Visa Invests In Rodney Williams’ Ultrasound Tech Startup Lisnr To Compete In Mobile Payments

Written by Dana Sanchez
Visa has invested in Lisnr’s data-over-audio technology, validating Lisnr founder and CEO Rodney Williams’ belief that his ultrasound tech is a better alternative for mobile payments. Williams was photographed at Black Tech Week Miami, 2018. Photo: Anita Sanikop/ Moguldom

Credit card giant Visa has invested in Lisnr, a leading resource for data over audio, validating Lisnr CEO and founder Rodney Williams’ belief that his ultrasonic technology is a better alternative than NFC or QR codes for mobile payments.

Lisnr’s low-power data transmission technology enables fast, reliable, and secure communication between devices via any speaker or microphone. With offices in Cincinatti and Oakland, Lisnr uses ultrasound technology as a mobile authentication and mobile payments solution.  

Visa recently participated in Series-C venture capital fundraising for an undisclosed amount and now has a commercial relationship with Lisnr, according to a press release. Visa and Lisnr are in commercial beta-testing of mobile payments technology with retail merchants.

“The way in which people are paying for things will dramatically change,” Williams told CNBC. Visa’s move “is a major validation and also a major market signal for the world of payments,” he said, describing Visa as the “largest mobile wallet company in the world.”

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 02: Rodney Williams

Jamarlin talks to Rodney Williams, founder and CEO of Lisnr, about raising $millions in venture capital, HBCU endowments that invest in Black tech, and how to fire loyal employees you like.

The rest of the world is ahead of the U.S. for mobile payments, and one reason is the cost of hardware. Merchants such as coffee shops and retail stores need expensive hardware to use Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay, said Peter Gordon, CEO of PRMPayments, in a CNBC interview.

Lisnr’s technology can be used in scan-and-go, store pickups, pay zones, point-of-sale, at home with e-commerce, and voice-enabled purchases. Beyond payments, Lisnr can be used for proximity messages, authentication, and identification.

Lisnr says it brings to market an improved mobile payment product.

“Lisnr is a better method vs. alternatives like NFC (near-field communication) or QR codes for mobile payments globally,” Lisnr CEO Eric Allen said in a prepared statement. “It decentralizes payment scenarios across a wide range of payment moments with advanced data protection, ability to transact at a distance and concurrent transactions – all which are designed to accelerate payments overall.”

On May 15, 2019, Lisnr announced a $15.6 million venture round, bringing its total funding amount to that date to $30 million. Visa’s participation adds to a growing Series C.

Lisnr’s technology works like a key that is randomly generated, tied uniquely to the person who is holding it, and disappears immediately after it’s used, Andy Brownfield reported for Cincinnati Business Courier.

That has potential in mobile payments, where 62 percent of payments are done via QR codes, which can be easily replicated. Those codes aren’t as secure as Lisnr’s technology, and they have to be scanned within inches of expensive terminals.

“We can transact up to 10 feet away,” Williams told Cincinnati Courier.

Lisnr’s technology also doesn’t require expensive hardware like the near-field communication (NFC) technology used by Apple’s Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Google Pay, CNBC reported.

“Our true advantage over NFC is that Lisnr is all software and not restrictive to the OEM, as only the OEM provider can use NFC vs. any merchant having the ability to use Lisnr in their mobile wallet,” Williams told CNBC. “We will remove the open-the-app-and-scan (QR) or the tap (NFC) in a secure way that will speed up the transaction time and allow consumers to get in and get out faster than ever before.”