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Oveit Pay v2 — the version with a mission

The first version of what we now call Oveit Pay was launched in 2018. It was a system that allowed event planners to create a small event economy and monetize transactions done in their event space. Simply put they invited third party vendors to their events. The vendors would sell goods (mostly food and beverage) and the event planner would get a cut of what was sold. This helped increase the event’s revenue.

The increase in revenue was and still is very important for many, many event planners, especially festival owners. Without this economic concept the festivals we enjoy were either not possible or very hard to pull off. After the Coronavirus outbreak and the reshuffling of the live entertainment business, closed loop payments model will probably become the norm for a lot of the festivals that will survive.

How Oveit Pay came to be

We were very rudimentary at first. The idea was to use an RFID tag to store monetary value for digital wallets, inside an event. People would wear wristbands which can be either topped up or used to spend existent value. In the beginning we tested everything on laptops and RFID readers. We purchased a bunch of RFID readers and would connect them to the laptops. We found out that different readers were reading different values on the wristbands, due to how they were designed. This was issue no. 1.

Another issue we found was that this concept was very unstable if we were to ship it outside of our area of support. We’ve had a client asking for the technology to be used in the city of Medellin, in Columbia. As Narcos was airing on Netflix we were jokingly discussing the implications and a need for remote deployment. So we needed to change the way we ship the product, from a hardware perspective. Laptops and RFID readers were not the way to go. This was issue no. 2.

Issues 1 and 2 were both solved by switching our mindset from laptops to mobile devices (mostly Android smartphones). They were sturdy, easy to use and we could port our app to them. More importantly — they all had an NFC reading chip. What is an NFC chip? Glad you asked that. It’s a chip that reads some special kind of RFID tags that only work in proximity to the reader (NFC = Near Field Communication ).

When we thought we’d solved all of the issues a strange request came from an upcoming festival in the middle of a deserted island. The request was to run a closed loop payment network (checked) on a deserted island, on mobile devices (checked), without any internet connection (definitely not checked).

The island where it all started

Making payments work offline

This was a tough one: our whole system was based on a cloud server processing sales and wallets, authentication and identities. There was no way that we were familiar with that could work in providing this closed loop without internet connectivity. So we started brainstorming.

At the time we witnessed protests against undemocratic changes to our country’s legislative structure. Protesters were organizing and communicating via mobile phones. When protests got bigger, radio communications were jammed. They had to resort to another way: using their Bluetooth connections to communicate via Firechat, a peer to peer messenger app. What Firechat did was turn each phone using it in a communication relay. Truth be told — it didn’t always work. But it showed us a direction we were going to head into.

We started working with 6 months left to deliver a product that would process payments on a deserted island, in the middle of the Danube river, where no Internet connection was stable. Did I mention the solution was going to be used by 5000 people?

We made it work with a distributed ledger approach that would move the data across mini-servers being run on sets of Raspberry Pi’s. We moved the data across an WiFi network in a secure way and basically created a mesh-network of servers and client devices that were running the apps on mobile phones.

Oveit Edge Payments v1

The day of the festival came. We started late. Not only was there no internet but there was no stable electricity. It was raining. We had sand and dust everywhere. And I mean everywhere. One of the routers was fried due to unstable electricity and we had to drive 400 km to buy a replacement. Sony assisted in providing the mobile devices that were used as POS’s for vendors and top-up points.

Setting up the WiFi network was the hardest part. As electricity was unreliable, it was hard to test which part of the network was working or not. We basically created a network that beamed data from the riverwalk, where attendees would arrive and pretopup credit, to the island, covering a very, very large area, using just routers, access points, raspberry pi’s, mobile smartphones and our software.

It was fun and hard. Monitoring was unlike everything we’ve ever done. The music was running non-stop so there was always someone buying something. We were on constant alert.

It worked.

Not perfectly, but it worked. People were amazed how they couldn’t reach their Instagram profiles but they would just tap their wristband and a payment was made. To a certain degree — it was magic. The perfect blend of technology, a bohemian decor and something emerging right in front of our eyes: an economy and a sort of edge-society. Cut off from the world, the cloud, the big city life, people were enjoying a private festival, with all of the convenience of what we now see as our core pillar in the society we live in: the economy.

When I say economy, don’t think of it as something the government would set up and carefully curate. Don’t think of complicated formulas, central banks and banks in general. Think of it as the basic human behavior of exchanging goods and services. Think of our natural tendency to collaborate with one another and the logistics that emerge from it. Think of what money used to be before we start calling it money: a convention between groups that they will exchange the value of their work through a shared medium.

