“You don’t say, ‘Oh, I love Amazon, because I’m logged in and they have my payment information'”: Fast’s Allison Barr Allen
- Fast brings one click checkout functionality to merchants across the internet.
- Co-founder and COO Allison Barr Allen joins us on the podcast to discuss the intersection of ecommerce and payments.
Retail is enjoying a fintech Renaissance of sorts -- from BNPL and other new forms of payments to a maturation of the ecommerce checkout experience.
Fast is building one-click checkout on merchant sites across the internet. Much like Uber made payments invisible, Fast is doing something similar for shopper identities. Creating accounts on sellers’ sites has always been an impediment to the payment flow. Fast takes away that friction with an elegant solution that shares user information with merchants and also integrates to include SKU-level data.
Allison Barr Allen is co-founder and COO of Fast. She joined Fast from Uber, where she was head of global product operations for the Money Team. As my guest on the podcast, Allison describes some of the challenges inherent in ecommerce payments. We chat about the opportunity to go both global in scale as well as niche down into specific industry solutions.
Allison Barr Allen is my guest today on the Tearsheet Podcast.
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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.
Fast solves an identity problem: It's still relatively difficult to buy things online. Fast solves an identity problem. Consumers have a one to one relationship with almost every business we interact with online. Whether it's a small business or a large business, users are required to create an account in the name of paying for something. Fast is scaling a product like Amazon's one click checkout to the rest of the internet.
"People love Amazon. And when you ask them why they do, they say it's fast, it's really easy. It's super convenient. But what you don't really say about Amazon, but is right underneath the entire infrastructure, is that Amazon knows who you are. They have all your info stored: your order history and your payment information," said Allison Barr Allen, co-founder and COO of Fast.
"But you're not going to say, 'Oh, I love Amazon, because I'm already logged in, and they have my payment information.' But our goal really is to see how we can make it as easy as possible to interact with all other businesses online as it is to buy things on something like Amazon. So it's a mix of an identity and payment problem that we're doing at the same time."
Why Fast and why now: There are a lot of different payment options online, including wallets and PayPal. Where Fast differs is that it isn't just a payment method, it also combines identity and order management. "When you use Fast, you don't even think about logging in or creating an account -- we're still doing identity on the back end. We're basically making identity so seamless that you don't even have to think about it, which is pretty magical," Barr Allen said.
On the order management side, Fast integrates with order management systems, pulling in SKU-level data about what people order. "Really no other payment method has this," she said. "No other payment method knows what you actually ordered, which can become really helpful for us and for the consumers over time, because we can create a more personalized shopping experience."
Going international from the start: Going global was something on Fast's radar from the beginning. To build a really big company, it's something that eventually comes up, and better to address it sooner than later. "Domm, my co-founder, is from Australia. He obviously thought about globalization from the beginning. And another thing that was really beneficial from my time at Uber is just the ability to learn about different countries and their business models. Uber was really large in Latin America, for example, and I think not a lot of US companies really tackle these markets super early on," she said.
Headless Checkout: "One thing we're very focused on right now is Headless Checkout, which is something that other payment providers can't really offer because of the order management and SKU-level data we capture. We're building ways for stores to be able to put their checkout button on all sorts of different assets on the internet, just with a little bit of CSS code," Barr Allen said.
The Full Transcript
Thanks, Zack, it's great to meet you and be here. My name is Allison Barr Allen. I am the co-founder and COO of Fast. Fast is building one click checkout to scale across the internet and make it easier for people to buy and pay for things, and to make it easier for businesses to accept money (among other products that we're thinking about and working on). Before Fast, which I joined almost two years ago, I was at Uber for five years where I focused on payments in financial services, specifically focusing on driver payments, where we paid out drivers in 90 plus countries around the world.
I scaled and launched payments products there. I got really interested in payments at Uber because I worked a lot with drivers and saw firsthand how much the speed of payment and their understanding of their payment impacted their livelihood -- [it also impacted] their relationship with the platform. So I started at Uber in Chicago in an operations role, and then moved to San Francisco after about a year to join our driver payments team where I launched our first instant payment product. We went from paying drivers once a week to 24/7, on demand payments.
