Geek Speak: Clovis Najm, CEO of Mobio Identity Systems

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      Clovis Najm knows that the mobile phone is poised to become the new debit card. He’s the 37-year-old, Toronto-born founder, chair, and CEO of Mobio Identity Systems.

      With its staff of 14, Najm’s Vancouver-based company has developed a mobile-commerce platform that allows merchants to sell products and services to customers through their smartphones. Mobio released an iPhone application in November and expects to put out Android and BlackBerry apps by the end of summer. At several local restaurants, customers can scan Mobio’s two-dimensional barcodes and use their phones to pay their bill.

      2-D barcodes can be printed on paper and clothing, posted on Web sites, shown in video, and shared through e-mail and social media. Nonprofits, such as Habitat for Humanity Greater Vancouver, are using them to receive donations. On March 28, the University of Ottawa Heart Institute’s annual telethon, which will be broadcast by CTV Ottawa, will make use of a Mobio barcode.

      The Georgia Straight reached Najm by phone at his office in Gastown.

      How does a person use the Mobio app?

      Well, what happens is they see a 2-D barcode in some of the marketing material of the business, and generally what happens is they open up their Mobio and Mobio accesses the camera and the smartphone. They wave it in front of the barcode, and it picks up the barcode. So, they don’t have to take a picture. They just wave and scan it.

      Then, from there, the splash page within the Mobio tells them which business they’re going to be transacting with and what the transaction is about. So, if it’s a donation, they’ll be asked how much they want to donate. If it’s a restaurant, they’ll be asked how much they want to obviously tip and pay. That’s essentially how it works.

      So, the software itself is tied to someone’s credit-card number, but the credit-card number is part of the service. It’s stored not on the Mobio itself, but part of the service. We function as a payment-provider service, so we work with a lot of payment providers.

      How much are Vancouver restaurants using your technology?

      Well, at last count here, we’ve got about eight to 10 that are current customers, and they are at various stages of deployment, in terms of the restaurants themselves.

      In terms of mobile donations, what advantages do barcodes have over text messaging?

      The advantage is that the relationship for the organization is with the donor itself, so with a person. With text messaging, you’re actually giving to the telephone company—the telco—who then gives the money to the nonprofit. So, they get a cheque—it tends to be extremely costly, in that they give a lot of it away to the telco—but they have no access, no way to communicate with that donor from that point on.

      With our system for creating an interaction—albeit it can be somewhat anonymous with an anonymous donation—to like a tax receipt and general flow, the course of the transaction creates a handshake with an individual. So, they get a relationship out of it, in addition to a donation.

      How much of a barrier to widespread adoption is the fact that you need to have both the app on your smartphone and a barcode to use the system?

      On the iPhone itself, in terms of getting apps activated and getting enrolled, it’s pretty straightforward. That can happen in a couple minutes, and we know that because in our little television spot—within a four-minute spot—people managed to download it and donate directly to the news program that was showing a barcode on the screen. We know that in two minutes people can get enrolled in the restaurants. So, for them, downloading and getting enrolled is so quick. We spent a lot of time working on that. With smartphones in general, it's becoming pretty commonplace to load up apps, and then off you go.

      So, in terms of actually then finding a use for the Mobio, it ideally will start to come about as you see the marketing material in the businesses that you engage with. So, if you’re at the restaurant or the grocery store, or looking in the newspaper or on a T-shirt or on a billboard. The interactions are different. As opposed to the advertising being strictly advertising, there’s an offer there. By an offer, I mean that, for the organization, when somebody scans the barcode, they can personalize that offer slightly. You know, someone’s from Vancouver, they can make it a 20-percent discount versus 10. So, there’s incentive for people to scan the barcodes with the mediums that they’re seeing.

      What mediums have your barcodes appeared in?

      Well, the newspaper and, for the nonprofits, they use obviously Web and e-mail, on-line videos, television, T-shirts, and on a small billboard sign, within trade shows and trade-show booth stuff. I think that covers most of it for right now. Haven’t been any tattoos yet, although I’ll sponsor one—just kidding.

      What other applications could you see your technology being used for?

      Well, Mobio is both payment and identification. If somebody’s got to enter in information—they’re making a purchase, for instance—and then they’re given a user name and password to maintain the relationship with an organization through the Web, well, we can also make it so they can just wave their phone to authenticate and that replaces sort of user name and password with a digitally signed handshake, if you will.

      So, we’re pretty excited about that, but also the way that you can authenticate, say, to get in a bar. We haven’t specified age in there yet, at this point in time. But we do know that for redeeming things as well, if you show up at a counter, you can scan the barcode to sort of indicate who you are to redeem a purchase that you made, say, on the bus. So, that’s the other part of the puzzle is that we can enable authentication and then part of what we can do is on your behalf, if you want us to, we can send address information, shoe size, T-shirt size, things like that.

      How do you protect the user’s credit-card info?

      So, on the system itself, the whole system is cloaked with one-time credit-card numbers. So, the credit card is not released into the wild. So, what happens is that it’s essentially replaced with a pseudorandom number that’s utilized in the payment processing, and everything’s stored at the payment processor—so PCI-compliant backend payment processor. So, it’s a much more secure system than currently in place with your existing credit cards in the physical world, because the staff of the merchant don’t see the credit-card number itself. Obviously, for accounting and stuff, it’s a different matter.

      But, just in general day to day, you’re not having your credit-card number exposed out there. On our side, we sit on top of the new identity-exchange protocols, which is InfoCard, which is SAML. My company is filled with a lot of security experts that have extreme—let’s call it a great—knowledge base for architecting these type of systems. So, we’re leveraging our security capabilities to provide an extremely convenient and secure transaction and authentication.

      Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at




      Jan 30, 2011 at 9:56am

      Wow, this little App is awesome. I just entered constests for GlobalBC by just waving my phone in front of the emblem on the website and bingo! Way to go. I have thought for years that someone needs to invent an app or card that does all of the businesses in one spot instead of several cards to pack around. This is great and once everyone is on board it will totally simplify our wallet. Steel the wallet and there is not a thing in it. Steel your phone, no problem as the information is password protected and you just have to get another iphone and there is your info. Awesome!!!!