Lesson: Be Careful With Cofounders, You Haven’t Seen Their True Colors Yet

While doing some research for a different post I came across this golden nugget from Paul Graham. His post was titled What startups are really like – and it’s the truth. In it he describes how he sent all his founders an email asking what surprised them about starting a startup. Their number 1 response was around cofounders. Boy can I relate!

1. Be Careful with Cofounders

This was the surprise mentioned by the most founders. There were two types of responses: that you have to be careful who you pick as a cofounder, and that you have to work hard to maintain your relationship.

What people wished they’d paid more attention to when choosing cofounders was character and commitment, not ability. This was particularly true with startups that failed. The lesson: don’t pick cofounders who will flake.

Here’s a typical response:

You haven’t seen someone’s true colors unless you’ve worked with them on a startup.

The reason character is so important is that it’s tested more severely than in most other situations. One founder said explicitly that the relationship between founders was more important than ability:

I would rather cofound a startup with a friend than a stranger with higher output. Startups are so hard and emotional that the bonds and emotional and social support that come with friendship outweigh the extra output lost.

We learned this lesson a long time ago. If you look at the YC application, there are more questions about the commitment and relationship of the founders than their ability.

Founders of successful startups talked less about choosing cofounders and more about how hard they worked to maintain their relationship.

One thing that surprised me is how the relationship of startup founders goes from a friendship to a marriage. My relationship with my cofounder went from just being friends to seeing each other all the time, fretting over the finances and cleaning up shit. And the startup was our baby. I summed it up once like this: “It’s like we’re married, but we’re not fucking.”

Several people used that word “married.” It’s a far more intense relationship than you usually see between coworkers—partly because the stresses are so much greater, and partly because at first the founders are the whole company. So this relationship has to be built of top quality materials and carefully maintained. It’s the basis of everything.

This hit home given the fact that I am going through this issue currently. I have never been married but it really does feel like a divorce. Respecting the unnamed (and by no means is this a personal attack), I can only tell you how disappointed I am in this individual. And maybe I am just disappointed in the overall outcome but I can’t help but be bothered at how it ended, with one of us making a B-line for the door once it was obvious this was actually going to take some hard work. For the sake of our “kids” it’s a good thing I am still around to help them grow and mature.

Let this be a lesson to all entrepreneurs and silicon valley wannabe founders out there:

Life is tough and unfair.

Startups are a hell of a lot tougher and more unfair.

Most ALL startups and iPhone applications DON’T GO VIRAL overnight. They take a shit ton of work and thus require a shit ton of commitment.

And know this: the founder who stuck it out and eventually grew a company to be large and successful is more wise, more battle tested and way more respected in the community than an overnight success who usually had no idea why he was successful. That person will fail to repeat it when he tries again because as an overnight viral success you don’t understand what worked and what didn’t. It just happens.

The time-tested individual builds lifelong skills along with a treasure trove of wisdom he can then apply to any other endeavor with a high potential of success. So if you are a founder I would suggest you swallow the pill and make long term commitments your goal.

Please, give success a fighting chance.

90 Seconds To Life – Suprising Lessons Learned Winning A Pitch Competition

thump thump….  thump thump…..  thump thump…….  My heart rate was starting to rise.

As I looked around the room I noticed it overflowing with people.  There must have been hundreds….

Was I sure I could recall the points I wanted to make as I stood on the platform?  

Was I actually going to make sense to these people?

Feet don’t fail me now…!

SURF Incubator recently held their launch party at the offices in the Exchange building on 2nd and Marion.  It was a great night with many lasting memories, the biggest being the pitch competition.  Ten different founders each took the spotlight and had 90 seconds to pitch their startup, with the audience voting at the end for their favorite, or the one with the clearest value proposition.

Turns out I won pitching my startup, Seconds!

All the participants deserve recognition and needless to say there will be some great stuff emerging out of SURF for years to come.  But as I look back on the experience that night, a few things become clear and I felt I needed to get them out before they fade away down stream like most other good thoughts tend to do nowadays.

I discovered those 90 seconds taught me more than I ever would have thought a small collection of seconds could.  Some of the lessons were clear as day in the moment, and some took a few days to really sink in.  Here’s what I found:

Deliver

Back in high school I played soccer on a team (West Valley – Yakima) and for a coach that will both go down in history as one of the best.  We were nationally ranked, in the state championship game all 4 years and won 3 of those times.  It was an amazing dynasty and a truly talented team.  Whenever I think back on that experience, one of the main things I remember is our coach would have us 1) determine and publicly state on the outset what we will accomplish that season and 2) have us memorize and repeat certain statements throughout the season.

One of those statements was “I come through when I need to” and it has stuck with me to this day.

