Who are Yoyo and what do they want?

We get beyond the slogans, JCR stall, and pink pigs when The Tab chatted about their business and where they are taking it

(Author’s note: This interview was conducted on Wednesday 12th February.)

Unless you’ve been living in the library not coming into uni, you’ve probably seen adverts for the smartphone (iOS and Android) app, Yoyo, around campus. You can currently link up your bank account via direct debit and top-up the app, and pay at all Taste Imperial outlets using the generated QR codes.

Yoyo decreases transaction time, eliminates the need to carry cash, and gives you rewards, also integrating the coffee points system.

‘Yoyo is a consumer engagement platform for modern retailers, powered by mobile payments. Yoyo was founded in 2013 and raised $1.3M from angel investors, as well as Imperial Innovations and Firestartr.’

I met up with Yoyo’s Michael Rolph (Co-founder and Chief Commercial and Creative Officer) to find out more about Yoyo’s quickly-expanding business.

Tab: Tell me about the history of Yoyo.

Michael Rolph: My co-founders and I talked about why mobile payment has been the ‘next big thing’ for the last 15 years, and why it isn’t present now.

So we thought not ‘how do you make payment relevant for mobile?’ but ‘how do you make mobile relevant for retail?’

The best thing out there right now is the Starbucks mobile app. So, lots of retailers are trying to come up with their own apps. But users don’t want multiple retailer apps for all the different shops, so we thought, how do we do that but better? We want it to be quick, simple, all in one place.

Tab: Where does the name Yoyo come from?

yoyo logo

MR: We’re pretty ambitious. We think the app would translate across borders very easily, so we needed a name to also do this. Everybody knows what a yoyo is. It’s memorable. You spin out a yoyo and it comes back to you; with

Yoyo app you pay out money and you get rewards coming back to you.


Tab: Do you think Yoyo faces direct competition with contactless debit cards?

MR: No, we don’t view it as competition at all. It’s a way in which people have the opportunity to pay, but the reality is that we are not just about payment but about making the entire buying experience better; by speeding it up, getting as many actions as possible done in one step, ie: the receiving of a reward straight away.

Customers still need to get the contactless cards out of their wallets/purses, so it takes time.

wallet poster

Some recent dispute over Yoyo on the newest Imperial Facebook page: Imperial: Tell Someone Something.

Tab: Do you think Yoyo faces direct competition with NFC?

MR: NFC would be an alternative way of payment, but not all phones have NFC built in. (For example: Apple doesn’t support it.) Also, the retailer has to invest in a lot of hardware to get the infrastructure in place to accept an NFC transaction through a phone.

QR code is the easiest form of integration of the retailer-customer based outlet. We are agnostic to technology: we don’t think it’s the long-term solution but we think it is the easiest and simplest form this moment because a scanner can read a QR code easily.

Tab: How does the app update?

MR: We have a continuous development cycle working in 2 week sprints. The next updates of the app will include a wider functionality, including automated top-up, pin-entry I to the app and while topping up, and the option of sharing a reward with a friend. Essentially, once the app is available on high street, consumers will benefit from customising sir selection of favourite retailers and start receiving offers customised to their behaviour and choice, in the area where they would be, and get rewarded. This will be a fundamentally new experience for consumers.

Tab: What is currently in place of the PIN-entry system that you said you will have in the update?

MR: At the moment there isn’t a requirement to enter a PIN. I am quite comfortable with this, because I have an iPhone. The PIN-entry will be an extra security measure, for comfort.

The QR code is a tokenised system. It is a one-time use, you can’t use the same QR code again, unless you are in an environment where you can’t get an updated QR code, in which case, you can use the same QR code again 3 times. But the system does recognise if the same QR code is being used halfway across London.

Tab: Where do you see yourself expanding, is it just uni campuses?

MR: Our vision is that this app is for the high street as much as for campus environments. We started at a uni campus because of the eager, engaged user base who expect more from their mobile.

It’s fair to say that we can launch to the high street later this year under the headline ‘Smart people buy with Yoyo’.

pig poster

One of their posters seen around campus

Tab: How will this expansion affect the app?

MR: For retailers, we are building a campaign manager that will allow them to launch offers/rewards, instantly, defining which customers to target with what and when. This will make the retail experience more personalised, to improve the experience for consumers.

Tab: My friend’s main problem right now is the need to present his CID to get the student discount. Can you solve this with an upgrade?

MR: Presenting a student card with CID is a requirement at Imperial to differentiate between students and staff and hence provide a discount to students. As the requirement might vary in different universities, students therefore have to present the student card independently of which payment method they use.

Tab: What would happen if Imperial/an institution which has signed up for Yoyo decides to discontinue the contract?

MR: Users would get their money refunded.

Tab: Why did you start at Imperial?

MR: We wanted to start in a tough environment. It’s a tough audience, students have high expectations  towards their phones/apps and want a lot more. This campus is a live-system, we’ve gone live in 27 outlets, and we’re about to switch on the student union. It’s a real complex integration.

That’s the smart answer, but really: Imperial was the first one to say ‘yes’!

No, but seriously, we did target Imperial specifically, because it ticks all our boxes.

Tab: Is there a connection between Imperial Innovations funding the app?

MR: Imperial Innovations is one of our investors, but there is no connection beyond that. We got put in contact with the head of catering, but there is no other connection.

Tab: There was a reward system, where you got 10% extra on the amount you topped up. How did you fund that?

MR: When we launched in January, that reward was funded by us to welcome the users who started using the app. In February we are running the promotion under which students can win Yoyo balance (there will be multiple winners of £50 and £10) simply by paying with Yoyo on campus. We are always coming up with new ideas on rewards and one can follow us on Twitter and on Facebook to keep posted on these.

Tab: Do you pass on consumer information to 3rd parties?

MR: Basically, your data is out there and your data gets used. We have turned it on its head, and we’re calling it the ‘transparency agreement’. It means we will never share your personal contact information with any of the retailers. We are the bridge between the consumer and the retailer.

What does get shared with the retailer is what the customer is doing, the behaviour aspect of the consumer. It’s the device characteristics that the retailers need to reach, not me as an individual through my personal contact information, through email, Twitter or Facebook.

Tab: So are you saying the retailers can’t do targeted advertisement?

MR: No, that’s the point, through Yoyo, it is completely targeted advertisement through your behaviour. We don’t want broadcast messaging, we want customers to be able to tune in to the relevant messages. What we wouldn’t enable is for retailers to bombard you as a consumer with their advertisements through their own channels (via email or text etc).

Tab: How do you actually make money?

MR: The model we have for universities is very different from what we would be deploying on the high street.

We don’t want to make money off universities, the transaction fee we charge Imperial only covers Yoyo’s cost of transferring money from customers’ bank account to the Yoyo app, so we are not profiting.

On the high street, we will be charging the retailers for the service we are providing: a platform to engage with their customers, enabling them to launch multiple consumer rewards and offers to provide a great customer experience and therefore increase their sales.