[Ed. Note: This is the first in an occasional series that will offer five questions all about commerce and its future, and answers from industry experts, visionaries and thought leaders. If you are interested in being interviewed for this series, please contact us.]
Aron Schwarzkopf is the founder and CEO of Leaf, a platform enabling brick-and-mortar businesses to convert their point-of-sale into “point of smart” interactions. When Aron graduated from Babson College with a degree in entrepreneurship in 2010, he knew he wanted to revolutionize how local companies do business and help them succeed in a world increasingly shifting to the cloud. Since then, he has led Leaf from an idea on a napkin through the introduction of its built-for-business tablet in late 2012, to a platform that processes more than $30 million a year in payments. When he’s not transforming businesses, Aron and Leaf frequently give back to the world through charitable donations and partnerships.
FOC: We’ve heard an awful lot about mobile payments and mobile wallets. In your opinion, do you see this idea really catching on in a big way? Are a lot of consumers using mobile wallets? Why or why not?
Schwarzkopf: Yes, we do see mobile wallets slowly being adopted and think there’s a lot of promise for this technology. However, the real revolution in payments is taking place behind the counter. Payment companies that make it easier for companies to respond to consumer demand for innovation will truly change the game.
FOC: How has the tablet changed commerce? We know smartphones had a big impact, but what is different about the tablet?
Schwarzkopf: The tablet is reinventing how business is done at the counter. Businesses can reduce countertop clutter, and simplify their lives through cloud technology that lives on the platform. But it’s not just about the hardware/tablet. It seems as though every week, new hardware is introduced with the promise of changing the point of sale. To us, this means that in a few years POS technology will be entirely commoditized.
Legacy POS hardware is shifting to tablets because it enables innovation. The revolution goes beyond the device, and instead provides for growth and innovation: flexibility, openness and analytics, and we’ll see the POS battle will be won on the back end. The long-term path to growth involves capturing, analyzing and acting on transaction data, and fast. A merchant with the open platform for building value-add apps and services, and analytics that drive insight into customer decisions, will have a decided advantage.
FOC: Leaf technology aims to allow merchants to take advantage of the cloud and to play in the same space as big brands. Tell us how you think this will change the landscape of online shopping.
Schwarzkopf: There are 8.5 million brick-and-mortar merchants and less than 1 percent use the cloud and SaaS to run and grow their business. Additionally, SMB merchants are increasingly under attack from traditional big box and online competitors armed with sophisticated tools for data analytics and customer engagement. Numerous startup and legacy players in the SMB space are offering payment acceptance, business analytics, loyalty and other business services to help compete against the growing competition. However, these offerings are highly fragmented, requiring multiple solutions and devices leaving the merchant overwhelmed by the new technology choices.
Leaf is the first platform to aggregate all these services on one open platform, helping to change the current landscape. Leaf arms the merchant with a feature-rich mobile POS and business analytics and management tool with an open approach to payment acceptance, enabling merchants to accept credit and gift card processing through the provider of their choice. It is compatible with new alternative payment types such as Near Field Communication, EMV, mobile wallets, etc. Lastly, the Leaf Appstore enables third parties to create applications catering to the additional needs of the merchant (loyalty, niche applications, etc.) while sharing in the rewards. Overall, Leaf is the foundation upon which small brick and mortar merchants can run all aspects of his business the same way large retailers do.
FOC: We like to ask our experts and visionaries what they are reading. It gives us a glimpse into how their minds work. So tell us, what is on your reading list right now? Blogs? Websites? Books? Magazines? We want to know!
Schwarzkopf: I am currently reading Sun Tuz’s “The Art of War” (again). It’s a great book to understand business strategy. I frequently read Business Insider, The Economist and, of course, Drudge Report and TechCrunch to keep up with the latest.
FOC: Last but not least, what is the future of commerce?
Schwarzkopf: We see the future of commerce becoming more of an even playing field for all merchants. Small businesses are beginning to adopt affordable, innovative technology that will help them better compete with large and online businesses.