Spare Change Agents Post 2

Entertainment |

“iPIN is going to create a new market that hasn’t existed and is launching it with a very efficient model,” gushes the company’s first prominent financier, Gil Amelio, the former Apple Computer chief who, after getting bounced in Apple’s gloom-and-doom days in 1997, has spent much of his time and money since helping to seed-fund Web and tech startups, including the real estate service.

Now principal of an early-stage investment firm called AmTech, Amelio delivered A-round backing of iPIN in 1997-a little more than $300,000-and got the one-man company and his 10-page business plan off the ground. That led to a B-round, and eventually to more than $14 million in venture funding from Accel Partners, Sutter Hill Ventures, and Geneva Partners.

But the seat-of-the-pants incubator days for 33-year-old Jim Justice and the rest of the iPIN team are over. The product testing is done. The press releases are out. The new CEO-Bradley Rode, formerly of Web-traffic specialists I/PRO-is working nine to five. And the sales force has to step it up-enlist as many content partners and ISPs as fast as it can to create a valid marketplace-if it’s to live up to its own launch billing as “the quickest and simplest way to purchase digital content and services over the Internet.”

Which is partly why, even at rush hour on a Friday, two of iPIN’s sales soldiers-Watson and business development director Tishan Waymire-are sticking around to do one last pitch before the weekend. Two executives from mySimon, the popular comparison shopping service, are considering the idea of micro-selling product demos, consumer reports, and other digital doodads that Net shoppers would pay for on the way to a big-ticket credit-card purchase.

“Do you find people are looking to buy this kind of content?” asks mySimon’s Chas Edwards, a few minutes into the presentation.

“Yeah. Oh yeah,” Watson nods, with convincing earnestness. “Absolutely. What we can do is set up a system where at the point of purchase, if I’m looking at a camcorder, you can just click on a button which gives you the consumer report. That’s a small transaction that can be made instantaneously and enhances the consumer shopping experience….”

“It’s a three-step process?”

“Two, really. It’s super lightweight…extremely user friendly….”

More questions, a demo, more nods. The mySimon guys seem pleasantly intrigued, but to them, the idea of charging customers for an online product demo-on their way to buying the actual product-raises lots of questions, and most of the discussion revolves around how mySimon’s service works, not iPIN’s. No deal, not even a proposal made, but, like a lot of potential partners, they’d like to hear more.

All of which raises the vexing question facing iPIN and some of its new competitors: No matter how clever, easy, fast, or cheap any new payment system promises to be, how do you convince everyone, all at once, to be first to try?

“This market has re-emerged,” promises Judith Rosall, research director for ebusiness with the Aberdeen Group. “The five-and-dime stores may have all died out, but we still walk around with fives and singles and quarters in our pockets for a reason. We’re going to have the same thing soon on the Web.”