As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Marwan Forzley.
Marwan is an innovator and visionary who is passionate about building companies through disruptive technologies and global strategies. After founding and selling eBillme to Western Union, Forzley became the GM of eCommerce and Strategic Partnerships with Western Union. He is also the author of “Small Business in a Big World: A Comprehensive Guide to Doing International Business”, which teaches small businesses everything they need to know about taking their operations to the international level, from business culture to negotiation tactics.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. 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?
The entrepreneurial spirit runs in my family. I grew up with small business owners around my family, who all built their businesses from the ground up. Working day in, day out to make ends meet and grow their businesses to become larger ones. Having been brought up in an environment that fosters entrepreneurship and running businesses, I started my entrepreneurial journey with my first company which resulted in a successful exit and sold it to Western Union. I have a soft spot for small businesses and I was always looking for a way to help them.
In the last decade, the world has changed as well. Small businesses can’t just open up a shop in a high traffic area and hope people walk in and make purchases. The landscape is now competitive. More people want to live the “American Dream”, which means more businesses are competing for customers. With the advent of the internet, supplier markets like Alibaba, and the e-commerce boom, sourcing your goods and service locally is just as easy as doing it within the U.S.
For a business to be able to take advantage of the global market, things have to be seamless. Global payments were made for big companies. Small businesses faced a bureaucratic maze, with layers upon layers of regulations, middlemen, and banks who were taking cuts of payments, and cutting further into the razor-thin margins these small businesses need to survive. Small business owners had none of the negotiating power that these big companies had, and it was almost as if the entire system was designed to stop their business from going global. That issue is what made me start Veem.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I was raising money for the company, during the early days of the company. There was a mix up scheduled and ended up presenting the company in the wrong room to a very different investor set. Few minutes into the presentation the original presenter showed up and we quickly all realized that there is a mix up in schedules. Having said, one of the investors liked the presentation and we ended up exchanging contact info. Lesson learned — make the best of the situation you are dealing with :-)
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?
My family, for the support they provide as I grow my business. It takes a lot of time and effort and that support is crucial and very important both personally, and on the job. As a CEO, it’s hard to leave the job at the door. Thankfully, my family is understanding, caring, and proud of the work we’re doing here.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Veem’s purpose is to put valuable time back into the small business owner’s day. My vision was to make the process of sending and receiving payments, domestically and abroad, beyond simple for small and medium-size business owners. This market is traditionally underserved, and one where individuals are often wearing several hats.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
Veem is a global payments network built for businesses. We began in 2014 with the intention of making international money transfers as simple as purchasing a cup of coffee. Since then, we’ve revolutionized the way businesses pay and get paid within the US and Canada, and around the world by empowering owners, accountants, and financial professionals to take control over their payment processes. We level the playing field by providing enterprise-level financial tools and negotiating power to the small businesses who need it most.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
The rise of wallet systems around the world was a real disruption we saw. This innovation made it possible for real-time payments between accounts, as well as real-time processing of funds.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
On our side, we created Veem Wallet so that we could offer our B2B customers with more choice in how they pay and get paid. With Veem Wallet, users can receive, hold, or send payments without the need for a traditional bank account. As a user, you can receive money into your Wallet, you can pay a bill or invoice via your Wallet, or you can hold funds in your Wallet.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
Absolutely! We are constantly listening to our customers, and this idea was an amalgamation of the feedback we received from our user base, who were looking for different payment options to choose from, at a rate that was competitive to the current choices in the market.
In fact, Veem has a Beta Program, where we work with a group of users who actively participate in providing feedback for inclusion in our product roadmap. The insights we receive are invaluable and allow us to better understand our customers’ day-to-day, their pain points and their desired payment experiences. We started this program so we knew we were building products and features that weren’t just practical but also could support the growth of our user’s businesses. They tell us what works, and what doesn’t.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
Veem Wallet has been just one piece of the puzzle — supporting a larger mission to broaden the payment optionality user’s have access to directly in-app. On the other end of the spectrum, we also launched Veem Check, which allows B2B payment senders and receivers to issue and track the progress of checks via desktop or smartphone as easily as any other digital payment. This spectrum of choice allows users to centralize their AP process to Veem, regardless of how their vendors, contractors and partners prefer to pay or get paid.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?
We have a new customer in the translations industry who wanted to move money in real time to pay for international labor expenses through Veem. We had recently launched Veem Wallet, and it was amazing for us to offer a brand new customer a product feature that is exactly what he wants and expects. Our customers inspire us every day, and they are an essential important component of our product evolution journey. To be able to see things come full circle, receiving the feedback from our current customers, using that to guide us and roll out Veem Wallet to the market, and receiving reactions on that new offering from a new customer, was a great moment.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
It is critical for leaders to strike the appropriate balance between maintaining a North Star, while staying agile and open to change. With so much development, noise and disruption in the market, it’s easy to be distracted. But it is important to remember and reflect everyday on the reason you started in the first place.
My go-to strategies are a combination of partnerships, SEO, SEM…and most important customer bringing other customers to the platform. At the end of the day, there isn’t one catch-all answer, but a combination of effective methods.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
In our current work-from-home environment, it’s never been more important to over communicate and regularly check in with your team members. In doing this, we also have the opportunity to over acknowledge the great work being done by members in all of our internal organizations whether it’s sales, engineering, operations, etc. At Veem, we keep an active “good news” Slack channel, and it’s a way for us to celebrate wins in a remote work environment.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
My number one principle is to stay on the ball, and stay persistent. One way to do this is to establish a goal or a mission that you’re working toward, or a “North Star.” No matter how much your immediate situation may change, your North Star should guide you every step of the way and remind you that there is still work to be done.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
• Waiting too long to recognize that a technology is disruptive to your industry
• Not staying up to date on your industry.
• Underestimate the potential impact of the disruptive technology, as well as underestimate how long it takes for the tech to become mainstream.
That being said, disruptive technologies don’t develop overnight, but if you’re regularly studying trends and learning, you should be able to see signs of developments as they are occurring.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
· Look for the gaps — Good ideas and good products are typically created as a response to a real problem. In our case, we know that the process of making a wire payment can be expensive, confusing and frustrating for small businesses; from that problem, we created a Veem.
· Don’t be afraid to be early adopters — We built a real-world application of blockchain in 2014, years before the technology was widely adopted. While a risky bet at the time, we knew this change would be transformational and long-term.
· Listening as much as possible — Through doing so, you may be able to iterate on a business solution that is very simple and works for everyone. At Veem, when we receive customer feedback, we ensure that as many of our team members as possible are part of the conversation. Customer feedback is central to Veem, and was vital in the development of “invoice capture,” a new offering that was created as a result of A/B testing with our customer Beta Program participants.
· Learn from the same people you are competing with — In order to move any industry forward, we must take a long look at ourselves and make sure we are getting better and constantly learning, for the betterment of your industry as a whole.
· Look for people who align with your company values, and work together — At Veem, it is important to us to understand the other products/services that our customers use every day, so that we can seamlessly impact our customers’ experience through integrations. This led us to partnering with QuickBooks, Xero, and Magento and building integrations with other applications and tools like Shopify and Harvest.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When running businesses and startups you worry about things that don’t end up being that important in the long run. It is important that the events of the day — end up being just that.. temporary events that don’t alter long term goals.