Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Terrie Smith is a creative technologist committed to innovation, delighting customers, and advancing wearable technology. A payments expert with a proven track record of product development and invention, she is named on several game-changing patents. As an Entrepreneur, she has utilised her expertise in mobile, contactless payments and NFC to create the world’s first secure provisioning Platform as a Service (PaaS), DIGISEQ. Its secure data delivery service is approved by Mastercard and with compliant with international PCI CP standards. Terrie began her career in payments with American Express, managing their smart card development processes and EMV implementations. Terrie's first foray into mobile payments was with MasterCard where she was a Senior Manager of a global digital products team and was instrumental in the delivery of the MasterCard solution that supports Apple Pay. Focused on revolutionising the Wearable and IoT market, Terrie launched DIGISEQ in 2014 where she serves as Chief Executive Officer. DIGISEQ simplifies the delivery of payment accounts whilst maintaining a high level of security enabling almost anything to support contactless payments, grant access, reward loyalty, and more — unleashing the power of the IoT. All without disruption to existing manufacturing and distribution process.
Terrie, what is the idea behind DIGISEQ and how did you come up with it?
The lightbulb moment to start DIGISEQ was during the development of the ApplePay solution where I realised it did not have to be just the iPhone providing a solution for contactless payments. Smartphones can never really replace cash payments. So, we needed something that was simpler, always worn, and accessible. Like a wearable.
To me, what you wear is about how you feel. Unlike a mobile phone, where you use it for technology reasons, anything one wears must match your mood, occasion, and aesthetic.
We recognised that there needed to be a culture shift to how payment was made available to customers. So, we needed to pivot from a bank-centric to consumer-centric paradigm to scale the wearable payments industry. Banks had control over the look of wearable payments that lacked the emotive appeal which we feel when buying a fashion product. I wanted to give consumers the choice, and more power, to what their payment wearable looked like. To do so, we need to allow wearable manufacturers and brands to deliver payment to the wearable simply and securely.
When did it all start, and do you have other members in your team?
We started in September 2014 with just three people. Now, we are a seventeen-strong team representing six nationalities. Quite phenomenal for a team of only seventeen!
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
Over the last four years, we concentrated initially on building our platform because this needed to be approved by the payment network operators before we were able to sell anything to customers. So, we were product-focused before becoming a sales-focused company.
In 2017, we joined the R/GA IoT Ventures Programme focused on scaling our business to operate at an international level.
Since those early years, we have launched with some major banks which has built our credibility within our field of FinTech, PayTech, and Cybersecurity.
What was the biggest obstacle?
We have invented something that people are only realising now that they need and can have it. As part of our end-to-end support, DIGISEQ has had to educate banks and wearable makers on the opportunity of merging these two seemingly disparate industries of banking and wearables together. Furthermore, this can be done easily with DIGISEQ without disruption to respective workflows. Not every feat has to be difficult to achieve. Transforming wearables into payment devices can be easy to achieve – contrary to initial thought. Wearable manufacturers just need the compliant, efficient, and trusted service provider to enable this operation.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Our launch with MDES to support over 100 different wearables for contactless payment
Enabled the world’s first payment ring, the K-ring.
Partnered with MuchBetter in Lucozade’s marketing campaign. We provisioned MuchBetter prepaid accounts on an NFC chip embedded within Lucozade’s bottles. These accounts were preloaded with credits that granted customers a free tube ride upon tapping the bottles on the payment terminal at London Underground stations.
Provisioned ABN Amro’s tokenised accounts onto wearable products made by OEMs supported by DIGISEQ.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
The challenge is that our field is niche – at the moment! We are the leading edge of wearable payment technology, and so we are paving the way by defining standards, structures, and processes for the whole field. There are no instructions for us to follow or scratch our heads at.
I find that being a female in my field is not a challenge but has been an asset. Arguably, I am better equipped to understand ladies’ fashion and accessories than male counterparts. We have a problem, where female-purposed products are not being designed by females, for females. Therefore, me being a female provides an enviable edge as an entrepreneur in the wearable payments field.
What are your projects you are currently working on?
Without revealing too much, we are working with more issuing banks and wearable makers to make our platform international. Also, in conjunction with a global access control company and secure identification company we are developing new services for our platform to make the wearables we support multifunctional. In short, we are incredibly busy – in a good way!
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Well, of course it is! I am a woman, I am in technology, so the movement is something that I embody. Today, the wearable tech industry has been so heavily led by men that we have lost sight of why wearable technology is important and beneficial in the first place. As I said before, we are emotionally-invested in what we wear, and I feel like this movement is re-balancing the technology industry in all areas.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Be true to yourself. You shouldn’t have to change how you think, act, and present yourself to fit in – this is not necessary to succeed in anything we choose to do.
I was seventeen years old when I started in technology. Due to the historic attitudes back then, I was hardened as I was taught that I had to act and think like men to get further in my field. It was 25 years before I had the opportunity to work with women in my field.
Back then, there was no equal pay, no maternity leave – it was a difficult time for women in tech compared to now. Although there have been improvements, there is still room for more. Females in industry now should not have to fit into a prescribed mould. The climate today is that the STEM industry is ready for females to lead at the front.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and fin tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
I think it will be a slow start, but ultimately just like with emails and smartphones when the consumer realises its convenience they will not want to let payment wearables go. The cost of manufacturing will go down to make payment wearables more affordable. Currently, banks are struggling to embrace payment wearables as they do not fully appreciate the impact and implications of payment wearables and whether the result will be positive or negative.
I see the field heading to open API. Banks are being forced to share their APIs by the government. This promotes competition and motivate banks to be more customer-orientated. I think banks eventually want to adopt payment wearables to expand their consumer offering, but it will take them a long time to embrace it as an opportunity as opposed to a threat.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in tech?
Ann Cairns, the Executive Vice Chairman of Mastercard. I find her determined, highly intelligent, and strong. She is a powerful figure in Technology and comes from a similar background to me. She has interesting stories, which are a delight to listen to – if anyone has the pleasure of meeting her, you will be eager to listen to learn.
Sister Mary Keller, she was the first female to earn a PhD in Computer Science. She was of a similar age to my grandmother, and it amazes me that she achieved what she did at that time. She must have been a force of nature.
Christina Gianfrancesco, she is a programmer and the first woman I worked with in my technology career. She is a very strong and feminine character. She is a prime example that you did not have to be display a typical alpha-male demeanour to succeed in technology. She taught me that being feminine, and a techie is not mutually exclusive.
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This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.