Braintree opens up Venmo Touch to all its US merchants. And so begins its true test

By Richard Nieva , written on April 4, 2013

From The News Desk

Today, the ecommerce and mobile commerce company Braintree begins to see if a bet it made over a year ago will pay off.

After acquiring a small digital wallet company last year, two months ago Braintree released Venmo Touch – a payments network that connects payment information between several different apps. That means once a customer has entered billing information into one app, he can opt to make it available throughout the entire network of apps, saving him the trouble of entering it for each individual service.

Compelling, but one problem: The product was in limited beta, only offered to a handful of companies like Uber, TaskRabbit and HotelTonight. And the Venmo Touch is only really intriguing if it powers a large, robust network of many, many apps. Having that sort of connectivity doesn't really help if the ecosystem contains only a few apps.

Today the company cuts the ribbon, and opens up Venmo Touch to all Braintree merchants in the US. The test for Braintree, now, is if it can actually live up to the promise and build up that network of member apps.

Payment companies are in a full on land grab for merchant clients. Stripe has built a reputation as being the favorite for developers. Balanced, a scrappy upstart (even upstart-ier than its combatants) has also gotten foothold, focusing primarily on peer-to-peer marketplaces. There's Dwolla, which aims to make it easier to pay money to both individuals and businesses, and of course, the elder statesman PayPal. Square is a tangential competitor as mostly a credit card reader.

Braintree says it differentiates itself by having been early to the mobile game, starting in 2007. In 2012, the mobile payments industry was $10 billion. It’s got a grab bag of tools for all sizes of companies, from startup to global brand. CEO Bill Ready (By the way, is there a more fitting name for a guy who runs a payments company?) says Braintree has partly been the enabler in allowing Uber and Airbnb to scale internationally, since it offers payment options in over 130 different currencies. The company says it does more than $2 billion in mobile volume every year and serves 40 million consumers.

Ready would not give a timeline or goal for how many companies he wants to sign up and when, but he has no doubts that Braintree can build up a formidable Venmo Touch network. The company is partnering with Branding Brand, a mobile commerce vendor that powers the ecommerce sites and apps of several brands like Costco, Crate and Barrel, Calvin Klein and Nasty Gal. Branding Brand will offer Venmo Touch to all of its clients. Although Braintree may have competition; Branding Brand also has a partnership with PayPal.

The allure of creating a large platform is intriguing. Ready says the biggest complaint he’s heard from clients is the difficulty in getting a customer to input billing information for the first time, especially on the tediously small screen of an iPhone (Braintree is only on iOS though it has plans to expand to Android). So having that information automatically configured across a whole slew of apps could stand to raise conversion rates for the merchants on the platform.

The challenge for Braintree will be fending off and keeping pace with any one of its capable competitors. As of now there is no clear front runner. Stripe is increasing its international presence; it expanded into the UK earlier this year. And Y Combinator-backed Balanced has been making quiet strides lately. That company just closed a seed round earlier this week from Andreessen Horowitz and Collaborative Fund, along with several angels who work or worked at Facebook.

Braintree is also announcing a new mobile software development (SDK) for Web developers. The SDK includes a template for a payment form that app makers can insert right into their user interfaces, to make integration easier.

That’s actually not just a wonky minor detail. It underscores an entirely different front in the battle to win over companies. The other payments companies have SDKs too. Yes, building the easiest method of payment for consumers is the Holy Grail. But making the product developer friendly is an almost equally important proposition. Developers, after all, are the ones who are working with the product, and an app maker has lots of different choices when deciding which company will power its payments. So wooing developers never hurts. And in this kind of competitive space, any advantage helps.