Google Staff Departures Reveal Internal Rift over Wallet Program
The departure of two key former Google Wallet staffers from the company to start their own mobile-commerce venture is throwing a spotlight on what have been internal disagreements at the Web giant over strategy for the NFC-based wallet.
Jonathan Wall, a co-founding engineer for the wallet and Marc Freed-Finnegan, product lead, have started a new venture, Tappmo, tech publication, TechCrunch first reported. Freed-Finnegan confirmed to NFC Times that March 5 was his and Wall’s last day at Google.
Like Google Wallet, Tappmo will focus on offline mobile commerce and shopping, including payment. But the founders of the venture aren’t giving out many more details. The company’s one-page Web site, featuring a background photo of shopping carts, beckons visitors to return soon to find out more information.
As NFC Times reported last month, Wall along with fellow co-founding engineer Rob von Behren left the Google Wallet program in January after three years on the project, though both had remained at the company. According to von Behren’s LinkedIn page, he is still with Google. A Google spokesman told NFC Times at the time that it’s “common practice at Google for people to move between teams.”
But sources have told NFC Times that the Google Wallet team was split over strategy for the NFC wallet, which launched last September and which appears to be struggling to sign up new partners, including banks, operators, merchants and handset vendors. Google also hasn’t released transaction figures, but they are said to be low.
One of the chief issues creating the rift appears to be how open the wallet would be to app developers and service providers. That, along with some other differences on strategy, put some long-standing members of the Google Wallet team, who had argued for more openness, at odds with vice president of payments and wallet head Osama Bedier.
Bedier joined Google from PayPal in February of 2011 and took substantive control over a program that had already been in development for two years. Many of his decisions apparently did not sit well with resident wallet team members.
Besides the co-founding engineers and Freed-Finnegan, Andrew Zaeske, former director of engineering for the wallet, is said to have left the project in January, though not from Google. Some other project managers also have departed, as did Vikas Gupta, who served as a head of consumer payments or commerce after Google in 2010 acquired his company, Social Gold, a payments company serving social networking and gaming sites. Bedier is said to have taken over more control of the wallet from Stephanie Tilenius, vice president of commerce.
Google has not published its application-programming interface, or API, to the wallet, as it has for other parts of its Android mobile operating system. This has put all applications ultimately under Google’s control, though the Web giant only seeks to earn revenue from offers, couponing, loyalty and other mobile-commerce applications, not payment services it hosts in the wallet.
Google has told NFC Times in the past that since the wallet applications are anchored to its secure element in its NFC phones, it doesn’t publish the API for security reasons.
But this has led some outside of Google to question how open the wallet platform is, even as Bedier has touted its openness and pointed a finger–albeit indirectly–at U.S. telcos involved in the Isis joint venture. The largest telco in the group, Verizon Wireless, has tried to block the Google Wallet from Google’s Galaxy Nexus NFC smartphone model that the operator put on sale in December. Isis plans to launch its own NFC wallet this summer.
Freed-Finnegan, in response to questions from NFC Times, said he couldn't comment about why he and Wall left Google or how Tappmo would compare with the Google Wallet. It is obvious the startup will seek to capture a share of the same emerging market that Google is going after.
“We believe that in short order, everyone will find products, connect with merchants, and complete transactions online and offline with their mobile phones,” Freed-Finnegan said in a statement.
A Google Wallet spokesman declined to comment on Wall’s and Freed-Finnegan’s departures or those of other Google Wallet staffers.
Among those hired by Bedier on the product management side is Robin Dua, who had headed the Canadian telco payment joint venture EnStream.