What does that statement actually mean?  My take is it’s a commitment to deliver in the moment.  There are certain times in your life you find yourself in a binary situation.  Either I deliver on this (whatever it is) and X will happen, or I don’t deliver on this and Y will happen.  Back then it was scoring goals and winning state championships.  But today as a CEO, it could mean company existence, other people’s jobs, millions of dollars and possible notoriety in the community.   As I stood up there last week it became crystal clear the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is simply a matter of delivering when the time calls for it.

Speak with them in mind

Whenever you are talking to a group of people it’s probably a good idea to assume they know very little.  This is not a “I’m smarter than they are” comment (trust me, that’s not the case here) but more of a generalization of the crowd.  Even at the SURF pitch event, where the average person at least knows something about technology, it’s just a fact that getting technical is not going to come across well.

In this instance, the crowd was the judge so if winning them over is the goal you must talk from their point of view.  Clearly describing how your solution benefits their life goes a lot farther than a basic technical description of the product.

To all the engineers out there, sorry to burst your bubble but most people don’t want to know HOW it works.  They want to know WHY it works.  People are naturally emotional and mostly irrational.  They are very selfish inside and want to know how things benefit THEM first and foremost.  If there is no connection within, there will be no clear value proposition to them.

I realized this is as true in a pitch competition as it is in the overall business world.  Lacking a clear value proposition – one that can be quickly understood and easily shared with others – is the death of many startups.

Have fun

I don’t know about you but I have noticed a drastic increase in pressure, speed and intensity to my life.  That might be the startup roller coaster I jumped on last year but as I look around I see it with others too.  Are our mobile devices driving us insane?  Does the habit of swiping and checking if someone has messaged us or tweeted something useful really make us happier?  I have a creeping suspicion the always on, always wired, running around needing to do this or that lifestyle is truly messing with our psyche.

For those reasons and more I have really tried to embrace the have fun mentality.  I do believe you can build a great, successful startup and still have fun.  If you see me around you will probably notice a smile on my face.  This is not by accident.  I really try to bring myself to smile, say hi to people, shake hands and see the better part of life in others.  Life is just more fun that way.

The night of the launch party and the pitch event I noticed a lot of the other participants nervous, which in reality threw them off their game.  I consciously made an effort to acknowledge my ‘fight or flight‘ response, but rather than let it get to me I embraced it.  I let it in, leveraged it to help me be more in the moment.  I used it to show my passion and deliver on point.  I actually said to myself, “Nick, look around man… this is fun!”  (OK, a few beers didn’t hurt to calm the nerves either but I digress).

It’s amazing what you can learn in just 90 seconds.  I know these life lessons will stick with me forever and hope they might make a difference in your life as well.

@jnickhughes

Do You Think SF or NYC Public Transportation System Could Use This?

I keep having a reoccurring problem.  My Orca Card – Seattle’s version of the public transportation pass – seems to run out of money a very inopportune times.  On my way to an important meeting downtown.  Balance $0.00.  Getting on the bus to go home later at night.  Balance $0.00.

To keep in better control of my finances I choose to not have it automatically refilled each month, so I am at the mercy of knowing how much is on my card at any one time and if more money is needed, I must take time out of my day to go put more on it.  We have learned the majority of cards in circulation are not automatically refilled.

I either have to go online and pay, which takes 24 hours to process.  Or I have to walk to a physical location around town and make a payment at a kiosk.  It sucks.

Why can’t I just pay on the fly and put money back on the card?

Why can’t I be notified if my balance is getting low?

Others around Seattle have this problem, I know this because that is how we were pointed toward initiating talks with Sound Transit.  I have to believe others in additional metro areas around this country are frustrated by the same inconvenience.  That is why we are now starting to work with Sound Transit on a solution involving mobile payment in Seconds and a pilot is set to roll out in the coming months.

Below is a video of how it works.  Pretty smooth, eh?

I wonder if anyone in San Francisco, New York or any other metro area would want to refill their transit pass in Seconds?

People Actually ‘DO’ Want To Make Mobile Payments If It’s Easy Enough

I had a good feeling as the month of May was progressing we would be seeing some awesome Seconds numbers.  But since we are now into June and I was able to get some time to crunch the entire May results, I am astounded by what we are seeing.

For those of you who do not know, Seconds is a fast and easy way to make payments with your mobile device.  We automate payments through words sent in simple text messages (cool Siri video below) and shorten a minutes worth of transaction time into just a few seconds.

Below are a few charts specific to our pilot test around mobile payments.  The first one is for total monthly transactions and as you can see, the growth from January through May is accelerating.  (Chart actually starts with early testing in December.)  In fact, the change from April to May is most impressive.   In April we had 384 transactions and in May we completed 615 transactions.  Blow-out month for sure!

