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Oct 05

5 Minutes With Aaron Turner

Posted by: Mark Solon        
 

5-minutes

While there are plenty of high-profile start-ups in the region, there are a growing number of terrific new companies sprouting up off the beaten path as well. RFinity is one of those companies. Based in Idaho Falls near the Montana border, RFinity is setting out to make mobile payments completely secure. With a terrific funding partner in Horizon Ventures from Hong Kong, RFinity is one of Idaho’s best kept secrets. I got to know CEO Aaron Turner a few years ago when I saw him keynote a security conference in New York and when the Idaho native and I were introduced, we became fast friends. He’s incredibly bright and one of the CEOs in the region to keep your eye on. I had a chance to visit with Aaron last week and asked him a few questions:

What drove you to start RFinity?

The motivation behind starting RFinity lies in 2 different areas; first – I truly believe in the potental of the technology that my partner Steve McCown invented and then we refined together while at INL, second – after working for Microsoft for a long time I had the opportunity to see a technology company at its best and worst and I believe that I can create a technology company that improves on my experiences as well as create opportunities for technology development here in Idaho

What’s been the biggest surprise to you in building out the company?

RFinity plays in a very complex space – the convergence of legacy and mobile payment systems and we knew from the beginning that strong partners were going to be key to our success.  I have been surprised at how quickly we have closed partnership agreements that we originally thought would take ages and conversely how we haven’t closed agreements in areas that we thought were slam dunks.

How do you see the mobile commerce landscape in 5 years?

Mobile commerce is currently at a very interesting fork in the road.  There are those who are proponents of extending e-commerce to the mobile platform, warts and all.  There are ourselves and others that are proponents of re-thinking key aspects of mobile commerce to avoid some of the pitfalls that have befallen e-commerce over the last decade.  For example, do we really want to worry about massive mobile payment fraud like we have seen associated with credit and debit card numbers?  Do we want to see the extension of  US network carriers’ dominance from their position as service providers into the mobile commerce market?  We at RFinity believe that we should re-think how to strategically tackle the problems we see in e-commerce in a way that makes mobile commerce both more convenient and more secure.  The next 12 months will determine which side of the fork we end up on – whether the continuation of the e-commerce path or a new mobile commerce road.

Aaron Turner, CEO - RFinity

Aaron Turner, CEO - RFinity

What advice would you give to first time entrepreneurs embarking on a startup?

The most important aspect of starting up a business is having a great support network.  On both personal and professional levels, make sure that you have mentors and supporters who are 100% behind you.  If you have a wife & kids, make sure that they understand the risk that you are taking and the long hours that will be involved and let them participate to make sure that they feel like they are part of the process, not just feeling the after-effects of long-hours and summers without vacations.  On a professional level, make sure that the people you look up to support you in what you are doing and are willing to spend time to continue to mentor and advise you on important decisions.   From my perspective, this is the ‘relationship capital’  that I think is overlooked by many entrepreneurs as they start a venture.  I am very fortunate to have a wife and family who love and support me in what I’m working on and it makes an incredible difference in everyone’s attitude as my responsibilities with RFinity demand much of my time.

What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture? How did the idea for your business come about?

The ‘spark’ was a combination of things – the desire to stay on the cutting edge of technology development, the goal of having the flexibility to call my own shots, the financial benefits of creating something with value beyond just products or services, the goal of keeping my family in Idaho.  All of these factors combined to motivate me to start RFinity.  The idea for the business was as a result of familiarizing myself with the Technology Transfer process at INL and getting feedback from business leaders that I respected that there was a market need for what I was working on.  The original idea for our business was based on a military/intelligence community need for identification that we then re-shaped into a commercial application.

What motivates you?

Making a difference in the lives of other people is at the core of what motivates me.  On a business level, this usually results in seeing how something I’m working on makes another person’s job easier or allowing a business to focus on what they are great at doing while I help them solve a problem they’re having that is distracting them.

How do you generate new ideas?

Most of my best ideas come from talking through scenarios with people who I think are smarter than I am.  Real-time collaboration and doing a lot of doodling on whiteboards and napkins usually sparks inspiration within my brain about how to solve a problem or improve an existing solution.

Where did your organization’s funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?

We evaluated several options, and eventually signed with Horizons Ventures Ltd based in Hong Kong.  Horizons’  global experience and their very strong balance sheet were significant influencers as we closed our first round of funding in September, 2008 with the financial markets in chaos at the time.  We were introduced to Horizons through a business associate who had done deals with them in the past and the deal was structured as an equity investment with loans structured to allow us to grow quickly.

How did you decide on the location for your business?

While with Microsoft, I had the opportunity to work in more than 25 countries around the world and in many US cities.  With my objective being to raise a family in the best place I could find, I don’t think there’s a better fit for us than Idaho Falls.  We had many suggestions from investors and advisors to relocate to CA, but we never really considered the option.  We like the reduced costs of doing business in Idaho and have been fortunate to find talented folks who share similar values and have joined our team to make RFinity what it is today.

If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?

William Clark, based on his experiences on the trans-continental expedition.  I would want to talk to him about how he led his team to do things that no one else had done before, despite the team being at constant risk to life & limb.

What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

Working with a flexible team of extremely smart technology developers.

In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.

Adventure

What company or business do you admire the most and why?

At a local level, I admire what Frank Vandersloot has done in growing Melaleuca and the incredible economic impact he and his company have had.  At a US level outside of Technology, I think Marriott represents one of the few companies that has stood the test of time due to their values and commitment to hard work.  On a global level, in the technology space, I really like how HTC has grown and positioned themselves at the center of innovation in mobile technologies.

What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?

I love reading to my daughters.  We are reading the Inkheart series now and I really like how the author provides examples to kids of how powerful your imagination can be.  I also like to play pick-up basketball with a couple groups of guys here in town – there are very few things more satisfying than hitting the winning jump shot.  Favorite family activities (which have been reduced a bit thanks to RFinity demands) are riding ATV’s in the Big Hole Mountains and skiing at Grand Targhee.

 

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