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Steve Doswell | CEO | SoundPays

SoundPays: Designing the Digitized Shopping Experience.

The global retail landscape is experiencing a major transformation and becoming increasingly competitive. With the advent of the digital era, conventional modes of customer service are getting disrupted. Even the way a customer shops or shares his/her opinion on their shopping experience is being propagated through technological mediums such as websites, social media, blogs, and vlogs.

To keep up with these changes, the retail industry has undertaken drastic changes in recent years to improve business operations and become more customer oriented. Change is the name of the game. One of the major players of this revered game is SoundPays.

“We expect that SoundPays will emerge as a new standard in touchless and contactless payment”

Started in the year 2015, this Toronto, Canada based company has made quite a name for itself in the retail and purchasing innovation space. SoundPays is an early-stage media-tech company with a cutting edge, mobile engagement solution that utilizes patented ultrasonic sound wave technology to connect consumers to advertising content in real-time.

Sounds Like a Plan

SoundPay’s vision is that every single point-of-sale (POS) will eventually be transmitting the purchased ticket directly to the phone through ultrasonic sound to enable a remote, phone-based payment engagement by the shopper.

SoundPays aspires to emerge as a new standard in touchless, contact-less payment. One that will be as universal as QR Code payment currently is in China. Every single screen or display, whether in or out-of-home, will be perpetually transmitting supplemental information (ultrasonically) which can be downloaded and instantly acted upon by any phone, in any location, at any time.

Fundamental Contributions

SoundPays has been instrumental in the transformation of the retail and purchasing landscape through technology in recent times. But to add to its portfolio, SoundPays dictates two fundamental things as its most notable contributions in the sector:

  1. In-store or physical locations of conventional commerce: The ability to make in-store checkout purchases at a safe distance from the counter and salesclerk, while at the same time eliminating any requirement to touch or handle a physical payment device.
  2. Out of store: The technology at SoundPays allows for a truly mobile experience. The company enables advertisers and broadcast content providers to engage their audience as they are seeing/hearing their content, whether it is playing on TV, online, OOH signs, live events, or stadium screens. The technology provides a profound opportunity to convert viewers to the ‘power-of-the-moment’ by combining next-generation marketing, advertising, commerce, and user convenience in a truly mobile manner. Viewers can engage while on the fly, while relaxing watching TV or sitting in a stadium: a complete omnichannel offering, provided from a single SDK (software development kit).

Going Ultrasonic!

The customers of SoundPays admire the company for its user-friendly services despite the advanced tech it keeps in its arsenal.

These patrons are provided with a solution based on the company’s patented technology, that they can deploy at either the media side (enabling advertisements or programming content with supplemental information accessible directly from the content) or at the app/wallet side which allows for receiving and easily accessing the supplemental information.

This distinguishes both the media content from all competitor content and the app/wallet capability above all other conventional apps/wallets. But what makes the service provider so unique is its patented ultrasonic technology.

Soundpays sound codes are comprised of a combination of near-ultrasonic inaudible tones derived mathematically based on their patented process for converting frequencies and tones into codes. They are delivered between mid-18 and 20 kHz, tending to the inaudible frequency. When an inaudible sound wave embedded into a video is broadcasted through any type of speaker (TV, phone, computer, digital sign, stadium speakers, etc.), and when the SoundPays SDK is activated from a mobile app or wallet, the mobile device is instructed to listen for tones above 18 kHz.

The device microphone picks up this sound wave and the company’s proprietary algorithm then de-codes it into a human-readable 8- or 10-digit code. This 8- or 10-digit code is then relayed to specific product offers which are then displayed on the mobile device screen for review, making it potentially a one-step purchasing experience.

When fully enabled using SoundPays Commerce, once a customer clicks on ‘purchase’, the transaction is processed in the cloud: charging the customer’s selected credit card and transferring funds to the merchant’s existing merchant account using the current industry transaction processing ecosystem.

For security purposes, we instruct the microphone to only listen above 18 kHz. Furthermore, no sounds are recorded, and no microphone activity ever leaves the mobile phone, and no microphone activity is delivered to SoundPays server as all the tones are processed and mathematically calculated locally on the phone.

