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BlueKite Raises $1.5 Million To Help U.S. Immigrants Pay Bills Abroad

10 January 2013

(TechCrunch) BlueKite, a Miami-based platform for cross-border bill payments, is today announcing $1.5 million in new funding, led by PeopleFund, which contributed $1.3 million of the total raise. The remaining amount was provided directly by BlueKite’s founders.

The startup, officially founded in April 2012, is developing a web-based payments platform that allows users in the U.S. to pay the bills for their families abroad, including things like electricity, water, gas, internet, cable, mobile, and phone bills. The transactions are made possible through integration of BlueKite’s proprietary payments platform with the accounting systems of the service providers worldwide, ofering immediate access to real-time balance information.

Already, the system has been integrated with dozens of services in Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and is now expanding elsewhere in Latin America. It will also arrive in Spain in Q1 2013, as the first test in Europe. In the U.S., the system is regulated and has received its license from Florida’s banking regulator, and is currently applying in other states, including Illinois, New York, New Jersey, California, and others. It will go live in Texas this quarter, too, as it has received regulatory approval there.

The process for receiving approval is not simple, so Florida has served as a battleground for dealing with the regulatory and legal issues surrounding the set up of these cross-border payments. In Florida, the service has only be up-and-running for three weeks so far, but has already processed around 1,000 payments, averaging around $18.00 each, or around $20,000 in total transactions.

Because it’s serving the under-banked and unbanked population, BlueKite isn’t currently available as a consumer-facing product, although the company is considering releasing a web front end or mobile interface to its service in the future. It already has the API built for that, too. But for now, the company is targeting mom-and-pop shop cash stores, including Save Mart, Cash First (Naples) Agente, Atlantida, TipTopCashing, and others in Tampa and Miami.

BlueKite was created by Bobby Aitkenhead (CEO), and two of PeopleFund’s co-founders Jose Vargas and Matias de Tezanos, who were involved with the startup before PeopleFund really took off. The fund, for those unfamiliar, emerged out of the founders independent investments over the years. Combined, PeopleFund’s founders have built and sold companies including (to IAC), (to Livedoor), ClickDiario (to Fox), and Brokersweb (to Vantage Media). (More details on the fund’s history are here.) It has investments in startups like PlaySpace, Getaround, LionWorks, and more.

Aitkenhead, whose background in finance includes time spent working at Citibank, said the team came together to focus on cross-border payments because they saw an under-served niche. “The unbanked and under-banked segment of the United States, and basically of the world, visit cash stores and money service stores to service their transactional needs,” he says. The consumer receives their check, then visits a store to cash it, pay bills, buy airtime minutes, and send money inside or outside the U.S., as need be.

“At these locations, we’re distributing a web-based platform where now a customer can come in and say ‘I want to pay a bill in Mexico, and it’s the electric bill,’” Aitkenhead explains. “The clerk enters that into the web-based platform and is able to see the outstanding balance in real-time.”

BlueKit’s business model is interesting, because it’s fully prepaid. That is, the affiliated stores have a positive balance with BlueKite – they basically buy inventory from BlueKite. And BlueKite has a positive balance with the utilities served. “The utility already has our money,” says Aitkenhead, “so there’s no credit risk or money transfer risk.” The consumer pays the cash store a flat $4.95 fee to make the payment, which is split 60/40 between BlueKite and the cash store. The company also negotiates fees with utilities for helping them with collections.

BlueKite currently has seven employees in Miami and fourteen in Guatemala City. It plans to reach 300 stores in Florida and enter Texas by the end of Q1 2013.