Wednesday, March 25, 2009

End of independent mobile payment players?

It is difficult to have missed the news (here, here, here) about Obopay receiving $70 million from Nokia. This is on top of the earlier round (Series D) of $20 million in April 2008.

What does this investment indicate:
  • Obopay's CEO is skilled in raising money (you'll find this interview interesting)
  • Mobile payments industry is at an inflection point, and on the verge of take-off
  • Nokia sees Obopay as best suited to take advantage of the opportunity.
  • Nokia is seeing Obopay as its next billion dollar baby?
One of the signs of an emerging industry crossing the chasm is investments from the large players. This happened in the email space (Microsoft buying Hotmail...), Online Advertising (Yahoo/Blue Lithium; Microsoft/aQuantive)... Startups many a times do not have the ability to scale quickly to address the available market efficiently. Alternatively, the economics of the space do not justify a startup building out the sales, delivery and service infrastructure. In such cases, an existing player buys a startup to either move up the value chain or to increase the breadth of their offering.

Does Nokia's interest in Obopay suggest this?

Obopay has alliances with scheme operators (MasterCard), banks (Citi, Yes), carriers (Verizon) and device vendors (Qualcomm, Blackberry, Nokia).

Any of the above partners could have made a large investment. Qualcomm in an existing investor in Obopay. Does Nokia's investment indicate that the device vendors have an inside track to leverage the mobile payments market. Would a payment scheme operator or a telecom operator have been able to grow the mobile payments market better than a mobile device vendor?

In terms of registered users and money flowing thru the system, PayPal mobile seems to be the front-runner in mobile P2P payments in the US. mChek seems to be the front-runner in India.

Does Obopay have strategic alliances or IP that can block these early leaders? Can Nokia help Obopay move ahead. Has there been any development in the recent past to indicate the slumbering mobile payments industry is getting ready to sprint?

Are mChek and PayMate next in line for a bear hug?

What are your thoughts?

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