Antonio ÉramFrom: Constanța Born on: 16 May Occupation: Netopia Founder & CEO
In 2005 Antonio Éram started Netopia mobilPay. Like any entrepreneur, he faced a multitude of possibilities and directions to implement his ideas. Now, after almost 15 years of company existence, the initial freedom has become a more restricted space. From year to year new constraints directly proportional to the size and values of Netopia appears.
If the creative board has diminished over time, Antonio has kept alive the pleasure of building solutions and putting them into market.
Currently the company deals with payments and financial services. Netopia is the largest electronic payment processor on the local market, allowing you to pay online by card, smart-phone, bitcoin or SMS to over 8000 merchants.
However, his main goal is to change the way people make payments. From this reason he launched together with his team the mobilePay Wallet – a virtual wallet that can be installed on the phone. Both offline and online, all you have to do is to scan a QR code either in the merchant’s checkout window or on the retailer’s physical checkout after implementation. No card is required and you do not have to fill out payment forms.
Antonio had in mind an idea of where he wants to go, and then he took the logic by hand and through successive assembly and disassembly processes, he created today’s Netopia. The wallet? Yes, also the wallet.
“We built it and we gave it many features. After that, we analyzed who use what. Then we improved the features that were well received by clients and we put under magnifying glass what was less used. We wondered why they didn’t function. And so, finally I could see if it was worth keeping them or not.”, explains Antonio, gesticulating while he holds in his left hand an electronic cigarette.
This is what Netopia does “on a daily basis. We restore and restore and when we understand how it should look, we break it and start a new version. Now we begin again to mend. And at certain point this new one will have so many patches that we will take it from scratch. “
Experience made him apply this growth process also in his daily life, not just in business. He found in the simplicity of the steps something natural. For the entrepreneur the iteration seems like a principle of life.
I talked with Antonio in the future former Netopia headquarters on Pierre de Coubertin Boulevard, breathing air of things packed in boxes and of new beginnings, as if they were deconstructing a Netopia to start with another one.
“[…] we want to change the way people make payments […]”
We have a hidden thought, which is not hidden at all (he laughs), by which we want to change the way people make payments. So, we invented a new payment method different from what is currently available on the market. The goal is to build a new national payment scheme.
If you start to build things that no one else has tried (and if they have ever tried it was targeted to a certain market), you do not do risk analysis or focus groups, you just begin to work. You think the world will adopt your solutions, you look for adoption methods, and then you are happy for every user who tests your products, who tests and remains a customer, and even more for those who try, use and give you a feedback.
Lately, a lot of “special” wallets have been released in the market, but we launched the first virtual wallet in 2009 when not even the concept of FinTech (Financial Technology) was defined.
If all other wallets work on the same paradigm – emulate a card (issued by a bank) and you pay with the phone, the watch, with what you want, our wallet does things a little differently. We use our own network. Using our application, you pay directly on the cash register, with the phone, and not directly on a POS. It is a bit more complicated for traders who have already implemented the systems to accept cards, and to work with us, they have to make a small effort.
mobilPay Wallet gives you the same experience both offline and online. In this wallet you can enter as many payment methods as you want. We wanted to create an ecosystem. An open platform that will meet traders, users and third companies that can offer from credits, to financial analysis, to promotions. And instead of using the card at a merchant, passing it through a POS (which costs and involves monthly maintenance) or filling in online data fields, you pass the phone over a QR code sticker implemented by us.
For example, if I scan for payment and I realize that I have no money, I can transfer the payment to a family member or a friend. If at the restaurant I want to share the payment with everyone at the table, I can. If at hypermarket I want to pay with the card, my grandma’s gift card and bonus points, I can. If I want to know on what I’m spending my money on, I have an electronic ticket to look at.
There are users who write to us and ask: “Why you don’t say more about your system? It’s very cool!”
And then we answer: “We don’t want to be WE the ones that speaks about it. We want YOU to tell the others. Because, if you liked our system, then we have reached our goal.”
Photo: Antonio Éram, eCommerce Awards Gala (GPeC) Summit, 2018, The Future of Online Payments
“The concept of payment agnosticism appears.”
