Why Visa set up new innovation lab focused on digital payments

By Patricia Riedman Yeager, Contributing Writer

billgadjaIn July, Visa joined the ranks of companies with swanky new innovation centers when it opened One Market, an 112,000-square foot space in San Francisco. As the world of payment shifts from paper and plastic to ones and zeros, the $12.6 billion company is hustling to defend its dominant position.

Bill Gajda, Senior Vice President for Innovation and Strategic Partnerships, explained the thinking that drove the decision to open up a new facility just 20 miles from Visa’s headquarters in Foster City, Calif.

Collaboration

Gajda and his team manage Visa’s relationships with new players in the payments industry, such as wireless carriers, device manufacturers, payment start-ups, etc. One Market provides his group a place to collaborate with clients and partners, develop new ideas, and test emerging commerce technologies.

One Market’s wide-open spaces are designed to foster interaction. “It’s a special place,” he says. “I think we’ve created an environment where even if someone is at his or her desk, they have the feeling that everyone is together.” One Market also has 20-30 enclosed areas in which people can have private conversations. There is also a multimedia auditorium that can accommodate up to 70 of its partners (Apple, Facebook, and Google to name a few) to discuss products and get hands-on experience with prototypes and new technologies. Visa is exploring how it can replicate the collaborative work environment in its other offices around the world.

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Recruiting

The move to San Francisco’s One Market location is significant because it shifts some of Visa’s talent from its Foster City headquarters. “At its core, Visa is a technology company and this was a way to showcase that part of the Visa brand,” Gajda says. The location also helps Visa with recruitment, he adds. “We compete for talent with all the other companies up and down the Bay Area; a lot of the companies are moving to San Francisco to attract developers who want to live in the city.” About 500 employees will work at One Market.

One Market’s debut dovetails with Visa’s overall push in the digital payments space. In September 2014, it announced plans to add 2,000 more full-time tech positions: data scientists, engineers, platform architects and mobile developers in offices around the U.S. and world.

Venture investing

On the development side, Visa recently rolled out Visa Checkout, an online payments solution for any device, along with a partnership in ApplePay, a one-click payment system for Apple mobile devices. It also made an investment in LoopPay, a Boston-based company that enables secure digital payments via mobile devices that works with most traditional point-of-sale retail checkout terminals.

The investment in LoopPay, Gajda says, is part of a new, more methodical approach to startups. “Historically, we’ve had relationships with venture capital companies, but it has been ad hoc,” he says. “There’s so much happening in the commerce space that we wanted to have a systematic way of dealing with them.”

For instance, he says, Visa is finding ways to interact with startups on a more regular basis — not just investing, but providing advice and exploring ways to collaborate.

Rapid prototyping

Another new Visa initiative at One Market is a small lab space where new emerging technologies can be tested and evaluated. It’s designed to fast-track commerce technology and approaches to mitigating fraud, often working with partners and third-party technology. The idea is “to come up new solutions in a very fast way,” Gajda says, noting the first idea it is working on had an incubation time of just twelve weeks. And while he couldn’t name the companies involved, he did say it revolves around creating a connected car and “how can you use your car to create a new commerce experience.”

Future vision

At the opening of One Market, Visa CEO Charlie Scharf laid out his vision for the future: “New technologies, especially mobile, are having a profound impact in the way we will shop, pay and be paid in the future. According to recent studies, more than 30 billion connected devices will be wirelessly connected to the ‘Internet of Things.’ Visa’s role is to ensure that every Internet connected device, appliance or wearable computer, can become a secure place for commerce.”

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More: Bloomberg wrote about One Market and spoke with CEO Charlie Scharf in October.

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