Архив метки: Facebook Credits

Mobile Payment Startup BOKU Raises A $35M Round. NEA, Telefonica Among The Investors


Another sign of the significant investment and attention going into the mobile payments market and the competition that is heating up among the bigger players: BOKU is today announcing a significant new round of funding totaling $35 million, to be used to continue building out its payments business.

Of that amount, TechCrunch understands that $30 million will be coming from VCs and angels led by new investor NEA, with participation also from existing investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Dag Ventures, Index Ventures and Khosla Ventures. And $5 million will be coming from a new strategic investor, the carrier Telefonica.

This brings the total amount invested in the company to $75 million. Previous rounds saw BOKU raise $13 million in June 2009 and $25 million in December 2009.

The new funding will be used to help build out BOKU’s new products beyond the virtual goods business that has been its bread and butter up to now. That includes services along the lines of a new NFC payments system BOKU announced last month with MasterCard, which will see the company move into enabling purchases of physical goods.

Before today, BOKU already had an extensive business in the mobile payments space. It currently works in 66 countries and with 40 currencies, and has deals with more than 250 carriers covering some 3.2 billion consumers. While it does not disclose exact revenue figures, BOKU says it processes “hundreds of millions of dollars in mobile payments.”

Building up that scale, and its customer base, are significant mandates for BOKU as the mobile payments market continues to grow — and competitors continue to crop up. PayPal just this week announced a new mobile wallet service; Google is making further inroads into how its Wallet works across its spectrum of services, and companies like Square continue to add new ways to use its little dongle to pay for this (the latest: taxis). And companies like Bango, enabling payments for existing BOKU customers like Facebook, perhaps hit closer to home.

Meanwhile, the explosion in smartphone use has driven a lot of consumers to become more amenable to the idea of using their devices to pay for things, not just mobile content but goods in the world beyond the device.

As for the strategic investor, it makes sense that of all the companies that would make a strategic investment in a company like BOKU, it is Telefonica.

The two have been working together since August 2011, when BOKU signed a deal to provide backend mobile payments services for Telefonica’s in-house API program, BlueVia, to create apps for Telefonica’s 231-million subscriber base across Europe and Latin America (nearly 300 million counting fixed-line customers). That deal gave developers the ability to integrate carrier billing directly into their apps.

That relationship will now extend to BOKU becoming the preferred payment provider a mobile wallet service that Telefonica is currently preparing to roll out across the whole of its footprint. That will include access to BOKU’s merchant network and the ability to make both online and offline payments, and enhancements to Telefonica’s carrier billing service.

Telefonica says that the first of its mobile wallet services will be coming out in the first half of this year.

BOKU’s co-founder and president, Ron Hirson, tells me that the Telefonica investment will not mean exclusivity for the carrier: “It’s the first investment from a carrier, yes, but because we are a platform for billing, there is no exclusivity in what we do,” he said. “We welcome as many folks into the fold as possible.”

Indeed, the company continues to work with Facebook — it processes payments for Facebook Credits via mobile devices — and other carriers like Vodafone for its carrier billing service.

Telefonica has made a number of strategic investments over the years, including, most recently, participation in an $85 milion round of funding for cloud computing company Joyent, and it has lately also established a European incubator program called Wayra.

Mobile Payment Startup BOKU Raises A $35M Round. NEA, Telefonica Among The Investors

Facebook Mobile Operator Billing Opens App Economy To The Credit Card-less

Facebook Mobile Operator Billing

The mobile web, not the smartphone or traditional web, is Facebook’s most popular interface. Now those hundreds of millions of users, including prepaid mobile customers in emerging markets who lack credit cards, will be able to make in-app purchases and earn Facebook money thanks to its announcement of mobile operator billing for Credits virtual currency purchases.

This is a big step towards Facebook’s monetization of mobile despite smartphone platform domination by Apple and Google. For people without credit cards where Facebook Credits gift cards aren’t available, operator billing won’t just be a convenience, it could become the main way for them to participate in the Facebook mobile app economy.

In a talk with TechCrunch writer Ingrid Lunden this morning, CTO Bret Taylor said that the Facebook mobile web has twice as many users as Facebook for iOS or Android. Those smartphone platforms had roughly 57 million daily active users and 85-100 million monthly active users when Facebook stopped publicly reporting their counts at the end of 2011, indicating Facebook for mobile web could have well over 110 million DAU and 170 million MAU.

Even if only a small percentage of those buy Facebook’s Credits virtual currency through operator billing, operator billing could turn into an important revenue stream for Facebook. Still, Facebook may have to pay a large chunk of its 30% tax on purchases to the operators, and the credit card-less might not have tons of disposable income.

In the US, UK, and other developed markets, teens and those without credit cards buy prepaid Facebook Credits gift cards at retail stores, and redeem them to make in-app purchases. Similarly, prepaid mobile users accessing the Facebook mobile web site could pay cash at a local store to top up their mobile account, and then use their balance to buy Facebook Credits. This means Facebook won’t have to get prepaid Credits gifts cards available world-wide, it can just piggy back on the already ubiquitous mobile refill cards. Users can earn Credits through offers, but high reward offers often require a large credit card or PayPal purchase.

