The co-founder of ultrasonic data transmission company LISNR has defied all odds to develop the technology that has disrupted industries including proximity marketing, event ticketing, and mobile payment.
Rodney Williams, the son of immigrants who was born partially deaf and raised in a low-income neighborhood, earned three college degrees by the time he turned 24. He started his company eight years ago on a bus while traveling to SXSW, developing technology that uses ultrasound technology to provide a solution that allows merchants and payment providers to accept mobile payment data at any time.
“We had to recreate the way information is shared. So instead of using standard Bluetooth; or Wi-Fi, or what most use in the mobile payments sector, NFC; or QR codes, we decided to leverage the speaker and the microphone as a way to send and receive information,” Williams told Black Enterprise.
In November, Visa made a strategic investment in Cincinnati-based LISNR to speed up expansion of its mobile payments. The two firms also have a commercial relationship, with LISNR working to drive the solution as the new payment standard in 2020. And Williams wants to ensure that people of color and in low-income communities are able to access the technology.
“When you think about paying with your mobile phone, or Apple Pay or Google Pay, it’s only the premium devices and the premium group of consumers that has access to doing something as simple as that. Where I grew up, I go to the convenience store and it says ‘cash only.’ Mobile payments isn’t a thing of that community,” he says. “But that’s the problem. No one cares about creating a universal pay. You should be able to pay with any phone, not just the newest.”
Williams is also working to help the underserved secure small loans through SoLo Funds, which he also co-founded last year with CEO Travis Holoway. SoLo looks at a user’s banking history, social capital and behavioral data to determine a score, with borrowers then filing open request to connect with lenders for interest-free loans under $1,000.
The company revealed in April that it had processed $2 million worth of loans since it launched, and there are plans to eventually partner with big banks.