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Catching up with Ben Milne from Dwolla

Dwolla founder Ben Milne, photo from facebook.com/dwolla.

Ben Milne, founder of Des Moines-based Dwolla, a peer to peer payment platform, will be the speaker at this month’s Cornstalks meeting, happening Thursday, September 30, at the Omaha Chamber of Commerce. Earlier today, I caught up with Ben to get an update on the company, their money transfer service and the founder himself.

Silicon Prairie News: What has Dwolla been up to lately?

Ben Milne: Lots of building and planning. The last 60 days for Dwolla have been all about getting ready for the future and a national roll out. A lot of that has to do with finalizing some features we think are necessities for a national launch, a large security assessment, and a great deal of load testing.

Some of the features we’ve focused on heavily revolve around:

  • Mobile integration with iPhone & Android devices
  • API build out to support additional calls
  • Infrastructure on repeat
  • User experience and making transactions as “human” as possible

We’ve been very fortunate to have some new parties come into the picture with a long standing history of building and maintaining financial applications. Beyond all the conceptual stuff we’d love to build, they’ve really pushed us to test a lot of our assumptions and security infrastructure.

Needless to say these folks have really pushed us to raise the bar simply because they’ve brought such a wealth of information and knowledge to the table.

You’ve been out speaking about entrepreneurship and technology a lot lately, how has that experience been?

Speaking to groups is a dream come true for me. I’m extremely passionate about building ideas and simply going for it.

I always felt like speaking to groups was really motivational for me because it helps me strive to do more (so I have something to come back and talk about later) and I really aspire to help mentor people as my abilities allow me to.

I really like to reinforce the idea that while some projects are a overnight success, for most of us breaking a project through comes from years of work. I guess if there was one word to describe it, it would probably be rewarding.

What’s on the horizon for your technology?

I personally believe payments in the future are all about API’s. What our parents generation knew generically as EFT’s have turned into an everyday exchange for our generation. We move money effortlessly minute by minute by exchanging a balance, not physical money. One might even argue the physical money represents a balance at this point and not a physical exchange.

This shift of transferring balances from person-to-person (or company-to-company) is something every modern payment mechanism embraces. I believe that if we can build our payment mechanism to effectively act as the medium of exchange quickly and effectively between these parties, and be available on the devices clients want to use (through the API), we will be successful. Especially if we are extremely cost effective.

Our technology doesn’t leverage debt to move money quickly. I think that opens a lot of doors for us and almost always creates a value proposition that resonates with every merchant.

For our technology to really scale we have some big hurdles like:

  • Trust – More than just handling money comes into play here
  • Chicken or the egg – Getting enough momentum with merchants or consumers to drive the other party
  • Regulation – Situating ourselves to be fully compliant with all regulation around the type of business we are involved in and making sure those expectations scale
  • Security – Not taking it seriously simply isn’t a choice

Our technology might be ready to service the market but we have a lot of work to do paving the way for it to be utilized and trusted. Some big internal developments with partners over the last 60 days will play a major role in all four of these hurdles.

Any update on Dwolla launching in new states?

Our recent developments should allow us to release our product nationally all at once rather than go state-by-state like we originally anticipated.

October will hopefully prove to be a game-changing month for us. We’ve been working closely with a group of partners to make this happen very soon. We are putting the final touches on the software and are planning a group test session next month.

After that test session we plan to set a date.

For more information about Thursday’s Cornstalks, see our post: Startup Drinks, Pitch & Grow, Cornstalks & ‘The Social Network’.

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