In restructuring, Heartland Payment slashes most of Cambridge-based Leaf team

LEaf payments

You may have encountered the technology from Leaf at local businesses like Voltage Coffee, Aceituna Cafe, or Garlic & Lemons: instead of a cash register on the counter, a small Android tablet sits on a pedestal. After the cashier rings you up by tapping the screen a few times, he swipes your credit card and asks you to sign the screen instead of a receipt. Leaf’s software could provide merchants with reports on what had been selling well, and it also tracked workers’ hours. Cambridge-based Leaf aimed to dramatically undercut the big sellers of registers (also known as point-of-sale systems), selling its tablet for $250 and the accompanying software for $50 per month.

Leaf had taken on a big challenge: designing its own tablet device, writing all the software, ensuring it was reliable enough for heavy-duty usage, and marketing it mostly to independent restaurants and coffee shops, since larger chains aren’t usually eager to yank out their cash register systems. It was also competing with better-funded startups like Square, which was offering a free point-of-sale system that could run on iPads. Last August, New Jersey-based Heartland Payments acquired Leaf for an undisclosed price. One founder of the startup had already left, and the other departed soon after. Heartland executive Sarah McCrary was installed as chief executive.

Earlier this month, Heartland announced a Q4 loss of about $20 million, and it wrote down the value of Leaf and several other assets related to mobile payments and point-of-sale software. Heartland also said it was combining several existing and recently acquired businesses, including Leaf, to create Heartland Commerce, a new division that will “deliver leading-edge POS solutions, payments processing capabilities and other adjacent business service applications, initially serving the hospitality and retail industry.”

What the company didn’t announce is that most of the 55-person Leaf team would lose their jobs, and that Leaf’s tablet will likely fade into the sunset, according to a former employee. Heartland spokesperson Christina Atkinson wouldn’t confirm the numbers of layoffs, but she did say that the company’s current Cambridge location will close later this year, “at which time we will move out and consolidate our office space in the greater Boston area.”

Tough end for what was once a promising startup in the local payment tech sector…

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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