Fidesmo Aims To Be The Only Card You Need For Public Transit (And Eventually, Anything Else)

With all the talk about the “mobile wallet”, you might assume that smartphones will eventually handle most of your purchases, coupons, and related accounts. But Fidesmo, which just took the stage at TechCrunch’s Disrupt NY Startup Battlefield, is betting that cards still have a lot to offer.

The Stockholm-headquartered company has created an NFC-enabled card that users can load up with their subway passes, employee badges, loyalty cards, and more. The company is announcing its API today, which developers can use to integrate Fidesmo with their own applications.

From the consumer perspective, when you use Fidesmo, you might open a partner app on your smartphone and add more money to your subway account. Then tap your Fidesmo card against your phone and the data on your card will be updated, as co-founders Petter Arvidsson (chief architect) and Mattias Eld (CEO) demonstrated for me over the weekend.

Developers can use the API to integrate Fidesmo with any application they want, but Arvidsson and Eld said they see public transit as the key early use case, and they’re talking to transit agencies in Sweden about partnering. (Eld said they’re hoping to announce the first partnership this summer.)

As someone who currently keeps transit cards for New York, Boston, and San Francisco in his wallet, I can certainly see the appeal of consolidating everything onto one card, and of being able to reload your card from your phone. Eld said that for most transit systems that support contactless cards, no additional hardware should be required. (New York’s subways don’t use those cards, but Eld said it’s “one of the rare examples of a city that doesn’t have contactless ticketing.”)

But why use a card at all — isn’t the ultimate goal to just store this information on your phone? Well, Eld suggested that it may be good to have a separate device where you keep “your security-sensitive stuff.”

“The phone is a very personal thing,” he added. “Maybe I want something else that I actually touch on things.”

The card will cost $10, with a discount for developers who sign up early. That pricing is basically to cover costs, Eld said, because the goal isn’t to make money by selling cards. Instead, Fidesmo will take a fee as part of every payment — apparently most transit agencies already have resale deals in place, and for those agencies, the startup can become just another reseller.

The company says it supports MIFARE Classic, Java Card 3.0.1, GlobalPlatform 2.1.1, and ISO 14443-A standards. Again, that means it should work with any contactless card transit system, and with any smartphone that supports NFC. iPhones, however, don’t fall into that category — Eld said he has a plan to support iPhones as well, but he isn’t ready to announce it.

During his Disrupt presentation, Eld summed up his goal: “We will make one card to rule them all.”

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Update: And here are some notes from the question-and-answer session with the Battlefield judges.

Q: Have other startups succeeded in selling services to these transit agencies?
A: There have been some attempts at mobile ticketing solutions that are “not very well integrated into existing ticketing solutions.”

Q: What’s unique here that other companies couldn’t replicate? And what about fraud?
A: Transit cards in Stockholm, for example, are based on the MIFARE Classic standard, so they can’t talk to phones. Fidesmo cards can, because they use the MIFARE for Mobile standard, “which I was the chairperson for.” (Eld and his co-founders used to work on Ericsson.) On security, “we encrypt everything from the backend all the way to the Java card applet that we have on the card.”

Q: But why can’t someone replicate that?
A: “We own our own codebase, and no other sort of full-stack startup … is doing that.” And in ultimately, “just having the cards out there, having the users, having the services on top of our platform, that will bring the moat that will protect us long-term.”

Q: I’d recommend that you invest a little more time in design.