Golf balls, massage chairs, and pies: Cantaloupe lays out our cash-less future

The e-commerce company, which makes payment technology to buy stuff from vending machines, has a new CEO and new ambition.
Written by Tiernan Ray, Contributing Writer on

"Snacks and drinks, headphones, car washes, massage chairs, amusement devices, driving ranges, golf ball dispensers -- pretty much anything you can think of where you swipe a credit card and get it, we're that device." 

So says Sean Feeney, who took over almost a year ago as head of Cantaloupe, the Pennsylvania-based maker of payments technology for over a million devices that vend all kinds of stuff without a human attendant.

A recent new convert to vending machines: Pix Patisserie of Portland, which pivoted to putting pies in slots during COVID-19 to deal with the lockdown.

"You're going to see a lot of innovation toward that, to be able to buy things that way," says Feeney

Feeney is the fix-it man, the seasoned chief who has come in to turn around a promising business that had swung from profit to loss in the past few years. Cantaloupe, which up until November had spent 28 years of life as USA Technologies, missed financial filings and suffered through a period of stock delisting and shareholder lawsuits. 

A West Point grad, Feeney moves in swift, clipped fashion through talking points while maintaining an impressive depth of familiarity with the business. In a chat in midtown Manhattan's Marriott Marquis hotel with ZDNet last week, he was blunt about the bad stuff, but also upbeat on the prospects ahead.

"I think we're at a point where we've gotten past the restatements, de-listing, couple CEOs, seven CFOs -- to the company that we are now, getting right back to work serving our customers."

The Manhattan visit sealed that re-branding with a bell-ringing by Feeney and team at the Nasdaq market site. 

The new brand, dressed in cantaloupe right down to the business cards, is a symbol of renewal, but also a long-overdue catch-up.

"The branding was pretty dated," says Feeney. "I had a customer the other day say, 'Welcome to the 2020s, your brand looks so much better. So much better.'"


Cantaloupe's ePort swipe and contactless devices are leading the wave of cashless payments, with soup-to-nuts hardware and software development and a variety of technologies to maintain payment security and to monitor and control vending devices. Fully 35% of payments it services, however, are still cash-based. 


The turnaround efforts were blessed in February by a fresh capital raise of $55 million in a private placement with institutional investors. 

The company's tagline -- "buy it and go" -- is a tagline that Feeney intends to take international as more and more of the world buys in a hands-off fashion. 

"We've been primarily a North American and US business, but we believe there are many opportunities for us outside the US," he says. "We're starting in Latin America because a lot of the characteristics of the market there are similar to the market here in the States."

Cantaloupe designs and builds its own point-of-sale terminals, called ePort, and also services third-party terminals. They are installed on 1.15 million points of sale at last count, counting only those that have taken transactions in the past 12 months, on behalf of 18,000 different customers. It includes the vending machines for golf balls, but also the massage chair, say, in the airport lounge that has a credit card swipe device below the seat.

The company had a big surge in deploying payment systems as the world came out of the Great Recession a decade ago but then slipped into the red despite that growth. The stock was de-listed and now is back under the ticker symbol "CTLP." 


Sean Feeney, CEO, center, and members of the Cantaloupe team at the Nasdaq bell-ringing April 19. Feeney sees a wave of cashless and touchless selling spreading to all forms of products, for which his company will supply devices, software, and services.


The technology of unattended commerce, from Cantaloupe's perspective, includes both taking the payment, but also "making the machine do something," explains Cantaloupe's chief technology officer, Ravi Venkatesan, at the same meeting with Feeney. 

"Whether a massage chair or a vending machine for a sandwich, or a ride in an amusement park, there is monitoring those environments," meaning, telematics, doing things such as making sure the device is secure, or that the temperature is kept steady. 

Venkatesan came on board in December from Bakkt, a privately held financial services firm that builds a platform for digital asset management, and in particular, consumer loyalty services.

Cantaloupe is the merchant of record for its customers, handling things such as compliance issues that go along with maintaining the devices in the field. That also requires making sure that payments via Apple Pay, say, or Google Pay, cannot be spoofed, and that no one can steal a payer's information. (Cantaloupe is an Apple Value Added Services provider.) 

"There is uniqueness in things we can do, where at the scale we operate, we can manage those devices better than anyone," says Feeney. Competitors include firms such as privately held Nayax Ltd., of Maryland. "We measure the device quality based on return rate, failure, and device security," Venkatesan explained. "In all of those three aspects, we do better than our competition." 

In some situations, Cantaloupe has complete control of all aspects of the payment system by designing the payments device from the bare metal upward. Such is the case for its "ePort G10," where Cantaloupe designs component assembly, the operating system, the firmware, the code to be compatible with the vending machines, and many other aspects. The company sources microcontrollers and other parts from a variety of different suppliers, most of them small, "niche" suppliers, says Venkatesan.

The main driver to the business going forward is both new vending machines coming online, and the increased volume of purchasing that is going cash-less and, in this case, unattended.

About 65% of the company's volume of transactions is cash-less now. "That goes down every month," says Feeney. "That's from mid-50s [percent] before COVID. We think that will do nothing but continue."

At the same time, "we continue to add customers, there's new parties coming into the market, both in vending and verticals," like the pie shop, says Feeney. 

But the future may be more complex kinds of vending, which adds more and more services revenue via the company's Seed software platform for device management.

Venkatesan and Feeney both see a wave of innovation that will increase those services from simple telematics to much more information-rich transactions with more variables. 

The path of vending stuff is about to gain much more detailed data about products that will confront the user, says Venkatesan.

"What's really coming is the ability to be interactive in more ways than just swiping a credit card," says Feeney.

"There will be more complex kinds of transactions," Venkatesan explains. One is more information. "At the simplest level, if I'm buying food, I'll see some nutritional information, kind-of in an augmented reality way."

Another kind of transaction will be roboticized actions that may take over what was a sales clerk's actions.

"It could be not just a vending machine, but a hotel room -- some hotels in San Francisco already have this -- you have a robotic assistant that comes to bring you stuff." The ALoft hotel chain is already doing that, Venkatesan points out.

The technology of beacons, points of presence that wirelessly communicate with you, will be part of it as well. Today, the technology doesn't scale, says Venkatesan. 

"The second aspect now is the technology to map indoor locations," he notes. "Google has invested heavily, and Apple has invested heavily, and, by the way, we have very close relationships with both of those companies."

"When we unlock that indoor mapping when you need to find something, you just walk up to that location, whether your first day at the office cafeteria or something else -- all those interactions will look very different from where they are today."

Touch-less technology, Venkatesan says, where you don't have to press buttons on a vending machine is very close to being an element in retail. "It is imminent," he says.

Even if the world is slowly coming out of pandemic times, Feeney believes the appeal of remote, unattended, cash-less, and even touch-less commerce will persist in some form. 

"I think it will be somewhat less than what we've seen now, but usually when these things happen, they stick," Feeney says of the unattended commerce wave.

With rising complexity of transactions, the software subscriptions part of the business will become a more and more meaningful part of the revenue for Cantaloupe. Wall Street likes to see lots of data from a subscription business, such as annualized recurring revenue. Right now, transactions for hardware are lumped in with subscription revenue as one quarterly revenue number.

Feeney expects to add more of that disclosure over time.

"The Street always wants more information," he concedes. "We will look to reporting some of the more standard SaaS or cloud KPIs [key performance indicators] going forward."  

"I think we'll get to a point where we'll probably break out the subscription revenue over the coming twelve to eighteen months, that just makes sense."


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