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COMMENTARY: In Evolving a Business Today, Focus is Key
June 12, 2017

By O.B. Rawls IV

Pivot. Transform. Expand. In today’s business landscape, especially in and around payments, flexibility and agility are key. Businesses must be prepared to evolve, regardless of their size, longevity, or core service and product offerings. But, for any of us who have been in business for a while, it’s never as easy as it looks.

Image Credit: iPayment Inc.

Rawls: “There are a lot of existing businesses in payments and a lot of other industries faced with the same challenges we’ve had.”


For example, I joined iPayment, an established super-ISO (independent sales organization) supporting approximately 140,000 merchant customers, just over a year ago. iPayment’s foundation is providing payment solutions to small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) through direct and indirect sales channels. Historically, growth has come through both acquisition and new partner signings. Even before I agreed to join the organization, I knew that the past would not sustain the future, meaning that what we had done before, buying portfolios and smaller ISOs and selling direct, would not support our goals of double-digit revenue growth. Our legacy expertise would be a part of the story, but not the whole story.

How would we evolve? Was it products? New technologies? New partnerships? In the end, and our journey is far from over, it’s a combination of everything. You’d have to be hiding under a rock in the payments space right now if you weren’t focusing on integrated partnerships. According to research from First Annapolis, there are over 10,000 integrated software developers (ISVs) in the U.S. alone, and 49% haven’t extended the value of their solution by adding payments. Even more shocking is the fact that, as of last year, one-half of those with payments integrations aren’t receiving any financial compensation.

We knew that integrated payments presented an opportunity. We also knew that competition in the ISV space, especially in the areas of retail and quick-serve restaurants, was fierce. So, what was next? We had to identify the challenges and determine short- and long-term strategies to overcome the obstacles and build our own niche opportunities. Most important, we knew that we had to stay focused. Based on experience and our understanding of the integrated space, we understood from the outset that we could not be everything to everyone.

Our first challenge was talent. We have more than 400 experienced and passionate team members, but we’ve supported the same personas in terms of both partners and merchant customers for decades. So we went out and hired a few key individuals who knew the integrated space and understood the ISV persona. And, they weren’t all sales people. These new team members became a force of education and information in all areas of the organization, from onboarding to risk to operations and ongoing support.

Second, and this is kind of a big one, we didn’t have our own payment gateway. In the short term, we deepened our relationships with a few of our existing technology partners and defined customized solutions for specific verticals. We had existing requests, both direct and through sub-ISO partners, for integrated offerings, so we built highly differentiated solutions for key verticals, including wineries, parking, and convenience services (vending, office coffee, unattended).

We also drafted off of the experience of our team at Petroleum Card Services (PCS), a company we had acquired in early 2005. Servicing more than 10,000 customers, the PCS team understands the integrated environment and they continue to be a driving force of our non-petro-based integrated growth.

Still, we knew that long-term we needed our own gateway. So we ran parallel path, and we’re proud to have launched Expinet, our payment gateway, earlier this month.

Our third challenge—and this one is definitely a marathon, not a sprint—is culture. We have an amazing culture at iPayment, but as we grow the company by expanding into the integrated space, our culture must evolve as well. After 20-plus years, it’s hard to change our “internal speak,” but if you don’t do this you’ll find yourself at a loss. This is a team effort. All levels in the organization must understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it. and what it means to them.

Right now, there are a lot of existing businesses in payments and a lot of other industries faced with the same challenges we’ve had. As you expand, pivot, or build a new discipline within your business, I’d offer the following four pieces of advice:

1. Stay focused and remember that you cannot be everything to everyone;

2. Develop a clear (and researched) understanding of the opportunity for your business;

3. Start with a core team, established goals, and build from there;

4. Identify the hurdles and challenges and find solutions without overthinking or over complicating the process.

In the end, understand your business, where you want/need to go, and develop a simplified path to get there. Get your team on board and chart a new course for your future.

—O.B. Rawls IV is chief executive officer and president of iPayment Inc. Westlake Village, Calif.


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