Launching a new firm in the face of this global crisis takes fortitude. Timing couldn’t be worse. Or could it? Demand for different types of digital payments is ramping. That’s the space Qolo plays in. A bit like Marqeta, a bit like Fiserv, the company was launched by a team with a lot of payments industry experience to be a next-generation B2B payments hub and an all-in-one payments solution.
CEO Patricia Montesi joins us on the podcast to talk about building and launching a payments firm in the midst of the COVID crisis and the challenges and opportunities presented by this time. We drill down into Qolo’s capabilities and she describes how firms are using its API to bring payments in-house. Qolo is going global from its inception and Patricia talks about the need to build cross-border capabilities.
I started in payments in 2003 at a little company called Wildcard Systems. It was the first built-for-purpose, open loop prepaid system. It was there that I met my three co-founders, my partners for Qolo. We’ve worked together at companies big and small over the years in the payments industry. We’ve sat in the chairs of processors, program managers and consultants. Together, we have been professional and personal colleagues.
Two years ago, we saw there was a large swath of markets being underserved — primarily in the new economy but also elsewhere in B2B. We were frustrated trying to find solutions. There wasn’t one platform that did everything we want. So, we needed to go with a legacy platform that had fragmented offerings or stitch together ecosystems. We decided it was our time to put together a platform.
Launching during a pandemic
With some trepidation for everyone, we are all trying to understand the implications. But we’ve done nothing but explode since launch. We have clients that are looking for virtual solutions, wearables and contactless — even the basic gift and incentive market is taking off. People want to help others. We’ve seen volumes increase and demand increase.
We’ve doubled our staff during COVID. We’re used to working remotely, so that’s been positive. It has brought challenges, too. Our first all hands meeting was done over ZOOM. Fortunately for us, it’s been positive in terms of growth.
Selling into this market
In some sectors hit the hardest — like the restaurant space — buyers have hit pause to see how things play out. But many others, demand has dictated for things to go faster and not the opposite. Our first client to launch live was two days after the lockdown started. He called me and said he wanted to go faster, not slower. We’ve seen a lot of people who want to get out and launch. They’re coming to Qolo because we’re quick to market and agile.
When I say we are all in one — we didn’t want to build a platform with 90% of the functionality and a client would need to bring in another supplier for the remainder. If you want to move money in, transfer money in between, disburse and pay out — we wanted to bring all of that together in a single API set.
That use case has resonated a lot wherever speed of pay, cost of pay and complexities come into account. Use cases run the spectrum. We have a gift and corporate incentive customer that loves us for our time to market and our ease to use — but also that we bring some innovation to the table.
International and global disbursements, all these new economy companies and marketplaces and gig workers — anyone who has cross-border, high dollar amounts. We’re seeing tons of traction in this use case. We have multi-currency cards with same currency settlements. We’re able to facilitate these payments more quickly than some of the category leaders. We also share more of the economics. We had one client say that “we let him be his own PayPal”.
For us, going global is table stakes. The four founders have launched over 7 payments and loyalty platforms over the course of our careers. We’ve seen the consequences when you don’t design with the end in mind, when you have to cobble things together or both things on. It was with this view that we built a global platform. Everything on our system is flexible — loyalty can be a currency. So can cryptocurrency.
We have a freelance marketplace client where paying people is part of their core business. Technology advances have made it easier to embed payments in platforms. Where it’s strategic and where it’s complicated, it’s still difficult to do it without a firm like Qolo. So, I see the trend of embedded payments.
Five years ago, you could pay someone 2% to 3% to take care of it for you. Now, people are scratching their heads and looking for new revenue streams and new ways to take advantage of the technology. That’s one of the things that sets us apart from traditional program managers — we let our clients own their P&L. We have a unique commercial structure.