When Hamed Shahbazi graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1997, many people were still calling the Internet a “fad.” But the Vancouver native recognized the transformative power of the Web and pivoted from his civil engineering studies to focus on the burgeoning Internet-enabled kiosk market. Soon after graduation, Shahbazi founded Info Touch Technologies Corp., a provider of retail kiosks, which eventually led to a significant focus on self-service bill payment kiosks. Shahbazi soon realized that bill payments were a particularly good fit for the convenience and 24/7 connectivity provided by the Web, which enabled customers to quickly and easily make last-minute payments. “Expedited payments were of significant interest for us because of our demographic focus on underbanked and low- to moderate-income consumers,” Shahbazi says. “For those consumers, who tend to pay more last-minute, expedited payments are inherently more valuable.”
Within a few years, Info Touch Technologies began focusing solely on bill payment and rebranded as TIO Networks. Today, the company has grown to process more than $6 billion in annual bill payments in North America through channels including retail kiosk, POS, Web and mobile. TIO’s roster of more than 6,000 biller payees includes authorized payee relationships with companies such as AT&T, Cricket Communications, Cox Communications and PG&E.
Looking toward the future, Shahbazi sees an environment ripe for continued growth. Just as Info Touch Technologies rode the rise of Web-enabled kiosks in the late ’90s, TIO’s bill payment services now are positioned to capitalize on the mobile revolution to drive new channels and usage. In 2012, the company unveiled the TIO Wallet, a cloud-based mobile platform that enables users to make bill payments via smartphone. The following year, TIO partnered with numerous bill issuers—including PG&E, El Paso Electric and Gulf Power—to release a smartphone-based account payment app.
“We’re still quite early in the smartphone revolution,” Shahbazi notes. “Our personal devices will not only become more powerful but more contextually intelligent, which will enable them to provide greater convenience.”
Another development that excites Shahbazi is the growth of virtual currency, such as Bitcoin, which enables users to make peer-to-peer payments without involving a centralized third party. “Virtual currencies will fundamentally change how we interact in terms of payments,” he predicts. “The new peer-to-peer payment infrastructures will change workflows and payment acceptance methods. Given that we specialize in self-service payments, we’ll have ample new opportunity to innovate as these new technologies mature.”
While TIO has grown from a post-college startup to one of the biggest players in bill payments, Shahbazi continues to draw inspiration from the underdog his company once was. “I believe deeply that the answers to the world’s problems lie in entrepreneurship,” he says. “While it’s impressive to see how quickly large companies, such as Google and Apple, innovate and introduce new products, it’s also clear they derive much of their inspiration from small company entrepreneurs.”
When not working to grow the business, Shahbazi unwinds with good friends, good food and family. “Laughter and good conversation do wonders after a long day at the office,” he says.