Visa today kicks off the second year of a contest for startups to develop innovative new applications and business models that can help the financial services brand stay ahead of the kind of disruption startups can create for big, established brand marketers.
In a twist from last year when Visa introduced the so-called “Everywhere Initiative,” this year’s competition includes a challenge for startups to develop applications that are integrated directly into Visa’s global electronic payments system, VisaNet, demonstrating just how integral startup innovation is becoming for mainstream brands.
“It’s a really big deal,” acknowledges Shiv Singh, senior vice president, digital and marketing transformation at Visa, who conceived the program and oversees it in conjunction with consultant Kite, which is managing the program for Visa.
“The technology world and the marketing world are starting to blur completely,” he explained, adding that enabling selected startups to develop directly on API platform, dubbed Visa Developer, is a level of integration that Visa previously only allowed its biggest and most established partners to develop on.
But Singh, a digital-savvy native who got his chops transforming Pepsi’s digital marketing before joining Visa, says the initiative ties into a much broader philosophy emerging within Visa to develop “non-traditional partners.”
Historically, those kinds of partnerships have developed most quickly in the digital economy when platforms enable “third-party developers” to work directly with their APIs and software development kits in order to build applications and features that work explicitly for that platform.
By testing a similar model, Visa effectively is viewing itself as a platform that others can develop on, which makes sense when you think about its roots integrating merchants and banks through its electronic payment systems. In a way, credit cards were the original digital media platforms. Consumers may have presented an analog credit card at a merchant’s checkout, but it was Visa, MasterCard, or American Express’ platform that enabled the marketplace between merchants and banks.
“In a world that is going digital and going to cardless experiences, how can we make sure the Visa brand and Visa service are the ones you put on your Uber account,” Singh cited as an example using the popular sharing economy-based livery service.
Extending Visa's API into the Everywhere Initiative is a good way for Visa to test how non-traditional partners can innovate similar solutions.
“We believe the best ideas can come from surprising places,” Singh said, adding that even before the official launch of this year’s Everywhere Initiative, Visa has already begun working with a startup to develop on its API. When Visa announced the elements of this year’s program during the recent SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, it held a “Shark Tank”-like event, during which social-lending startup Ledge asked if it could take itself out of the competition and just start working with the API immediately to enable lending on a global basis.
Visa awarded Ledge $25,000 to develop an application based on its API.
Singh said the Ledge collaboration is a “great example” of the kind of relationships Visa is looking to create with startups.
While Visa's API is the newest challenge in the Everywhere Initiative competition, Visa is also bringing back its first-year challenges to develop new marketing and communications approaches aimed at Millennial consumers and to drive adoption of Visa Checkout.
Last year, Visa attracted nearly 400 submissions, which were winnowed down to 15 finalists, which was ultimately won by Reelio.
This year’s competition opens today and will accept submissions through early June with a winner to be selected and announced this summer.The winning startup for each the three challenges will receive a $50,000 award from Visa to develop their application.