A new perspective on the world

It took us a while to understand what we were creating. In the back of our mind, the idea started to taking shape as soon as we saw the people on the island interacting with one another. But it took another two years to understand how we fit into the world and how we can make it better.

As the festival was ending I had to hop on a long-haul flight to Hangzhou, China. We were selected to present what we just tested on the island in an International Stars contest.

At the moment I was going through a bit of an issue in my medical condition that made it hard to travel long trips but I chose to go on the trip. First off — I was in charge of product development so I had to present what we did and how we did it. Second — I’ve never been there so I was curious about the country and how the society was evolving.

It was amazing. We discovered many things. One of them was that our technology was not about events. It was, as financial technology usually is, about society and the way that people interact with one another and share value. We’ve seen how WeChat and AliPay changed the Chinese society for the better and how a new wave of different payments technologies were coming. We decided to focus on the opportunity to improve the world with our tech. We just didn’t know how an events company can play a role in the big financial world.

It was at the beginning of 2019 that we received an investment and moved our HQ to Austin, Texas. In just three months we went from an event company that was doing event payments to a company that was doing a new type of payments — As David Smith suggested, we called the technology Edge Payments — payments at the edge of the cloud.

The Oveit Edge Box — the hardware we use to make edge payments work

You see — most of the payments go through a global network of banks, payment processors, gateways, card acquirers and so on. Basically your data travels two times across the world before you buy the ice cream in front of you, if you use your credit card. With cash it’s different. Hand over the note and that’s it.

What if there was a way to process payments where they happened (what we actually did with our tech) and how could this change the world?

We went down that path and we discovered that what we did was offer our customers the benefits of running their own economy. At a small scale, restricted to several geographic virtual areas but an economy nevertheless.

They could onboard vendors and buyers, tokenize and incentivize behavior, add fungible and non-fungible payment tokens. At their fingertips was the potential to create and manage small scale economies. Economies at the edge of the cloud. While still connected to the outside world and money transfers still regulated by traditional means, their mini-economies could become flourishing islands of creative behavior.

Economy as a Service

What we understood was that our technology could impact more than events. It could, theoretically, impact the economy in a way that blogs, social media and tweets and videos have impacted the media companies. It created the power for communities to gather around common ideas, concepts and a new type of influencers.

We understood that Oveit Pay, the closed loop payments app for festivals, could do more. It could empower communities: from a hotel resort to a neighborhood. From an island in the Atlantic to a city in the US Midwest that has its value extracted via global trade routes, leaving it lifeless and without a future. From Europe to the North Americas and from Japan to South Africa, we understood that we are all basically the same and so are our communities and their needs.

We understood that while the globalized world has great benefits, the strength of our society still sits with communities and these communities need to be empowered to create and retain wealth in their local ecosystems.

This is what we now call “Economy as a Service”. Whether it is online (in a game) or offline (in a city, a festival or a neighborhood) our Economy as a Service tool can connect and help its members form a community.

The mission of Oveit Pay

Our mission is to empower communities to empower themselves. In an increasingly complex world where everything is fast moving and global wealth is generated at the edges and collected at the center, something has to change.

Oveit Pay v2

Oveit Pay v2 gathers in one app what we have learned about the world in the past years. It is a tool for communities across a vast spectrum, from cities to virtual communities in games, that want to empower themselves. To do this, we think they are missing a key component. Their own economy. A way to retain the value they create and shape the way it is formed by its members.

It is a complicated mission and it may not be the best way to go. But if we want to improve the way we live today and have a hope at a better future we need to improve on two of the most important inventions of our species: our social structures and the concept of money and how it’s being moved around, with an emphasis on “moved”.

The world is struggling with economic inequity. The global issues following the Coronavirus outbreak will only add to the existing economic issues. We think we can play a part in providing a better future to all human communities, with a tool that helps when help is needed.

This is the mission of Oveit Pay — to bring economic power to communities. To help communities emerge, take shape and become stronger. Make their members’ lives a little better and help them live more fulfilled lives, doing what they love.

Mike Dragan
Oveit COO

Empowering local economies through Tourism

The beginning of 2020 brought us the Madeira Startup Retreat, a wonderful program that supports startups that brings together startups that aim to use their technology for the Travel and Hospitality industry. It helped us better understand how our solution can help communities develop their own local economies.

But as I write these lines, the world is totally different from what it used to be just a few months ago. The coronavirus pandemic made governments impose total lockdowns on communities, a measure designed to keep us safe until these hard moments pass. All industries took a big hit, but Hospitality and Travel are probably the ones that suffer the most in these hard times. Travel bans and lockdowns transformed our once vibrant communities into “ghost cities”, making us understand that we shouldn’t take anything for granted.

