Co-Founder, Adi Ekshtain, is interviewed by David Ledgerwood, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Add1Zero. They discuss Amaryllis, learnings and struggles during COVID-19, and building a B2B business. Check out everything Adi had to say in the podcast below.
LEDGE: Hey, leaders, welcome back. This is Ledge. As you know, I’m a co-founder and managing partner of Add1Zero where we provide outsourced rev ups and bottom of funnel closing for B2B services companies. Which makes today’s guest very interesting to me because this is all about B2B and payments and money. And as you know, I am very revenue focused. So I’ve got Adi Ekstein here. He’s the Co-Founder of Amaryllis. Adi, welcome. Why don’t you give an introduction of yourself and Amaryllis so that I don’t totally screw this up because this is interesting to me and I want you to tell the story.
ADI EKSHTAIN: Thank you for having me, David. So as you mentioned, I’m a Co-Founder at Amaryllis Payment Solutions. Amaryllis is a cloud based platform that lets software companies embed payments, monetize payments and really become payment facilitators. And the reason we started the company is that we noticed a pattern in the market that companies kept building the same payment systems in-house over and over again, unlike, for example, CRM software, you would not build your own CRM software these days and we didn’t think you should build your own payment systems either. So we decided to take all our knowledge, know-how, and expertise and mold it into a technology stack that others can use so they don’t need to reinvent the payments wheel, so to speak. And really, a platform is most suitable for a marketplace, enterprises, B2B software company or well funded startups that want a shortcut to this market. And they can operate really in any industry. We serve clients in e-commerce, retail, grocery delivery, ticketing and many other industries as well.
LEDGE: So when you say monetize payments, talk to me about that. What does that actually mean from the business standpoint?
ADI EKSHTAIN: Maybe that’s a good segway to payment facilitation. Payment facilitation. Let’s clarify that distinction, because that’s the key really to monetize payments these days. A payment facilitator or payfac, in short, is a company that provides many payment processing services, so to speak, and they get permission from a real payment processor to accept payments on behalf of their merchants. And in the process, they get to decide who are they going to do business with, which merchants so they can sign up those merchants very quickly. And that’s where the monetization piece comes in, charge a fee on each and every transaction running through the system. So let’s take a look at two examples and it will become very clear. Two very well known companies are Mind Body and Shopify. Mind Body provides software to manage fitness, wellness and beauty services to tens of thousands of merchants and Shopify, everybody are familiar with Shopify, is an e-commerce platform that powers online stores and they serve millions of businesses. And the interesting part to keep in mind from both of these examples is that after they started facilitating the payments of their customers, a large portion of the revenue starts coming from their payment monetization and not from the sales of their own software. That is the key here. And if you’re talking about the benefits of monetizing payments and becoming a payment facilitator, the top benefits are number one, creating a new revenue stream. What company doesn’t want to do that? As a payment facilitator you really get to tap and charge a margin, a fee on all payments, on all merchants that your platform serves. That’s that’s number one. And number two is that you can speed up substantially your merchant onboarding process. Today, if your platform enabled payments for your merchants, you have to either send them or refer them to a payment processor where they have to fill out forms and to get what we call a merchant account. And that takes time. It can take days. It can even take weeks, or you need to collect all that information yourself. And that includes a lot of sensitive information like Social Security numbers, bank account information, and your merchant company incorporation documents, ownership information, not exactly the information you want to to keep with your files, and you have to then deliver that to the payment processor and everything starts from there again. And really, when you become a payment facilitator, you get the permission to underwrite and decide for yourself who you’re going to do business with and who you are not going to do business with. You can make decisions instantly. Think about Uber who can decide instantly if to accept a new driver or think about Airbnb who can decide instantly if they want to accept a new apartment on the marketplace. So that’s number two. A number three is really once you start doing that, your valuation goes up because now you have more customers and you monetize them better and you increase your bottom line.
LEDGE: I understand. So if you are. Yeah, you’re providing a service whereby the customer you serve, your customer needs to accept payments from their customer. You can fully facilitate that and you can take a percentage point or some kind of other transaction based fee on top of it. So I’m sure a lot of founders are familiar with integrating Stripe to draw comparisons there. I’m sure that happens a lot for you.
