An Entrepreneur Developing a Product to Make a Big Difference
Doug Lindstrom a former barman, is currently doing comprehensive testing and trials with the fourth generation of this device, the Point of Wealth Register – POWR. It is a compact and sleek machine, which has to be seen to be believed. The purpose of the POWR device is to allow those of the cash economy such as service workers and other working-class people easy access to financial markets and wealth building tools. POWR is a device about the size of a small backpack that can be mounted in almost any business location. According to Doug Lindstrom the founder and president of Point of Wealth Register – POWR, it is intended for businesses that deal in cash or have a lot of cash transactions. POWR will also enable cash workers to quickly upload money into a savings or checking account but the breakthrough is in long term savings financial products and wealth building.
What exactly is the POWR machine or the POWR register and what does it do?
It gives the cash-compensated employee the ability to harness the power of maximum daily earnings, or maximum daily cash in hand.
Day laborer, taxi driver, hairstylist. Any worker that deals in cash.
And it allows you to do what?
The genesis of the system came about from just years of experiencing my coworkers and I falling victim to the distractions that can arise when you have a pocket full of cash. It’s just very easy to spend because it’s so liquid. And there’s never been a way to instantly set some aside to make it safe, to keep it out of harm’s way.
So, you put it into the machine, where does it go?
You sign up on our website with your account number for checking, savings and you can also top off your prepaid debit cards via our system for a lot less than you can through Wal-Mart or other situations like that.
You call it the Point of Wealth Register. What about wealth building?
Yeah, that was actually the genesis for the whole thing, the lightning strike, the God-smack or whatever you want to call it. It’s just a simple math of having the opportunity, or the ability to empower yourself, one shift at a time. Putting $10, $20 a shift away to the future. It can build up pretty dramatically even over a year’s time.
So you could put it right into an IRA?
Yes. That is the system that is hopefully coming out when we do our initial launch to the public, but, we still have some scenarios to work out with ING, the company that we are working with. Apparently the transactions need to be initiated from their side as a company policy, but in our situation we’re going to try to alleviate that policy because we’re so different.
It sounds like a kind of reverse ATM, so my question is why would somebody use the POWR machine in their workplace rather than just crossing the street to use an ATM?
Well, even if there happens to be an ATM across the street which isn’t the case in many situations that I’ve been around…you still have to make it across the street. They will also and most importantly have the immediate ability to upload the money into long-term financial products, so they are not tempted to spend it the next day even if it is only five bucks. It builds and it changes your way of thinking in a very gentle, yet profound way.
It makes me think about all the cash I blew when I was younger. I could have a fortune and it probably wouldn’t have changed anything I was spending my money on back then. I just wasted money as a practice.
Absolutely, yeah. That reminds me of the way I was able to secure seed capital from our initial investor. For a long time I was saying to this guy, “Hey I got this great idea. All I need is a little bit of money to get it off the ground, to get the ball rolling.” He was like, “Well, I like the idea, but you know, no thanks. Not right now.” To make a long story short at the time he was being consistently pursued by an Aflac representative who wanted to offer financial training, advice and products to our investor’s employees. He has approximately 100 employees in a courier business. He didn’t want to do it. He was certain his employees didn’t want a dime more taken out of their checks.
Eventually the Aflac guy was so persistent our investor said, “Hey, I’ll put a meeting together for a Saturday morning, but no one is going to show up for this.” He put the meeting together and as it turned out just about everybody in the whole company showed up and out of that 90% of the people signed up for all the services. So he said this demographic does want to, they want to make themselves better, they want wealth-building benefits. He called me that night and said, “I am going to give you your seed money.”
That’s a great story. Is it true that you are a former bartender and that is what led you to develop the POWR machine?
I was a full-time bartender for several years as well as a musician. I still, as it stands to this day, work one night a week in the bar.
It really was being a bartender and having that loose cash that gave you the awareness that there was a need to put cash into electronic funds so that people could save it and build wealth?
Is the primary purpose of POWR to benefit the working consumer or the financial institutions?
From my perspective absolutely the working consumer. It’s going to benefit the financial institutions as well though, but my focus and the place it was born from is to help working people.
Okay. Are you aware of any other product that allows cash-based workers to access financial markets or financial products?
No, I’ve done a lot of research on that. And I really have not been able to find other products that kind of like extend out – like extended deposit network. Like tentacles, I guess. It just doesn’t seem to be around.
How about the ability of the financial industry to sell products to working-class people? Have they had this access before?
Not that I know of.
