Mobile

Growth Players: CellPoint Mobile’s CEO Kristian Gjerding

Biometrics has gained a lot of traction at airports recently for the technology’s ability to simplify and speed passenger screening through security checkpoints. This increasing rate of adoption begs the question: How close are we to implementing this futuristic technology for mobile payments, mobile commerce and passenger transactions when they travel?

CellPoint Mobile, an industry leader helping airlines and travel companies thrive in the mobile environment with commerce solutions specifically for mobile devices, anticipates that mobile payments will soon integrate biometric methods into the travelers’ purchasing journey. It’s no surprise that 99% of mobile devices in the US will be biometrics-enabled 2021, and the travel industry is already making waves with this technology. In some instances, blockchain processes are used to verify passenger identities or verify and authenticate payments.

CellPoint Mobile’s CEO Kristian Gjerding explains his “nirvana” vision for simplifying a traveler’s experience, his journey from mobile content to biomentric-enabled identification, and the importance of managing a startup’s pace of growth. 

SandHill.com:  When you talk about a single passenger ID and biometric technologies for travel and airports, what do you mean?

Kristian Gjerding:  Identifying and validating the “single traveler ID” or “single sign on” is the most basic form of simplifying a user’s journey from the buy side to the payment side of a travel transaction. Today, there are millions of mechanisms in use to get this done – usually at each touchpoint of the process – from buying the ticket, paying for it, being screened at the airport, boarding the plane, etc. It is a very frustrating, complex, dysfunctional and expensive process for both buyer and seller.

Blockchain would store a unique user ID in a chain. This would simplify a big part of the transaction process because the airline would not have to confirm my ID. The tokenized certificate says I am who I am.

When the traveler reached a physical contact point, such as a security checkpoint at the airport, biometric data can be used to validate the ID of the traveler. The person touches a finger to the fingerprint reader and the device confirms the ID. Modern airports in Europe today already use machines to scan passports and faces to speed identification validation with biometrics.

Our “nirvana” vision is that people will no longer need to carry a driver’s license or passport to travel. The immigration official or airline gate agent can scan your eye (for instance) and verify your name and identity, authenticate your boarding pass, and even determine if you are a high-value customer or not.

SandHill.com: Did you set out to provide biometric processes to travelers?

Kristian: We recognized the potential for biometrics to simplify travel a long time ago but we had many iterations on the path to get here.  Our story is somewhat unique. We have been through many iterations but our impact has been massive.

I started working with a partner on mobile commerce products in 2001 and we struck content deals with big travels brands such as United to supply mobile content.  We then sold the company in 2005 and I spent a year planning my next move.

I realized mobile commerce was becoming a reality and wanted to build a company that could service merchants in high volume. From 2007-10 we sold one of the earliest booking engines for travel clients. We secured a marquee client and so we had a vision and mandate to provide certain capabilities.

But it was too early. We would visit an airline client and watch their eyes glaze over as we gave our pitch. It wasn’t their fault, it was ours: We were too early and there wasn’t’ the widespread adoption of digital wallets or payment methods as there are today. However, the launch of Apple Pay changed all that. When mobile payments became a reality, our business took off globally.

When blockchain began to surface in 2014-15, we realized its potential immediately and began working on a range of payment and commerce technologies built around the blockchain principle. Today, we have 70 people working on building a next-generation blockchain solution.  Our first blockchain capabilities are scheduled for release next year.

SandHill.com: In an emerging market like yours, how do you sell the market versus selling CellPoint specifically?

Kristian: There won’t be just one company winning in this space. You need to have huge transaction volumes to succeed in this business and we will have many competitors.  We are already out there battling the biggest players.

Our CellPoint Mobile brand has been in the market for six years now, but it’s really been during the past two years that we have commercialized our products for the mass market. Blockchain will get us to the next level – it isn’t the Holy Grail but it will help us accomplish our strategic vision. 

We are now growing 100 percent, year-over-year, selling our brand to incumbents and new players – but we’re still at the beginning of a rapidly growing market. We haven’t seen much of the world get into it yet, but we will – and soon. Digital payments are growing 100 percent every four years; the travel market is growing at 100 percent every 10 years. It is a huge market.

SandHill.com: What is the biggest challenge CellPoint has faced to date?

I have to say there are many ways of succeeding as an entrepreneur but there are no rulebooks. As someone who’s been there, I can only tell my story: I came into an idea, I spent my own money on building the idea, I found a client needing exactly that to help fund the development, and then we built it for the client and also to meet the specs of our strategic vision.

Two stages are always challenging for a startup. The first is at the beginning. You are living at “starvation” level. You are trying to do a million things and never have enough “food.” Then suddenly, you hit the growth phase – and you get indigestion! You thought you were just fishing but you caught the whale! 

At both points, management’s number one job is to find the right pace for the company: You need talent. You need time. You need to manage resources properly. You need to fix all the supply side issues so that you can deliver the product your customers want. The reality is that 90 percent of startups die at one of these stages. But if you can survive, you win.

SandHill.com: How have you managed to manage growth? 

Kristian: Our key clients have grown their transaction volume very significantly – more than 170 percent in the past two years. This is the number we focus on and work hard to deliver.

We know there’s an inflection point in the future where 90 percent of human-brand interaction is digitized and done through a portable or wearable device. We don’t see any reason that won’t happen but when it will happen, no one knows. We have been around long enough to have seen aggressive electronic payment market forecasts come and go. As much as we hoped they were right, they weren’t. So when we talk to clients, we can speak to the current state of play from what we watch our other clients experiencing and we can point to what might be next, according to the experts.

We do know that if airlines and other travel companies are not dealing directly with passengers on a digital level, they are going to lose out in the next phase of this industry. Most of our prospective clients know that if they don’t get this in place, they won’t be around in the future. 

 

Clare Christopher is editor of SandHill.com

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