Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Simpler Is Always Better

Some of the best inventions, and most successful, have been the simplest idea or at least the simplest to use. There are countless examples of this principle. Portable media players have been around for years before Apple came around with the iPod, but it was the simplicity of its single purpose design, complete ecosystem for easy use by the layman and brilliant marketing that propelled it to a generic noun in our lexicon today. In the last month I have had the privilege of talking to two companies with great potential with a very simple service.

The first one is H2West. Their PayNow service allows a consumer to pay for a purchase with just their cell phone. It works like a debit account without any extra devices, credit cards, or complexity. All a consumer has to do is send a text message with their PIN to H2West and they will send back a 4-digit PIN and their account balance. The consumer provides the PIN to the merchant that enters it into their point-of-sale terminal that generates a receipt. It is that simple. Consumers love it because it is quicker than a credit card transaction and it allows them to budget better. Retailers love it because it costs much less than credit card transactions and it is secure.

This service has the potential of being a real market disrupter because of its simplicity. The retailer only is required to have a new point-of-sale terminal and the consumer can use their existing cell phones. No new smart cards, RFID tags, Bluetooth, or any other chip is required to be implemented. In a matter of minutes a consumer or merchant can open an new account and start processing transactions. The consumer links their bank account or debit card to their account to keep a cash balance. This is a perfect tool for parents to use as a way to teach their children how to budget money. Periodically they can add money to their kids' account, and let them figure out how to spend that fixed amount. No more rampant credit card charges to surprise parents at the end of the month.

The real question is whether H2West will be able to successfully market the product to consumers and retailers. If I was a major credit card processor, I would be looking very seriously at this company.

The next potential market disrupter is MailCall. MailCall uses a standard telephone or cell phone to read and send e-mail messages from any POP or IMAP mail account. The beauty is that e-mail messages and attachments are available from any phone without any extra equipment or the fear of having secure information sitting outside corporate firewalls. Most mobile e-mail solutions require additional equipment like a Blackberry or Internet connection; not MailCall.

E-mail has become an indispensable tool for business and personal communications, but accessing it isn't always easy. Security concerns with personal mobile devices, traveling with laptops, and using public Internet terminals inhibit the utility of e-mail. MailCall eliminates all of those concerns using a standard telephone with its text-to-speech synthesis. Listen to a message and any attachment then decide whether to listen to the next one, delete it, or respond to it just as you would in the e-mail application. You can even send a message or attachment to a fax number if a printed copy is necessary. MailCall can even read web pages. These are just the most important features of the product. See their web site for more information.

Just like PayNow, MailCall's disruptiveness is in its simplicity. Users utilize their existing e-mail accounts and any telephone; no new equipment is required. The cost of maintaining a mobile e-mail system is eliminated along with the security headaches. A mobile workforce can manage their e-mail from anywhere on the road so they are more responsive to their customers. They challenge that Great American Technologies has is how to market this great concept where there are so many opportunities in the enterprise, carrier, and government segments.

These excellent technologies have the potential of disrupting their respective markets because their user interface is simple and their utility great. They utilize complex technologies to solve some very simple problems just like Apple focused on playing music with the iPod. Neither one of these companies has the marketing muscle of an Apple, so their success lies in their ability to market themselves or find strong recognized partners. Keep an eye on them or better yet, open an account and give their products a try.