Image by Magdalena Smolnicka from Pixabay

The last few weeks gave me time to think of the importance of local communities and their role in the reconstruction of the global economy. And how Tourism can empower local economies. Because although we all suffer together, the power must come from within: individuals, small businesses, local communities. We are strong together, but firsts we must be strong as individuals.

The future of communities

The idea of local economies that are globally interconnected is not new, but today’s hard times force us to better understand the importance of each chain link in our interconnected world. And that the fall of one piece can create a chain reaction that will affect us all. While some communities are created around powerful manufacturing industries or financial centers, many of them are 100% dependent on the industry that took the biggest hit these days: Tourism. 

Overall, 1 in 10 employees work in tourism, making it one of the biggest industries in the world. But for some communities, it means more than that, making it the only way that allows them to attract external funds. However, taking a deeper look at the Tourism Industry allows us to see the day-to-day challenges. Challenges that affect both the Tourism Industry and the community. Tackling these challenges could mean a stronger, financially independent community that has the power to attract more tourists and offer better experiences. The key members that create these experiences, which have the interest but also are required to work together. 

Current main problems

We will take a look at how Hotel Chains, small businesses, and local authorities could better work together. But first I want to list some of the problems that affect the small communities and Tourism operators.

  • Especially in developing countries, tourism inflates prices. Tourists afford to pay more for existing products and services, making it harder for locals to access them. In the long term, this makes the area lose its initial inhibitors and its cultural heritage, affecting tourism in the region.
  • Most of the money leaves the community/country. Although tourists spend large amounts of money, a big percentage leaves the local economy within just a few transactions because of the lack of strong local businesses.
  • Lack of data. Each stakeholder has access to part of the data (tourist information, purchasing habits, preferred experiences, etc) making it almost impossible for them to offer the experiences tourists crave for
  • Fragmented experience for the tourists. Different currencies, different payment methods or divided registration processes can become daunting. Often enough, tourists choose to skip different activities because of the mentioned reasons, affecting both the local economy but also their own experience – a lose/lose situation.

Sustainable Tourism

At first, it may look that these problems affect just the local communities, not the powerful Hotel Chains that operate there. But a weak community will discourage people to visit a specific area, forcing the Tourism Operators to take a big hit as well. Distributing part of the money to locals is an investment that will help the area flourish, having an impact on all the mentioned stakeholders. And with millennial travelers valuing local experiences and pushing the trend to experiential traveling, any support offered to the local community becomes an investment into the industry itself.   

At Oveit, we have developed an Economy as a Software solution, aiming to help communities to create their local economy. Having such an ecosystem means that the money tourists spend on their vacations stays within the community that works to create these wonderful experiences. It’s a way of making sure that the wealth is distributed amongst those that put the hard work in creating beautiful memories. It’s a way of making Tourism (more and more) sustainable.

Local Economies. From concept to implementation

If you think the theory sounds good you will be happy to find out that the implementation is easier than you would imagine. Our solution allows the main stakeholder of the ecosystem (let’s put the Hotel in charge) to easily onboard external vendors and experience creators into this local payment system. 

The integration with the PMS means no complicated onboarding is required. Guests from the hotel can use their room key ( or even their mobile phones or customized NFC wearables) to pay or claim different benefits. It can be used to open the room, access the spa, pay at the hotel’s restaurant or gift shop. But by onboarding local vendors it also means that they can use it to pay at a local shop or to access the local museum. By partnering up with the local entrepreneurs and authorities, the Hotel can encourage its guests to spend their money within businesses that add value to the region. It can create better experiences for the tourist, allowing them to pay using the same NFC wristband that they use to open their rooms.

Tourists will no longer need to carry cash around. So often, small local businesses do not afford to onboard the existing banking system, making it harder for them to sell their services and products to foreigners. Tourists can use the same wearable for all the activities they want to join – a simple thing as an NFC wristband can become their room key, wallet, access to the museum or even transportation pass.


Photo by Satoshi Hirayama from Pexels

Data becomes available live – purchasing habits and experiences are all processed through the system, allowing involved parties to better understand the customer journey.  And, of course, to use this information to better understand who their customers are and how they could improve their stay. 

Local authorities can support the industry by making sure that part of the money generated by the Tourism industry is spent within it. For example, for spendings within local businesses users can receive extra Perks – free entrance to local attractions, discounts, and many more.

Conclusions

We live in an era where technology shows us the power of decentralization, empowering individuals and communities. Looking at today’s biggest companies like Airbnb and Uber we see the effect of giving power to individuals and small communities. Not only a better wealth distribution but also improved services for the consumer. And better experiences mean better client retention.

Leading Tourism companies have the opportunity to use their resources in creating powerful economies around their businesses. To empower the communities that empower the tourism industry.