Mike Isaac

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Micropayments Start-Up Ribbon Aims to Bring Selling to Every Platform

There are two places where you absolutely don’t want friction: The inseam of your jeans and in any online payment transaction.

Ribbon, the digital payments processing platform, probably can’t help with the former. The company’s aim is to take out the friction — or remove as many potential barriers to completing a sale as possible — from the latter.

Part of that friction, Ribbon co-founder Hany Rashwan told me, is that small vendors have myriad ways of selling their goods, but during the final moments of the sale, buyers are redirected to a different portal or platform to complete the transaction. Often that means jumping out to PayPal or another site, or creating a new account for a merchant’s store.

“That’s the point at which people leave,” Rashwan said. “Either it’s taking them too long because there are too many steps, or they don’t want to sign up for another account somewhere.”

Ribbon’s vision is to bring payments processing to the platforms themselves, so that users don’t ever have to leave.

It’s a fairly simple premise. Merchants add items for sale to their account, which in turn auto-generates a link. Share that link out via any of your normal social channels — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram or what have you — and your buyers can click and buy your goods from within each particular platform. So if you click the link inside of Facebook, you make the purchase inside a Facebook app, where you enter your credit card info and shipping data. (Ribbon saves it, making one-click shopping possible from then on.)

It’s a similar premise with Twitter — send a “buy” reply to a seller’s Ribbon-embedded tweet, and the purchase will go through.

The goal, Rashwan said, is to make it easier for companies to leverage their existing followings on social networks without complicating the transaction process. Ideally, for example, celebrities with large followings could sell their merch by pushing their products out to their Facebook fan Pages, which typically already garner massive reach. That saves the extra steps of trying to drive traffic out to another Web page or shopping site.

To be sure, Rashwan and his three San Francisco-based partners — who went through the AngelPad start-up accelerator together in 2011 to form the basis for Ribbon — aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel. Competitors like Chirpify focus on micropayments via Twitter and now Instagram. Gumroad offers a similar short-link payments service, though takes a slightly smaller cut, at 5 percent plus 25 cents (unlike Ribbon’s 5 percent plus 30 cents). Not to mention that payments platform Stripe offers a 2.9 percent plus 30 cents rate, the lowest of all.

And despite Rashwan’s protestations and counterexamples, PayPal is still one of the largest online payments companies in the world for a reason — it does indeed work.

Rashwan, of course, argued that Ribbon works better. He maintains his start-up offers the fewest points of friction compared to competitors, cutting down on the number of steps it takes to complete the transaction. And again he stresses that the importance of carrying out the purchase inside the third-party network is crucial to pushing up the conversion rate, changing e-window shoppers to proper buyers.

“We’re trying to make selling across multiple platforms as easy as copying and pasting,” Rashwan said.

The company has been in private alpha for the past month, circulating the service to more than 3,000 users. Sign-ups go live widely on Tuesday morning.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work