Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I am a self-proclaimed workaholic, and I have taken that mindset with me throughout my professional life. Before starting T1 Payments and becoming an entrepreneur, I started my career in high school as a junior broker-dealer at the NY Mercantile Stock Exchange, where I eventually became a commodity trader focusing on the oil industry. Afterwards I began investing in real estate and various businesses, which eventually led me to the idea that became T1 Payments.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
For my entire career my mindset has always been: if you want something done right, do it yourself. It was through my experiences investing in real estate and various businesses that I was introduced to the inefficiencies of the payments ecosystem. I quickly realized there had to be a better way for merchants to accept and process online transactions. That was the “Aha Moment” and why I founded T1 Payments in 2012. T1 Payments was built on the basic concept of providing simple, yet effective payment solutions for merchants while building long-term client relationships.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Yes, in the beginning I thought about giving up — pretty often. The most important lesson I learned at the start of my journey as an entrepreneur was that not everyone wants to tell you the truth. This taught me the importance of second guessing everything and relying on trial and error to learn the truth.
Another challenge I faced was starting up in fintech as the “little guy.” Competing against the 800-pound gorillas, with unlimited funds and capabilities, seemed next to impossible. However, completing the impossible kept me motivated every step of the way.
A strong website, with updated plug-ins, security measures, and a trustworthy developer. We’ve seen many examples of merchants surprised at measly sales when their website is falling apart, looks sketchy, and doesn’t show half of their merchandise. An e-commerce platform should look impeccable — on the frontend and backend.
We have seen merchant gateways stop working because their plugins and versions had not been updated on Woo Commerce.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
If you want to talk about grit and resilience, I’m your guy. Just before this interview, I was in a car accident — the other driver left me with a broken foot and wrist. Now I’m back in the office doing my job, cast and all.
I’m not one to mess around, I don’t back down from a challenge and I’m not going to quit when the going gets tough. That’s what has made me so successful, especially in an industry like fintech. This field takes guts and toughness on top of commitment. This is not a 9–5 job, and you have to dive in headfirst.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When we first started, we had some tech mishaps that led to some very awkward client situations. We found out the hard way that not all gateways accept all merchant types and products, and we had to dance our way out of some client promises. It’s funny looking back on those days, but in the moment, we were in a panic.
When that happened, my team went above and beyond to keep clients happy while realigning expectations and solving the issues. From that point on, I learned the value of customer experience and why it’s so important for our merchant customers in e-commerce industry.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our number one focus is client service. We are here to support our customers and tell them the truth no matter what, even if they don’t want to hear it. We don’t sugarcoat, and we don’t dance around problems.
I remember a fire drill when a merchant lost website connection right before Black Friday, because they accidentally changed their gateway password and could no longer access the site. We spent Thanksgiving on the phone with them resolving the issue. We give our merchants and partners hands-on customer service and spend holidays and weekends ensuring our clients are well taken care of.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
My number one mantra is to use common sense. If you need time off, take it. If a product or business looks fishy, it probably is. You can’t wish away the law, so if it’s illegal, avoid it. It’s also important to remember that you cannot perform miracles.
In the fintech space, it all boils down to work ethic, trust, preparation, and commitment. This is not a 9–5 job with weekends off; it’s a 24/7 business. If you want to go far in fintech, you need to prepare for anything and everything, get used to thinking on your feet and comfortable with the unexpected, because curveballs are guaranteed.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am so grateful for my executive team at T1 Payments. We’ve been through the ringer together and now we’re closer than ever. I’m the type of leader to handout a “pat on the back,” and I don’t give out my trust willingly, but I have learned to lean on my team completely. Like I said, it all boils down to common sense, and they have great instincts. My team juggles so much all while keeping clients happy, keeping employees happy, and keeping the company thriving. That means I can sit here with a broken foot and hand from the aforementioned car accident and not worry too much, because I trust them to handle the business.
I don’t have a specific story, because they impress me each and every day. We’re close enough that my employees come to my family home for Thanksgiving every year — and we laugh and bond over things like my mother painting squirrels (so she can tell them apart in her yard).
They have my back, and I have theirs.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
One trend we’ve seen at T1 Payments is new and creative scams, from selling dangerous hand sanitizer to cyberattacks to identity theft. We suspect this is born out of newfound financial need as well as boredom during the pandemic. Either way, we’ve been working with our customers to set up guards and have learned to be extra careful and keep a close watch for scammers — a successful hack can be devastating for a small e-commerce business.
Due to strained finances, some businesses have cut costs in dangerous places, such as cybersecurity and website infrastructure. E-commerce merchants never think cyberattacks will happen to them, so they don’t monitor their business carefully — oftentimes, they end up learning the hard way that deploying an arsenal of risk tools for their website is essential to prevent cyberattacks before they happen.
Many vendors choose to ignore security risks and professional advice in favor of convenience and saving money. Now more than ever, we’re seeing the dangers of that mindset. To start and successfully run an e-commerce business, you need to understand every facet that goes into it, from shipping to marketing to security. Otherwise, consult and partner with experts in the matter — and listen to their advice.
Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
E-commerce giants like Amazon are a disaster in the making. Those businesses and their processors have too much control and are becoming a monopoly. As a result, many small e-commerce businesses grow dependent on them and can be ruined if their policy changes or they get in a disagreement. In this equation, the small business is powerless and has no bargaining chip. Amazon will have a rude awakening when vendors refuse to cede total control to them.
My advice to small e-commerce businesses: do not rely on Amazon or Walmart. You can diversify and maintain control by creating your online store on an open-source platform rather than only on a mega-retailer’s proprietary e-commerce platform. Otherwise you could be out of business overnight when the mega-retailer decides it won’t sell a certain product type anymore — or copies your best-selling item and sells it at a lower cost.