We are not interested in what the person uses to pay, as long as the money arrives in a proper time at a good conversion. The concept of payment agnosticism appears. We are not interested if you pay with the card, directly with bitcoin, you sell 3 sheep or 1 kg of apples. So we offer to the merchant a payment method (plus other services), but also the guarantee that he will receive his money in a right time, and to the user a platform in which he puts what kind of payment method he wants.
As services, we provide the possibility to obtain a credit. Having partnerships with Financial Non-Banking Institutions and simply on the phone, by pressing a button “I want credit”, you are receiving an anonymous analysis of the profile, the payments made, and therefore the trust level. The results reach the partner and you get an offer, again – without knowing your identity. Only after you agree with the proposal they will know who you are. The next step is to “receive” the money in an FNI account allocated to you. After that you can use them.
This is also one of the reasons why we built an open platform, because partnerships are important to us.
It all takes 1 minute – in the end, time is the most precious resource we all have … You don’t have to go to the bank, fill out a form, wait for the approval and money transfer into an account. You don’t need a card.
Many people don’t have a bank account, neither the possibility nor the availability to make one, and then the services provider have to offer methods that are simple to use. We all have a phone, so paying by scan is easy.
Given that over 40% of people who work don’t have a bank account, I think about financial inclusion* in the future.
* Financial Inclusion is the concept by which equal opportunities are offered in accessing financial services to all users, including to non-banked ones. These possibilities are seen as necessary steps in our growth, as a society.
“People don’t trust merchants.”
What do the payment methods say about people? Well, first of all, the payment market is currently under potential. Only 15% of the e-commerce transactions in Romania are done by electronic means, the rest are cash. And this is not because the world doesn’t trust payment methods, but because people don’t trust merchants.
E-commerce is a relationship based on trust. Only after you break down the wall of mistrust you succeed.
I say with every occasion that paying with the card, besides the obvious advantages, gives you an extraordinary power: you can withdraw the order at any time you want. If you pay with anything else, it’s harder.
People say that they don’t trust what the merchant will deliver … card payment means I give him the money in advance only to get “something”. It’s the opposite of traditional trade, when you first put your hand on the product and then give the money.
For example, we have various schemes in the portfolio, but no one wants to use them, such as withdrawing money from the card only when you have been in possession of the product. The world thinks that prepayment is a disadvantaged position and then the customer wants the physical experience as a validation of the control.
On the other hand, some traders prioritize those who pay cash. It’s wrong … both for the merchant and the user. A person who paid with the card gives a vote of confidence, while one who paid cash says to you that he doubts your services. And then, the first one should become the priority and the other one ranked second from the trader’s point of view.
E-commerce in Romania has a strange peculiarity and it all comes down to trust. Period. Trust.
Otherwise, you also think about people (many) who pay without worries using a card on other international market places (Amazon, AliExpress, etc.). You have the same user with different behavior. And now you ask yourself: Isn’t it you, the trader, who induces this behavior? …
Photo: Antonio Éram, Tedx Alba Iulia, 2018, How Blockchain and Bitcoin Can Change the World
“Ideas come and go […]”
We also make investments; in general, in projects that are related to what we do, in order to contribute with our know-how. But it’s not a rule. It happened to invest just because I really liked the people behind the idea. I believe that if you have a passion you will overcome all the problems you will encounter. One way or another.
Ideas come and go, while competent people who know how to work in a team or who fight on their own are more valuable. I like entrepreneurs with ideas and with the desire to change.
The people who work with me are people who knocked on the door. They wanted to work here and found their own place inside the company. Those who came without knowing what we were doing didn’t last much. At a corporation you receive tasks and you know exactly what you have to do, but here you have only the direction and you have to handle by yourself, get informed, seek, ask.
Even a few days ago a colleague told me that I have to approve a text. And I told her I didn’t have to approve it. “If you are convinced that it is good, send it. If it still needs work, process it. If you sent it in a form that supports improvement and you regret, at least you learned something from it.”
Antonio Éram sits on a low sofa with minimalist lines. He leans back and use a softer tone of voice when he tells things he disagrees with or things in which he doesn’t believe. In this case it seems like his sentences don’t reach the end.
Otherwise, the elbows sit on his knees and he becomes more present.
MS: What did 14 years of entrepreneurship teach you?
They taught me to stay curious. “Why?” The first and last question must be “Why?” Challenge everything! It is the only evidence of intelligence.
MS: I was expecting a much more complex answer.
