Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Technology

Time to Make Some Magic

Ever since I was a kid (am I no longer a kid?), I have been fascinated by technology and its applications. I was one of those people who took apart and (sometimes) put computers back together. I would experiment with materials and technology to see how these things interacted (I once created a liquid plastic that permanently hardened when exposed to air for a few hours – that carpet needed replacing anyway, Mom). At the same time, I was a heavy reader. I would read mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, non-fiction – books that transported me to other worlds or other parts of my world and stretched my imagination. Those experiences, however, were confined by the instruments through which I engaged in them: books, screens, physical facilities, instruments, etc. But what if the only limits to our experiences were those we established for ourselves? That would be beyond amazing – that would be a dream. The same would be true for the opportunity to help build such an enabling product.

That is why I am thrilled to finally announce that I have joined Magic Leap! For those who are not familiar with the startup, Magic Leap is fundamentally shifting how we humans interact with our environment, real and imagined.

Picture yourself in elementary school sitting in your classroom learning about fish and watching those very animals swim above your head. Envision battling your friends with little digital monsters in the real world like you dreamed about doing as a kid. Imagine interacting with characters from one of your favorite sci-fi series‘ at a famous cantina. New technologies are enabling these types of experiences.

And while I cannot yet reveal exactly what I am working on, I can say that this technology and the experience of using it is not hype – this is happening, and I am honored and excited to be a part of the team. 

Time to make some magic.

The opinions expressed herein are those of Brien Buckman and are not necessarily the position of Magic Leap. 

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Community, Leadership, Technology

Hacking MasterCard (Culture)

It was a cold afternoon in January. Six small teams of MasterCard employees gathered together in the company’s NYC Tech Hub for the first internal hackathon focused on building innovative applications using MasterCard APIs. We had yet to receive a budget allocation for these types of events but were able to scrap together funds from different groups across the company in order to host the event. It turned out to be excellent and resulted in a wide range of technology solutions being created.

As we reviewed feedback from participants, we started to think of what the next iteration of the event would look like. Initially, the idea was to stream the NYC event presentations to corporate offices around the world so that the entire company could be involved. Very quickly, however, we realized that this was an event that needed to be experienced and not just watched, so we decided the best option would be to engage our MasterCard Labs unit with a proposition: work with us to take what we did in NYC and make it global and institutional. Fast forward, and the company’s first global internal hackathon was created.

Creating a global standard for local office facilitators and organizers to use and leverage, we created a fantastic platform for the event now and moving forward. Incredibly, we were able to host approximately 5% of the company’s employee base in the Tech Hubs of Dublin, New York City, St. Louis, San Carlos, Baroda, Pune and Singapore. Yes, nearly 5% of the entire company participated in this event. Teams of up to five individuals competed over the course of two days (many slept in the office, if at all) to build the best prototype focused on payments, security, and data solutions. Of course, we had a lot of fun throughout!

It was truly inspiring to see the excitement and solutions come out of this two day event from employees around the world. Not only were highly executable solutions created for the company, but we inspired employees to work together on projects they were personally passionate about. Embracing the identity of a technology company has to come at all levels of the organization, and this (now institutional) event has certainly helped MasterCard achieve that goal.

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Technology

Evolving the In-Store Experience

This past weekend, the first Masters of Code (MoC) hackathon took place in Sydney, Australia. It was an exciting event with some terrific teams creating great solutions. Each MoC event has a theme and this one was focused on enhancing the mobile retail experience “in-aisle.” One of my favorite teams built a connected shelf that, using a weight and measurement system, could tell which items were being placed on it, provide contextual related product recommendations and complete payment for that item through an app. The experience was seamless and removed the burden of “payments” from consumers.

A couple of years ago I wrote about the Future of Retail, in which I discussed the transition from current consumer experiences in-store to seamless, and in some cases invisible, ones. This is a trend that I expect will continue. Lately, I have thought a lot about the future needs of retail, and there are direct and related areas we should keep an eye on:

Easy Application Development

According to Multichannel Merchant, more than 75% of retail merchants do not offer their customers an app. I strongly suspect that this will change, so tools that allow a merchant to efficiently build a secure, scalable application will continue to be useful.

Wearables and Mobile

Consumers that walk around in-store are using their phones (and now and in the future their wearables) to search for product reviews, look at alternative pricing, etc. While the evolution of hardware will continue continue, the interaction of that hardware with a retail environment though digital mediums is a great opportunity. Payments, loyalty, information – many areas are ripe for enhancement with the consumer use of mobile technology.

