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Atoa Leads The Revolt On Card Fees For the UK’s Small Businesses

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It is five long years since the UK introduced its “open banking” reforms promising that new technologies would help consumers and small businesses get a better deal from financial services. The reforms have taken time to deliver on that promise, but innovation is now gathering pace, courtesy of businesses such as Atoa Payments, which wants to cut high-charging Visa and Mastercard out of the payments loop.

Atoa, which is today announcing the completion of a $2.2 million pre-seed funding round, is squarely taking aim at the two payment giants. Every time a customer makes a payment on their debit card, the transaction proceeds across rails controlled by Visa and Mastercard, points out Sid Narayanan, co-founder of the company.

“That means the merchant has no choice but to pay fees of 1.5-2% on the transaction,” Narayanan says. “There are other issues too – merchants don’t actually receive the cash for one to two days, which causes cashflow problems, and card payment services providers typically want them to sign extended contracts that lock them in.”

To add to merchants’ frustration, the UK has a perfectly good payments alternative that costs nothing and settles the transaction immediately. The Faster Payments Service enables UK bank account holders to transfer cash to payees instantly at no cost to either side. In an ideal world, merchants would therefore ask all their customers – in-store or remote – to pay via bank transfer rather than card. But this isn’t practical, since setting up a bank transfer requires the customer to initiate and manage the transaction inside their banking app; consumers would baulk at the inconvenience of having to do that each time they make a purchase.

Enter Atoa. Its technology enables consumers to pay by bank transfer at the point of sale rather than by card – and to do so instantly, without all the usual administration required to set up such a payment. To make that possible, the merchant downloads Atoa’s app and then displays a QR code to customers; when the customer wants to pay, they simply have to scan the code, which then automatically sets up the payment inside their banking app – all they have to do is authorise it.

Consumers themselves need nothing more than a UK mobile banking app on their phone. Atoa’s technology uses a payment initiation API to connect the app to the merchant’s bank account, in order to issue an instruction to pay.

“We can lower the merchant’s fees by as much as 70% by cutting out Visa and Mastercard,” Narayanan adds. “We also save merchants money because there is no need to buy any payments hardware upfront, or to pay monthly charges to lease it; plus they get their payment instantly and there is no need to lock into a lengthy contract.”

In practice, Atoa’s charges start at 0.6% per transaction, substantially undercutting the card payment fees that merchants currently have to pay. Merchants processing high volumes of transactions will qualify for even lower charges – potentially as little as 0.3% per transaction.

There’s a huge market for the company to go at. There are more than 4 million small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK that currently rely on card payments from customers. All of them lack the size and power to negotiate better rates from Visa an Mastercard, and could benefit by switching to payments based on bank transfers. In the longer term, Atoa sees larger companies adopting its technology too.

One question is whether consumers will accept this new form of payment. Paying by card is such an ingrained habit that some customers may dislike being asked to pay in a different way. However, Cian O’Dowd, co-founder of the company, believes customers who understand merchants’ frustrations will be keen to help. “We need to build awareness, but people know how tough the high street is right now and they are keen to support small businesses.”

Certainly, the business seems to be gaining traction with merchants. Sign-ups have been growing at a rate of 100% a month since the company began offering its technology in June. “It is new for customers and it will take them some time to get used to it, but it’s very straightforward,” says O’Dowd. Atoa is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, he points out, which should reassure consumers; in any case, the company never touches their money – it simply instructs the bank to move money to the merchant.

The key will be to ensure people get familiar with using bank transfers rather than card payments. While there is already significant competition in the payments marketplace for small businesses, newer providers such as Zettle and Square, which have grown quickly, rely on card payments; this inevitably exposes merchants to Visa and Mastercard charges.

The company’s fundraising should help Atoa spread the word. The pre-seed round was led by Leo Capital and Passion Capital, and also included angel investors such as Matt Robinson, co-founder of GoCardless and Nested, and Moon Capital Ventures. Anil Stocker, the co-founder and CEO of MarketFinance, is working as an adviser to the company.

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Unlock The Entrepreneurial Potential Of Your Team With Employee-Ownership

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A strong team of many outperforms even the most hardworking of entrepreneurs on their own. But when hiring employees, freelancers and contractors, how do you ensure they have the same entrepreneurial skills and drive that you do as your company’s owner? Is it unrealistic to expect employees to be motivated and committed to an organisation they didn’t found?

Nicki Sprinz thinks she has cracked the code of unlocking the entrepreneurial potential of your team, and the answer lies in employee ownership. Sprinz is managing director of B-Corp certified ustwo London, a company of over 200 employees, and cofounder of Ada’s List, an 8000-strong community designed to support women working in the tech industry. ustwo has recently become employee-owned and has already seen the benefits of breaking down the distinction between owners and employees.

