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Chris Cardell

Interview with Eric Remer (PaySimple)

PaySimple provides a SaaS online payment solution for small businesses.

I interviewed Eric Remer, PaySimple co-founder and CEO to find out more. This is the hundred and forty fifth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Eric!

How would you describe PaySimple in under 50 words?

PaySimple simplifies the way small businesses bill and collect payments and empowers them with technology to make their business more efficient. The cloud-based receivables solution includes payment collection, billing automation and customer management. Additionally, PaySimple is available as a custom-branded solution for enterprises to offer to their small business members.

What are the main differences between PaySimple and other payment processors?

There are four main points that make PaySimple a unique offering:

First, PaySimple enables small businesses to provide the ultimate level of payment convenience and flexibility to their customers by incorporating multiple payment types and channels into a single solution. With PaySimple, businesses can accept both ACH and credit card payments across multiple payment channels including recurring billing, email invoicing, online payments, mobile payments, and mail/phone payments.

Second, every payment and interaction that occurs in PaySimple is integrated with customer management. Unlike other solutions that provide the small business with a list of nameless transactions, having customer management at the core of our solution enables the small business owner to effectively manage and grow their customer base.

Beyond the unique footprint, PaySimple is the only proven solution in the marketplace today available for large enterprises to offer to their small business members via our turnkey, custom-branded program. Partners with product in market today include American Express (AcceptPay), JP Morgan Chase (Zip), Western Union (Small Business Payments) and Vantiv (PayTally).

Lastly, another point that makes PaySimple stand out from other payment processors is our Simply Amazing Support team. The payment/software industry is notorious for poor and even non-existent service, especially when it comes to small businesses. At PaySimple, from the moment a business signs up they are provided with a dedicated account manager, who is available by phone and will go out of their way to ensure the small business is successful. We think this is not only a differentiator but a critical piece of our company DNA.

You have quite a background in startups. However, you first started your career in investment banking. Why did you leave banking? What appealed most about the world of startups and being your own boss?

After I joined Kidder Peabody, I had the privilege of watching a 100 year old firm go through a major trading scandal that eventually led to the demise and purchase by Paine Webber from GE. I say privilege as it was an incredible experience for a recently graduated history major to a) get a crash course in business/finance/banking 101, and b) took any illusion I might have had that if you get a job at a big company, work hard, everything will work out. I learned very early there was no such thing as security, and that made it easier for me to make the jump to entrepreneurship.

When the firm was sold to Paine Webber I had an opportunity to make the transition, but decided instead that working for a smaller firm where I could get some real hands on experience better suited my personality and skill set. After moving from NY to San Francisco, I had a quick stop as head of business development at an internet company prior to starting my first company. I was in the bay area in the late nineties and the opportunity to use my skills to build something and be apart of the internet boom was extremely attractive. Start-up energy was definitely in the air, and after spending time learning the inner workings of the company, I decided it was time to challenge myself and see if I could actually build something from scratch.

What inspired you to start working on PaySimple?

PaySimple evolved out of another company I started called Conclave Group. Conclave Group connected direct marketers to apartment renters through a distribution of 15,000 apartment properties nationwide. During a meeting with our apartment council we set up, we asked the question, what else can we do for you to simplify your business? The top response was “can you help us collect our rents more efficiently?” After researching the payment collection software space I realized with my co-founder Allen Wolff, that apartments were great but there were literally millions of small businesses in different verticals that needed a similar type of solution.

We decided to build our own software as the existing solutions in the market were not providing the value or fulfilling the needs that small businesses were looking for.

I-Behavior was your first company. What valuable lessons did you learn that help you run PaySimple today?