The Uber experience
My time at Uber was very important. Working at Uber really was my first opportunity to work in tech. So before, I worked at PwC in consulting. In college, I was a pre med major and thought I was going to go to medical school, like most kids in America who take many years of science classes. I ended up doing consulting, working for health insurance companies, because the goal originally was to do some healthcare consulting and then go to medical school. But I found that I didn't really miss studying that much and didn't really enjoy it, having a break after those really, really intense years of being heads down in academics. My brother is two years younger, and he was a history major. But he taught himself front end development and started working in startups after school. So I was traveling to Connecticut every week, wearing business casual clothes and working this really intense job at a big health insurance company. And my brother was in Boston at these really small startups that seemed super fun.
So, I decided that I wanted to work at startups. It was pretty hard to get a job in startups at the time -- I wasn't really technical. I had a strategy and project management background and consulting experience. There weren't tons of jobs, especially in the Chicago startup market that perfectly aligned with what I had done. But Uber was hiring a lot of general operational people to scale the city team. That's how I ended up connecting with Uber. And it was really incredible for my experience, and for my growth and development. In Chicago, it was all marketing and operations people and some other functions, but I really learned on the ground operations of building fast growing companies there.
When I moved to San Francisco, about a year later, I was embedded within product teams. Even though I wasn't from a technical background, I was able to learn how the entire product development process works, from OKR planning and how you set the product priorities at the very beginning, all the way through launching products. That's experience that would be really hard to get at a different company if you're not a technical person, or you're not doing marketing or design or something else. But I was able to see the entire end to end flow.
While we were building a rideshare company, we processed a lot of payments. I think embedded finance is more of a known thing now but a lot of these companies have really large payments orgs. And essentially, there's a really large payments company within Uber because we built a lot of our own payments technology. We needed it to grow the business and solve business problems. Because we scaled globally very, very quickly and a lot of times, one of the barriers to growth, especially in emerging markets, was how you can accept the payment. I learned all about cash payments in different countries and all sorts of different forms of alternative payment methods. It really becomes so important to the growth and core of the business. There I also learned what payments at scale means.
The core problem: Identity
The main problem that Fast addresses is that it's still relatively difficult to buy things online. Essentially, we're solving an identity problem. Right now you have a one to one relationship with almost every business that you interact with online. Whether it's a small business or a large business, you have to create an account and do all these things. A lot of that is in the name of paying for something. They need you to create an account so that they have your information stored so that you can buy something. What Fast is doing is really scaling a product like Amazon's one click checkout to the rest of the internet.
People love Amazon. And when you ask them why they do, they say it's fast, it's really easy. It's super convenient. But what you don't really say about Amazon, but what's underneath the entire infrastructure, is that Amazon knows who you are; they have all your info stored; they have your order history; they have your payment information. It makes it really easy. But you're not going to say, 'Oh, I love Amazon, because I'm already logged in, and they have my payment information.' Our goal is to see how we can make it as easy as possible to interact with all other businesses online as it is to buy things on something like Amazon.
So it's a mix of an identity and payment problem that we're doing at the same time. But the data is also really fascinating because when I was at Uber, I built faster payment products. I saw what it means to pay people faster in that context, and the upside and the value that it can provide to businesses. It seems really simple. You click a button and get paid, but it can have extraordinary business value and ROI for the people that are receiving those products. It becomes very, very magical. I was always interested in thinking about how we can make payments better and faster.
With Fast, we're solving an identity problem where you have to create an account with every business online, and there's more and more ecommerce businesses being built every single day. The speed is extraordinary, how quickly ecommerce is growing. But we really haven't solved this identity problem. So every time there's a new store online, you have to create a new account. There's a ton of drop off from when you see people adding to cart to actually purchasing something. So our goal is to remove as many of those steps as possible. And to do that, we're putting checkout on product pages, which leads to a significant increase in conversion, among other things, by supporting the post purchase experience and in other parts of the ecommerce stack.
There are a few things that we're doing differently. There are a lot of different payment methods online: there are wallets and PayPal (obviously is a incredible company that has a huge network). But one way that we're different is that we're not just a payment method, but we also combine the identity part and order management. So when you use Fast, you don't even think about logging in or creating an account -- we're still doing identity on the back end. We're basically making identity so seamless that you don't even have to think about it, which is pretty magical. And then on the order management side, how we're different than other payment methods is we are integrated with order management systems, pulling in SKU-level data about what people order, which really no other payment method has. The ecommerce platforms do, generally, if they're large, but no other payment method knows what you actually ordered, which can become really helpful for us and for consumers over time, because it can create a more personalized shopping experience.
We're going to eventually support things like product recommendations or upsells on the same checkout screen, so we could recommend other things for you.
Or if you buy something in a certain pant size, if you go to another store, we could pre fill things for you. And we're also going to know what you actually purchase. Let's say you bought a vacuum online. Today, you'll likely see ads on Google and Facebook for the next week about different types of vacuums. And that's because you search for a vacuum, but they may not necessarily know that you actually bought the vacuum. So if you bought a vacuum, you're probably not going to need another vacuum. So we can create a much more personalized shopping experience in a way that's helpful to the customer. Right now there's a lot of mistrust with different platforms and how they use or get your data. I think there are a lot of interesting ways you can do it, where it's really consumer driven and consumer led, where consumers are actually helping drive the experience to get better recommendations for themselves.
Embedding other financial services in checkout
It's definitely something we're thinking a lot about. A lot of our team has extensive experience in building these types of payment products and the checkout form can become a distribution channel for other types of payment products. We're definitely excited about buy now, pay later.
The challenges of scaling globally
Going global has been something on our radar from the beginning. I think, to build a really big company, it's something that eventually comes up. And if you start too late, it just takes a lot longer. Domm, my co founder, is from Australia. So he's obviously thought about globalization from the beginning. It's just a really exciting opportunity. And another thing that was really beneficial from my time at Uber is the ability to learn about different countries and their business models. Uber was really large in Latin America, for example, and I think not a lot of US companies really tackle these markets super early on. While ecommerce is, in some metrics, still relatively early in the US, if you look at other countries, it's even way further behind, specifically in Lat Am.
This year, we're focusing on English speaking countries: Australia, Canada and the UK. Europe has language challenges. When you expand globally, there are payment method challenges, there's GDPR, and different financial regulations in different places. You also have to be aware and plan ahead in advance, but it's really also about following demand for the product and where we see the biggest opportunities. This is what's so exciting for me about payments: there are huge problems wherever you look. You never get bored in this industry.
Niching down in payments
You have to think very thoughtfully about what types of products and solutions you're building. One thing we're very focused on right now is Headless Checkout, which is something that other payment providers can't really offer because of the order management and SKU-level data thing I said before, but we're building ways for stores to be able to put their checkout button on all sorts of different assets on the internet, just with a little bit of CSS code. So things like that will be expanding markets.
I think it's all about listening to your customers and tackling the biggest problems that people have. I think In our case, there'll be a lot of really large payment problems both on the consumer side and the business side. For me, solving business problems is all about figuring out what the the actual problem is, and then identifying the best technology to help solve it, as opposed to the other way around. Some people try to build the technology first and then identify the problem. A few examples we've done so far on the business side are we offered chargeback guarantees -- fraud chargeback guarantees -- for sellers. We have a version of an instant payment product for businesses. We continue to listen to both sides about the biggest problems that we can tackle.
We launched our product in September last year. The core checkout product has been live for less than a year. So we're very much in the growth phase of that. This year, we've been focused a lot on thinking about larger sellers, because the core product is working really, really well. So we're expanding out market and thinking about how we can make this product available on custom platforms and API or more traditional ecommerce stacks, as opposed to just the ecommerce platforms today. For the rest of the year, we're very focused on integrations and adding the button to as many sites as possible. There are large product and engineering efforts to do these types of integrations. We've been very focused on building the team to execute on this and get the button live. Another thing we think a lot about is our external branding and marketing. We invest quite a bit in brand awareness. And we've done a lot of interesting things in sports and other consumer brands. It's something we'll continue to think about and invest in.