According to the Employee Ownership Association, this way of working can improve productivity, support more resilient regional economies and empower team members, resulting in them being far more engaged. Sprinz explained the main benefit for entrepreneurs of this model along with practical tips for managing directors and company founders to make the transition to becoming employee-owned.

Employee ownership protects the company

“Being employee-owned means existing team members, who are now partners, feel empowered as owners,” said Sprinz. She believes that this encourages everyone to put in the work to uphold a strong company culture and course-correct if they see anything awry.

Whilst this might not happen automatically, a founder can make it more likely that their team upholds the vision. Sprinz has put frameworks in place to ensure everyone has a voice. “We hold open firesides, have elected partner representatives on the board, and ensure there are regular channels of communication for all team members to be part of growing the culture and living the values,” she said.

Keeping the team on board means protecting the company. “There are no surprises about the direction we are taking with the business,” explained Sprinz. “We involve everyone in the decisions we make on our projects and ensure we are accountable, both commercially and ethically.”

Attract and retain top talent

In a competitive market, how does your company attract and retain the best talent in the world for the benefit of your clients? Employee-ownership could be the solution. Not only does it make job listings stand out, but it attracts individuals who are like-minded and think long term. They are committed to a future with whichever company they choose to join and are prepared to push themselves to make it happen.

“High quality potential recruits and employees are interested in values and purpose,” said Sprinz. “Being able to talk about employee ownership helps you stand out in a tough hiring market. We have several interview stages so a candidate can get to know us as well as we’d like to know them.”

Sprinz’ interview stages aim to weed out “cultural and value mismatches that ultimately lead to an unfulfilled team.” They ask candidates multiple questions about their values and examples of them in practice, and they encourage candidates to probe with questions about ustwo. They also “publicise the salary for all open roles and candidates have the opportunity to meet other members of the team,” she added.

Control quality

When scaling a business, ambitious entrepreneurs cannot afford to let quality slip. Growth at all costs is a false economy that ends with the business back at square one and having to work harder to undo reputational damage. “A more entrepreneurial team ensures quality stays high,” explained Sprinz. Not only do your team members care deeply about the work they do, they also know they benefit from company growth, so they are incentivised to keep raising the bar.

“If your team is invested in the long term financial success of the company, they also feel pride that their work contributes to overall success,” said Sprinz. “They respond by raising the bar on their work.” Sprinz also believes that, “Regular transparent sharing of financial results and metrics maintains dialogue on personal and company impact.”

Direct the future

An employee-owned company has options for the future. The owner might one day want to step aside or sell, and the company’s succession plan will already be in place. In the meantime, the company has hit new heights and progressed with new ideas because its foundations are solid.

Like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you cannot reach self-actualisation without warmth and shelter, and a company cannot break through ceilings with constant recruitment issues. When team members are bought into the company, they are bought into its future too, making more certain outcomes for everyone involved.

“The partner representatives on the board surface the priorities of the rest of the team and ensure the conversations of the board are directed accordingly,” explained Sprinz. “The representatives are actively part of the bigger picture and playing a huge part in shaping the company’s future.”

Unlock the entrepreneurial potential of your team by exploring employee ownership, advised Sprinz. The best people will be proud to tell their friends that they are part-owners of the place they work. They will feel valued and listened to and respond with their effort and devotion. Could employee ownership be the right step forward for you?

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With $3M new funding, Egyptian startup OneOrder sets out on growth drive • TechCrunch

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OneOrder, Egypt’s supply chain solutions provider for restaurants, has raised $3 million seed funding led by Nclude with participation from A15, and Delivery Hero Ventures. The latest funding brings the total funding raised by the startup to $10.5
million, including $6.5 million working capital financing from financial institutions.

Launched in March this year, OneOrder makes it possible for restaurants to order food supplies through its online platform, solving the fragmented supply chain challenges that lead to erratic prices, waste, quality issues, and storage cost.

By using its platform, restaurants no longer have to deal with tens of suppliers, and can order only what they need, for next day delivery, stemming wastage and doing away with the need for warehouses. The platform also ensures operational efficiency and helps restaurants save money by leveraging OneOrder’s economies of scale.

The startup plans to use the funding to scale its operations in Egypt including increasing its warehouse footprint, and to explore growth opportunities within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, and Africa.

“We are exploring Saudi Arabia and expanding south into our continent. I think Africa has a lot of markets that feel the same pain points that Egypt does,” said OneOrder co-founder and CEO, Tamer Amer, who co-founded OneOrder with Karim Maurice (CTO), also founder Cube, an online restaurant-reservation service.

“The solution that we’re providing has shown that this industry is ready for tech solutions…[and] we are working on a more substantial operating system for the restaurants not just the supply chain and inventory management system, rather the full cycle that would turn their operations automatic by using AI and machine learning capabilities to drive the supply chain,” said Amer, a restaurateur for over two decades, initially in the U.S before settling in Egypt from 2008.

