In this segment of the interview, Philippe discusses his success with Signio, and the process of building its online payment solution.
SM: What did you learn from the elephant hunting experience? PC: I did not know Asia very much, so I did not know the difference between the Asian mentality and the western mentality. I think the Asian people look at life as a complete interaction, when the western mentality is about the immediate success.
SM: What did you do when you returned from Thailand?PC: I wanted to go big time into the Internet. I had the idea and we created a small company called Business Project, with a few Internet people to do an application which would be a combination of Lotus notes, collaboration, and focus on businesses. The ideas were great, and I think that it will happen; in fact, it is coming now.
Very quickly I realized though that the browser was not capable. You could not create a good user experience with the browser yet. My first reaction was to say that Microsoft is not going to go there, since that would have killed their Office Suite. I had the idea to go back and acquire AOL which was in the process of suing Microsoft, and acquire the browser so I could get control of a browser and then we could deliver a Lotus notes like application and then after that we could have integrated elements of the suite.
AOL was not at all interested in selling to me. Their lawyers did not want to because they were suing Microsoft for damages, and they did not want to put a value of the damages on the browser. They were right, I had come up with a $500 million dollar offer, and I think they got $750 million. I knew we could not depend on Microsoft to improve their browser, so I said, “OK, I have a good team, how can we apply that team to a new problem?”
SM: So you had to go back to the drawing board!PC: This is when I scrambled together a new company, which was called PaymentNet, an Internet payment gateway. The company had some technology but had not packaged it well. The VCs had worked hard and did not want to put in more money, and they wanted someone to revitalize the company.
SM: Ah, a turnaround again! I am beginning to see your method … PC: Yes. I immediately re-branded the company Signio. We did a major change. Our competition was CyberCash and a few others, and they were charging the banking gateways by the transaction, and I did exactly what AOL did and came up with a flat fee. I changed the business model and expanded the technology so we could have a very large version for the merchant running in the browser, and another more scalable version for the big merchant servers. We had a very scalable architecture. We started to take the marketplace.
We are now in the 1998-99 timeframe, and we had companies approaching us and wanted to buy us, and I wanted a partnership and so I put major banks and investors into Signio. I was looking for partners, and then I went to Verisign and instead of doing a partnership they wanted to acquire us. This was the first backend infrastructure: I call it Internet Delivery Platforms. The other delivery platform which they acquired later was Network Solutions.
(to be continued)