Q&A- Startups

7 Questions with Terrie Smith of DIGISEQ

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself, both at work and leisure.

Hello! I am Terrie Smith. I’m going to start by talking about myself and how I got here When I was 17, I worked at an insurance firm and experienced gender inequality first-hand. Being a tenacious young lady (or maybe just glutton for punishment), I hardened to this, left the company, and moved into the even more male-dominated environment of information technology. And that’s pretty much how it all started.

Today, I’m a mobile payments expert with over 20 years’ experience and a proven track record in product development and management. I have always had a zealousness for innovative payments and NFC technology, and am included in fundamental patents related to provisioning and tokenisation. I managed the development of MasterCard’s MOTAPS solution, a pioneering Trusted Service Manager (TSM) solution and was instrumental in shaping the MasterCard Digital Enable System (MDES), used to support Apple Pay. In June 2014, I started my very own passion project with my friend, Colin Tanner, and together we co-founded the award-winning IoT platform, DIGISEQ.

You may ask… why did I decide to launch a start-up? (I sometimes ask myself that when I am working at midnight). The reality is that it was a move towards personal goals and me attaining control. It was a big risk, no doubt, but I was raised and supported to believe that I can do anything I put my mind to, and I upheld this mantra. Challenging, one might say, but beyond exciting and fulfilling.

Work aside, everyone you ask will tell you I’m pretty much a butterfly – I don’t sit still! If I’m not working, I’m grabbing a coffee, cooking, spending time with my family, or FaceTiming my daughter and the grandkids – there are endless things for me to do and simply not enough time in a day.

2. Which product or service do you offer, and who are your competitors?

DIGISEQ’s Trusted Service and Management Platform (TSMP) is an acclaimed innovative platform  that helps businesses transform everyday items into contactless technology. Our platform securely transfers data over-the-air, enabling devices to have contactless Payment, Access Control, Digital Identification, Object Provenance and User Engagement capabilities. The DIGISEQ platform provides an end-to-end service – We connect the whole ecosystem of technology service providers, banks, retailers, distributors, chip manufacturers and product creators. Businesses tap on our existing processes, secure systems, certifications and partnerships to create their own functional wearables for end consumers. This allows businesses to sail past the complexities and barriers of creating wearable technology, bringing their ideas directly to the market.

Our competitors include wearable payment enablers, Fidesmo and Provisioning Bureaus like Gemalto and Idemia. The key point-of-difference lies in providing seamless fulfilment and implementation solution – We provide a complete suite of features without disrupting existing retail processes. This is a capability that our competitors have spent millions attempting, but no one except us has successfully achieved.

3. How did you get the business idea and take it from launch to the first customers?

Colin (my co-founder) and I decided that wearables and the IoT was the next step in the payments chain and believed strongly in the concept of consumer-owned devices to be enabled beyond payment (e.g. access, loyalty, transit, identity). Together we started DIGISEQ from scratch – we first had to do the nitty-gritty and develop a platform, before getting approval from a payment network. It was an arduous process of developing to comply with the PCI-CP compliance security requirements required by Mastercard, in order to obtain approval.

From there, we took it one step at a time, onboarding a myriad of new partner organisations (Chip Manufacturers, Program Managers, Chip distributors, Chip OS Providers etc) to build a complete end-to-end service for businesses. It was only once our secure network of partners and technological infrastructure were in place that we were able to onboard our Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and configure them into our platform. We partnered with token provider Mastercard, to enable our platform to be Mastercard-certified for tokenisation, completing our end-to-end service and establishing our capability of providing a turn-key solution for businesses to create their own passive wearable devices. 

4. How have you financed your startup? Any lessons would you like to share from the fund-raising journey?

We financed DIGISEQ through self-funding and via Angel Investors. Some lessons learnt along the way:  To personal sell, focus on compatibility, and manage your expectations.

Personal Selling is essentially marketing yourself. Going into a pitch or a sharing, the best thing to do is to exude confidence, passion, intelligence and grit. Investors are people, companies are run by people, ideas thought of by people. If you sell yourself well, your energy will naturally make others more receptive of your ideas, as well as your ability to run the company to success. Oftentimes, our investors are impressed with Colin and I’s credentials, strong track record, and extensive knowledge of the payments industry.

Compatibility – We realised we should probably have gone for an angel investor sooner in the process – we found ourselves betwixt and between being self-funded and initially went beyond an angel (and realised we were not quite ready for series A) so we found ourselves putting more in than we anticipated. It is important to remember investing is a two-way street. Take your time to choose who to seek, do your research and find out what your company needs or what kind of investor dynamic works best for you. Build a healthy (and hearty) stakeholder relationship and investor network – that way, you can ensure that goals are aligned and the dynamics are mutually understood. It is the best way for your start-up to move forwards harmoniously and effectively.

Managing Expectations – This is an important attitude to have. Not all pitches are going to work out – in fact most aren’t. And even with investor money, success isn’t guaranteed. Fund-raising, and success, for most companies is never going to be (and shouldn’t be) defined from a single milestone or snapshot but will requires ongoing effort to sustain. Along the way it is important to absorb advice and feedback in a constructive manner and build on what you envision or believe – this will help you present a stronger case.

5. Which are the key trends and opportunities in (European) financial services?

At its very basis – Contactless payments (NFC payments) have been a rising trend. Now, with the COVID’19 pandemic at hand, global endorsement for contactless has been rife (contactless limits are increasing worldwide) and more and more consumers are starting to demand ‘sanitary’ payment methods.

After mobile payments, wearables will be the new normal. The market has moved past its early stages and is beginning to gain traction and recognition – Mastercard reported an eightfold increase in wearable payment transactions from 2018 to 2019.

Consumers are starting to demand more convenience, ease and variety in their products, and we believe that quick, seamless and secure transactions, with wearable technology, will lead the way. The winning factor of passive wearables is its consumer-centric nature, empowering consumers to select their very own payment vessel (a watch, a wristband, a ring, a shirt) directly from any retailer. This newfound consumer freedom enhances a person’s day-to-day, instead of being intrusive or distracting. The wearable will eventually become a part-and-parcel, indispensable asset of consumer apparel – and also the fact that it is ‘always on’ (it is physically attached to the consumer and is also battery-free and waterproof) makes everyday transactions much more seamless. Wearables combine function, fashion and convenience – and will definitely take flight in the months and years to come.

6. What’s on your bookshelf/ reading list?

One that’s a constant on my nightstand is The Poetry Pharmacy: Tried-and-True Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind and Soul by William Sieghart. The book is a collection of poems (or poetic ‘prescriptions’) that help you understand and relate your feelings in any given moment, articulating seemingly ‘impossible-to-describe’, intangible emotions on your behalf. Though not exactly an ‘ailment’ like it describes itself to be – It does help me put my thoughts and emotions into context, sort out my thoughts, and gain a better perspective on what or why I’m feeling what I’m feeling. It is a therapeutic read, perfect for maintaining a healthy mind and I highly recommend it.

Apart from that, I enjoy fictional reading from time to time, and explore genres of Crime or Thriller. I like novels that keep my mind active and allows me to problem-solve – It keeps me sharp!

7. Your favorite place for a coffee and/ or a drink?

That would be Pret-a-Manger. I know that’s a pretty underwhelming answer, but hear me out. Usually when I get the chance to enjoy a coffee in a cafe, I’m out and about, heading to different offices, giving client workshops, doing investment pitches, attending conferences and so on. More often than not I find myself arriving 15 minutes early and looking for the nearest Pret to get my morning caffeine in get a boost of energy! So though not artisan-level coffee, being in a Pret means I’m buzzing on an opportunity and that good things are happening!