BoxPAY: Mobile micropayments for any business

Brothers Gavin and Iain McConnon established BoxPAY in Dublin this year to take advantage of the increasing need for simple global micropayment mechanisms, particularly for merchants who want to monetize social media services and casual gaming.

BoxPAY allows merchants to collect small payments, typically less that $15 or €10, from customers through their mobile devices via SMS. It is particularly attractive to smaller companies as it offers quick and easy self-integration with no minimum volume requirements.

The brothers gained experience in the mobile billing industry through their other company, Global Billing Solutions, that was set up 10 years ago to promote, deliver and bill mobile services. Global Billing Solutions provided an ideal springboard for boxPAY as the new offering could take advantage of Global Billing Solutions’ offices in Dublin, Sydney and Johannesburg and its connections with mobile phone carriers around the world.

Gavin and Iain adapted the technology already created by Global Billing Solutions to allow third-party merchants to use its billing platforms. This process took 6 months and during this time boxPAY also expanded from the 20 countries Global Billing Solutions operated in to 55 markets.

“We wanted to target markets where people usually don’t have access to credit cards so we got connections in Africa, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Latin and South America,” says Gavin.

Iain believes this global reach of boxPAY gives it an edge over its competitors: “We see the opportunity in allowing customers to build their users in places that they’ve never dreamed of
charging in before like in Africa or Latin America where they have customers but are not monetising them. For US merchants at the moment they may be monetising their customers in the US but not for these other regions.”

BoxPAY’s clients are mainly social and casual games from Facebook games and apps to music and video download services. Gavin says that for these sites, users don’t want to go through a lengthy credit card payment procedure for smaller amounts of money:

“For a very small transaction of €2 or €3 or $2 or $3 you don’t want to go through that process. We provide a really quick computer interface for mobile phones where we send a pin code by SMS and a customer enters the pin code on the website and it’s as quick as that for the user experience.”

Gavin also believes that boxPAY has the “competitive edge” on credit cards in terms of security as using your credit card on the internet presents a security concern for customers. By comparison, boxPAY only needs a customers’ mobile phone number and no other personal details to take a payment for an online service.

BoxPAY’s mobile micropayment competitors include Boku and Fortumo but Iain believes boxPAY differentiates itself by offering to companies of all sizes, including smaller merchants.

“Some of our competitors only talk to the big fish so if you’re a small Irish merchant for instance and you want to bill customers only in Ireland, they’re not going to respond. With our self-serve platform, if you’re a website in Cork and you want to bill customers in Cork you can sign up in 15 minutes to bill those customers.”

While boxPAY was initially self-funded, Gavin hopes it will raise external funding either in Ireland or the US. The company has also set its sights on opening an office in the US in the near future.

“We’d like to have a presence in the US because a lot of our target customers are going to be based there and it would be good for them to have at a minimum a sales, marketing and support presence there,” says Gavin.

For merchants, boxPAY’s self-serve platform means it can be quickly integrated into their site to start charging users for services. To incorporate the boxPAY billing platform into their own website, they just add in a few lines of JavaScript code. There’s even an online tutorial to show how it is done.

“It can take less than 15 minutes to get the code and put it on your own website and literally start billing your customers all over the world with that small bit of Java code,” says Gavin.

Gavin and Iain are no strangers to startups having also established an online DVD rental service in 2006. The company was sold to

BizSpark Program: Microsoft Ireland

BizSpark is a Microsoft support programme for startups which allows members access to their range of software, technical support and many of the other resources that Microsoft has to offer.

There are currently around 550 startups currently enrolled in the BizSpark programme on the island of Ireland, 400 of which are in the Republic, which, according to Enda Flynn, Audience Marketing Manager with Microsoft Ireland, is among the highest rate per-capita worldwide.

Josh Holmes, one of Microsoft Ireland’s Architect Evangelists who engage with the technology community, describes BizSpark as, “kind of a three pronged project”.

“The first and most immediate thing that you’ll see is for three years we give startups all the stuff that we provide to run applications against, Windows Office, Visual Studio, basically our entire suite of applications developer platforms. There’s a whole bunch of software and technology that comes with it.”

This software comes in the form of a Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Ultimate subscription, of which each startup gets eight, including 1,500 hours of Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform, which amounts to, “two servers running full time for an entire month.” according to Josh.

The second prong is, “access to technical resources, so there’s private blogs, member forums, that kind of stuff. There’s also access to myself, and Wilbour [Craddock, another of Microsoft’s Architect Evangelists] and the rest of our team”.

“The third prong is the marketing front, so we’ve got BizSpark Connect, which is connecting startups to startups, or people from whom you’ll find interesting startups. They get placement in Pinpoint, which is our partner locator so people can find other partners.”

All this amounts to a considerable investment on the part of Microsoft, and given that they do not retain a stake in the startups or any of their intellectual property, one has to ask, why bother investing in startups?

Josh Holmes is unequivocal: “Why would we bother with startups? Because we see startups as the future, and the more heavily we invest in startups the brighter and bigger and better the future is going to be for everybody involved.

“We were seeing a lot of startups not choosing Microsoft technologies for the wrong reasons. They were seeing cost as a barrier to starting off with Microsoft technologies, even if they thought Microsoft technologies were going to be better for them in long run. So they were making those decisions based on short term, “I don’t have any money in my pocket, therefore I can’t afford anything”, so we are removing cost as a barrier entirely.”

The evangelist is quick to sing the praises of the wide support network that exists in Ireland for startups, many of whom Microsoft are partnered with.

“We’re not a full-blown accelerator, so we’re working with great partners like the NDRC, Propeller, Enterprise Ireland, DIT’s Hothouse, all of these guys are fantastic accelerators here in Ireland, and we are working with them to help them in any way that we can.

“The goal is that at the end of three years that these startups are successful and the more successful that they are, to be fairly open and honest about it, the more Microsoft software they’re going to be using. And it’s getting them from zero to revenue and success as quickly as we possibly can, and we think that built on a Microsoft stack is a fantastic way to do that, and we want to help them get there.”

Additional material by Tom Murphy

Dublin Proclaims June 30 Social Media Day

Andrew Montague on his first day as Lord Mayor of Dublin welcomes John Hartnett, President of the Irish Technology Leadership Group.

The Lord Mayor issued a proclamation declaring June 30 as Social Media Day for the City of Dublin making it the first city in Europe to do so.

At the Irish Innovation Center over 200 people are gathering to celebrate the proclamation of Social Media Day by the city of San Jose.

At the event opening remarks will be made by Tom McEnery, former City Mayor, author, businessman and John Stanton, ITLG Executive Director & President of The Irish Innovation Center.

There will be a panel Moderated by Richard Moran, venture capitalist, author and evangelist for organization effectiveness.

Even if it is not possible for you to attend you can still participate online by registering at the ITLG website.

The Opening and Naming of the Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre

The Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre was named and opened yesterday at the Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT). John Hartnett, the President of the Irish Technology Leadership Group and whom the building was named after was present at the event to receive this honour from his alma mater.

Following below are excerpts from the speech he gave to a gathering of some 300 people including the Minister of Finance Michael Noonan, the outgoing Mayoress of Limerick Marie Byrne and Dr. Maria Hinfelaar President of the LIT amongst others.

After opening remarks where Minister Michael Noonan, other dignitaries and the audience were thanked for taking the time and trouble to attend John Hartnett made the following comments;

“I came to LIT in the early eighties and access to education has been the most critical thing that has created not just my success but in starting my career off in a big way. It took a number of decades to get there but the really big start was from the LIT.

I hope the partnership that we are creating today, from my Silicon Valley perspective, will create another rung on the ladder for Irish Entrepreneurs.

I want to give you some key stats about Silicon Valley where I live today. It is about 45 miles north/south and about 10 miles east/west…It is very much the epicentre of technology.

The top technology companies in the world are headquartered there and that is not lightly said. Companies like; Apple, Intel, Cisco, Facebook, Twitter. All the big companies that you know and heard of are all there.

The combined market capitalization of Silicon Valley companies is 2 trillion dollars. For a small little location it has completely outshone every other location in the world. There are more than 700 VCs that operate in Silicon Valley.

It is the number one destination in the world for capital for young entrepreneurs. 40% of all investment in the United States has gone into Silicon Valley. That was 8 billion dollars last year and that was considered a bad year.