Facebook is working on operator billing deals with AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, T-Mobile USA, Verizon, Vodafone, KDDI, SOFTBANK MOBILE Corp, and they must be excited. Few have had good luck with their own app platforms, so grabbing a cut of Facebook’s 30% tax on Credits will give them low-effort revenue where they were failing before. If Facebook’s mobile app platform produces sufficient sales, more operators are likely to come calling.

An enlarged population of monetizable users could also make Facebook’s mobile platform more attractive to developers who are already slammed with releasing their apps for iOS and fragmented Android builds. While Facebook tells me it doesn’t view its support of Facebook integrations into HTML5 apps as direct competition with Apple and Google’s platforms, it surely wouldn’t mind developers producing apps for the one platform where it can collect its 30% tax.

The biggest threat Facebook listed in its S-1 to IPO was its inability to monetize mobile. Suddenly mass accessibility via the mobile web doesn’t sound like such a bad alternative to owning a smartphone app platform.

[Image Credit: Time]

Facebook Mobile Operator Billing Opens App Economy To The Credit Card-less

Facebook: Privacy Needs To Be Just As Easy To Control On Mobile As On The Web


Facebook, currently in a quiet period as it prepares for its IPO, is stone-cold silent on whether it really will ever launch a mobile device, and whether it plans to launch mobile advertising to complement its main revenue driver on desktops.

But that does not mean it is sitting still on mobile  — the company’s biggest area of growth at the moment.

In an interview today in Barcelona with TechCrunch after a keynote appearance, Facebook’s CTO, Bret Taylor, described how the social network is taking privacy seriously on mobile, an incendiary issue that only yesterday got flamed once again, and also about how developers were behind its move toward carrier billing.

As we saw in Facebook’s S-1, mobile is a massive business for Facebook, with 425 million people accessing the social network on mobile devices, and that business growing faster than the company’s web business. Taylor noted today that it took Facebook eight years to get 145 million desktop users, but only four to reach 425 million on mobile.

But it has, at times, been hard for Facebook to keep up with its growth in the area of privacy, and that has attracted the attention of regulators in both the U.S. and abroad. In mobile, the situation seems to be even more of an issue, because of the personal nature of mobile handsets and the fact that, for most of us, they with us at all times.

Taylor tells us that the company is working hard to make sure that whatever it does, mobile privacy settings are exactly the same as what is offered on the desktop.

“Our goal is to make our privacy settings as accessible on all devices as possible,” he said. “The move we’ve gone towards in mobile is per object privacy,” he said. “It needs to be just as easy on the mobile as it is on the web.”

He notes that the converse of that — upsetting even small groups of users — can be an issue for a company the size of Facebook. “Everything is statistically significant when you have 850 million users,” he noted. “Even with small percentages it can be a meaningful number.”

More services. Facebook has been gradually adding enhancements to what it does on mobile, from check-ins, to deals and now the area of apps. The move to offer mobile payments will be another step in this direction.

Taylor confirmed to TC that it is Bango that it will be using for the service — Facebook announced a deal with the carrier billing company earlier this year — but he told us that there will be others involved, too.

The key thing, he said, is that the move to a carrier billing — where a purchase of Facebook Credits, for example, will go straight to your mobile bill — will become seamless. “It’s just one step, and really the right user experience,” he said.

But the mobile billing service, he noted, was not just something borne out of Facebook’s desire to make money — and indeed in the S-1 it’s clear that the amount of revenue Facebook gets from Credits is tiny compared to advertising. Rather, as with the Apple App Store, payments was something driven by Facebook’s developers.

“It’s about making the mobile web an easier platform for developers,” he said. “Despite the mindshare that iOS and Android have, our mobile web interface is bigger than iOS and Android combined.”

He said Facebook has been encouraging developers to make their mobile web apps work on Facebook. “If you make your mobile web app work on Facebook, we’ll drive traffic,” he promised them. But their answer was: No, because it’s too hard for us to make any money there. And the user experience isn’t good enough. Payments, he said, will be “a key attribute to getting value out of those mobile web apps.”

However, will that be something available for all Facebook users?

As Taylor pointed out today, there are some 2,500 different types of devices accessing the Facebook platform at the moment.

And while smartphone users are checking in at their local cafe, in India the experience is significantly more basic, for now at least: he said that there, the most popular activity on Facebook on mobile has been signing in and making friend requests.

And there are many variations between those two experiences that are equally different. That speaks to a kind of fragmentation that makes Android look like one big happy family.

Facebook seems to be all too aware of that and is trying to take charge with its standards groups. Whether that will translate into any effective policies remains to be seen. That could impact how the company eventually brings all those users together to monetize the critical mass.

Facebook: Privacy Needs To Be Just As Easy To Control On Mobile As On The Web