My second piece of advice: focus on convenience. Mega-retailers thrive because they include services like same-day pickup. You may not be able to do it all, but working just some of those convenience factors into your business model can keep sales thriving.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
When starting out, many entrepreneurs think they can put a little in and reap enormous awards. In reality, all businesses take extensive research, planning, and training. It’s not easy, and there are no freebies.
In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Security. Many e-commerce vendors don’t think someone will ever hack them or use a card reader or card testing on their site. Because they hope it won’t happen, merchants simply ignore the possibility until it becomes a problem. We see endless examples of clients asking for security help after the fact.
There are a range of solutions to address cybersecurity concerns, including CAPTCHA, two-factor authentication, and IP banning and blocking. Site managers should also ensure plug-ins are updated to avoid data breaches. We’ve had instances where a merchant will call with a gateway down, and we’ll find 800+ neglected plug-in updates.
Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
First and foremost, vendors should find a processor they trust — and be open and willing to follow their partner’s expertise while also being honest about their own goals.
Beyond that, e-commerce vendors should focus on security. Many platforms include gateway fraud prevention, and T1 Payments technology includes many proprietary anti-fraud tools built to ensure additional levels of security. For example, our technology can block credit cards that are run several times within a short period of time to prevent fraudsters from using our clients’ sites to test stolen credit card data. Ethoca and Verifi also have powerful anti-chargeback and fraud mitigation solutions.
When merchants don’t employ these tools and are targeted by fraudsters, they may encounter serious chargeback problems and may be stopped from processing credit cards fully, which can lead to the demise of their business. Because of that enormous risk, we make sure our cybersecurity tools are automated and that all our customers are protected proactively.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Ensure a seamless checkout process so that you don’t lose customers in the gateway. Security protocol is essential, but make sure website visitors are not jumping through too many hoops as that may sour the user experience. Adapt your site to your audience by adding clear descriptions for everything, creating several language options, and marking and selling products in local/relevant currency.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
It’s simple: by providing exceptional customer service along with a secure and frictionless shopping experience. If you bundle those values with being authentic and stay true to your core beliefs, the passion and excitement will definitely resonate within your brand.
One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?
My number one tip (and I learned this the hard way): ask for reviews. If you don’t ask for positive reviews, you will only get negative ones from disgruntled customers. Nobody wants to take time out of their day to write a positive review unless you ask.
Of course, negative reviews are a pain for vendors. Not only are they damaging to the brand and sales, but they are also often anonymous, which makes helping the unhappy customers very difficult. In fact, we’ve often found those anonymous negative reviews come from competitors or customers trying to blackmail the company for a nice payout (in exchange for retraction). How do you fight a ghost?
If possible, brands should monitor reviews and respond to both good and bad comments to try to get issues resolved. There is an art in finding commonalities and pleasing the unhappy customer without selling your soul or business — from there, you can only hope the customer retracts their negative review.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
In order to take your e-commerce business off the ground, you need:
1. Research, in order to better understand your target market, your sector, regulations and laws around your product, and industry challenges. We’ve seen too many businesses fail because their founder didn’t do enough research and planning and expected to get rich quick… if it smells fishy, it usually is.
Adding to that, it seems obvious, but always ensure your product type is approved for sale by your e-commerce platform. We have seen too many merchants shut down due to selling CBD despite their e-commerce platform prohibiting the sale that product in their terms of service.
2. A strong website, with updated plug-ins, security measures, and a trustworthy developer. We’ve seen many examples of merchants surprised at measly sales when their website is falling apart, looks sketchy, and doesn’t show half of their merchandise. An e-commerce platform should look impeccable — on the frontend and backend.
We have seen merchant gateways stop working because their plugins and versions had not been updated on Woo Commerce.
3. A business structure and process that allows you to work seamlessly with your team. A trustworthy team is everything, and no entrepreneur can run a business on their own. Work with your team to establish trust, and work hard to keep employees who are committed and honest; those are hard to come by.
Believe it or not, we’ve seen instances where angry former employees gain access to the site and disconnect the payment gateway from the website, stopping all new sales from occurring.
4. An understanding of where your leads are coming from, so that you can ensure a healthy sales cycle. If they are coming from SEO or marketing efforts or from glowing reviews, vendors need to find out so they can further perfect and capitalize on that aspect of the business.
That said, proceed with caution. If you sell your products via an affiliate network, ensure you have affiliate fraud detection measures in place. For example, your merchant account could be compromised if the network’s transactions end up as either a refund or chargeback. If you have an affiliate that is not normally an active seller, but suddenly sees a spike in sales, there is probably an issue.
5. A solid processor that can actually help you grow your business and prevent road bumps, rather than just taking your transactions. Being cheap does not make them good. If you want actual help, it doesn’t come free.
We have spoken with several merchants who were told by an overly zealous salesperson that their industry type was accepted by their processor. In these cases, the processor’s risk department will eventually review the account, find out what products you are selling, and shut down your account. This can result in your website, company, and personal profile staying on MasterCard’s infamous MATCH program for five years.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would definitely start the common sense movement. I just want people to be logical — think about what you’re doing, how somebody will react to it, and what you want to achieve. If you act like a jerk, don’t expect wonderful results. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
As leaders, we need to remind ourselves not to expect people to bow down. Watch your tone, don’t lie and manipulate, and listen to advice from experts. Remember everyone, because you’ll never know when you’ll need them down the line.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Readers can follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/donald-kasdon-7240601b6/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
About the interviewer: Jerome Knyszewski (Kenchefski) is the CEO of HeavyShift. Jerome serves as an advisor to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies as well as entrepreneurs who disrupt their industries and therefore tend to be targets of malicious online attacks. His company builds, protects, and repairs the online presence & reputation of many celebrities, products and beloved brands.