Outside of some small college entrepreneurial experiences, I-Behavior was the first company I started and learned too much to put into words. We grew fast, raised capital, had layoffs, cut back, grew again and ultimately had a very successful exit. I was extremely fortunate to have great partners, fantastic investors and board members who opened my eyes to many things. One board member/investor/mentor was a woman named Wilma Jordan who is the CEO of the Jordan Edmunson Group and JEGI capital. The best piece of advice she gave me as an young and sometimes over enthusiastic entrepreneur was “It is rarely one big deal, customers, partnership or event that makes a business successful, it is all the little things you do every day that over time creates a great company.”

The other thing I’ve learned is to lead with energy. Based on this, PaySimple is focused on a creating an environment of empowerment, love and collective growth (versus fear, ego and individual achievement) to ensure that we all add to a collective energy that has enabled our company grow and create products that people love and a team that people love to work with.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing PaySimple?

After launching PaySimple, I quickly realized that many small businesses didn’t have the time or expertise to find these solutions for themselves. I saw that they were turning to large institutions that they already worked with to help them solve their payments challenges. So we began to offer our solution with a custom-branded interface and outsourcing options. The concept was built around an initial partnership with American Express.

It was technically costly and time-consuming to build out the robustness, security and scalability to meet the needs of these larger partners prior to being able to win any distribution deals. Getting over that initial hurdle of developing a Fortune 100 infrastructure for a small start-up was quite an undertaking for us.

Why the focus on small businesses owners?

It sounds cliché but I strongly believe that small business owners are the true backbone of our economy and our communities, yet there are so few solutions that are developed to truly help them compete in an expanding global economy. From a market perspective, owners of services-based small businesses represent a large, underserved market. There are plenty of payments solutions designed for either small retailers or for mid-to-large enterprises, but nothing (before PaySimple) that meets the unique needs of small businesses in the services sector. This explains the astounding fact that of the 19.6 million small businesses in the US in service-related industries only 30% accept electronic payments and 66% still use manual billing methods.

How did you raise the money for PaySimple?

Similar to most start-ups we self funded to start, as we began to see real progress, we moved to friends and family, followed by an Angel round, and finally an institutional round for our Series C financing.

What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?

It is imperative to control your own destiny. One of the greatest lessons I have learned over the past five years, is nobody outside of your company is going to make your company great. No third party, no partner, or other external forces will care as much about your success as you and your team.

Has PaySimple got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

PaySimple has been growing at a great pace since its inception in 2006. The economic downturn has actually boosted our growth rate by making cash flow a hot topic for small business owners.

Beyond growth, small businesses report great results by using PaySimple. Recent results reported by customers are that 85% of them save time, 55% get paid faster, 91% started with ease and 96% love our support.

The feedback we receive on literally a daily basis is incredible – from our solution to our amazing team we have had the privilege of making a tremendous difference in the lives of small business owners. Here are links to a few videos that customers have sent to us.

We know that our solution is simplifying and empowering the lives of small business owners.

Where do you see PaySimple in 5 years time?

I want PaySimple’s solution to be ubiquitous. Having seen the impact our solution has had on so many small businesses. I want to continue to make our product available in as many places as possible. Wherever a small business looks for this type of solution, PaySimple will be there. Either directly, or through one of our private labeled distribution partners. Receivable automation is a new space for small businesses, and we are just beginning to scratch the surface on the value we can provide to the small business community.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

There are certainly many companies providing pieces of our solution, but there is not one company that we continually run into from a sales perspective. The biggest challenge we face at PaySimple is small business inertia. Motivating small business owners to have a sense of urgency in overcoming their inertia and make a beneficial change in the daily lives of their business. Small business owners are so busy wearing many different hats, that it can be challenging for them to try something new.

How do you balance your work and responsibilities both at PaySimple and Conclave Group?

I will say that I continually get better and better at this never ending challenge. Like most entrepreneurs, I genuinely love what I do, so it really never feels like I am working. I am just doing what I am doing. The combination of my two previous start-ups, personal maturation, and a wife and three amazing kids that I love spending time with have certainly helped to create that balance. I realize today how much more effective and productive I am without the need to enter my “manic” state.

Who helped you get to where you are today?

