INTERVIEW: Bango CEO on mobile payments and partnering with Facebook

High-profile clients

Bango has seen considerable success with its dual operator billing and analytics services, luring high-profile clients such as Amazon, Research in Motion and more recently, Facebook on board. Here, CEO Ray Anderson explains how the firm lets users pay for apps or items by adding them to their mobile phone bill.

¤ What does Bango do?
We provide a service to people who’ve got content or services available, typically through a mobile website, or downloaded app, that allows them to collect money from the user, by clicking a button. The mechanism for collecting the money is whatever the most convenient mechanism is, which is normally mobile operator billing.

Say you’re in an app store, and you browse round and you choose an app, and you want to buy that app – the person who’s selling the app or the app store has to figure out a way of collecting money. If they contact Bango, they hand control to us and we say that we can collect the money using operator billing. We put up a got a single screen which has a button on, saying ‘Pay GBP5’. You click on the button, and we connect to the mobile operator, we take the money, we do whatever’s necessary to make the payment. And then we hand back control to the app store saying, ‘Yes, we’ve got the money, and you can now deliver the goods,’ and then they supply the app down to the mobile device. So it’s really a click-to-buy mechanism for mobile devices, and the mechanism for payment uses operator billing.

¤ How important is the analytics side of the business?
The analytics side of it supports the payments services. So if you’re selling things to people, it’s important to find out what people do before they get to you, and how. You can use [Bango’s analytics] to track your advertising in enormous depth, and the reason we get the enormous depth is because we have the relationships with the mobile operators for payment.

There are some customers who make money by selling advertising on their sites, rather than by selling products. So a good example of that would be CNN; they sell advertising on the CNN mobile site, and we provide our tools to them. CNN doesn’t charge, they don’t have a paywall or anything around their site, but they use our technology to find out who’s using the site, how many times they’re visiting it, where they go, where they’ve come from, where they’re going to, so they can build up a picture of people on their site. And therefore, they can sell advertising to their customers at a higher price by giving more accurate information about who’s reading the advertising and who’s responding.

¤ Do people who use your payment services adopt analytics too?
Yes, that’s right. Almost invariably they do.

¤ What makes you better than the competition?
We can use the fact that we have several high-profile clients to benefit each individual high-profile client.

Let’s say somebody visits CNN’s mobile site on a phone through their mobile operator network – say they’re on AT&T in America. When they do that, we’ll pick up that they’re on the AT&T network. Then we’ll pick up things like their telephone number, and we’ll store away that information. We won’t reveal that to CNN, because we’re not permitted to by the operators, but we’ll keep that information available in our database. Now, say a few hours later, that consumer might have gone to work and they’re on Wi-Fi, and they decide they want to go to an app store and they want to buy something. At the point that that app store wants to sell them something, we know that customer is an AT&T customer, and we can then invoke the AT&T mobile operator billing. So we can make the buying experience much better than it could be made by that app store, because the app store doesn’t know the customer is an AT&T customer. So AT&T gains, because they get a billing transaction. And the app store gains, because of the single button to pay for the app, rather than having to type in the credit card details.

¤ What will drive mobile advertising?
The rollout of more advanced browsers. HTML5 is the golden dream for advertisers, because advertisers are pouring bucket loads of money into things like mobile apps, and they’re a transitory phenomenon.

On a PC you don’t usually download software to do many things, these days. You don’t download software to access your bank account, you don’t download software to use Facebook. So coming forward, the app will be used in certain specialised cases, like games. But the advertiser then won’t need to worry about whether someone has an iPhone or an Android or a BlackBerry. All they’ll worry about is whether they have web access. Of course they will, because everyone has web access on a smartphone – and therefore they can advertise efficiently and effectively.

¤ Will Facebook translate its success in display advertising to mobile?
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely, no shadow of a doubt.

It’s not just an opinion we have, it’s borne out by numbers. If you look at Facebook’s pre-IPO document, or you look at the research being written about what Facebook’s up to, you’ve already got half their leads coming in from mobile. And they’re not yet monetising that in any real way. So the opportunity there is huge. Will we distract users by placing advertising on things? That remains to be seen.

¤ Where else are you looking to partner?
People like [Google’s] Android Market, like Microsoft, Samsung, Nokia – they’re classic people we’d really like to see coming onboard the Bango platform.

Big publishers are an interesting one. [You] can tweet out a link to any newspaper, and when you click on the link it says, ‘That’ll cost you GBP0.1, click to pay‘. There will be some people who’ll sign up to a GBP10 a month service to read a particular article, but they’re few and far between. It’d be nicer if you could just flow straight in, click a button and you’re through.

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