Innovation in Fairfax County: Yombu

Joe Falit, co-founder and CEO of Yombu, Inc., suggests a typical scenario to illustrate the virtues of his product that anyone can appreciate and anyone can use.

"Imagine that you're in your workout clothes or, perhaps, at the beach," he says. "You want to purchase a soft drink or an ice cream, but you're not carrying your wallet, your purse or your phone. No problem. With Yombu, all you need is your fingerprint. We like to joke that you could even be naked and pay."

Yombu is a biometric payments startup based in Tysons Corner. Its innovative service enables customers at brick-and-mortar merchants to pay via fingerprint and, simultaneously, receive rewards.

"At the point of sale," Falit says, "all you do is press your finger down and enter your PIN number. You're all paid and it's that quick."

While convenience and associated rewards are primary benefits to the consumer, Falit says Yombu benefits merchants in three ways.

The Yombu system improves the speed of handling transactions at brick-and-mortar establishments, increases customer loyalty thanks to customized rewards programs and provides data to merchants which can improve their ability to market to customers.

"A key to running a business such as a fast-casual restaurant or coffee shop is getting more people in the door," Falit says. "A loyal customer is worth three or four times that of someone who is not loyal, so we customize loyalty programs and gamify them specifically for a merchant. That's what gets the foot traffic through the door."

Yombu's future is likely to extend beyond fingerprint technology. It's already developing new and interesting techniques in the world of authentication.

"Right now, if you've got a finger, you're our target audience," says Derek Sanford, Yombu's chief technology officer and co-founder. "We are definitely fingerprint-based at this time, but we are experimenting with everything from facial scans to retina scans.

"Our technology is always going to be evolving. We also take security very seriously. Our transactions are encrypted at each terminal and for every transaction. The biggest regulatory standard we have is the PCI (payment card industry) standard. We have to be approved for that, which requires considerable scanning, testing and backend security."

With $1.2 million raised from investors, Falit is convinced that Yombu's Tysons Corner location is the perfect environment for growth.

"Fairfax County is ideal for us in the sense that it's rapidly growing and there are tons of technology companies around," he says. "We've noticed that folks here are very tech-forward. When we say 'fingerprint payment' - a new and novel idea to many - they're very accepting. So, it's a great place to launch a tech company."

Through the end of May, Yombu had enlisted 21 merchants and 5,500 users. Among its goals for 2018: to have at least 130 participating merchants, including at least one large corporate pilot - preferably a chain of stores.

Falit says that merchants have a great deal to gain by getting in on the ground floor. "We care deeply about building a base of loyal followers in northern Virginia and the D.C. area," he said. "We are currently hyper-focused on merchant and customer growth, satisfaction and maintaining rock-bottom pricing. We devote an extraordinary amount of time to helping our merchants generate a loyal customer base.

"We have the recipe for success. We've proven product market fit with thousands of people signed up paying by fingerprint. This is the future. It's really just a question of who's going to do it ... and we think we have the right recipe. This is why it's a no-brainer for merchants to use Yombu."

In the long run, Falit knows that attracting both merchants and customers is vital, but only part of the equation. Creating a workforce of those tech-forward thinkers is equally important.

"To Yombu, as a tech company and a company that needs really smart people to work for it, I want to work in an area and hire in an area that champions great ideas and has some really smart, innovative people that I can hire. To me," Falit says, "Fairfax County is that place."