I have been very fortunate and have had too many mentors to list on the page. It may sound cheesy or if I am just searching for brownie points, but my wife Aria has been so impactful in my personal and professional growth. I am not even sure she could tell you what PaySimple does, but her unconditional belief in me, and continued push to not allow me to settle, has enabled me to grow in ways I would have not been able to without her. Obviously, that growth will never end, and feel fortunate to have such incredible people around me both at home and in the business world to keep pushing me forward.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone quitting their job to start up their own business?

The obvious “start-up advice” is always relevant… “there is no perfect time to start a company, so just do it”, “do something you are truly passionate about”, but the one thing I continue to believe is the most critical to long term is success, is surround yourself with truly great people. Every entrepreneur thinks they can do everything at first, but hopefully quickly learns that there are really talented people in many areas of the business that are just more focused, more specialized and more talented than you are.

Should you take that leap of faith?

You only have one journey. Push yourself to learn, explore, and grow. Use your gifts and talents to create a platform that resonates with you, so that every day is an adventure. Not all days will be good—but the passion, almost obsession, that gets you through those tough times assures that you can push forward.
I believe strongly the rewards (which may or may not be financial) far outweigh the risks. You can always get a job, but in a new company you can push yourself to see if you can actually create something that didn’t exist before—a platform for personal growth and something that makes the world around you better.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

After 6 years of really nice growth, I feel we are at an inflection point for exponential growth. PaySimple has an incredible team of extremely talented, focused and dedicated people, an A-list group of distribution partners, and a technology solution that truly helps businesses grow and manage their business more effectively.

Can you convince the reader to start using PaySimple in under 50 words?

Join thousands of small businesses who use PaySimple to save time and get paid faster. With the ease of use and our incredible support you will begin seeing the benefits to your business almost immediately.

Stop chasing payments and try PaySimple today.

Finished reading? Check out PaySimple!

Interview with Daniel Chalef (KnowledgeTree)

KnowledgeTree is an online document management solution.

I interviewed Daniel Chalef, KnowledgeTree co-founder to find out more. This is the hundred and forty fourth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Daniel!

Describe KnowledgeTree in under 50 words.

KnowledgeTree delivers actionable insight into your business content. With our cloud-based tools sales teams reuse their best proposals, marketing surfaces great collateral, and operations teams realign document-led processes.

Describe yourself in one sentence.

I am committed to surrounding myself with talented, curious, and engaged people that improve me, our company, and our world.

What’s your background? What inspired you to start working on KnowledgeTree?

I’ve always been a geek, having started programming on a Sinclair ZX80 when I was 4 or 5 years old. By the time I was in college in the 1990s, I was working as a network developer for South Africa’s first commercial internet access provider, and studying for a business degree (although with a technology focus).

A few years out of college, I was hired as the CTO of a systems integrator, where we built content management applications for large European and South African companies. The application gained significant traction, and that momentum lead to us launching KnowledgeTree as an independent solution.

Was it an easy decision to make the move from your home country of South Africa to the USA?

On a business level, the United States provides an outstanding platform for starting a business. It offers access to talented technical and business staff. It provides ready access to capital at different stages of company maturity — from early seed rounds to more advanced Series B and C. And it simplifies access to the largest market in the world with an enormous mid-market of companies that are hungry for innovative technologies that give them business advantages. We are in an enviable position, being headquartered in the US, and with an outstanding engineering team in our Cape Town offices.

Leaving my friends and family, and the familiarity of home behind was of course a challenge! I am however navigating the transition fairly well, and enjoying the opportunities that the US presents.

What roles did you and the team undertake in the beginning? Have they changed much?

Early in KnowledgeTree’s history we all wore many hats. As the team has grown, new team members have joined to take over key responsibilities in product, sales, and more. This has allowed me to focus more on strategic planning, partnerships, and stakeholder management.

What would you suggest is the primary difference to the end user between a SaaS cloud offering and a locally managed install?

