Snapper's Miki Szikszai on brands and national plans

Snapper aims for national transport ticketing scheme for the Rugby World Cup 2011


Name: Miki Szikszai

Title: CEO

Organisation: Snapper

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

Favourite restaurant: Scopa, Wellington

Most recent read: Voltaire's Bastards : The Dictatorship of Reason in the West

Favourite place to visit in New Zealand: Flying Fox, Whanganui River

Worst job: Door to Door commission selling of rag bags when I was 14 — I was saved by a broken ankle

First computer: ZX Spectrum 48K — bought with proceeds of above worst job

What keeps Miki Szikszai awake at night?: Very little — I am an excellent sleeper! What I find I think about a lot (and its fun!) is how to we take Snapper from where we are to becoming the number one choice for small value payments.

As the New Zealand Transport Authority gears up to deliver a national integrated ticketing system, Computerworld caught up with Miki Szikszai, CEO of Snapper, which runs Wellington’s Snapper card.

Snapper seems to be expanding, but its results aren’t published separately in Infratil's accounts. What stage is the business at — start-up, cash flow positive, profitable?

Snapper is at a start-up phase. We’ve been going for just over a year in the market. We’re approaching 100,000 cards in the market, and have processed 15 million transactions. We’re on a path to cash flow positive in three to four years.

Snapper is most associated with Wellington. What is the company doing outside of the capital?

We made a conscious decision to deploy initially in Wellington and expand from there. We started with one bus operator and adult fares last year and have moved to three operators, child fares, student ID cards, stadium cards.

We support transfer discounts and passes. We’ve just signed up East West Ferry and will launch on Wellington taxis in 2010. There has been a lot of focus on getting this right before we scale. We’re fairly deep in negotiations with operators and regional councils all over New Zealand — I would love to tell you who they are, but that would spoil the surprise.

Our vision is to have a national scheme in place prior to Rugby World Cup 2011, so that gives you an idea that we are working with people all through New Zealand.

Snapper’s ambitions go beyond integrated ticketing? What do you see the company and its technology doing in five years’ time?

Snapper is built on a very simple idea — how can we use this technology to make everyday easier? Our whole aim in life is to identify things that people have to grapple with in everyday life and find ways to remove them. Take boarding a bus — with cash it takes at least 10 seconds, with Snapper it’s about two seconds. Same with an EFTPOS retail transaction — they take about 20 seconds — Snapper takes two seconds. So we look for any scenario where there is an unecessary queue or delay and how we can remove that.

We’re also quite clearly a payments and transactions platform, so that’s where we focus on where we can make a difference.

So in five years’ time I see us continuing to make public transport transactions easy and having a very strong presence in small value retail transactions in stores, in vending environments and online. Our strategy is to use open technologies so we also see a scenario where other application developers develop applications for Snapper and vice versa. Loyalty and access applications appear to be a natural evolution for the company as well.

We have the rights to deploy the technology outside of New Zealand so we expect that we will not just be servicing New Zealand customers but in other markets.

What are the changes you see coming down the track in smartcards that could affect the kinds of goods and services Snapper delivers? What new applications are we likely to see?

Smartcards are almost becoming a misnomer as the card is really only one of the form factors. We already have devices that are USB devices as opposed to cards. At 72k capacity it dwarfs what my first computer was capable of.

In effect, anyway that you can package up a micro-controller and an antenna to power it, then the only limit is the imagination to the form factor.

Smartcards are quick, effective and relatively cheap. They are also, by design, offline devices. With the money stored on the card itself, that allows the speed of transaction that EFTPOS can’t manage.

The most interesting trend to watch is the integration with mobile — that will bring an on-line connection to the smart card. I think that really opens this up as a payment platform that is multi-faceted.

Korea launched this service earlier this year through T-Money and the use cases — in particular card present transactions for online services — start to change the game for how secure payments are made.

Snapper is a consumer brand. How important is that to access the markets you are targeting? Also, do all integrated ticketing systems have to create such a brand?

Brands are promises. They are a promise to your consumer that you as a business have to keep. It’s important to people who use the service and it is important for the people who are in the business. It sets the standard that they have to deliver.

Snapper is a consumer brand and it’s also a business brand. It’s underpinned by our desire to make everyday easier.

Consumers buy Snapper for the promise of convenience, speed and ease of use. Operators and retailers buy Snapper for accuracy, reliability and information they can use to run their business.

I think it’s critical that we make these promises so customers know what to expect and what to hold us to account for. As we move into other sectors it also provides something that customers can relate to — so they can see that a new use for Snapper is a natural extension of what they have already used it for.

Given we are really a payments and transaction platform, the brand is important to us.

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