There are countries that have done a tremendous job of cracking the code and really accessing Silicon Valley. I would point to Israel as what Israel has done is focused very heavily on innovation, focused very heavily on access to capital in Silicon and the movement of investment from Silicon Valley into Israel.

Today the measurement of success is a public company on NASDAQ. Israel has 130 companies that there today which is a tremendous achievement. That is more than the entire continent of Europe. Ireland has about 3 or 4.

The big challenge for us…is that success isn’t being sold for 20, 30 or 40 million dollars. Success is going public. Success is about being multi-billion dollar company. Success is creating thousands of jobs that are going to stay here for a long, long time…

I have been in touch with over 400 Irish companies over the last couple of years. I have been very close to many universities both north and south of the border. I have experienced quality in terms of technology, in terms of the entrepreneurship here in Ireland. There is no question Minister, that Ireland can change the game. We just need to point in the right direction and stop looking back. Stop feeling bad about the past because we can’t do anything about it.

It’s all about the future.

In my view the future will be about innovation. In my view the future for our children will be what we did today about going after innovation. If Silicon Valley can do it why can’t we do it.

The secret ingredient is no secret.

  • The secret is that it has the number one university in the world for innovation — Stanford University.
  • It is the number one destination for customers. Those companies, the Apples, the Intels, are all there. That is where you are going to trade. It is a massive market place.
  • Probably the biggest one, which doesn’t recognised, is venture capital. Access to money is so important for young companies and right now in Ireland today access to capital is tough.

    Our relationship will hopefully create a gateway to that capital. Not just to our fund but to the syndication of our funds in Silicon Valley and help drive that investment into Irish companies.

  • The fourth ingredient is about attitude. It’s about vision. It’s about reaching big and it’s about going for it.

It’s about not criticizing failure. Many companies are going to fail. We shouldn’t get upset about the fact that Irish companies are going to fail at some point along the way. But we shouldn’t shoot down failure. Failure is what drives success.

It’s not good enough to be a small company. It is only good enough to be billion dollar company.

The leading nations are investing to drive this forward. We are probably underinvesting in innovation today compared to Scandinavian countries and countries like Israel. Israel invests between 4 and 5% of its GDP — We probably invest between 1.5 to 2%

We have a very well recognised education system…But we can’t be complacent. We are not in the top 5 or top 10 in Europe from an education perspective. We need our universities to be in the top 5 and that has to be our goal.

The investment here today in these facilities paves the way for these young people but that is the start of the journey. We need to make sure that both from a government and a private perspective that we are focused creating those multi-billion dollar companies.

We should be measuring the number of NASDAQ quoted companies that are produced from Ireland…

All we need is one $300Bn company and we will be well on the road but it takes some time do that. But I have every confidence that we can do that from an Ireland perspective.

We have the talent and I think with this initiative today, in terms what LIT are doing, is really taking leadership in terms of education, in driving entrepreneurship and really driving forward to our future which will be about innovation and technology.”

Savvy Bears: Secure Online Gaming for Children

Savvy Bear is a virtual world for children between the ages of five and twelve years old to play, interact, and learn, in a safe environment. The Dunboyne, Co. Meath-based company was founded in 2010 by father of three John Joyce, who saw a gap in the market for a virtual world that was both educational, and crucially, safe for children to play in.

“I was watching what they were doing on the likes of Disney’s Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters and I said, “I think I could actually develop a product like this.”

John, who is a graduate of computer science from Trinity College, Dublin had seventeen years’ experience in the technology sector before looking at the virtual world space and deciding, “right, I’ll give it a go.”

“I set the company up last July/August and that’s kind of how it started, just from a concept in my head to saying, “OK let’s give this thing a go”, and that’s what happened.”

John is aware that Savvy Bear are not alone in this space, but feels that his product’s educational value, and its safety, set it apart from the rest.

“The unique selling point is that we have an educational part to our product, so there is a school in the game if the child wants to go into the virtual world school, and learn Irish, English, maths, geography, history and science.”

The Irish, maths, and English educational modules on Savvy Bear are all free, as well as optional; if a child wants to simply play or interact, they may do so. The virtual world’s chat function contains only pre-selected words and phrases that a child may choose from, such as “hello”, “thank you”, or “you are funny!”, which ensure that the chat remains innocent and cannot be hijacked by Internet prowlers.

