Tuesday has been a busy day for Silicon Valley point of sales systems. Square, the IPO-bound startup run by Jack Dorsey, announced a new national partnership with Whole Foods that is billed as its second national partnership alongside coffee giant Starbucks Starbucks. Fresh off an $80 million fundraising round last month, Stripe announced it was now accepting almost 140 different currencies.
At the smaller four-year-old startup Revel Systems, cofounders Chris Ciabarra and Lisa Falzone are fiesty about two announcements of their own: full Bitcoin capability for merchants and their own deal with more than 100 Pizza Patron stores. And in the face of Square’s splashier news, the Revel pair want to set the record straight on just what such a partnership really means.
Square’s deal is a significant announcement for the company, which reportedly took in north of $500 million in gross sales last year but has relied on Starbucks’ name recognition alone with retail customers for months. The deal does not, however, replace Whole Foods’ point of sales systems (POS), instead adding Square Stands and Square Registers at in-store locations like juice bars to function alongside the grocers’ main POS.
Revel Systems, meanwhile, cuts deals to handle a merchant’s entire point-of-sale offering. “We don’t consider Square a point-of-sale competitor,” Falzone tells FORBES. “We see them as a payment provider, more of a register.”
Of course, that goes against Square’s own recent positioning with Square Stand, which bills itself as a point-of-sale system in the sense that it connects traditional hardware like printers and cash registers while also registering staff and handling some inventory features like price variations.
Revel claims that it’s trying to go a whole lot deeper when it refers to “point of sale.” That means iPads to easily pay on, yes, but more importantly tracking like cross-store sales inventory distribution. That pits it more against traditional POS giants MICROS and NCR Aloha.
Falzone and Ciabarra target high-volume chains like Pizza Patron for those services, with an average client processing what Revel claims is $300,000 in annual transactions versus just a couple thousand over Square, Falzone says. And Revel argues that Square’s flat 2.75% on transaction fees doesn’t make sense for a higher average cost than the juice at Whole Foods or coffee at Starbucks, no matter how expensive those may be.
Still, Revel is much smaller by name and reputation. Pizza Patron doesn’t quite have the ring to it of Whole Foods, and Revel can’t compete with the weight of a $500 million revenue figure. (Falzone says that Revel’s reporting doesn’t include the money going straight to credit card companies as fees, which can drive up a revenue total.)
Revel’s revenue stand at an estimated $20 million a year on what it says is 250% growth off churn of less than 4%. The company has clients in the neighborhood of “hundreds” but recently started upping its marketing spend to go after small businesses.
It may not move the needle much with its adoption of Bitcoin, but the functionality is one that could generate some buzz for Revel. San Francisco’s Five Markets and Brooklyn’s Greene Ave Market grocery stores were already using Bitcoin for a while, but Revel announced full compatibility just now after a quick month of building out the function (ironically picking a week of bad Bitcoin news).
Now over 30 merchants are live with the Bitcoin functionality across the Bay Area and Brooklyn, presumably looking to tap into techie fascination with alternate currencies.
Merchants make a Coinbase account tied to their bank account, at which point users scan their phones on a customer-facing app to transfer funds from their own Bitcoin wallet. The transaction is quick and more secure than using a credit card, Ciabarra argues, and merchants can set an auto-transfer to cash out when more than $100 worth of Bitcoin enter their account.
But as Revel must fight not to get lost in the talk about Square, Stripe, and other solutions, it’s the Pizza Patron deal that will keep it building some market share in a crowded field. Amazon is reportedly building its own Kindle-based checkout system, while PayPal and others continue to look to the space. PayPal spent $800 million on payments startup Braintree through its EBay subsidiary in December.
The company’s founders admit that marketing and media reports have positioned Revel in opposition to those players, a scale comparison that doesn’t do them any favors for now. Revel works with over 40 loyalty programs so far and is a PayPal partner. And just as Square currently integrates with Micros and Aloha, Falzone thinks Square could end integrating with Revel, too: “Alone, Square will never be able to hand the grocery checkout line as their register is toady because they don’t have the deeper analytics stores need to run their business.”
(Those worried about getting lost in Square’s shadow may take some heart in some less favorable press the company received today as Gawker picked up a first-hand blog account by game designer Alex Shvartsman of his own shoddy treatment as a merchant working with Square. Square has not yet replied to a request for comment on that incident.)
After four years, Revel’s founders say they’re growing as they expected given the deep integration their systems favor. But if Falzone and Ciabarra mean it when they say they’re in this for years to come in pursuit of their own eventual IPO, Revel needs to build some cadence to its the deals and innovations like embracing Bitcoin. It’s that, or get lost behind Jack Dorsey’s Vine selfie shadow.
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