Monthly Transactions

Going further in depth on the numbers, some very interesting consumer observations emerge.  We took the entire user population and parsed out categories based on the number of times an individual made a transaction.  Specifically, we evaluated May and compared it to the previous month of April to see if we could identity any trends in usage.  Here’s what we found:

Findings:

1. The number of people making 10 or more transactions in a month DOUBLED!  This means as months go by people become more comfortable with using the system and more apt to make a quick purchase in Seconds.

2.  The overall user base grew 48% from April to May.  We continue to gain more users who easily jump into the system and start making payments using their mobile device.  Uploading payment credentials securely in the cloud just once is all it takes for a new user to start using Seconds.

3.  Roughly 2 out of 3 Seconds users are multiple purchasers.   This means they returned within the month and transacted at least twice using Seconds.  This is a very good sign.

4.  An astounding 82% retention rate is HUGE!  More than 8 out of 10 users in the month of May were users in the month of April, proving that we are not seeing much drop off once an individual enters the system and starts using Seconds.   Although adding new users is a driving force, more important is the ability to retain the ones you have already attracted.

Our assumptions are continually proven true and the lessons here are manifold.  When offered a quick and easy way to complete a transaction using their mobile device, people do it!  And time goes on people are more comfortable with making more payments by simply sending a text message.

Now, what if you could pay your rent that way?  Or refill your transit card?  Or rent a movie?  Or all the other areas of your life you want to take care of in Seconds.  That is why mobile payments are set to be a $1 trillion industry by 2016 and automated application-to-person payments are an estimated $100 billion industry.  We are only getting started.

It’s Not If (But When) Your Startup Slides Sideways You’ll Find Your True Potential

Boy has it been a challenging couple of months.  The title of the post might be a bit misleading, suggesting my company is indeed going nowhere fast.  This is a wrong assumption.  It’s definitely going somewhere, we are growing 50% month over month and just posted record numbers again, but just as a car can slip and slide when it hits a patch of black ice so can a young startup.

It’s not if (but when) the sliding occurs the true leader will emerge.  Let me just tell you what happens in a typical startup.

A. People sit around and think about cool new ideas

B. Those people start prototyping and building a product

C. Once they realize they want to jump into this more intently, they find a few more people and form a team

D. At some point the group formally incorporates and makes the company official

E.  The people associated are listed as founders and as such, receive incentive to stick around via stock

F.  (Most founders) think they are the next Facebook and think their product will magically spread virally to millions of people

G. Then it doesn’t

H.  Then shit hits the fan and everyone finds out it’s actually tough to grow a business

I.  Only then will you finally find out what people are made of.

J.  Only then, when it’s actually work and things don’t come as easy, the pretenders will leave

K.  And only at this time the leader will emerge and help the company find it’s true path

Look, life is tough.  Things don’t always work out as planned.  But does that mean you just up and quit, to simply move on to the next thing that you think might magically make your dreams come true?

I don’t believe so.  I believe it takes Blood, Sweat, and Tears for anything materially positive and truly great to be created.  This has always been true but it’s even more so today.  Why?  Because it’s too damn easy to build a product and start a company today.   There has to be a distinction between the minor leagues and the major leagues; jumping straight to the majors just doesn’t happen often enough to be a believable story for your life.

What’s the minor leagues?  Hacking, dinking around and building crazy products.

What’s the major leagues?  Building a business and an organization around the product which adds value to our world.

If you ever wonder who’s the leader in a group, just light a bomb (figuratively) and throw it directly into the center of the team. Watch someone run and they are the weak link.  They are not the leader.  Whoever stays has leadership qualities within them.  And whoever stands up, starts taking hold of the situation and determines the path forward – well they are the true leader.

It’s funny, when everything is great and everyone’s slapping backs and high-fiving there’s almost no need for leaders.  Everything seems to move forward with little direction or effort.  But just wait till something happens.  Leaders find their calling and establish their potential when things start going sideways.

I think it’s amazing that leaders emerge during crisis.  I also think it’s fitting and believe it’s how the world should work.

But please do yourselves and your co-founders a favor next time you want to start a company.  Look each other in the eye and ask yourselves what kind of player you are?  Minor or major?  Weak link or leader type?  It will save quite a bit of time and grief on the others.

@jnickhughes

What If You Could Pay Your Transit Pass With A Simple Text Message?

Have you ever been waiting for the bus only to realize you have no money left on your Orca card, or whatever they call the transit pass in your city?   Maybe you realize you are at zero balance as you are leaving the house and have to grab a few dollars in change just so you can pay for your bus into work?

Yeah, it’s not fun!  And that is why we are changing it.

Now you can refill your transit pass in Seconds.

The Main Problems with Mobile Payments, and Why I Started Seconds

I recently connected with someone at X.com and have been able to get some articles published on my view of mobile payments and the opportunities that lie ahead.  If you are not aware, X.com is part of the Xconomy/PayPal commerce network.  Below is a section from my first article:

Curiosity is actually what drove me to start a company. It all began by my observing how consumers interact with merchants; their tendency to repeat interactions particularly caught my attention. Isn’t it funny how we go to the same coffee shops, restaurants, retail stores, gas stations, websites, and other consumer activities each day? In fact, we do this so much that the person at the counter who “swipes” your card actually recognizes you and may even know your name.

Although loyalty started my entrepreneurial journey, it didn’t end there. I started to think a bit deeper about what people typically do each time they go to the coffee shops, restaurants, retail stores, or gas stations—yep, make a payment! Amazingly, payments are the one data point that can trace a consumer’s path through our economy and organize commercial actions, habits, relationships, and trends. Imagine being able to quickly aggregate and see all those data points in your own life—things like where you spend your money, how much, when, buying what, and how often. Now imagine seeing that on a merchantwide level. How about a worldwide level?

This thinking drove me not only to start a payments company, but also to figure out how to create the fastest way to transact and interact with merchants using a mobile device. Transactions and interactions driven through a simple text message take only a few seconds. I believe that if you speed up a traditionally laborious process, make it available to the widest range of people possible, and emancipate the data to be used in adding value to the system, great things will happen.

The article goes on to review the last 20 or 30 years of innovation in payments and then talks about a few of the current challenges in mobile payments, namely the fact that a full 75% of the world is being forgotten by most of the new payment platforms.  Go ahead, read the entire article.

Mobile Payments Startup Seconds Is Looking To Add An Engineer. Who’s It Gonna Be?

After successfully launching a our beta product and receiving interest from around the world, we are seeking a new technical lead who can help scale Seconds to a large mobile payments business.  Below is our vision and the basic requirements we are looking for in the person who will eventually join our team.  For more information about the business, see video’s below, go to www.getseconds.com or respond to me.

What is Seconds?

There is vast inefficiency in how consumers, merchants and brands exchange money for products, services and content. Issues stem from legacy payment methods (checks, cash, wire transfers) and from the fractured landscape of personal identity (SSNs, driver’s licenses, login credentials). Seconds’ communication and commerce platform solves these problems by converting the mobile device into both a fast and simple method of payment and a secure way to guarantee consumer identity.

We believe there is an unprecedented opportunity to bring mobile payments technology to the 6 billion mobile devices around the world.  We do this in three distinct ways:

PLATFORM AND DEVICE AGNOSTIC. Leveraging SMS technology for payments allows Seconds to be platform agnostic, meaning any mobile device holder can transact with any merchant or brand connected to the platform. This instantly opens up a market of over 240 million mobile consumers in the U.S. and almost 6 billion more individuals worldwide–giving Seconds the potential to be the most democratic mobile payment platform on the planet. Most other competitors opt for a native app experience, which immediately limits their reach. We believe that mobile payments should be open to all–not just to owners of smart phones.

PROXIMITY AGNOSTIC. Seconds dissociates proximity from transaction. Unlike NFC or Square, consumers can pay for products or services from anywhere with Seconds. This frees up the mobile device to become the new payment terminal, a terminal that resides in the consumer’s hand rather than sitting on the merchant’s counter. As a result, entirely new categories of transaction–from rent payment to concert ticket purchases–are available anywhere, anytime for anyone.

CONNECTION AND COMMUNICATION. Seconds sits at the convergence of communication and transaction. Our platform treats all parties–be they merchants, brands or consumers–as humans. Not only does Seconds offer quick and easy payments, but it also provides the opportunity for brands to have a conversation and relationship with their customers via the SMS channel. This high-tech, high-touch connection separates Seconds from all the other mobile commerce platforms on the market.

How big is this opportunity?

Previous Experience:

  • Has spent time in a startup environment
  • Has managed/led a team of engineers
  • Front and backend coding experience
  • Has experience with scaling technical infrastructure

Expertise/Familiarity:

  • Cloud based infrastructures such as Heroku or AWS
  • Ruby on Rails
  • MongoDB
  • Node.js and coffeeScript
  • Cloud communication platforms such as Twilio
  • Natural language processing
  • Electronic payments, web processors and web merchant accounts

Personal situation:

  • Can go 3-6 months without/low pay
  • Ready to take on a very big challenge
  • Looking for a full time company, not a side project
  • Is entrepreneurial in nature

Compensation

  • Equity stake
  • Competitive salary
If you want to change the world, please reach out to us.

SURF Incubator Already Barrelling With Numerous Startups and Entrepreneurs

As you might have heard, Seconds is one of the first tenants to stake claim on high value territory in Seattle’s newest tech hub SURF Incubator.  They officially opened their doors April 30th but already we are seeing some solid action emerging from within.   We’ve only been in there a few weeks, but here’s some highlights from a few early  SURF tenants I was able to get some time with in between  the craziness of startup life.

