Australian NFC startup taps US market

Australian NFC technology startup Tapit is making a run at the North American market, opening its first international office in New York as it embarks on a capital-raising effort.

Australian near-field communication (NFC) technology startup Tapit is set to tap into the North American market, opening its first international office in New York as it works on a capital-raising round.

"Most of the brands we do business with are headquartered in the US," Tapit CEO and co-founder Jamie Conyngham told ZDNet. "Most are headquartered in New York or San Francisco, so it just makes sense for us to be close."

The move comes after the Sydney-based company sealed its first deal with a major US player in February — for a utility service project of an unnamed government partner.

In early September, Tapit also initiated a concerted China push, signing a joint-venture agreement with Australian-listed Chinese mobile commerce company 99 Wuxian for distribution in the Chinese market.

Tapit's technology platform leverages a range of contactless technologies, including NFC and Bluetooth Low Energy, to allow NFC-enabled smartphone owners to tap NFC-enabled objects and get rich content such as video, mobile-optimised pages, and instant app downloads.

The opening of the company's first international office in New York City late last week is not only expected to see it strengthen its commercial ties with the North American market, but also put it in front of potential US venture-capital partners.

"Part of the attraction of having a US office is that you can address the issue of making contact with US investors," said Conyngham. "They want to attend the board meetings. We think we'll get an audience with the US venture capitalists, which would be fantastic. A much larger raising effort is likely."

Conyngham said that Tapit is currently in the middle of a capital-raising round, and the exposure to US-based startup investors could result in a much higher investment value than what the company would expect to secure if it was to raise capital exclusively in the Australian market.

Although Tapit is making a run at a market which is increasingly crowded by tech startups offering similar technology as the Australian company's suite, Conyngham said that Tapit's early entry into the market, in 2011, and its proprietary technology and processes, help to position it well to take on the US market.

"We wrote our platform from scratch, that's our IP [intellectual property]. We have a bit of that first-mover advantage as well," said Conyngham. "People want to deal with us because they know we were first. There's only room for a few players in these markets.

"We just need to make sure we continue to keep leading. It's not all about who's got the best technology; it's more about being a leader," he said.

In early September, Tapit attracted the attention of IBM, claiming its position as one of the IBM SmartCamp Sydney 2014 finalists , along with New Zealand's 9 Spokes and Ecocentirc Energy, winning the event's People's Choice Award.

Tapit had previously signed a deal with Telstra in 2012 to enable its prepaid customers to buy call credits at selected phone booths and retail outlets through NFC-enabled smartphones.

Tapit COO and co-founder Andrew Davis, who jetted off last week to head up the new Manhattan-based office, told ZDNet that the company will likely begin hiring US staff as it works towards signing the larger deals that the US market can offer.

"We always knew we had to be there [in the US]," said Davis. "The sizes of the deals are so much bigger over there; you can multiply the deal size by a factor of 10. With the size of the product offering, and by the nature of the population, they're bigger deals every time. We are building new projects, and we can bring in new people, and they'll be US people, not offshore workers."