I’ve been watching and talking about LUUP mobile payments for a long time now. First launched in Norway in the heady days of 2002, they’re one of the continent’s most successful mobile payments companies – and have now expanded with a presence in Germany, Poland and the UK.
If you haven’t got yourself an account, take a few minutes today and get one. (Having a LUUP account is a key requirement for any self respecting mobile person.)
Christopher Lovold is heading up their operations in London so I was delighted when I had the opportunity to put some questions to him to see what he thought of the market — and, perhaps rather crucially for me, see what he made of PayPal recent entry into the industry. You will find his answers illuminating, I’m sure.
So I start off with the usual questions and go on from there…
1. What make was your first ever handset and what network? Can you remember what year?
It was an Ericsson that used the old NMT (Nordic Mobile Telephone) network – and analogy mobile network that operated on the 450MHz band in 1993. It even had an option to use AA batteries once the regular pack ran out (which it did after about 4-5 hours with very little talking). It actually had better coverage (if you ignored some static from time to time) than most GSM networks have today, but "mobile" was a stretch given the short battery life.
2. What is your current mobile device strategy? Eg handsets, data cards, what networks
Sony Ericsson K750i… with Fresh. Everything else over WiFi.
3. What’s your background in the industry?
I come from a technical background. I ran a web development team for Northrop Grumman in the US, then came to London to do a Masters degree at LSE. Strong technical and business backgrounds guided me to the mobile space.
4. What brought you to LUUP?
I feel there is huge potential in mobile payments but that there will be very few success stories. I believe LUUP will be one of the successes as we have the right strategy of creating a consumer brand, independent of the mobile networks and banks.
5. Give us an overview of the LUUP concept and background?
LUUP is a mobile payment solution first launched in Norway under the Contopronto name in July 2002. By May 2006, more than 10 thousand customers held LUUP accounts each in the UK, Germany, and Norway.
LUUP is a bit like an online bank account but controlled by your mobile. However, unlike an online bank account you can link your existing credit or debit cards to the account. You can then pay for things with either the money you have transferred into your account or with one of your linked cards.
LUUP allows users to pay either via SMS, WAP or online without the need to enter card details each time. It is therefore very convenient and extremely secure, because, unlike any other methods, you need your phone with you to make a purchase.
LUUP also allows users to send money to each other instantly online or with a simple text message.
6. What was the first thing you ever bought via LUUP?
A ringtone – Call Me by Blondie I think! For only £1 from IntoMobi, it was a bargain!
7. Imagine I’ve just added a tenner to your account: what would you impulse buy with LUUP right now?
An album or movie download such as The Bourne Identity.
8. How are you seeing LUUP users applying your service in the real world? Are most transactions still small whilst people get to grips with the concept?
At the moment the most popular transactions are ringtones and mobile games. As we add merchants with higher value goods we’re confident that people will spend more.
9. What’s your most active country in terms of transaction volume?
Germany is ahead of the UK at the moment for transaction volumes, but we intend to change that soon!
10. Can you outline where you see the key growth areas for LUUP for the next few years?
We see many growth areas for LUUP in the next few years including mobile content, online content & retail, prepay top-up, mobile ticketing, mobile betting and person to person payments.
11. A lot of people I know went ‘Ah… PayPal… Right, that’s payments on mobile ‘done’ now that they’ve entered the industry,’ – how do you respond to that viewpoint?
There is room for at least two players in this market. One of the biggest challenges is changing people’s behavior to buying high value products with their mobile. The more companies focusing on this challenge, the better.
12. What level of support have you had from the UK mobile networks?
We are independent from the mobile networks and therefore don’t require their support.
14. What’s the most used feature on your mobile?
Radio…. and Bluetooth…it’s tough to say what’s most used!
15. What’s your ringtone?
Chasing Cars, by Snow Patrol.
16. What are the biggest challenges you foresee for the industry as a whole over the next five years?
I think one of the biggest challenges for mobile industry as a whole is WiFi. With low-end handsets starting to feature WiFi, it will become simple to by-pass the networks for voice, texts and especially data.
For the mobile payments industry, standardization is still a huge challenge. NFC mobile payments have taken off in Japan largely because dominant players have imposed standards and used their marketing power. This dominance does not exist elsewhere in the mobile world.
17. Favourite sites on the web for mobile related news?
SMStextnews – of course, MocoNews is great for the content side of the market, the telecom and mobile section of Springwise.com is good, as is The Register‘s stuff on mobile.
18. What other mobile services/applications have you seen recently that you really rate?
82Ask – Text any question of them and get a good answer fast.
Juvino – User-friendly VOIP & SMS over IP from your mobile. This is still in beta testing, but I can see it becoming very popular.
Christopher, thank you very much for taking the time!