Startup of the Week – Uniqul, the payment company that’s replacing your credit card with your face

Uniqul payments
Uniqul payments

Forget about mobile payments as the most cutting edge system trying to replace credit cards and cash – Uniqul is offering something far more progressive. The Finland-based startup wants people to pay for their goods using only one thing: their face.


Founded by Oscar Tuutti and programmer Ruslan Pisarenko, and after a year’s work, the team at Uniqul are gearing up to launch the system within the next month. We caught up with Pisarenko to find out how biometrics technology will revolutionise the way we shop and travel and why they’re doing everything they can to make sure Uniqul is a more secure system than traditional payment..

width="200"Hi Ruslan, who are you and what are you doing?

Hi, I’m the cofounder of Uniqul. It is a facial recognition payment system, which uses biometric technology to scan the faces of people who have pre-registered with the system and then matches their faces with their credit card.

It is the world’s fastest payment system – all the customer has to do is look into a lens while they are standing in the queue and then just press ok. The actual technology consists of two tablets, a camera and a laptop.

Is it similar to the facial scanning technology used at passport control?

In general, the biometrics industry and the biometrics technology available on the market today is not as advanced as what we are building. The fundamental principles are similar, but for the biometrics industry the main clients are the government or security. These are not clients that are really motivated to improve user experience. I think our biggest advantage is a very different user experience.

Who are you collaborating with?

Our first payment processor is PayPal, right now we are undergoing the process of registering with them. The system is undergoing final testing and tuning, we are planning on launching within a month.

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Who will the first merchandisers be?

So far, we haven’t been approaching the customers without a finished product. After we made our press release public, we received several customer requests for our product and also from large businesses. But I think the first customers we want to apply the system to are small businesses – we already have a couple of stores in mind.

Will the stores need to install complicated technology?

Setting up the technology for the stores is actually really simple. All the complexity is in the cloud. Basically, they just need to set up the two tablets, hook up a camera and have a laptop or PC running the Uniqul software.

How are you dealing with security and privacy concerns?

Fundamentally, biometrics is a much more secure way to identify a person or authorise a payment than any kind of card. A lot of problems today happen when a wallet is stolen and cards are being transferred from one person to another. In biometrics, you can always register that it is you that is in the store buying something, no one else can do it.

Relating to all other security we have good experience in encryption; one of our employees has been working for 20 years in anti-virus companies and in general we have been working really hard to ensure security.


It’s a pretty progressive idea, have you encountered many people who are nervous about using such personalised tech?

I think it is always the process of deciding, no technology has been accepted and used by everyone within the first day, but there are people who want to try it out and experience it. We have already received 20 requests from people wanting to use it. What surprised me is one guy wrote saying he’s a blogger and can write about Uniqul in three languages, so I decided to pick him first to try it. This was a distinct indication that people were excited for the launch.

What inspired you to found Uniqul?

I’ve experienced it myself with the early prototypes. The first day you leave your wallet and phone at home and walk out it is amazing how light you feel. Its something many of us have forgotten. Try leaving your wallet and phone at home and walk outside, you feel half a kilo lighter.

I think it is about what kind of benefits we can offer people and merchants. If this technology is available all around – I mean, fundamentally, people are looking for ways to make their lives easier and more simple. And this is one of the ways to do it. For merchants it is a very powerful optimisation engine. Basically, installing Uniqul as a point of sale makes it possible for merchants to increase productivity. It would result in, for example, a reduction of queues.

What is your business model?

We are planning on charging consumers and merchants. The tech itself is quite expensive in terms of the processing power and also we have expenses related to insurance. So far we haven’t released the merchant prices, it depends on the tech and the particular service they’ll use.

As for consumers, we were thinking of how to make this affordable for all kinds of people. So the service is available on a monthly subscription system depending on location. It starts at a little more than a dollar per month for merchants within a 1.2 mile radius, citywide it costs $2.60 and for a city plus the surrounding suburbs it costs $4. A worldwide subscription is $9. I think just over a dollar is really a point were almost everyone can join and start going to nearby shops.

Who are your competitors? 

As of today we are the worlds first biometrics or face recognition payment system. We believe there is fundamentally no other company like us on the market. But the tech that we are competing against is more what’s used today to optimise checkout – one example is self-checkout machines.

On the other hand, we don’t really see this as a place to compete. We really want to build up relationships with other companies. For example, if Uniqul is installed in self-checkout machines, the process of self-checkout becomes much more simple. It increases the productivity of the machines. And concerning other payment operators like Square or iZettle or PayPal, we hope one day you can pay by Square without using your mobile phone via Uniqul.

Who is financing you?

We’re financed by the founders, we haven’t closed our first round yet but we are in talks with investors.

Have you thought about branching out into other areas? I can think of plenty where biometrics technology would make sense..

Absolutely. I think one of the first areas where optimisation hasn’t been performed for thirty years is airports. I mean airports is really an area where we can simplify the entire customer process so you don’t have to spend so much energy thinking where your plane is, what your gate is. There should be personalised information wherever you go so you know what gate you have to go to etc.

For us at this stage it is important to maintain focus, but we are looking for partners. I think payments and airports are the first options for this partnership.


Where will you be in a year’s time?

We hope to grow really quickly and to offer Uniqul in much more places – globalisation. We want to get one fifth of all Scandinavians using it. I think the core thing is to see where people are most ready to accept this tech. After releasing the media information, it was really interesting to see where the media first picked up the story. We want to understand the natural readiness of the world to accept Uniqul. We saw a lot of interest in Russia and the Netherlands so far.

Image credit
Airport: Flickr user he-sk

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