Energy and Internet

Just as consumers are using more mobile devices in store, retail has differing infrastructure needs. Whether it be reliable and scalable wireless capacity or the advent of wireless power for devices (and I’m not talking about inductive charging), there are many infrastructure requirements for a great retail experience.

Delivery

There has been a relatively new development of what some have termed the “on-demand economy.” It is becoming experientially important for merchants to provide goods in a rapid fashion. Originally this started with online merchants providing same-day delivery, but now retail stores are differentiating themselves by allowing customers to have the in-store experience of shopping and payment without the hassle of having to bring their purchased items home themselves, instead having those items delivered to the proper shipping location.

Loyalty and Marketing

One of the biggest costs (and in many cases, sunk cost) that in-store merchants incur is putting in the time and effort to get a potential customer in the door only to have that customer leave empty handed. Tools that improve customer acquisition and retention for the real-world will continue to be needed.

Supply Chain Management

Trade and commerce is becoming even more global. Manufacturers and merchants will need improved systems that provide real-time (or close to it) data on goods being transported and shipped. SMBs need better quality information to make smarter inventory supply decisions.

Personalization

A personalized experience is often a more effective one and the in-store experience is no exception. The delivery of this personalized experience doesn’t necessarily need to be digital, either, but it does require structured data in order to deliver something effective to the consumer.

Digital Security

There are two immediate opportunities in my mind that merchants can do to make sure their digital infrastructure is more secure: ensure that servers are in fact secure through multi-factor authentication and compartmentalization of data and environments, and begin to tokenize data (in addition to payments) to ensure that if a compartment is indeed compromised, that information is useless to unauthorized individuals or systems.

Payments

As I wrote previously, from a consumer experience perspective, payments needs to disappear (though much of what happens in payments is invisible to consumers already). The Apple Store’s and the Covers of the world do it terrifically. Through the convergence of digital and physical platforms, we can expect seamless and secure payments experiences.

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Leadership, Technology

Building a Developer Program (In Brief)

APIs. If you haven’t heard of them, then start reading. They will be the foundational fabric that binds the next generation of the web, and in many ways, they already are. Think about how many apps and website are connected to your favorite social network like Facebook or tools like Google Maps – those are powered by APIs.

For the past year, I have been working with our growing team at MasterCard to ensure we build awesome developer products and programs. This has been a great opportunity for a variety of reasons:

  • The identity of the company is rapidly evolving from a legacy financial services company to a cutting edge technology company. APIs are one way the company is doing that.
  • Employees and customers alike are excited about this. I am often approached excitedly at developer conferences and literally thanked for being there representing the company.
  • There is a tremendous amount of value that a company like MasterCard can provide, whether in be in the areas of payments, fraud and risk mitigation or data services, for example.

I thought I would share some recommendations from experiences I’ve had along the way:

Internal Education

If you’re working within a relatively large organization where many stakeholders are responsible for ensuring (and/or allowing) the growth of your group, then take the time to properly educate them on what you are trying to do and the importance of it in the context of the market. Once those primary stakeholders are excited about what you’re doing, that excitement will spread throughout the organization, and your efforts will be more easily accomplished and more rewarding.

Building the Right Products

At MasterCard, there is no shortage of API products that we could build. Like any individual or organization, however, there is limited capacity. Make sure you build products that prospective customers will actually use. Perhaps the best option is improving services you already have rather than creating new ones. In any case, you need to understand your own goals and plan appropriately.

Having a Capable Platform

Similar to building the right products, a platform capable of managing your API products is essential. US-focused products, for example, will require very different architectural support versus global products in terms of both content and usability. When building platforms, it is important to take a long-term and realistic view of your requirements. Your platform construction will also depend heavily on your product architecture. For example, if you are building a service that requires a server to make several calls to your API per use case it may make sense to test your own platform against a relatively high transaction per second (TPS) scenario – you don’t want unnecessary call failures because of the popularity of your product, after all.

Engaging Where It Matters

In my mind, there are primarily two different types of API customers who can be engaged: in typical sales / business development scenarios with larger companies, or within the general developer community. The former may very well be a continuation of existing processes. Just tell your sales people that they can sell products with similar or the same value propositions as existing ones but with significantly lower integration costs for customers and they will be all for it. The latter type of engagement is much more difficult, however, and could probably take up a post on its own. The best way to be successful is to be present in the developer community in a grassroots way. Attend meetups. Go to those demo days. Be recognizable. Be branded (not quite NASCAR-style, but not too far off, either). Build a community around you and the products you represent.

