Dwolla, a startup in the online payments markets, announced three new services Friday that it hopes will accelerate both merchant and consumer acceptance of Dwolla transactions, one of the big barriers that all payment startups -- and frankly, anyone offering anything other than credit cards or cash -- face; and that includes mobile wallets.
The three new services include a Dwolla guest checkout service, where customers can pay without having a Dwolla account and Dwolla Price, where merchants, thanks to the money they'll save on credit card fees, can choose to pass some of that saving back to customers as a way to entice them to use the Dwolla service -- in other words, the merchant and the customer save. It also introduced new point-of-sale system integrations (Dwolla's new partners include ShopKeep and Change) that let the merchant initiate a payment using a push notification to the customer's phone.
But maybe it makes sense to provide a little more context about Dwolla. As it happens, we just had Dwolla's CEO Ben Milne on InformationWeek's Valley View, a monthly, live Web TV show on Wednesday (the video from that segment is embedded further below).
What is a Dwolla?
Little Dwolla, barely two years old, with all of about 40 employees in the technology hotbed of Iowa, has big intentions. It has created a modern payment network, and it aims to change how money moves and to upset what Dwolla CEO Ben Milne thinks is a costly, inefficient, fraud-riddled payments model.
Dwolla has largely been viewed as a PayPal competitor, or a mobile wallet, the de facto ways to facilitate peer-to-peer payments, or consumer-to-merchant payments. But Milne says that these systems are merely building on top of the existing credit card network, and thus simply add to the cost of maintaining those networks. Companies like PayPal, Stripe and Square may aggregate, or process transactions on behalf of all of the traditional components of the payment ecosystem, but each step still extracts its fee on every dollar the network settles, says Jordan Lampe, who heads up communications for Dwolla.
Instead, Dwolla is the network. The company's APIs expose the Dwolla infrastructure for banks, merchants and others to move money, arguably more cheaply and efficiently.
While the early focus in mobile and online commerce has been the typical customer-merchant transaction, Milne says the barrier to entry there is high. Not only must the customer want to use Dwolla, rather than a credit or debit card or cash, the merchant has to accept Dwolla as an option. Dwolla has built several easy ways for merchants to offer Dwolla payments through a kiosk, online, via e-commerce shopping cart extensions, through a merchant mobile app or even on some point-of-sale systems. But it is slow going. And to some extent, this is where the aforementioned three new services come into play. Even though the barriers to entry may be high, it doesn't mean Dwolla is giving up the fight; it's just arming itself for a long battle.