Droplet app withdrawn as users told they will be refunded - but investors face anxious wait

Contactless payment app Droplet's Steffan Aquarone, Aimee Keeble and Christian Long who at the launc

Contactless payment app Droplet's Steffan Aquarone, Aimee Keeble and Christian Long who at the launch of the reward programme for independent traders in Norwich. Photo : Steve Adams. - Credit: Steve Adams

The founder of a mobile payment app which was piloted in the Norwich Lanes has said his priority is to return as much money as possible to investors, after he decided to withdraw the app from use.

Steffan Aquarone said the cashless smartphone technology, which had 40,000 users nationally, including 7,000 in Norwich, had 'never got to the scale' to be viable as a profit-making business.

But he said the business had not failed and he remained 'optimistic' he could raise money from the sale of its technology to return money to shareholders – who took stakes through two crowdfunding rounds which raised £1m.

Mr Aquarone, who founded Droplet in 2011, said the company had been dependent on new investment for growth, but had suffered in the aftermath of the EU referendum.

'We had to make the choice: do we do what a normal start-up would do and hang on until we run out of money? Or do we do the responsible thing and make sure staff are paid and we can return funds?' he said.

Mr Aquarone paid tribute to the 'incredible' team of 15 who will lose their jobs, including four in Norwich.

Droplet users will receive their account balance in full, though Mr Aquarone said it may take several months to process.

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But of investors, he said: 'Investing in early-stage tech is very high risk, and people should only invest what they can afford to lose. That's the honest truth of it.'

He said Droplet's innovations and technology had already attracted interest from those keen to acquire them, raising hope that he would be able to raise money from their sale.

'We remain optimistic that by doing the decent thing and remaining masters of our own destiny we will increase the probability of our sale,' he said, adding he hoped there would be an investor 'with the clout to make it a success'.

In the wake of the Brexit vote, investors had pulled out while currency volatility had delayed the way Droplet received payments, he said.

'Medium to long-term prospects have been worsening steadily since the referendum, in particular for fundraising,' he added.

Will you be affected by the decision? Email mark.shields@archant.co.uk