Top 10 Finance
01 – Square
For creating a new kind of mobile, social, and local retailer and streamlining point-of-sale payments. When Square launched in October 2010, it was a mere dongle that plugged into iPhones, enabling anyone–especially small businesses–to accept credit card payments. No more. Square has since set out to transform the entire payments process, launching an iPad app designed to replace the cash register and point of sale credit card equipment and processing and its Card Case app brings the future of the digital wallet to smartphones today without having to wait for a tap-and-pay system of embedded chips and readers. READ MORE
02 – Starbucks
For showing what a struggling powerhouse can do to revitalize its reputation and strengthen its relationship with customers through its own payment system. Starbucks introduced a sophisticated mobile app and payment system that lets patrons load cash onto their mobile phones, which then display a barcode baristas can scan at the register. It did so well in trials last year that Starbucks took it national, and it saw 26 million transactions and more than $100 million in funds loaded onto the app. Starbucks continues to innovate on the beverage front as well, from its new Blonde roast coffee to a new line of healthy juices. READ MORE
03 – Kickstarter
For becoming the default platform for artists, designers, graphic novelists, and filmmakers to fund their passion projects. The online crowd funding platform now sees more than $2 million pledged every week, and there are more than 1.3 million unique financial backers of projects ranging from iPhone accessories to graphic novels (if Kickstarter was considered a publisher, it would be the third-largest in the graphic novel business) to acclaimed Sundance films such as Room 237, Tim Kirk’s exploration of the meaning of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. If you funded that film, you could have received a handwritten thank-you from Kirk, something you’re not going to get anywhere else. More than 17,000 projects have been successfully funded since Kickstarter’s launch. “It’s such a simple, pure idea,” says James Swirsley of the Kickstarter-backed documentary Indie Game. “You have an idea, you want to make it happen, and you just put it out there.” READ MORE
04 – PayPal
For leading the charge on digital money–again. The veteran payment platform boasts 100 million active users; $3.5 billion worth of mobile transactions in 2011; a robust suite of fun, useful smartphone apps; and PayPal Access, a new Facebook Connect-like feature that aims to streamline the entire e-pay process across the Internet. It’s also working on a cloud-based alternative to NFC chips and partnering with physical retailers such as Home Depot to let you use your PayPal account to check out in its stores. READ MORE
05 – Y Combinator
For building a new kind of funding organization that’s completely reinvented the startup game. The startup accelerator attracts the cream of new tech ideas and works to turn them into companies through intense mentoring and a growing, powerful network of alums devoted to supporting each other. Airbnb and Dropbox are but two of its breakout stars. “I remember thinking that first summer, if we funded all these startups, they’d essentially operate like a distributed peer-to-peer replacement for a corporation,” says cofounder Paul Graham. “The employees had most of the upside and weren’t constrained at all. I’ve never said that publicly. Partly because it seemed like it might be a valuable secret, and partly because it’s kind of overreaching to say we were trying to invent a replacement for the traditional corporation.” READ MORE
06 – SecondMarket
For maintaining the largest market for private-company shares. Facebook is the most obvious beneficiary of a private company leveraging the liquidity that SecondMarket can offer a company before it goes public. The market has benefited greatly from Facebook’s involvement–30% of its revenue came from trading in its shares–but the market is working with a couple hundred private companies to manage private stock sales. SecondMarket, which managed $558 million in transactions last year, is hoping to expand beyond startups: Trendy food companies such as In-N-Out Burger and Dogfish Head Brewery are among the non-tech private ventures that SecondMarket investors are most interested in trading.
07 – American Express
For iterating like a startup. Last March, AmEx announced Serve, a PayPal-like mobile platform that lets users send and store money, without funneling it through banks. More recently, it launched a new deals platform that automatically credits users’ statements (as opposed to making store clerks take coupons) and offers in-depth analytics to retailers.
08 – Dwolla
For creating a payments network that’s completely independent of credit and debit cards. Meaning you can walk into a store, see something you like, and, using its app, buy it by instantly transferring cash from your bank account to that store. It’s a highly disruptive idea, and a hell of a thing to pull off in a payments world controlled by credit-card companies. And yet, Dwolla’s starting to make it happen. The startup has already cut down money transfer wait times; partnered with 7,500 retailers; and linked its API to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It’s now processing more than $1 million a week in transactions from 80,000 users and recently closed another $5 million funding round to fuel its growth.
09 – Simple
For launching a bank that doesn’t suck. By shunning fees and physical branches, releasing a super-sleek mobile app, and focusing on customer service, Simple–whose platform went live in beta late last year–has completely reimagined (and improved) the banking experience for the web generation.
10 – StockTwits
For building out its stock-picking social network. It added discovery services to find people to follow on the network, and it continues to build out enterprise tools that lets companies communicate information directly to its investing audience.