There are no complex answers. And if you have no curiosity, if you are not interested in discovering things, then there’s no way to expand your perspective. Staying in your bubble means nothing but stagnation.
MS: What did you dream to do as an adult when you were a kid?
When I was a kid, I was living a time when being curious was the worst thing to be. Curiosity, individualism or entrepreneurial spirit wasn’t encouraged. You had a job, a vacation, and this was all. You didn’t evolve.
In general, people want a comfort zone and only those who don’t want it and seek constantly, challenge themselves, are those who will become great human beings.
When I was little I didn’t have internet, countless channels on t.v. or access to books and music from around the world. Access to information should make us all more curious, but on the contrary, there are many who don’t want to move a finger. As others are focused on hyper specialization – they don’t want to do anything else.
Look, an example is A.I. and how artificial intelligence leads to the disappearance of many jobs. There is software that diagnose like a doctor (even more precisely) or replace the work of an accountant. In this context it seems hilarious that there are taxi drivers who claim that they want to be paid in cash, when cars drive themselves.
Adapt or die. Curiosity is adaptation in a way. That’s how everything evolved; if we weren’t curious we were still in the cave. Many people around us don’t understand that progress means doing something, trying something.
MS: What do you bet on in the future?
On the only thing a machine will don’t know how to do: to be curious and creative. And I think it will be a long-term bet. Put the machine to execute and we, the humans, interpret and use our creativity on its results.
MS: In ’99 you launched among the first blogging platforms in the world. 10 years ago you were predicting mobile payments. How is it to be ahead of time?
Frustrating. Seeing that for a long time what you said and imagined becomes reality is very frustrating. (the market wasn’t prepared)
MS: How your ideas come up?
I think you have to read a lot, to devour information, analyze and in the end you have to find patterns. I start my day by reading 30, 45 minutes or even a hour. I get to read thousands of news daily, sometimes I go through the whole article, sometimes only through the headline, but if something persists in my head, I will certainly go deeper into the subject.
Then, I look to see what I can do better in the area that has aroused my interest. If I have found improvements or solutions, I further think about what can go wrong and what can go well. And if the ratio of good to bad is 1: “Let’s do it”. Let’s see if it succeeds.
MS: How does Romania feel as a place to live in?
It’s as good as any other. The difference is made by us, the people, not by the place. Out there are humans that lives in the middle of nowhere, so it’s not about physical coordinates.
What I would like to see here is less sad people. If you walk down the street and you smile, it’s a paradox, people take you by crazy. I have been in tough places (Mexico, South Africa, etc.) and I can say that Bucharest is like Dubai compared to Mexico City. And yet, I didn’t see sad or overwhelmed people there. On the contrary, they were eager to do things. They have a positive attitude and they go on in life no matter how hard it might be.
From a political point of view, we have reached the situation where the entire hierarchical scale of the regime is worthless. The democratic structure is the best, but also the worst thing we all have. And the alternatives are a few; some so radical that the world cannot conceive them. Imagine a society in which you are on your own: you have what you earn and there is no social protection … radical.
Instead, giving money to the state as a promise that over x years – when you retire, you will live well, it worked a century ago. Now it’s impossible.
The machines learning will do the work of many people who will no longer put money into the system, but they will want to receive them. Where do you get them from? Are you trying to tax machines, robots? It’s a stupidity.
Or everyone should receive an income from the state? And this leads us to what money actually is.
The pension increased … you hear at t.v. This goes for people who don’t know what inflation is. I just gave you some figures. You shouldn’t be interested in money as a volume, but by the value they have, by how much you can buy with them. 100$ now means 6$ in 1950, when you bought a bread with 50 cents. Now you get it for 2$. Something is wrong. I give you more money, but you buy less. The economic and social policy is flawed.
There are people who go to top by their own, and others who may haven’t had a framework, but had also no will to leave the system. Do something. An educated person knows what to ask and intervenes in the system or creates another one. Nobody forces you not to think.
His thoughts followed one another quickly; Antonio says an idea, justifies it, asks, answers and goes on. And he builds his speech, progressively, elaborating, refining, to return from where he started. Just to build again.
He leads me to exit and my steps try to keep up with his steps, but I see how I remain behind. I hurry up, and when the door closes and I leave the office, it seems to become clear why he was so often ahead the times.
Photo: Antonio Éram, Croatia, sailing as a passion