Klink Mobile's world headquarters is in the clubhouse of a sprawling, gated Overland Park apartment complex. The space is perfect for Jessie Bishop, the startup's 30-year-old CEO and founder, who says she can conduct international business and "not leave for a week."
"I can literally roll out of bed and get my day started," she says. "The last thing I want to do is go somewhere."
The only things that Bishop and her handful of employees scattered around the globe need are an Internet connection and Skype. (Klink's chief technology officer lives in Mexico City, another employee is based in Florida, and another is in Afghanistan.) The clubhouse (a common area for residents) has Wi-Fi, a gym, and a glass wall overlooking an infinity pool and a patio.
When Bishop isn't jetting to Afghanistan or speaking in the United Arab Emirates, she makes the short walk from her building to the clubhouse, where pop songs quietly play over speakers.
Bishop pulls out her battered BlackBerry (she's fiercely loyal to the struggling mobile brand) to demonstrate how Klink works. She types "$10" and texts Klink.
Within seconds, the recipient's phone vibrates with the arrival of a text message. "[Jessie Bishop] just sent you $10 using Klink Mobile!" the message reads.
Bishop says easily moving money between phone users could revolutionize how cash is dispersed in the developing world.
"In Afghanistan, for example, 3 percent of the population has access to a bank," Bishop says. (Half of the world's population doesn't have bank accounts; 8 percent of Americans are "unbanked," according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.) "Nobody has that, so their phones are becoming the actual bank itself."
When a customer sends money using Klink, the funds don't go into the recipient's bank account. The currency lives on the phone itself, which is different from other money-transferring technology companies, such as PayPal or Des Moines startup Dwolla. Recipients could buy goods and services from other Klink users or use the money to pay their cellphone bills.
"It's becoming a virtual currency in and of itself," Bishop says. "It creates a kind of currency ecosystem worldwide."
The money cannot be converted into tangible cash and withdrawn, but Bishop says that's in Klink's future.
"I could walk up to an ATM and, just like I'm voting for Dancing With the Stars, I could text the ATM from my mobile device, and the ATM shoots out cash," she says. "But that has to happen in phase two, when Klink has the relationships with the banks."
Phase one is signing cellphone carriers around the world to work with Klink. So far, they have been receptive; Klink is operational in Afghanistan with Etisalat, a carrier with 3.5 million users.
Bishop says Afghanistan's antiquated infrastructure makes it the perfect proving ground. She spent a couple of weeks in the country last year.
"People travel into the city, into Kabul, to pick up their paychecks every single month," she says. "There are lines so long at some of these banks, they will stand in line all day after traveling however many kilometers. They'll stand in line all day at the bank to collect their paychecks."
That money could be more easily distributed with Klink, she says, improving the quality of life of millions of Afghans.
Klink's next launch site: Mexico.
"There are three mobile operators in Mexico, and we have two of them contracted," Bishop says. "And they're finishing integration this week or next."
The deal gives Klink access to more than 50 million subscribers.
Before Klink can save Afghans from waiting for days in long bank lines or give people in America an easy way to send money to family members in Mexico, the startup needs money.