“Our product is 100% safe, continues John. The other games like Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin and Panfu, they have an open chat policy where you can potentially chat to the child. We don’t, we just have pre-selected words in the game, so we’re 100% safe, which is crucial for a parent. We’ve a little bit of education in it, but it’s great fun, and it’s ad-free.”

The educational aspect of the game is pitched very much as an option and part of the fun, rather than the sole focus of the game, so from the child’s perspective he or she is playing at school rather than attending it or doing homework. Also, any phrases which are chosen in English are translated on the dashboard in Irish as an added educational aid.

John readily acknowledges that it is remarkable to think that he has created a virtual world for children from as young as five years old.

“I’m 39 years of age, this stuff didn’t exist when I was growing up. If you look at a twelve year old child or a ten year old child with a phone and they’re twittering and they’re maybe doing something on Facebook. You can’t turn it off, it’s just there, it’s 24/7.”

With digital devices and worlds so commonplace, it is hardly surprising that the uptake of Savvy Bear amongst children has been high so far. The game has taken on a certain momentum; an appearance on the Irish Dragon’s Den secured some valuable publicity; but Savvy Bear’s growth until now has been achieved without any marketing budget.

“We’ve been going since January and we’ve just over 30,000 people on it (15,000 of which are regular, active users), and it’s been played in 102 countries. It’s just taken off, which is fantastic, you know?”

In anticipation of this growth, Savvy Bear have updated their software to cope with increased demand; behind the cuddly teddy bears, there is a back-end which has to cope with potentially thousands of visitors at any one time.

“What the user sees at the front-end is probably the easiest part, the art and animation. The hardest process in that was listening to a child describe it, or they might sketch out a hair salon and say, “this is what we’d like in a hair salon.”

“At the moment we’re using five or six pieces of software, so we have Flash, php, Gimp, Ubuntu, and we’ve a piece of software that we’ve invested in recently called Smartbox, which Facebook use and allows us to handle thousands of people per second, which is a big issue for any virtual world.”

John laments the fact that he had to locate Savvy Bear’s servers outside Ireland due to what he sees as a “sad” lack of broadband infrastructure.

“The reason we have the servers over in London is because the broadband is a lot better and you get 100% up time, whereas unfortunately, in Ireland you can only guarantee 99% up time, and with a virtual world the last thing you want is to be down.

“When you’re using things like Google Analytics and you’re looking at my market which is the whole world, and you look at the size of Ireland, it’s a little dot. And you think, “why can’t people access the game in Roscommon?” It’s because there’s no broadband there.”

John hopes that the initial growth he has seen will continue and is confident the market is there for Savvy Bear to achieve this.

“I’ve had lots of people say that there’s loads of people in the gaming space, and I say, “that’s correct”. Gaming is massive, but there’s no-one in Ireland or England at the moment developing a virtual world forchildren between five and twelve. We’re it.”

Yahoo Joins ITLG Panel for Social Media Day

Dr Elizabeth Churchill is a Principal Research Scientist and manager of the Internet Experiences group at Yahoo! Research.

What makes this Social Media Day event special?

Historic event: The City of San Jose will officially proclaim June 30th as Social Media Day at the Irish Innovation Center.

Global participation via Tweets, video streams, Flickr photo sharing and more.

Videos and posts via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn will connect you with the ITLG network and the audience worldwide.

Program highlights: Opening Remarks by Tom McEnery, former City Mayor, author, businessman and John Stanton, ITLG Executive Director & President of The Irish Innovation Center.

Proclamation by City of San Jose Councilman Sam Liccardo.

Panel Moderator: Richard Moran, venture capitalist, author and evangelist for organization effectiveness.

Diverse panel of entrepreneurs and social media experts:

  • Fergus Hurley, founder of Focal Labs and Clixtr, featured in TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and winner of the 2010 CES Mobile App Showdown
  • Charles J. Orlando, author, relationship expert and Facebook personality nearing 500,000 fans
  • Philo Northrup, Co-founder of enVie Interactive and publisher of VIE, a new brand of social game that’s a casual MMO
  • Kevin Spier of Bunchball, leader of “Gamification” technology used by companies such as ABC, NBC, Playboy, HP, Comcast, Warner Brothers, Nestle and other top brands driving consumer activity

We would love to have you join us and help us spread the word:

Twitter hashtag: #SJSMday