Jason Del Rey

Recent Posts by Jason Del Rey

Coin: Finally, a New Way to Pay in Stores That People Might Actually Use

The whole startup payments world seems set on the inevitability that we will all end up paying for stuff in stores with information stored on our smartphone.

Guess what? I like paying with a card. And so do a whole lot of people.

The frequent counterargument from many mobile payment companies is this: We’ll load discounts into our app, so then you’ll have a reason to use it. But in many cases, that guarantee hasn’t lived up to its promise across enough businesses I encounter on a daily basis to make me change my habits.

So I mostly stick with my cards. But I do have a lot of them — debit, credit, loyalty — as evidenced by the embarrassingly large wallet I carry around — my wife insists it has done some permanent damage to my posture.

Enter Coin, a startup out of Y Combinator that has built a prototype of a card that it claims can store all of your credit, debit and loyalty card information on one Coin card that can be used to pay on mainstream point-of-sale systems. CEO Kanishk Parashar said the prototypes have also been tested with dip readers — the kind you’ll find on vending machines — and that Coin works on them, too.

Connect a dongle to your phone and swipe whatever credit, debit and loyalty cards contain a stripe and are swipeable to load them onto the Coin card. (Loyalty cards that can’t be swiped can be added to the Coin app by snapping an image of it with your phone, but can’t be loaded to the card.)

When you get to checkout, press a button on the front of the card to cycle through your different card choices, with the electronic display showing the card information so you and the cashier know which card you’re using.

I asked Parashar about business owners who might not accept it because it doesn’t look much like other debit or credit cards. He said his company is working on a design that will make it look and feel more like other cards.

I also asked what I’d do when a cashier asks me to see my AmEx card, for example, before I pay, as sometimes happens. His answer was that the information shown on the electronic display coupled with a signature on the back of the card should solve that problem. I’m not so sure.

The idea of a card to store all cards is not completely new. But Coin isn’t looking to get in the middle of the transaction like some others are; it’s building a piece of hardware that simply facilitates the same type of card transaction as other cards would.

“The reason why I did a card … is because the form of a card is now so engrained in our habits and social environment that it gives us a feeling of control and trust that the info is secure and it’s easily recognizable,” Parashar said.

Through Bluetooth low energy, your phone will notify you if you’ve left your Coin card behind.

The company raised a seed round for prototyping from K9 Ventures, Sherpa Ventures, and a handful of angel investors. And today it is launching a crowdfunding campaign on its own site to raise at least $50,000 to start manufacturing, with the goal of shipping next summer. It won’t say how much it raised in seed funding, perhaps because that number would hurt its crowdfunding campaign. The device will retail for $100, with crowdfunding contributors getting it for $50.

In the end, maybe business owners will freak out and refuse to accept the card for some reason. Maybe there aren’t enough people who have the big-wallet problem that I do. Or maybe this is indeed the future of in-store payments.

Whatever the case, I’d start using it tomorrow if I could.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus