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eBay buys mobile payments start-up Fig Card, second Boston acquisition in April

Posted by Scott Kirsner  April 28, 2011 04:08 PM

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A few weeks before eBay's PayPal division announced that it would acquire Boston-based Where Inc., the San Jose company closed on an acquisition of a much smaller Hub start-up. eBay bought Fig Card, a three-man company in the South End that had been developing a mobile payment system for use in brick-and-mortar retail locations. The deal hasn't yet been officially announced by eBay, and an eBay spokesperson hasn't returned my call yet. (Update: PayPal has now posted a blog entry on the acquisition.)

Fig Card co-founder Max Metral wouldn't comment today on the acquisition price. When I asked whether the deal was really an "acq-hire," when the purchasing company is really seeking talent rather than a product, Metral said, "It's a bit of a hybrid, because obviously we were small. But I do think the technology is pretty important for solving the 'last inch' problem," of sending credit card information from a phone to a cash register to consummate a transaction.

I had a chance to demo Fig's wireless payment technology using my iPhone last November, at a Boston bakery.

Metral called me from the North End offices of Where Inc., but he said it isn't yet clear whether he and the rest of the Fig Card team will work from there, or move to California. (He said he just happened to be visiting today.)

Asked how the deal happened, Metral said that Hollywood power player Mike Ovitz, an acquaintance of his, introduced him to eBay chief executive John Donahoe. Metral says that the Fig team will report to Peter Chu, senior director of new ventures at PayPal.

In the PayPal blog post about the acquisition, Chu writes:

We loved their approach to point-of-sale, particularly because it was driven by the same vision that we have at PayPal – in the future, transactions can be as smart as a computer and not as dumb as paper. We won’t need our physical wallets. We’ll be able to pay any way we want, from any device, anywhere in the world with both flexibility and privacy.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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