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Why The Future Of Mobile Payments Is In Audio With Rodney Williams Of LISNR, Part II

When LISNR closed a major enterprise deal with NBC, the organization fundamentally changed forever. First, they were able to raise $10 million as they gained interest from 70 more enterprise level customers that wanted access to their innovative solution. Second, they got their first major lawsuit. These early growing pains would eventually lead them to identify a billion dollar opportunity, but how did the startup persist while avoiding failure?

In part two of our interview with Rodney Williams we discuss how the company managed to survive through multiple points of potential failure by focusing on gaining customer traction and building product value. Rodney tells us how the team was able to quickly create large sales pipelines that take years for some companies, through a meticulously thought out brand strategy.

We also dive into the specific tactics behind his aggressive B2B lead generation strategy to understand how they were able to build up demand so quickly every time they pivoted.

Show Notes

2:15 Around 2013 we landed a deal with NBC and they wanted an SDK/API that did everything that the app did.

3:06 That caused a rift in the company because music was working well. And it took about 15 months to build this with 6 engineers. So just that delay put us in a crunch where we had to do a lot of selling.

3:21 So we were running out of money, and starting to raise a Series A. But we were also starting to close deals with the SDK with big companies. We found a market where the existing tech, fingerprinting for live events and broadcasts didn’t work. And this solution did. So it was ALL about the market.

3:52 The second screen market was hot. Everyone wanted to Shazam things like during events.

4:50 That lead to us getting into live events, then sports. We ended up signing 10 NFL teams for the product.

5:10 After graduating from Techstars IOT program, we raised $10M from Intel based on the demand on our SDK. We showed more than 70 enterprise customers requesting the tech. From Samsung to Sony.

5:45 Around end of 2015/2016 we got a lawsuit for recording voices and interpreting them for advertising purposes.

6:30 Although we survived the lawsuit, a lot of the partners/clients slowed down and said no. So we should have been even bigger by now.

6:53 But along the way we always kept working on improving our technology, and making it faster to send data over audio. Then we decided to get into ticketing as a big next industry. We got Splash as a client and Ticketmaster soon followed with a major deal.

7:07 That’s when we became a true protocol that can authenticate transactions and allow people to pay.

7:20 Sergei – it sounds like every time you had an idea for a new vertical to go after, you would go out there and generate demand quickly and prove to investors you can sell. How did you actually do it?

7:45 Rodney – I listened and I asked timely questions. It’s not about how the technology works, it’s what you want it to do.

8:03 Asking questions like, how do you want a fan to engage with you? How should people pay? Of course I have an opinion.

9:00 I knew from being a brand guy, the customer journey intimately. And I hated to see friction at the point of purchase.

9:10 Tech like QR Codes, NFC etc. was tangible but cumbersome. We started with fan engagement and it was a constant for us, but after the lawsuit we decided to change strategy.

9:30 Sergei/Vadim – Sounds like asking the right questions before offering a solution was critical. But still, getting 70 enterprise customers for some companies takes years. How did you do it?

9:46 Rodney – If you look at our company’s history, these great moments followed a big spike in press. I do understand growth and always had a very specific strategy around it.

10:10 When we go into a new market, we create a plan and execute on it as well as we can. Exactly who we want to write the article, what story we want it to tell, what partnerships we need to get to ge the editor.

10:45 We raise awareness, increase traffic, create a funnel to then marketing qualified leads, and then turn them into sales qualified leads.

11:44 This year from one conference alone, NRF, we got 600 qualified leads. From there we need to turn them into sales qualified leads, then opportunities and create drip campaigns etc.

13:12 Vadim – all along the way you adjusted course constantly and adapted, and it led you to your north star of payments, so let’s get to that.

13:30 Rodney – initially I thought we would replace bluetooth, in its use as a beacon. They actually tried to use bluetooth for payments. Since we knew all phones had speakers and microphones, we don’t have to add hardware.

14:04 So even in our original IP, we mentioned payments, ticketing, access control, keys etc. We didn’t know payments was going to be the north star until later.

14:40 Vadim – when did you realize payments was going to be the bigger opportunity for you?

14:48 Rodney – well at this point the team is bigger with many smarter people on it.

15:20 We decided to go for it and at the end of 2017 we closed a private round with Syncrony Financial, the largest private label credit card network that powers cards for Amazon among other retailers. They were very forward thinking.

15:55 We started to understand the value proposition and why this was disruptive from them. That led to a contract that required us to hit a lot of product milestones to turn this tech into the best way to pay every created.

There are product milestones around pay zones, distance requirements, etc.

20:40 62% of the total mobile wallet transactions today are not NFC.

21:00 When you transact in space like us, it makes transactions much cheaper.

21:46 We’ve completed some of the trials but consumers will have the technology in their hands in Q4 this year Q1 next year.

22:20 Sergei – how do you figure out how to structure these deals with every new market you enter?

22:31 Rodney – some of the talent we acquired, for example our former president, now CEO was the GM at Gracenote, who at one point was sitting on 98% of mobile devices, and 90+% of cars. They were a fingerprinting company that identified what song was playing and show it on the screen.

23:15 They were one of the first ones to license audio codec as a tech

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