Written by Doug O’Neill
“Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro together was easier in some respects than launching this app,” says David Morrison. “We’ve certainly experienced a steep learning curve – and a highly educational one at that.”
The app Morrison is referring to is FOOi, a mobile application that facilitates peer-to-peer and peer-to-business financial transactions. It’s essentially a personal digital wallet that allows users to “share money in the moment.”
Morrison’s partner in this Toronto-based start-up venture is co-founder David Cynamon, who was part of the team that ascended Mount Kilimanjaro with Morrison in 2012. It was at a reunion in December 2016 of the participants of that charity climb where Morrison and Cynamon – “the two David’s” – got into a discussion about our increasingly cashless society.
“I had taken out my iPhone to show David how Apple Pay works,” says Morrison, “and that led to a conversation about the cashless society we expect we’ll all be living in five years from now. We both observed that neither of us carries cash very often, which frequently leaves us embarrassed when we find ourselves unable to tip the person at the coat check or a hotel valet. So many hospitality workers, of course, rely on gratuities and there we’d be patting our empty pockets and shrugging.”
With cash disappearing from our daily lives, the two men wondered, shouldn’t there be some relatively uncomplicated way of making micro payments on the spot? Options for Canadians were limited.
Morrison reflected on their conversation after he left the party that December night: “In fact, I got up at 3:30 in the morning and wrote seven pages of notes about the kind of technology that could support ‘cashless tipping.’ I sent those notes to David Cynamon in the morning and posed the question: ‘Would this idea have legs?’”
By spring 2017, two men had formed a 50-50 partnership with Cynamon as a board member while Morrison agreed to oversee the day-to-day operations. The app, called FOOi (the Dutch word for “tip” or “gratuity”), launched in May 2018. The relatively short timeline from concept to launch was largely due to the extensive experience of the two co-founders.
Both are seasoned business executives with successful track records. Morrison, a lawyer with a background in corporate and commercial transactions, founded Morrison Financial in 1987 (and, later, Morrison Laurier Mortgage Corporation) and draws on three decades of experience in private capital markets. Cynamon, a onetime owner of the Toronto Argonauts, is a successful business executive and, like his co-founder, is heavily involved in various philanthropic endeavours, including Mount Sinai Hospital In Toronto.
Launching the app, however, wasn’t easy. Says Morrison, “I’d never been involved in the development of an app or technological application like this. My plan was to oversee FOOi for a few months and then have someone else take over. We’ve now got a team of 12 of the smartest developers, five of whom work in my office on a daily basis.”
Morrison soon appreciated the complexities of app development: “I’m completely old school in terms of technology. I’ve learned that every app has a back end and a front end, and not every user’s mobile device is going to work the same. I learned from my savvy team that every size and make of phone requires a slightly different version of the app. We have specialists working on back-end and specialists working on the front end. There are coders who are specialists in Android and coders who are specialists in iOS. As co-founders, we’ve learned so much about encryption and, of course, privacy.”
The concept and functioning of FOOi evolved, of course, through the development phase. “Being able to tip someone in the moment is making FOOi popular,” says Morrison. “The functions now include peer-to-peer transfers, the ability to make charitable donations and peer-to-business (P2B) payments. And no transaction fees are incurred when sharing money – only if you make a withdrawal. There are no lengthy forms to fill out and users aren’t required to share personal details. User registration is easy. We set out to develop a platform that would allow people to ‘share money in the moment’ – and I believe we’ve succeeded.”
To “give someone money,” the user simply ensures the intended recipient is registered on the app, then types in the amount they wish to transfer and hits “Give.” It’s instant and stress-free, which is exactly what Canadians expect as we head into a true cashless society.
Photo credit: Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real