC via geofencing and lock screen push notifications. Version 2.0 of Pay Finders will also have much better sorting and business categories. I will use some insight gathered by AI systems like CLIPS and create more sophisticated categories and tags for a merchant’s business type. I also see many uses of AI with future versions of Pay Finders. Version 2.0 should also have Apple Watch capability. I see Pay Finders in the Apple Watch as a huge benefit for users and can actually see this as a force driving some Apple Watch sakes as the price points drop over the next year. I will, of course, explore Android versions quite soon as well.
LTP: Any plans for expansion outside the US?
BR: Yes, absolutely. Pay Finders will have localized versions for the UK, most of the EU, Australia, New Zealand, South America and some Asian countries. I have data for just about every country.
LTP: What are the long-term goals?
BR: Today, Pay Finders is basically just me and a friend in India that cleans up my rookie code and makes things work better. The crowd will let me know what to do next as far a growing this project into a company with amazing people.
I want this project to continue to grow and serve the user and the merchant up till the point of ubiquity. I sense this could be about 10 years to get to this level. Thus there is some time to do great service for all involved. It is being of service that really drives me with Pay Finders and now, six other projects that I hope are equally as useful that I am working on. Being of service makes this whole journey rewarding and will continue to be the foundation that drives me forward.
Note: Pay Finders app is doing really well on the app store and has been downloaded umpteen number of times. It is in the top 1000 US-overall apps based on App Annie stats.