Editor's note: Welcome to the 2016 Fierce 15, an annual list that recognizes 15 of the most interesting startups in the wireless industry. We'll publish one profile a day for 15 days; Passport is the fifth company to be recognized this year.
Where it's based: Charlotte, North Carolina
When it was founded: 2010
Why it's Fierce: In just under six years, Passport has expanded from a self-funded startup trying to solve parking issues to the largest mobile parking and transit payment platform in the world. It runs through private labels from city to city, so even if you haven't heard the name, you may have used the engine.
“We're the biggest name you've never heard of,” said Passport CEO Bob Youakim with a chuckle during an interview with FierceWireless. “You can't go in one of these cities and not be up against us, whether it's transit, parking or some other payment mechanism you're engaging with.”
Youakim started Passport after recognizing that current parking systems were frustrating the consumer and causing the parking operator, be it a garage, city or other entity, to lose revenue. His timing proved effective, as three trends arose around that time that enabled the kind of mobile-based platform Passport became:
· Cloud-based infrastructure
· The rise and ubiquity of mobile devices
· People's increased comfort level making payments using mobile-based platforms
“When you add those all together and you attack a market that is tired, sleepy, more dinosaur-esque and ripe for destruction, and you can bring a solution that's easily adoptable and scalable to their operations, it's a home run,” Youakim said.
Passport enters markets through partnerships with clients including governments, agencies, universities and private operators. The company provides the underlying engine, but specifics of each implementation are adaptable to a client's preferences. As such, Passport has three possible funding models, between which the client can choose:
· Convenience fee on the end user
· Percentage of client's revenue
· Flat monthly fee for the client
About a year and a half ago, Passport also brought its platform to transit payments. While that was never the original intention of the company, the platform was adaptable enough to fit the industry.
“This doesn't happen very often: We had an acute focus on solving the parking issue, and then when we looked at a very analogous market in transit, we realized, 'wait a second, this is the exact same thing,'” Youakim said. “You're going to a ticket vending machine, you have to pay for a ticket … we realized we need to apply this technology to a completely different vertical.”
Youakim launched Passport with $500,000 of his own funds along with matching $500,000 from his family. The company went through funding rounds and is now privately owned by three companies: Grotech Ventures, MK Capital and relevance capital.
Passport is currently expanding from 60-70 employees and has over 250 total clients. It is also launching internationally, with an upcoming U.K. launch in November and plans to enter the Australian market down the road.
What's next: Commuting and transit is one of the fastest changing industries, both because demand is increasing for public transportation and because the rise of self-driving cars threatens to disrupt the current model entirely. But Passport believes its mobile payment platform is adaptable enough that it can theoretically rise to meet the needs of the market that emerges – including with autonomous vehicles.
“We're focused on seeing how our solution can remain relevant as it relates to the broader base,” Youakim said. “And there's no more exciting time than today."
Read more: FierceWireless's Fierce 15 2016