Knotis, which helps you discover great deals from businesses you’ll love, is one of the initial launch tenants.  CEO McLean Reiter says he chose SURF because “their mission is to help startups launch as quickly as possible so they can get out on their own, which is pretty much every statups’ goal.”

For background, knotis is reviving the concept of the digital coupon by taking the marketing strategy originated by Asa Candler with Coca-Cola and infusing it with 21st century tools. They are calling this new take on coupons an Online Social Incentive and merchants can now easily create as many as they wish at the low monthly cost (as opposed to the Groupon style of massive revenue share which can be detrimental to businesses). Merchants can share these self-generated OSI’s in online banner ads or through their social media channels like Facebook and twitter.

Knotis is doing business differently and intelligently by charging its merchants a low, flat-rate of $14 per month, and if the merchant doesn’t make a sale during the month, they are not even charged! “That’s just company culture,” says 28 year old founder, McLean Reiter. “We want to help local businesses thrive!”

Asked about why he favors SURF, McLean adds “My favorite thing so far is that everyone is there for the same reason – to succeed – and other entrepreneurs and developers, although busy, are still willing to help other teams achieve success.”

Another early startup is Shopobot, a better search engine for shopping. For example, stores are constantly changing their prices (even day to day), and they make it clear when it’s the right time to buy – which can save people a lot of money. At their heart they’re an analytics company, and  using their data and UI to give people an edge when shopping online.

According to one of the founders Dave Matthews, they went through more of an accelerator in San Francisco before coming back up to Seattle.  “When we started Shopobot we went through an incubator in San Francisco called AngelPad, which was super helpful for doing the demoday / launch / fundraising push. It was really hands-on with all the companies in the program moving on the same schedule towards launch. Now that we’re past that phase, SURF is a great spot for us to focus on our product and growth – while getting the benefits that come from a shared space.”

He notes they wanted to work in a shared space for the unexpected conversations, and meeting other people working on startups. “SURF has the right balance for us of lots of meetups and events and other teams working here, but we still get our private area to focus as a team.”

Lastly is Pandamonium Games, who just announced a Kickstarter project called The End Saga: Revival.   In short, it’s a 90’s style mobile role-playing game, bottling the best of that era and sticking it into a beautiful mobile gaming experience. Using the art of nexxing to build new items, while you amass a team of fighters, magicians or rogues to take out the evil Ismata.    (You should go check it out on Kickstarter!)

Jimmy Gambier from Pandamonium Games says “We chose SURF because we’re not big enough to have a dedicated office space and yet meeting in coffee shops was getting old. I’d also visited places in the Valley like Dogpatch Labs were you can feel the sense of community in the air. We wanted a place where we could bond with like minded people and companies.”

Digging a little deeper on why they chose the Kickstarter/crowd-funding route , Gambier said they went with Kickstarter because they wanted to go directly to the community versus spending their precious time pitching to investors. “We would rather spend the next 6 months heads down on our product instead of raising money.”  I can attest to that!

Gambier believes Kickstarter is the next evolution in investment, as you can receive instant market validation which helps you determine if you are heading in the right direction.  Interestingly, he sees a side benefit from crowd funding platforms.  “Building a fanbase is also crucial for the kind of game we’re working on. We’re catering to a hardcore gamer audience and we thought building that user base early would be wise.”

Through his words it’s obvious Jimmy couldn’t resist the entrepreneurial pull and is the exact person SURF and other incubators need to help cultivate a great community of founders.  “I had been involved in startups in the past and had an unshakeable desire to start a gaming company. It almost seems like there wasn’t anything else worth doing. The art of building a fun game has fascinated me for years and continues to as I learn more about the craft.”

If you are like me, you’re probably not familiar with Pandamonium Games, a scrappy Seattle based games startup who loves RPGs. They’ve made a couple of social games before, but this is their most ambitious game to date. The team has worked at places such as Nintendo, Wizards of the Coast, Amazon and a large MMO company.

Here’s Jimmy’s take on their quick history:

“For the past two years, we’ve been a small but committed team working in the social games space. When Glen Matsushita and I met at Tully’s in Bellevue, Washington, in 2009 to brainstorm our first title, we had never built a game before or worked together as a team. By the end of the first month, we had settled on using the Facebook platform to create Champions of Justice, a superheroes game. We brought on a couple of guys who had worked at Wizards of the Coast—a publisher of fantasy and science-fiction based role-playing games, board games, and collectible card games—to help with the art and writing, and went to work.

“The company was founded on the principle that there is a place for hardcore games in the next evolution of gaming.We made a couple of games along the way—neither a major hit—and are now working on our third title. Whether or not this will be our breakthrough in what has become a highly competitive market, we have the same passion and dedication that got us into the business in the first place. In fact, as we’ve gotten more experience, we’re getting better with each iteration and this title has been the most fun to work on since we’ve carved out more definitive roles and skill sets among the three founders.”