A Pioneering Leader

To develop the commercialization strategy, raise the required funding, and build the team to take the company from a nascent concept to widespread commercial success, they brought in the dynamic Steve Doswell.

Steve has been the co-founder or on the initial executive teams of three Canadian start-ups, all of which grew 400-500 employees prior to being acquired. He has also held executive entrepreneurship roles as GM of Ericsson Canada and COO of AOL Canada.

At SoundPays, Steve was responsible for the international expansion plan, including the signing of a marquee customer in Europe and lining up the four licensee candidates in Japan. Steve, as the CEO was also the speaker for some notable company awards as:

  • Finovative Fall (2015) – Best of Show
  • Street Contxt (2016) – FinTechTO winner
  • Women in payments (2016) – Unicorn challenge winner
  • VISA Global Contest for FinTech Startups (2016) – Finalist
  • NTT Data Open Innovation (2017) – Toronto winner
  • NTT Data Open Innovation (2017) – Global finalist
  • Financial Innovation Japan Business Conference (2018) – Audience award.

Course-correction and Facing Obstacles

Like many retail solution providers, SoundPays had to fare through its share of hurdles.

The initial funding was an issue, as it is for most startups in Canada. Streaking relationships and working closely with the major Canadian Financial Institutions (FIs) was an obstacle, as all FIs were at the stage of de-emphasizing and reducing investments in wallets and mobile payments.

In fact, by late 2016, most entities were de-funding mobile app strategies, which made it difficult for SoundPays to establish partnerships based on investing in and elevating the capabilities of existing apps. In the early days, it seemed that major entities were highly impressed with the potential of digitally connecting to media content but viewed it as a future concept rather than one to initiate at the time.

To emphasize further on the struggle of the team at SoundPays, Steve Doswell stated – “Just as the company started to gain traction and momentum with major entities, Covid hit the scene and suddenly the SoundPays proposition became of secondary importance as retail entities were trying to figure out how to regain traffic in their malls and stores, and while sports franchises were suddenly having to operate with empty stadiums.”

The fact that broadcasters, malls, retailers, sports franchises, cinemas are all focused on dealing with the impact of Covid above all, and at the expense of their innovation initiatives represents the startup’s biggest struggle at this time.

For adapting to the need of the hour, the company introduced new practices keeping the health and safety of everyone involved into perspective. Now, all of its interactions with customers and prospective customers are exclusively remote. This has made it challenging to proceed with third-party initiatives.

Steve additionally stated, “Internally, our technology team has been able to accomplish our product road-map and R&D objectives for 2020, so this area of our business has not been materially impacted. However, market-based initiatives have been.

Aspiring to Make a Difference

When asked about the strategically driven plans that the company plans to implement to scale the business in 2021, the team over at SoundPays graciously provided these five of their major focuses:

  1. Get their two marquee customers back into play. Both have put their SoundPays initiatives on hold, even after having very positive results in initial 2019 rollouts. The company plans to help them utilize their technology as part of adaptive response strategies to COVID and other issues now facing them.
  2. Complete a small ‘Seed’ raise which was started in 2019, but the final closing has been delayed because of Covid-related factors with several of its prospective investors. This raise is specifically targeted towards US VC(s).
  3. Complete the product roadmap and R&D initiatives for 2021; including commercializing new technology designed for the TV and FM radio sectors that was patented in 2020. SoundPays also intends to file a third patent in 2012.
  4. Close impending contracts with the top-eight of their key pipeline prospects in North America. All of these prospects were initially expected to be in the market during 2020, but all were delayed because of Covidrelated matters, and the resulting new priorities. They expect that all will be ready to proceed with initial plans in 2021.
  5. Launching in Japan, the company has amassed a group of four potential licensees that it has been in discussion with. It completed highly successful POCs with three of these entities early in 2020. All of these led to discussions and negotiations around commercial launches. SoundPays also signed an agreement with a fourth entity to collaborate on a commercial launch. All four entities are major corporate conglomerates or major brands in Japan. All were impacted by Covidrelated delays but should be ready to proceed in 2021.

Conclusively, SoundPays is proving to be commercially viable in dozens of different sites and use cases. The team is growing, dynamic and enthusiastic, and dedicated to creating new frictionless engagement and commerce channels that will inevitably simplify consumer lifestyle and become an everyday part of our lives.