Amer, told TechCrunch that the sourcing challenges he experienced operating two restaurants in Egypt — Fuego, a sushi bar, and Longhord Texas Barbeque — inspired the launch of OneOrder, to serve the country’s total addressable market of 400,000 restaurants.

“I had always taken the supply chain in the U.S for-granted; we would order and get the supplies all the time. We didn’t have to worry about shortages or price changes. I realized that Egypt is so underserved and the industry is really doing a lot of things that we shouldn’t be doing,” he said.

“… restaurants should not have a full-time job monitoring the supply chain and procuring products because it takes away focus on the core business, which is serving customers. So that’s where the idea really started,” he said.

OneOrder plans to, through its partners and backed by its extensive data, begin extending working capital financing options to restaurants as a way of helping them scale their operations.

Basil Moftah, the managing partner at Nclude, said: “The product-market fit of the OneOrder solution is very impressive, along with the positive impact it is delivering to all stakeholders in the value chain. Through the use of technology and alternative data, OneOrder’s embedded financing will help underserved clients who are unable to secure traditional financing. This aligns perfectly with our investing philosophy and we are glad to be embarking on this journey with the team.”

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The guide to empowering startups on their unicorn journey

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The world of startups is booming today – there are innovative products and services that are being launched, almost every other day. Interestingly, India is fast becoming the ‘startup capital’ of the world. Over 940 startups have raised nearly 20 billion in the first half of this year, while over 100 tech startups have entered the unicorn club.

The pandemic, too, served as a catalyst, highlighting the significance of technology to scale startups. But let’s understand this – becoming a billion-dollar company is no mean feat. While most believe that funding is the most crucial component for startups – it’s also important to find the right tech partners to foster your growth.

To understand the secret sauce of what makes a startup a part of the unicorn club, a panel discussion featuring Manish Kumar, Founder and CEO, KredX; Monika Jain, Co-founder and COO, Presto; Satish Mohan, Founder and CTO, Dhiway; and Prashant Singh, Co-founder and COO, LeadSquared, was moderated by Viju Chakarapany, VP and Head of Commercial Sales – Asia-Pacific and Japan, Red Hat, at TechSparks 2022 in Bengaluru.

The journey of innovation and scalability

For startups, the decision-making process of selecting innovative technologies is not as easy, particularly when building products. Sharing her view on this, Monica revealed that as a low-code, no-code tech platform that is trying to power up other enterprises to run millions of transactions, they have to be scalable, secure, and stable.

“Open source was our first choice, and a lot of our co-founders have been contributors as well as consumers to open source. We did not fall into the typical myths that are associated with open source. I think a lot of people associate free as being sub-par, but we have noticed that these are some of the most well-tested technologies, and not just us, our customers have also liked that aspect,” she mentioned, sharing that vulnerabilities in the platform show up more quickly when one is building on top of open source.

While scaling is the natural route for most startups, it is ridden with challenges. As Prashant rightly said, forecasting is one thing, but in reality, it is exponentially harder. Since LeadSquared is taking the multi-product direction, it is important for them to differentiate between the products they need to build or buy.

“The second factor is the market. We believe that any market that can give us 10 million dollars of revenue is the right market to invest in. The third factor is profitability, which must also be considered particularly in the long run. But the most important thing is to reorganise the company, so you can defend your market share and also grab it,” he added, sharing that certain central functions like strategy and finance must also be set up.

Creation of cultural touchpoints in tech

Elaborating on the pertinent subject, Satish shared that while he was at Red Hat, he learned the important lesson of creating a certain culture, apart from building enterprise products.

“Open source is the default engine for innovation; it was not like this three decades back. Some things have changed but even today, collaborative thinking is equally important,” he said.

Most people in the startup space make the mistake of looking at a project through a single lens, believe Satish. It is critical to give back, so that it benefits the community at large. This will help them solve scalability issues and other hiccups that come their way.

“Open source is an ethos, it’s not just about license or source code. It’s about all of us coming together and nurturing the open-source model, to keep it as a hotbed for collaborative thinking and creative outcomes,” he added.

Different stages of tech in a startup

There are certain strategies that startups must follow at a fundamental level, but it is essential to know the different phases in tech that they face, shared Manish.

“The first is frugality – how much less can I pay for that tech, so that we sustain in the near future? The second phase is scalability. Can I have the tech that can scale me up from 100 customers to 1 million customers? The third stage is stability – I have 5 million or 10 million customers, can my tech be stable? The fourth piece is security. Most startups see it as a piecemeal approach, but it’s essential to think of a step ahead,” he added.

All in all, it is important to take everything into consideration to meet the high demands of customers. In the case of Monica, she believes that it is important to view any problem holistically and build it in a configurable fashion.

“Measure twice, cut once. Think through what needs to be done, plan more and get feedback from real customers. Customers get carried away, they need the right tech partner to discern,” she concluded.

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