It’s early days for SURF Incubator and I look forward to meeting (and possibly writing about) many more startup founders.  If you are interested in SURF office space, feel free to visit their website and send them a note.

The 2 Slides in Seconds Pitch Deck That Will Knock Your Socks Off

Over 4 billion people around the world don’t hold a smartphone or have the ability to download a native payment app, but that shouldn’t exclude them from the mobile payment experience.  All signs are pointing towards payments following the changes mobile technology is bringing to the rest of the world, and if history has anything to say about it a new platform will have to be built from the ground up.  That is why  we are building Seconds.

Seconds is mobile payments using the most intuitive experience we have on our mobile devices – text messaging.

Using the Seconds platform, brands have the ability to identify specific keywords that when sent to their Seconds number automatically trigger transactions for the accurate amount.  We see a whole new payments market opening up where no human being has to be on the other side receiving the payment.  We call these experience Single Party Transactions and they are estimated to grow to almost $10 billion by 2016.

How cool is Seconds?  Here are 2 slides that will knock your socks off.

view demo video

Mobile transactions will drastically change our society and the market for paying by mobile device is said to be well over $1 trillion by 2015.  Most significant will be the transformation in how we use our mobile devices in everyday commerce.

This Slide Shows Exactly Why It’s An Incredible Time To Start A Mobile Company

This is truly an amazing time.  This one slide from a recent Business Insider presentation is the main reason why I started Seconds.  We are seeing a revolution around mobile devices and every industry will experience immense changes, whether they like it or not.  Payments are no exception and it’s going to be a wild ride baby!

Your Life Happens In Seconds (Video)

We live our life as a collection of seconds.  Why should it take any longer to make a purchase or connect with brands we care about?

At Seconds, we built a system to drive secure payments through text messages, allowing someone to quickly make a instant and automatic transaction by simply texting a keyword to a merchant.  Amazingly, it only take a second to send a text message.

Think about it, a merchant can now ping your mobile phone with a message informing you to complete the transaction by simply responding with a specific prompt. How would they know to do that? Your phone number can now become your payment credential, and since they can instantly reach you via short message from pretty much anywhere in the world, payments have no limitations.

Imagine how things will change when we all can interact and transact with any brand in the world in Seconds?

Holy Crap! One Year Ago Today My Life Was Completely Different

One year ago today – May 1st 2011 – I officially walked away from my previous career and made the leap into entrepreneurship.  These last 365 days have been some of the most exciting, rewarding and scary times of my life.  Back then, I was sitting at a desk in a fitness facility at the Boeing Company, working as a physiologist.  Today, I sit here as the CEO of a tech company making waves in the mobile payments space, talking to investors and multi-billion dollar companies.  Oh, how things can change in a year…

Some experiences of the past year:

  • Quit my full-time job and gave up a steady paycheck
  • Had no idea how I was going to pay my bills…
  • Watched the gig I thought I was transitioning to disappear
  • Launched this blog and started reaching people around the world
  • Started contributing the BusinessInsider.com
  • Was basically a free agent over the summer, just focusing on writing on here
  • Had no idea how I was going to pay my bills…
  • Was one-day away from taking a COO role at a startup in New York, when…
  • My soon to be co-founder reached out to me through a random email in August
  • I sat down and over coffee determined we should start a company
  • We formed Seconds in early September
  • We released our beta product late fall, early winter
  • At first, we focused on text messaging between customers and local merchants
  • At the beginning of January we started gaining attention and media
  • Ran out of money
  • Had no idea how I was going to pay my bills…
  • Through February and March we kept expanding our vision and writing about it
  • We made the change to focus on mobile payments driven through text messages
  • We now field inquiries and interest from around the world and look to expand Seconds
  • I now write guest posts on the most popular tech blogs around
  • and people now look at me as a though leader and actually listen to what I have to say

So much more happened over the course of the last year but I will stop there.  I want to make something very clear: your life is what you make of it.  I have completely transformed my life in the last 365 days and I sit here today in awe of what I have been able to do.  We are (close) to being finalists in national recognition for being one of the top innovative companies of 2012.  I could’t have dreamed of this just one short year ago.  This transition has not been easy – actually the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life – but it’s not impossible.

You can do anything you set your mind to, never forget that.

Here’s A Lesson On Why You Should Listen To Your Early Customers

Here’s a great write up on how Seconds is transforming an office catering business.  Molly’s Salads is one of our early customers, and in fact our most important to date.   Truth be told, they were actually the ones who came to us with the idea for text payments.   Their CEO simply said “can’t we have a system where people just text the word “sandwich” to our number and it automatically charges them?”  We looked at each other without blinking and said “um sure, we can do that!”

From the article:

How does Seconds work from your end, as the merchant?
From our end, it’s super simple. The technology just reads what [customers] text. So if they text SALAD, it just reads SALAD and automatically bills their card for whatever the price of a salad is. That is built right in. The sales go directly through us. We plug in our gateway, and it goes directly into our bank account. The only work we have to do is when somebody has an issue. When they say, “My card’s not working,” or “There’s none of this left in the fridge,” that comes straight to my email. I can respond through my email, and it goes straight to their phone. Everything is automatically billed, and then I can monitor how sales are going by going to my dashboard.

read the entire article….

As we walked out of the initial meeting I looked at my CTO and said “dude, he’s dreaming.”  He just chuckled.  Amazingly, we ended up building it within a month or so and the rest is history.  Multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporations are reaching out from all over the world are now expressing interest in what we are doing.  It’s awesome and we owe it to Molly’s Salads for leading us towards this cool concept.

Below is the simple way people are paying for Molly’s food using Seconds.

A Great Article On Mobile Payments, Quoting Yours Truly In The Process

Connected smartphones and other devices can take the place of any number of other items, including calculators, watches, maps and GPS devices. It’s only a matter of time before they also become mobile wallets, too, and in fact, that’s already starting thanks to companies like Square, PayPal and Google. But it isn’t only big companies rushing to fill that need; the space is a point of focus for plenty of smaller players, too, many of which are trying to do something a little different than what’s already out there…. read more for my quote.

Should Paying $950 With A Text Be This Easy? (video)

Seconds is the simplest way to pay using a mobile device.

Take paying your rent for instance.  It sucks to have to write a check, get a money order or remember to go online and make a payment.  Even if you use an automatic online rent payment system you might not remember what day it will be taken out of your account, which can be frustrating.

So should paying with a text message be this easy?  In a word – yes.  Life shouldn’t require you to download a specific app or stop by the cash machine to get cash.  Seconds is the simple way for you to make a mobile payment for everyday things.

Watch the video below to get an idea of how fast Seconds payments can be.

1. Type “Pay Rent”

2. Confirm the amount

3. Receive a text stating the completion of your payment.

Imagine what else you can pay for with Seconds.  Imagine your life…. in Seconds.

 

Slideshow: Imagine Your Life… In Seconds.

Seconds is the simple way to pay with your mobile device.

As I have stated before, virtual transactions – payments made without having to swipe, show or display anything – will transform the payments landscape like no one has ever seen before.  Since people carry their mobile devices with them everywhere, it makes the most sense to streamline transactions through the computer in their hands.  With cloud computing and offsite secure services holding payment credentials for every consumer, people now have an ability to make simple, quick and easy mobile payments ANYWHERE.

I have also said this before but it bears repeating: what if SMS messaging was not only for communications?  What if, as a very efficient information transport  mechanism organically built into billions of mobile devices around the world, it was used for payments and transactions?  Seconds drives secure payments through text messages, allowing someone to quickly make a instant and automatic transaction by simply texting a keyword to a merchant.   Conversely, a merchant can ping your mobile phone with a message to complete the transaction by simply responding with a specific prompt.

Below is a brief slideshow to imagine your life… in Seconds.

The Evolution Of Digital Payments Says Anything Made Of Matter Is Toast

The payments landscape is changing almost daily and the overall industry is truly one of the most exciting business studies around.    Payments?  Exciting you say?  Yes, well if you don’t’ think $1 trillion up for grabs in the next 5 years is something to get excited about I would check your pulse.

As an natural observer I tend to look under the hood whenever something unusual is going on, since whenever peculiarity is present change happens.   Curiosity is actually what drove me to start Seconds, my mobile payments company.  It all started with observing how consumers interacted with merchants, repeat interactions in particular.  Isn’t it funny how we go to the same coffee shops, restaurants, retail stores, gas stations, and other everyday activities each day.  In fact, we do this so much the person at the counter who “swipes” your card actually recognizes you and may even know your name.

Although loyalty started my entrepreneurial journey, it did not end there.  I started to think a bit deeper about what usually happens each time you go to the coffee shops, restaurants, retail stores, or gas stations?  You got it – payment!  There it is, the one data point which can trace commercial actions, habits, relationships and trends.  Imagine being able to aggregate and see all those data points in your own life.  Things like where you spend your money, how much, when, buying what and how often.  Now imagine it on a merchant wide level.  How about a worldwide level?  I think you get the gist of where we are going.

This thinking brought me to Seconds, which is the fastest way to transact and interact with merchants.  I believe if you speed up a traditionally laborious process, make it available to the widest range of people possible and emancipate the data to be used in adding value to the system, great things will happen.

During this study it came to my attention how much the payment experience has evolved, and how much more it will change.   Below is a quick discussion on where we have come from and where we are going with digital payments.  You will notice this discussion is all about digital payments, since cash and coin have always been available and will still be around for quite some time.   The current focus is on the digital payment experience and the changes we should expect.

