iKaaz innovates to make every Mobile a Wallet
After a two year stint with IBM in the UK and eight years with Microsoft in the US, Soma Sundaram ventured out to start his own enterprise, along with two friends, in the US. The start-up sold cost-efficient, open source desktop software and notched up some marquee customers like Amazon, Walmart and Verizon.Yet, five years later, Soma decided to exit, because he figured he couldn’t scale it up.
It was during his next stint with Helio, a mobile network operator, that a germ of an idea crept into his head. “I was instrumental in launching MySpace, a social networking service on mobile phones and that’s when it occurred to me that a lot more can be done with the mobile phones to make life easier for people,” said Soma. Soon after, he moved back to India as vice president of Engineering with Obopay, a global mobile payments company. Realizing that mobile payments is the future of payments, Nokia invested $70 million in Obopay, As a result of which Soma became a part of the Nokia Money team and was quite excited about the immense possibilities in developing mobile payment technologies.
When Nokia shifted its priorities from mobile payments to selling mobile phones in emerging markets, though, Soma quit to start his own company in the mobile payments solutions space in January 2012, and christened it iKaaz Software. “Why do people need to carry cash on their person in order to transact? Why should they deal with security issues around credit and debit cards? Why not use technology to create a simple, secure and fast payment solution to enable cashless transactions on mobile phones?” were some of the questions running through his head. And that’s precisely what he set about doing over the next 12 months.
Soma and his team worked on building a mobile payments platform from scratch over the next 10 months that could enable mobile to mobile payments, card transactions as well as NFC (Near Field Communication) transactions. Simultaneously, the team also designed, developed, manufactured and launched a new, low cost Tap & Pay NFC Reader last month, that merchants and retailers can use to enable cashless transactions.
The NFC reader can be plugged into any mobile phone to convert it into a mobile PoS (point of sale) device and is priced at Rs.1,000, which merchants can easily afford, compared to the more expensive PoS readers that cost Rs.12,000 to Rs.15,000. Since NFC-enabled mobile phones are expensive, upwards of Rs.11,000, iKaaz also offers consumers NFC stickers priced at less than Rs.75 that can be stuck onto any mobile phone, making it NFC-enabled. iKaaz NFC stickers can be linked to the user’s mobile wallet and can reside either inside or stuck on the back of the mobile phone.
“To make mobile payments, customers have to bring their mobile phones with the attached NFC sticker close to the merchant’s NFC card reader or tap it to the reader for the transaction to complete. If the amount of the transaction is up to Rs.100, then customers do not have to enter a PIN ID.
However, for transactions above Rs.100, the customer has to enter one to ensure a secure, multi-factor authenticated transaction” said Soma Sundaram, CEO, iKaaz.
Since its launch barely three months ago, the iKaaz platform is currently processing over 8,00,000 transactions per month. “There are several factors that have led to this amazing response. I believe we have managed to create the right product at the right price point, using the latest technologies.” said Soma.
The iKaaz NFC reader can be used for retail payments, transportation, entertainment and numerous other consumer touch points to enable cashless payments. While 4,000 merchants in Tamil Nadu are currently using the iKaaz platform for cashless transactions, the company is busy partnering with banks and telcos to enable mobile payments for their customers accross the country. “We get paid for every transaction that the merchant makes on our platform. From here on, our growth depends entirely on how we can scale up.” he said.