Is there any financial education involved?
Just today the gentleman with ING ShareBuilder says that they’ll provide access to the products, but they won’t go out and teach. They are excited to get into this market via our system, but they are apprehensive about going out and teaching or providing advice. So I think through simplicity of use, gradual natural progression and grassroots word-of-mouth we will become that education platform, as in time as people see their money grow in a non-intimidating way they will become curious about more and more options. The POWR device will come with advice and support employers can use to educate and empower their employees if they want it. But what it really comes down to is an easy way to get started. Once they get going, their responsibility and curiosity will grow for many people. As it won’t be something complex or something that only people with more resources do.
Do you feel like with the lack of this machine, there just hasn’t been a way for the financial industry to connect to workers and for workers to connect to the financial industry?
Absolutely. It’s that the access just hasn’t been there. And that’s what we’re the conduit to; to providing that access because I mean that’s what it is. In this demographic sector of the workforce people just haven’t had the option.
How big is the potential market in your eyes?
Encompassing everything that we’ve seen in interest from all the different applications for our product outside the initial focus industry is 60-70 million people. One out of every four households is unbanked or under-banked and under-served. If these people start to save, even in the smallest incremental amounts, in time we are talking hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars.
Okay. How many of these machines do you envision in the US market and where would they be distributed, if you are successful?
I see hundreds of thousands. I see so much potential. It’s really kind of mind boggling even outside of the service industry. We’ve been approached by one of the largest national tax-preparation companies in the country. They have 12,500 locations that sit empty almost year round and they see this as a way to drive people into their property during the off-season to use a system like we have.
You see this as being part of the American culture?
Eventually, yeah, that’s the ultimate goal for me. It’s the ultimate vision. USAA Insurance contacted us about military bases, post exchanges.
Do you ever worry about being perceived as a feel good product and not being taken seriously as a business?
Yeah, I mean it’s a concern. But you know, I believe in capitalism as much as anybody, but I don’t believe in manipulating capitalism for some sort of zero-sum situation. I mean, I do – I think the product is altruistic or whatever. It’s just a good part of what we’re doing. But we want to make money as much as any other business does.
What has been the highlight and milestone of the process of building this business for you?
There have been several. Just from the first form factor prototype to where we are now up to the fourth generation. But there are a lot of rewards that come from validation from great business minds and great technical minds like the acceptance into the DEMO Conference.
What’s the DEMO Conference?
It’s a technology conference that’s arguably the most prestigious technology conference in the world. It’s extremely vetted. The acceptance ratio is very low and to be accepted to that was a great highlight. When you think about some of their alumni E*TRADE, TiVo, Java, Symantec.
How did it go over?
It went over great. We were one of the three major featured companies. Well, they actually had five companies featured, but we are prominently featured in the front page of the USA Today “Money” section with the big picture and that was definitely like a “wow” moment. “I think we’re really on to something here.”
When I hear your story it reminds me of all things of the mass proliferation of Starbucks. 20 years ago Howard Schultz in the Northwest introduced the nation to something that Europeans had known for years – that coffee could be exquisite. In a way by developing the POWR machine you’re introducing a new way of thinking to financial institutions and the working class. In other words, the mass proliferation of the POWR machine has the ability to bring about a cultural change.
Indeed. I love the fact that you’re comparing us to Starbucks because I think about that actually frequently and I think of Howard Schultz who grew Starbucks in the same manner that we’re doing it with the private placement memorandum and growing it out to what it is today, just an amazing success story. And what you say about the cultural kind of iconic thing that it has become? That is what I really admire about Starbucks and I would love to see at some point this business or this system in the same light. In a way, we are doing the same thing: introducing a group of people to something that they are really going to like once they get a taste of it.
Where are you in the development and the release of the machine?
We’ve just really intertwined the software and hardware. We have our transactions stacking beautifully on top of each other, going in and out of the sandbox, testing with our automated clearinghouse. So I mean the system works.
So, you are testing the actual prototype right now?
The system works. It’s ready to go. It’s just a matter of, at this point, funding. We need more. We don’t want to launch it and then have to close it down immediately because we’re running low on money. We want to have enough so we can go out, get the learning curve going, and get bullets in the gun as people use the system. So we want to have enough operating capital when we roll it out. We have made so many connections and built up so much goodwill in the marketplace that we need to have the resources to really stride down all those avenues.
I really love it. Okay, well Doug this was fun. We should do it again sometime. Maybe we next time we can meet at Starbucks.
That sounds great!