Charlotte entrepreneur has his finger on the pulse of the payments industry
07/03/2014 12:00 AM
07/02/2014 3:12 PM
Companies across the world are wondering how they can harness the power of smartphones to gain a competitive edge at a time of quickly changing mobile technology.
From his kitchen table in Charlotte’s Piper Glen, Aditya Khurjekar is tracking it all.
Last summer, just to pass the time, Khurjekar started blogging on the payments industry.
That hobby has blossomed into a website, Letstalkpayments.com, which has become an increasingly popular source for payments news and has made Khurjekar a sought-after expert on the payments industry.
As a measure of the thirst for information on the payments world, Khurjekar’s site is now generating revenue. It has been selling advertisements and premium content since around the start of the year.
Also, thanks in part to the attention the site has helped him gain, he has been asked to organize an event for a wireless industry trade group later this summer in Las Vegas. He’s also organizing a smaller version of the event in Charlotte this month.
Khurjekar said he’s surprised at the rapid success of Letstalkpayments.com, which he now spends much of his time running from his home with the help of a partner in Bangalore, India.
“It just went fast,” the 41-year-old said. “This space (the payments industry) is so hot.”
According to website traffic data that Khurjekar monitors, his site is the fastest-growing payments news website in the world.
It competes with many similar sites at a time of an expanding mobile payments market. According to a report released in March by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, 17 percent of all mobile phone owners made a mobile payment last year, up from 15 percent in 2012.
From banks to retailers, companies are eager to play a role in the mobile payments business, where smartphones have become a way to pay for goods and services. For example, more retailers are exploring offering “digital wallets” to compete with similar offerings from companies like Google.
Khurjekar said the mobile payments business is trending toward allowing paying in stores with a smartphone as easy as “one-click shopping online” is now.
“Retailers are beginning to offer smartphone-based checkout and payment options to the increasingly tech-savvy shoppers while they are in their stores,” he said.
From chipmaker to entrepreneur
Khurjekar’s website is keeping tabs on all of those changes.
It’s an unlikely career turn for someone who started out as a microchip designer.
He grew up in a middle-class family in Pune, India, where his father worked for Central Bank of India, first as an agriculture lender and later retiring as a general manager.
In 1994, Khurjekar came to the U.S. to attend graduate school at Temple University in Philadelphia. He eventually became a microchip designer for Bell Labs. There, he worked on a team that designed the world’s first decoder chip for high-definition TV, which allowed TVs to operate in high definition.
He later went to work for Verizon Wireless from 2004 to 2012. His last job with Verizon was head of mobile payments.
During his time at Verizon, he was on the founding team behind Isis, a mobile wallet joint venture involving AT&T and T-Mobile.
He moved from New Jersey to Charlotte last year as a trailing spouse: His wife, Aparna, is a vice president in Charlotte for Verizon Wireless.
In what he calls a “Sunday afternoon pastime,” Khurjekar last year started blogging about his views on the payments industry. At the time, he was also working for Independence Bancshares, a Greenville, S.C., bank holding company that hired him to help with its mobile technology strategy. He works for the bank as an adviser now.
Khurjekar said his blogging was noticed by Amit Goel, who convinced him to create Letstalkpayments.com as a resource for the industry.
Goel, based in Bangalore, manages the site, while Khurjekar helps come up with ideas for content, which is produced by a team of writers.
About 90 percent of the site’s content is still free, Khurjekar said. He declined to disclose the number of paid subscribers.
Letstalkpayments.com is also generating consulting business for Khurjekar. He said he is working with a select group of businesses on their mobile commerce strategies.
A ‘hackathon’ for Charlotte
Khurjekar said the website caught the attention of the CTIA, or Cellular Telephone Industry Association, a trade group that also goes by the name The Wireless Association.
Last year, he said, the CTIA approached him to expand the offerings at its Super Mobility Week conference that will be held in Las Vegas this September.
Khurjekar agreed to organize a conference called The Money Event, which will coincide with Super Mobility Week and focus on mobile payments innovations.
A similar, but smaller, event will be held at UNC Charlotte July 12-13. That event, a “hackathon,” will challenge attendees to come up with ways mobile technology can be used to enhance shopping experiences. It is free and open to the public.
Khurjekar hopes the hackathon will lead to more collaboration in Charlotte’s payments industry.
While Charlotte has a strong pool of financial industry talent, there’s not enough interaction between the banking world and other industries to foster more innovation in the payments sector, he said.
“We need the technology industry and the banking industry ... to connect better, to have more opportunities for engagement for collaboration, for conversation,” he said.
“I feel like for Charlotte to become more innovative, we need to force those intersections.”
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