Payment processors and loyalty plays are the new black. “What are you working on?” “Oh, it’s actually a mashup of Square and those punch-it cards restaurants give you to make sure you keep coming back.” Square. Dwolla. PayPal Here. Isis. Google Wallet. The one we’re going to be talking about today is LevelUp, a Google Ventures-backed startup whose app is available for the iPhone, Android phones, and, now, Windows Phone devices.
Why the jump to an irrefutably small platform? Because LevelUp CEO Seth Priebatsch believes that mobile payments will become commoditized, and that means being everywhere. Given the already-bloated list of companies working on mobile payments, I’m inclined to agree.
This belief in a pending commoditization led to LevelUp nixing the transaction fee and creating a payments solution with no strings attached. Compared to the typical transaction fee – small businesses can pay as much as 6 percent per transaction, Priebatsch says – “free” sounds great. And, in order to commoditize, payments have to be available on every platform – including Windows Phone.
“[Windows Phone] is definitely small at the moment,” Priebatsch says, but he believes Windows Phone can become a viable “third platform” behind iOS and Android. So, why the shift now? “I believe that if there is a platform supporting development, we just want to be everywhere. And if that means diving into platforms that might be doomed it’s actually worth it for us,” he says.
The Windows Phone debate is the quintessential chicken-and-egg problem. Developers want to know that their apps will be used (or, hopefully, bought) by enough customers to justify development costs. Consumers want to know that the platform they’ve just bought into for two years (the average length of a wireless contract in the US) will have a healthy app ecosystem. Without one there cannot be another, and it’s up to one party to take the leap first.
LevelUp is happy to jump in and attempt to get things going. With a team of 20 engineers that spreads its time between iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and the other aspects of LevelUp’s business, moving to a new platform isn’t a daunting task. If Windows Phone explodes, great – LevelUp gets to say that it believed in the platform when other companies didn’t. And, if the platform stays flat or disappears, the company hasn’t wasted a significant amount of its resources.
In the end, LevelUp wants to be on every platform. If that means exploring a burning ship, Priebatsch is okay with that. The company isn’t going all-in on Windows Phone, but its “why not?” philosophy might be one that other developers take in the coming months. If every company that says it wants to be on “every platform,” and genuinely means every platform instead of just iOS and Android, Windows Phone could sport a respectable app ecosystem.
LevelUp currently processes around $3 million each month, and is available in 3,500 locations. The company is still small compared to some of its competitors, and that allows it to do things like moving to a small platform. If consumers and businesses are willing to trust their financials to a small company, it seems like the least LevelUp can do is pay it forward.