Payments 1.0

When plastic cards came into the market the obvious question became “how do we use these things?”  Naturally, swipe terminals popped up in retail locations everywhere, in addition to such places as gas stations and movie theatres.  Major players like Verifone, WorldPay and others transact billions of dollars each day through proprietary devices which translates information from your plastic card into electronic data and ultimately ending in a transaction.

Important to note is the placement and positioning of the terminal, which can be found on the specific merchant’s counter or apparatus.  Why is this important?  Without the terminal, I cannot pay.  No terminal, no card, no soup for you!  This gave credit card companies and the electronic payments companies a leg up in the economic chain.  But innovation has no master and things quickly change.

Payments 1.5

We are currently seeing new methods of swipe transactions involving the mobile device hit the mass market.  These swipe solutions enable a mobile phone or tablet to become, in essence, the terminal itself.  The terminal has jumped off the merchant’s counter and into their hands with products like Square or PayPal empowering anyone to become a merchant.  All anyone needs is a mobile device, the app, and the swipe dongle attached to the device.  They are now ready to take a card payment.

As amazing as these solutions may be I argue they don’t truly change the payments space, they only augment it.  They allow us to use our credit cards at more places – which depending on who you are that could be good or bad – yet it’s still a credit card.  Some people call this mobile payments but it’s really just a mobile terminal. The requirements of products and devices can be cumbersome and troublesome if lost.  Forward progress?  For sure!  But not truly an innovative new movement which will have landscape shifting effects.

Payments 2.0

True innovation upsets the masses and ultimately establishes a new norm, with new rules and new players.  Virtual transactions – payments made without having to swipe, show or display anything – will transform the payments landscape like no one has ever seen before.  Since people carry their mobile devices with them everywhere, it makes the most sense to streamline transactions through the computer in their hands.  True authentic mobile payments do not require any hardware outside of the mobile device.  With cloud computing and offsite secure services holding payment credentials for every consumer, people now have an ability to make simple, quick and easy mobile payments ANYWHERE.  As the consumer, the terminal is now in your hands.

Platform agnostic solutions will enable any mobile device holder to transact and make a purchase with any merchant or brand connected to the platform.  It shouldn’t require me to have an iPhone, Android or any other specific device.  I don’t’ think “sorry, we only accept iPhones” should replace “sorry, we don’t accept American Express.”  Everyone is created equal and every dollar bill is $1.00, no matter who is holding it.  This principle  should remain the same as we evolve into a purely digital society and work through determining the appropriate payment methods.

And as payments become virtual, platforms such as Dwolla start to make a lot more sense.  If you were a merchant looking to accept mobile payments, which would fee you rather pay – a flat 25 cents or between 2-3% of a transaction?  It’s no contest, Dwolla’s fee structure could put credit card companies directly out of business, unless they bring down their fees to a competitive level.

I have said this before but it bears repeating: what if SMS messaging was not only for communications?  What if, as a very efficient information transport  mechanism organically built into billions of mobile devices around the world, it was used for payments and transactions?  Seconds drives secure payments through text messages, allowing someone to quickly make a instant and automatic transaction by simply texting a keyword to a merchant.   Conversely, a merchant can ping your mobile phone with a message to complete the transaction by simply responding with a specific prompt.  How did they know to do that?  Your phone number has now become your payment credential, and interestingly enough they can instantly reach you via short message from pretty much anywhere in the world.  Imagine how things will change when we all can interact and transact with any brand in the world in Seconds?

I am not sure how much quicker we can make things but a second is pretty damn quick.

@jnickhughes

Where Is Your Favorite Payments Company In The Mobile Payments Landscape?

The mobile payments market is white-hot right now.  PayPal just announced their latest creation, a Square knockoff (at first glance), LevelUp is seeing more than $1,000,000 worth of transactions per month and Square is now measuring their transactions in billions of dollars on a yearly basis.

The chart below is an illustration of the current mobile payments landscape.  The horizontal axis is the spectrum of where the product can be used in relation to proximity to the merchant.  Do you have to be in the store to complete the transaction?   Do you need to actually be at the register and touch or scan your mobile device to complete the transition?  If you do, I would argue it is not much of a step forward in payments technology.

The vertical axis is the spectrum of user accessibility, or the ability for an average mobile user to actually use the mobile payment platform.  As you can see, most mobile payment platforms are app based and focus on Apple or Android, the two main operating systems.  This excludes many millions of mobile consumers.  Also, the requirements for NFC enabled devices is even more far reaching and pretty much isolates payments to very few merchants and consumers.

Where’s Seconds?  It’s all the way to the upper right.  The most accessible to merchants/consumers and is the most dynamic in relative proximity to a merchant.  Using Seconds, I can send a text and transact from anywhere in the city, state or country.  Shouldn’t mobile payments actually be mobile?

Don’t see your favorite?  Just let me know and I’ll place it on there.

@jnickhughes