Value to the business. Obviously there are cost advantages that come into play — SaaS allows business users to move software from a capital expense to an operating expense. But the real advantages are centered around solving business pains. SaaS enables business teams to set up, customize, and manage tools that help them address specific business problems without depending on IT or lengthy development cycles.

Customers of ours like Miramax and Software AG are able to get insight out of their business content. That means on Day 1 their sales and marketing teams are instantly able to find and reuse their best collateral, presentations, and more. That liberation has uncorked a massive amount of productivity gains for business users.

We’ve actually summarized the value that companies see from what we call “The New Enterprise Software“.

What appealed most about being your own boss?

KnowledgeTree has a very clear vision of the value we bring to our customers. Being my own boss let me focus on realizing that vision. It is very important to me that we build technology that delivers real value to customers. Being my own boss lets me avoid obstacles that get in the way of that mission. At the same time, we have been fortunate to have investors, a board, and team that are equally committed to helping companies realize this vision.

What technologies have you used to build KnowledgeTree?

KnowledgeTree is a software-as-a-service technology. That means that we can take advantage of other SaaS technologies to extend our reach — via ecosystems or through infrastructure. But I think what is more important than the technology, is what else was used to build the business: great customers, a great team, and lots of data. We measure everything, and that allows us to understand what tools resonate with customers and hence, where building should be focused.

Has your initial vision changed since you first launched?

From the very beginning our focus has been on helping companies turn their business content into assets. We have never varied from that mission. The technical approach may have been refined. But our dedication to helping sales, marketing, and other business users get the most value out of their content has never changed.

Who uses KnowledgeTree? Any big clients on your list?

Nearly 500 global companies depend on KnowledgeTree to get insight into their business content. Companies like Alcatel, Genesys, Miramax, Papa John’s, Panera Bread, and others. Within our customers we see strong traction among sales, marketing, and project office teams. These are groups that depend on building, approving, and reusing great content across their organizations.

With the trend in mobile applications taking off, are you gearing up for these changes in the way content is managed?

Mobile absolutely changes the way people interact with their content. Sales and marketing teams are frequently on the move — at customer sites, conferences, etc. Obviously these teams need access to their content, but their needs go well beyond simple access. They need to know what content matters, what content should be used in a given situation. That’s what gets me excited about mobile.

What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?

A start-up is a journey. You are going to make mistakes, learn from them but don’t agonize over them. And you’re not alone. Founding a start-up is lonely, but there are plenty of other start-up folks you can connect with that share similar passions, and challenges, and connecting with them can make the world of a difference.

Has KnowledgeTree got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?

Yes. The best feedback on product / market fit always comes from customers. We have been fortunate to have a product that customers want. That show in our rapid growth to nearly 500 customers. As excited as we are by that growth, we think it has only started.

Last year Network World named KnowledgeTree as one of the 10 SaaS companies to watch. Where do you see KnowledgeTree in 5 years time?

Content is at the heart of every business. Marketing creates collateral. Sales builds and reuses proposals. And project teams review plans. And as the volume of business content grows exponentially, the need to capture the value embedded within this content is exploding. We see ourselves riding that wave over the next 5 years by providing insight into these content assets. Insights that help teams reuse and focus on their best content.

Would you say you are you quite an organised person?

Organized in my work life, but oy vey, you should see my closet! ;)

What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting up?

Surround yourself with successful people, set a clear direction, and let them do the great things that smart people do.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Being part of a high performance team, and being witness to the energy and creativity that the team brings to hard problems. We continue to grow the KnowledgeTree team, and I continue to be wow’ed by what the team achieves.

Can you convince the reader to start using KnowledgeTree in under 50 words?

Have you ever struggled to find great, approved content for a sales proposal? Do you know which marketing presentations have the highest ROI? KnowledgeTree’s insight helps teams instantly find and easily reuse their best content to drive more sales.

Finished reading? Check out KnowledgeTree!

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