ADI EKSHTAIN: When we speak about payment facilitation, there is a value ladder and you can start small and then grow a big. So on the small end of the scale, you can say I’m new to monetizing payments, I don’t have history, I don’t have knowledge, and most importantly, I don’t want to take any risk because I don’t know how to manage that risk. Risk can come from customers that pay with credit cards and that could be fraudulent. That’s typically not the biggest risk. The biggest risk is that you will decide to work with a merchant that they themselves can create fraud. That’s where the biggest risk comes from. And in a typical fashion, they will process a volume of transactions. They’ll get the money. And the next thing you hear is some complaints or people want their refunds or chargebacks and the merchant is long gone. So a small merchant can say, I’m not equipped to deal with that. And then one of the good entry point is Stripe. Stripe gives you a very nice set of tools that solve everything on that entry level. And the price you pay for that is one, a higher commission. So the commission that you pay Stripe is higher, so it will be more difficult for you to monetize on top of that, there is only so much you can charge your merchants or so much merchants will agree to pay for their transactions. And number two, you’re kind of putting yourself in the hands of Stripe. I have to say at the same time, Stripe is great and for most merchants it’s great. You just need to to keep in mind those things. So as you grow, you want to grow into tools or programs that give you more independence and more security so you can control your own destiny.
LEDGE: I completely understand. It makes a ton of sense. And I can say I’m both a Stripe customer, very happy, and I have clients who are, you know, randomly trying to deal with Stripe holding back twenty five thousand dollars of their money and they can’t make their payroll, you know, so both sides of that equation, I totally get it. You know, it solves one problem and then at some scale, which you’d think would be larger than that. You know, I’ve got clients doing up to one hundred thousand dollars a month in Stripe. And you start to wonder about like the payment fees and the different things. So at what metrics maybe would a company start thinking about a solution like yours? Maybe, I don’t know if there’s revenue, transaction volume, different sort of metrics to pay attention to.
ADI EKSHTAIN: We spoke about the value ladder. Stripe is on the smaller end of the scale. There are other solutions. We as Amaryllis, we are on the totally opposite part of the ladder. We are up here. We are serving enterprise customers or customers that have enough business volume or enough business needs. So if we want to put it in numbers, typically our customers are going to do around one million transactions a month or fifty million dollars a year or more in annual revenue. And that’s where they are large enough so they can become their own payment facilitators. They can get sponsorship from a bank that lets them do everything that they need to do. Just like I said, onboard merchants, transaction, they will get very low fees from their acquiring partners and then they can monetize above and beyond that on their customers. And somewhere in the middle is those companies, just like you said, your clients that starts with Stripe, go even to one hundred thousand a month and keep growing and somewhere around the twenty five million give or take per year in annual volume and again, it’s a rough estimate, depends on the specific business. They can start migrating to a more dedicated managed payment facilitation model, which is similar to Stripe, but is more barebone and give you some other company will give you the permission to onboard the merchants rapidly. You’re still not going to take any risks that the other provider will take the risk. So it’s kind of in between and they’re going to charge you less fees than Stripe in that case so you can better monetize your transactions. So it’s somewhere in the middle and that’s suitable for a lot of businesses. Why they grow up out of Stripe or that they want an entry level solution or they don’t take risk and are willing to sacrifice the monetization part a little bit. The other disadvantage of that model is that the customer, your merchants are not really your merchant. The third party service provider is going to onboard them. They are going to become their merchants. The valuation of their company is going to grow more than yours. So it’s a good step right in the middle to transition to and then when you’re ready, pick it up and go all the way to the real payment facilitation model.
LEDGE: Yeah, OK, got it. Just so people are comparing as they move up the ladder. OK, so top of the ladder, Amaryllis. Totally amazing. So if anybody is listening and you’re in one million transactions per month, 50 million annually, you want to become a facilitator. I got your guy. So now let’s talk about, OK, most of our listeners maybe are not that big, but they sure want to become a company like you that’s serving enterprise and they want to develop from scratch and grow their company so that they can serve major clients of that type and of that pedigree. So let’s talk about your journey there from the beginning, where I’m guessing it was probably you and co-founder, you know, either in a garage or in a coworking space kitchen table, something like that, and start me there, you know, tell the story of the path to where you got to.
ADI EKSHTAIN: So maybe I’ll start a little bit before that with how I got into payments to begin with. And that was over 20 years ago in 1999. I almost skipped graduation in college during the dot com era and went straight to my first job out of college. And I was lucky enough to be a part of a very small team that invented mobile face to face payments, which was the precursor to what you know, today as Apple and Google Pay. And I don’t know if you remember what kind of phone you had in nineteen ninety-nine. Do you remember?
LEDGE: It was one of those little Nokia’s. With the T nine text. And it was that when cell phones went from flip to very, very, very tiny. Yeah. And then all of a sudden got big again. So yeah it was that little tiny red Nokia. I don’t remember the model number, but I do remember and ultimately right after that was the BlackBerry Pearl, which was magical maps and all kinds of stuff. You know, that was where it really started to be like, wow, you know, this is cool.
ADI EKSHTAIN: Yeah, exactly that. So you touched on it. The phones back then were tiny Nokia’s or Motorola StarTek or any version of a flip phone that you can imagine. But really, there were no smartphones, there was no Internet on phones, and there were no apps and there was no app store even, that was eight years ahead in the future.
LEDGE: Way, way ahead. We had to type in text messages with the normal keypad, there wasnt even keyboards.
ADI EKSHTAIN: Exactly that. So we found a way to put an app on those phones and we actually put it on the SIM card of the phone in a very secure way. And we partnered with a Telco provider with Orange Telecom and we launched the first ever commercial mobile face to face payment solution and allowed people to go and buy groceries or go to a restaurant or to a pharmacy and pay for the goods with their phone. So that’s how I started. And then throughout the years, I went ahead and designed numerous systems for complex payments, problems, numerous solutions. I won a number of awards, one of them from Steve Ballmer when he was CEO of Microsoft. And that’s really how I got into Amaryllis. After all those years together with my co-founder, Ori Hay, we really saw that everybody are building the same payment system out there, and we wanted to give them a solution that they can use. And we weren’t that successful at the beginning. We had the great solution was the best, the best in the market but we were unsuccessful, we didn’t get traction. And one day we had a big customer with an RFP and we just couldn’t sell and they wanted the few things that we didn’t have. So we ended up calling them and asking them if we do that for you, if you give you that one thing that you really need to go to market, will you work with us? And they said absolutely. And that was our big breakthrough. That customer was a nationwide insurance, a small insurance company, probably the largest private insurance company.
LEDGE: Not small for anybody who’s not paying attention.
ADI EKSHTAIN: Right. And that’s how we discovered our unfair advantage in the market. We found that enterprise clients always need one big thing, but without it they can’t go to market, they want to go to their industry, in their way. And luckily enough, we built such a great technology that it was highly customizable and flexible that we could always add those things and for all the clients afterwards we always said we will do whatever you need. You need this will do that. And we let them go to market in rapid time. And that was where we found our sweet spot.
LEDGE: That’s a really interesting story for a lot of providers who mix effectively what you’re doing is mixing a services business, such as customer development, implementation, professional services, with the software business where you essentially have two different combinations of billing models then, is that true?
ADI EKSHTAIN: Almost, we bundle everything together. More often than not, we throw in those customizations to serve the customer better. So they see that we have the best customer service in the market. But you’re right, it’s a little bit of two models that we merge together to become successful.
LEDGE: Right, yeah. And a lot of businesses face that and especially in the software realm. So I guess then the real key for allowing that in a cost effective manner, I mean, you’re saying you roll it in, but you still have that expense, right? So, like, as a business scales up, you can roll in services as an extra basically a customer success measure. Right and a customer service measure. But you still face the cost of doing that and at the beginning of a business that’s very cumbersome, you ultimately will end up with enough economies of scale that you can do it. But I bet you also architected your solution and continue to architect your solution to allow for cost effective customizations, probably in some kind of modular web services type of fashion.
ADI EKSHTAIN: There are a few key points here that you touched on. And you’re very right that the first two are A, to have a great solution. You need a great technology that is flexible and customizable if you want to keep changing it at low cost, so that’s absolutely. Number two, you need the resources that are cost effective and that you can scale.
LEDGE: Yeah and that’s a classic situation that every startup software company finds themselves in. And do I effectively outsource? How much control do I maintain over the development resources if I do outsource? How do I find an effective partner? And then I guess so you went the direction of in, I’m guessing somewhere in a different country, not in the U.S., have spun up a dev center. And I mean what was that process like? Because I mean that’s gosh you’re starting basically starting a business unit in an entirely different country. So how do you even put your head around that?
ADI EKSHTAIN: Yeah, so I was lucky enough, first of all, to know my Co-Founder Ori Hay, for many years. In fact, we met in that startup I told you earlier about in mobile payments, and then we knew each other for many years. So when we decided to do business together, it was a very easy decision. So that’s one. And the same thing, since we both came from the dev industry and the tech industry and the software industry, throughout the years, we know people, we had the connections, so when we wanted to create our own dev center, we really have all the resources in place to execute on that very easily. And we decided to have our dev center in Eastern Europe where we have our own people managing it. And that also worked very well for us.
LEDGE: That’s fantastic. So you had to grow from a tiny team to then a multinational team. What have you learned along that process? Because you’re really thinking about remote and distributed team management across time zones. You have to do a company culture that is often only by screen, years ago would have been only by phone. What have you learned there? Because that’s obviously a really important topic now for people building teams.
ADI EKSHTAIN: Well, I could say that it’s really important to dedicate a lot of time and spend a lot of time, even if it’s virtual time with your team. And there are any number of ways to do that on Skype, on Zoom, daily morning meetings, checks out throughout the day. But for us, it’s really not fire and forget. We spend a lot of time either in person or virtual, and we don’t just send tasks via email or digital way and expect them to miraculously get results. And pre covid I would also say invest the time and the money to go and visit on premise as often as you can.
LEDGE: That’s fantastic. And how do you handle sales for a SaaS company? You know, because there’s a lot of negotiation that goes on, especially at that enterprise level. I’ve done the 60 page master service agreement for the enterprise company and, you know, the nine month sales process. And I think people, founders particularly, sometimes underestimate how hard it is to sell into a large company. Can you shed any light into successful tips on that?
ADI EKSHTAIN: Yeah. So it’s worth mentioning that the world changed last year due to covid and prior to covid-19, our sales and marketing was heavily related to conferences, industry conferences and face to face meetings, large gathering. We would even fly into potential customers, spent time with them, do whiteboard sessions, which were very helpful but all that was gone. And we invested a lot in transitioning to the digital age. And now 100 hundred percent of our marketing and sales is done digitally and it’s possible. And so two things I can say. One, you can go and learn and borrow a lot of techniques from B2C and what people are doing today, cutting edge things in the B2C area and bring them over to B2B, if you have to build your marketing and sales from scratch today. And that’s what we are doing. The other thing, when you’re selling to enterprises, just like you said, it’s a long sales cycle, you need to be ready. There are a lot of things you can do to tweak the cycle. That’s what we are doing today. The number of calls you’re going, the focus of each call, is just a phone call? Are you going to do a demo or are you going to do a screen share? There is a lot of intimidation to be done there. But then it’s still going to be a long sales cycle. Enterprises have their own requirements, demands. You need to be very patient because there are a lot of people involved, different departments, legal, finance, product. Everybody need to sign off on what you’re selling. You need to build a relationship, of course. And then you also need to understand how enterprise companies are buying and just like any other customer out there, they don’t care about you. They care about themselves. And the quicker you understand that, the quicker you’re going to do more sales. You really need to solve their problems, their needs, and mitigate their fears and sell them the desire. It’s as simple as that. Yeah. And just be patient and go through the motions to completion.
LEDGE: Right, yeah, absolutely. What did you find, you know, most founders I find are overly in love with their feature set and, you know, it’s their baby. They developed it from day one. They want to tell you all about all the bells and whistles. What did you find were really the most important differentiators? Because my guess is that it’s value based and not feature base, that you don’t slam the customer with forty five slides about all the features that comes later, what are the customers really, really want to hire you versus somebody else?
ADI EKSTHAIN: Yeah, it’s a great question. I think the first thing you need to do is figure out what they really want. So the first thing is that you need to understand what the customer wants and you can only do that when you create an environment where you can ask questions and they are willing to to give you the answer. And typically, doing a demo, a one hour demo and showing one thousand features may not be the best way to achieve that. And that can come in later.
LEDGE: You know, it’s hard, I think, because we often learn, particularly as founders who are not in the sales seat, you know, like there are disciplines to selling, whether you follow a playbook or your favorite book or you just kind of figured it out. That’s what I did. There is a natural feeling to it where you get used to it and I think as you do many sales calls, you start to learn how to do it better instead of the “can you tell me your pain points” or “what’s keeping you up at night?” You know, these stock phrases that that we use that are just a sign that we don’t really know how to sell. Right. So what are some of the key questions that you kick off with with a new hot enterprise prospect?
ADI EKSHTAIN: I would start off so maybe before that. Another key to understanding that people’s attention span today is really short, a lot shorter than you think.
LEDGE: Very short. It’s the YouTube generation, right?
ADI EKSHTAIN: Yeah. If you think that after five minutes, especially in a remote environment or not already checking their Twitter feed or what e-mails they got, you need to make adjustments. So you need to really start strong right out of the gate and create curiosity. You need to get them engaged. You need to have them want or ask what’s next from their end, because you raise that curiosity. So I think that’s key to begin with. And then they will want to hear more about you. Then I would ask questions. I would talk about myself, talk about the company. Very briefly again, this is not a 15 minutes lecture about the company. As soon as you can provide social proof, mention your customers, mention brand names that are working with you. And then I don’t think it’s wrong to ask questions, ask about them, what their company is and ask all the relevant questions that you think are relevant. I find that most people that are really buyers and that they have a pain point, they would happily tell you what the problem is so you can solve it if you create the right environment.
LEDGE: Well, you have one of my favorite selling propositions and I don’t care what think this is technology service. If you can come in to somebody and you can tell them “I’m going to make you more revenue”, that’s going to put the antenna up right away. And I think. I don’t know why this is, but many, many B2B solutions are automatically categorized by maybe the founder or the sales or marketing team as we will save you time, we will save you money, we will make things more efficient. And all that, I think is OK. But I can tell you that and maybe maybe you agree, but you get people’s attention if you can figure out how to position your thing, that you will make them more revenue. I think it’s one of the most important things you can do in B2B do resonate with that. Is that true from your perspective?
ADI EKSHTAIN: I totally agree. I think the things that you mentioned are very valuable. Saving money, saving time and solving pain points. These are all great. Probably at the top of that list is making you more money because like you said, who doesn’t want to make more money?
LEDGE: I think that nobody really wakes up at night and thinks anything except I need more sales and more revenue from a transaction base. That just says chu-ching. And I don’t need to solve my other problems. Most people don’t want to cut their costs. They just want to make more money. Now, I think it’s honestly true. You know, it’s it’s hard work to cut costs. You have to cut people. You have to do hard work. It’s not hard work to make more revenue and I think you don’t have to overcome a lot of that sort of emotional baggage if you just help somebody make more money. So if you could position your thing that way, absolutely do. That’s one of my favorite tricks. So Adi what’s next? You know, future of payments. I mean, there’s so much gosh. There’s consolidation in fintech. And, you know, there’s Plaid gets bought, Plaid gets unbought, you know, I mean, there’s all kinds of transactional stuff. Everything’s changing. Mobile devices, man, worldwide payments, crypto. I mean, just, you know, paint me a picture. What’s on your mind?
ADI EKSHTAIN: Yeah, I think we saw a lot of things change in the last year or so. Since covid, which is great for a lot of companies. We definitely see a shift to card not present transactions. You used to go and buy groceries at the store. Now you maybe buying them online with card not present. That creates a lot of push for companies to really invest in their omnichannel operations to solve all the use cases that didn’t really have to pay attention to until now. What happens if I buy online and pick up in-store? If I buy online and want to return in store, if I want to pick it up in the same day, if I want to pick it up and then pay with a different card, if I want to return it and have the refund to a different card. All these scenarios are really from the Omni Channel World and now companies, the merchants are really starting to invest in them. We spoke about mobile payments, definitely a big shift to contactless payment. The card issuers were already equipped with the new contactless cards and definitely covid pushed that into the market. So they ship more contactless card because consumers want to buy more with the contactless card, not to touch anything, not to enter the pin on the same pin pad that everybody were touching before you. And so that’s definitely another shift. At the beginning of last year, we saw a big shift to ACH payments, especially in B2B SaaS companies. ACH payments, unlike credit cards, can offer some cost savings. And that’s where companies,that was a go to move initially, either to switch to a fee to pay less fees or to buy a bigger packages like an annual package, again, to reduce the fee of something you’re going to consume anyway. So that was a big shift. And then out of all that, I would say that companies that start dealing with all these different channels and Omni channels are really starting or need to start to pay attention to profitability analysis on a per transaction level. Now, there are more transactions involved in shipping, returns, chargebacks. You want to look on a per merchant basis per payment option ACH versus credit card versus check. And what you really want to do is analyze it to make sure you’re profitable on any level. So even if it’s a card, not present transaction and it’s a shipment, you want to make sure you are always profitable. And it’s hard to understand that now with all the factors that get involved in our transactions.
LEDGE: Well, at least there’s no shortage of people that need your help then. Yeah, this is good. This is good. Adi, fascinating conversation. Thank you so much. Anybody who wants to get in touch with you or Amaryllis, what’s the best way to do that?
ADI EKSHTAIN: Yeah, you can head over to our website at www.AmaryllisPay.com, fill up a short form, will get in touch with you right away. I’m mostly active on LinkedIn. You can connect with me over there. Just look for my handle, Adi Ekshtain, or follow me on Twitter, @adiepay.
LEDGE: Fantastic. Thanks for spending time with us. Really interesting.