Blog Post

Branson's Next Mobile Act: An Investment In Mobile Payments Startup Square

Richard Branson is no stranger to investing in mobile media: among his more notable moves have been establishing *Virgin Mobile* years ago, and more recently moving into iPad publishing with Project magazine. Today comes news of his latest foray into the wireless world: an investment in the mobile payments startup Square.

Press releases from Virgin and Square do not give any indication of how much money Branson has invested in the company, which was started by Twitter founder and (current) executive chairman Jack Dorsey. We have contacted Square, Dorsey and Branson to ask and will update this post as we learn more.

Square raised $100 million at the end of June in a round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. At the time, that valued the company at $1 billion.

Square built a business initially on an iPhone-based mobile payments service that is now avaialbe for both iOS and Android devices. It provides a square-shaped dongle to merchants, who can plug the device into a phone to make instant card transactions. Some 800,000 merchants in the U.S. are now using the dongles, and there are around $2 billion in payments processed annually through the platform. At the standard 2.75 percent commission that Square charges merchants, that works out to annuals revenues of $55 million from those transactions going to Square.

Last week, the company upgraded its payment app, Card Case, which now uses geofencing technology built into smartphones to let a user make purchases without even presenting the device. About 20,000 merchants have signed up to work with the Card Case app to date.

How will Richard Branson’s investment in Square figure in the company’s strategy? It seems unlikely that Branson has taken an interest in Square as a simple financial investment. Rather, Branson could prove to be a key figure for Square as it looks to make its payment services more ubiquitous.

Square has said it plans to launch in international markets in 2012, and Branson’s international Virgin empire could help with that.

Not only does Virgin operate national and international airlines, but it has a number of other travel interests, including train services in the UK. It also runs a number of financial services, as well as gyms, mobile operators and a pay-TV company: all opportunities to increase the number of Square transactions and give more exposure to the brand on a global basis.