Support Can Be Tough

Supporting developers who are trying to or are currently using your API products can be extremely encumbering on both sides, but there are ways to make it easier and good things can come from this type of engagement. When it comes to in-person support, thorough understanding of the products and major languages is necessary. You can decrease the amount of support required by having awesome, humanized documentation. In-person support provides a great opportunity to help inform your development roadmap, as well. Digital support is best provided expeditiously. That means using Twitter, email, web chat, etc. Don’t forget about regional differences – while most software development occurs in English, there may be language barriers linked to (non-software) language.

Recruiting and Deploying the Right Talent

Everything about APIs is technical – the platform, the product, the documentation, and the customers. It is important, therefore, to have a team that knows or has the capacity to learn technical details. Everyone on the team doesn’t need to code, per say, but everyone must be able to communicate with each other clearly. You also want people on your team who want to be doing what they are doing and want to do it in the best possible way – as Steve Jobs said in 2005, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

Measure

This goes for any type of product management, but it is very important to measure as much as possible. There has been a lot of material written about measuring success. I recommend watching this GV presentation on OKRs and reading up on the subject. Measuring correctly will allow you to quickly make course corrections as you build and scale your developer program.

What are your thoughts on building successful developer programs? Tweet at me with #dev, and let me know!

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Community, Leadership, Technology

Introducing the Commerce Forum

I am very excited to announce the launch and first event of the Commerce Forum. I am very thankful for MasterCard’s willingness to support this initiative.

There are many events in NYC that focus on products, often in demo day fashion. There are a few events with panel discussions focusing on general topics such as data or NoSQL. There are very few meetups, if any, that focus on individuals. My hope is that during these events, we will better understand the people who work in the wide field of commerce. It’s time for a different type of meetup – I hope you will join me for it.

The first event is planned for mid-January. Be sure to join the group to be eligible for a ticket!

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Technology

Is Your Body a Password?

Biometrics – data related to your physical body. Fingerprints, voice recognition, brain patterns… I have been seeing more and more biometric products in the market lately, often tied to wearables (Fitbit, Jawbone, and even Apple to name a few). I’ve even started to see clothing with integrated biometric sensors.

But going beyond the usefulness of inwardly insight, I am now starting to see biometrics replace the password. Look at Apple, a former employer of mine, with Touch ID. MasterCard, my current employer, even made a minority investment and product pilot in the space. But can this unique information replace passwords?

Traditionally, authentication has required two attributes: a username (which may or may not be public) establishing a user identity, and a password (hopefully known only by the individual) which allows access to that identity’s account. I would argue that biometrics replace the former of these two, but cannot solely replace the latter.

Think about it: what happens if someone steals or spoofs your biometric data? You can’t just log in and change your fingerprint or your retina image – they are forever unique to you (barring any unusual surgeries). Biometric identity will play a significant part of authentication in the future, but as a different type of user identification and part of multi-factor authentication.

What are your thoughts on biometrics and security? Tweet at me with #biometrics to let me know!

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Community, Entrepreneurship, Technology

Technology / Government / Data

No, not that kind of technology. This week, the legislative committee I chair in Stamford kicked off what I hope will be an ongoing conversation about the use of technology and data in our government. It is very exciting to think about the opportunities that are available to not only improve the quality of life for many in the city, but also increase the operational efficiency of how the city operates. Stamford also has the potential to be on the leading edge of not just opening up data for viewing, but enabling the use of data through APIs. Our ability to make these long-term investments takes more than just a wish, and I look forward to working with local, state, and private officials to see Stamford become a true “smart city.”

It has been fantastic for me to view these opportunities from both a government and private sector perspective. I am very thankful for the opportunities I have been given to learn as much as I have. I hope it will serve me well in the future, as AOL co-founder Steve Case predicts. Too often, we see governments in the United States (and perhaps elsewhere) trying to shape technological solutions to their purported needs rather than being adaptive to the rapid evolution of available solutions. Part of the reason for this is the embedded process of these types of institutions (ie bureaucracy), but that doesn’t mean our governments can’t be a little more agile; it just takes some evolving of their own.

How would you like to see cities effectively use technology and data? Tweet at me with #SmartCity to let me know!

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