When you speak with him, you get a sense of ease, even a sense of quiet, that sounds like an introvert. Get him to talk about his latest innovation – SwipeHQ however, and you get to hear him talk passionately.
And then, there’s an air of swiftness while answering potentially tricky questions (future product plans) that are met with a guarded and measured response.
Manas Kumar is a technology-smitten young man who spends 20 hours a day thinking about producing digital tools to make lives easier for businesses and its customers.
And at 32 years of age, he has became the second-youngest business-owner to list his company on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.
Ever since that listing in December 2011, he’s been in news – for good reasons of course! The most recent being the announcement of his yet-to-be-launched device – SwipeHQ, a matchbox-sized device that plugs into an iPhone’s sound jack and converts the smartphone into a mobile payment device that can swipe a credit card to process a payment.
But that’s not how this story was meant to start.
He was a typical 20-something, cricket-struck Indian, with a dream to play at international level. That dream brought him to New Zealand in 2001, and before he knew, he was flipping burgers and pumping gas to make ends meet.
The hand-to-mouth existence meant he was working on multiple jobs, and did not leave him with much time to go home – so he would find somewhere in downtown to sleep before starting on the morning shift. Two years later, an urge to get out of the meagre existence gripped him.
Einstein gave him a clue. “The definition of insanity is,” Einstein famously said, “to do the same thing again and again and expect a different result.”
Manas aspired to break the vicious circle. That moment, the cricket bat made way for computer keyboard. A $10 buy of a domain name later, Manas started his website design company in 2003.
It wasn’t an easy ride – the first years of business were extremely difficult. Einstein probably repeated his mantra, and Manas changed gears to reinvent his company to develop software for businesses.
The year was 2007. This is when the wind entered the sail – things began to look up.
OptimizerHQ , as Manas’ company is now known, received good response to its flagship email marketing software, among other products. Manas had found his muse – to develop digital tools to help businesses serve its customers better.
Taking a leaf out of his own book, and possibly still listening to Einstein, Manas and his team looked at new ways of helping businesses, at a time when iPhones, Blackberrys and Galaxys were creating a growing category of tools – smart phones.
Manas designed a device, which will be launched in August, that can be plugged into a smart phone and voila! You have a payment gateway – a tool that merchants can use to receive payment from customers.
From lawnmower in the backyard, to the baker at the farmers market to major retail shops, the device can help a range of businesses. So who is his competition? “No one,” says Manas.
He is targeting a market that’s currently dependent on customers carrying cash. And what better place to launch his product than New Zealand – a cashless society, where the number of electronic payments (per capita, at point of sale) is one of the highest in the world. But he is not keen to compete in the EFTPOS (debit card) market.
SwipeHQ, as the device is known, will be able to process credit cards only at this stage. “It’s a deliberate strategy,” he says, and stops, not intending to reveal the reasons.
EFTPOS machines have taken years to gain trust of customers. Will customers trust smart phones to handle payments? Manas affirms that they have followed industry best practices in encryption and data safety while designing SwipeHQ.
“If you look in media, there have been so many instances where EFTPOS terminals have had issues in terms of not being able to stop fraud. There’s always risk with payment gateways.
“We have gone through all the regulatory aspects of producing this technology. We deploy a lot of resources into securing the device, and our commitment to security is second to none.”
He’s upbeat about the future of his company. “Internet is not just about website. OptimizerHQ is going to be a significant company because we are able to make a change in the way companies do business.”
Ask him about his personal life over the next few years, and you are greeted with a pause. “I’ll probably be still putting in 20-hour days for weeks at end!”