Digital Transformation, the Time is Now: Our Interview with Imburse Payments
The world is now beginning to come through to the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we do, SixThirty has been keeping in close touch with both Corporate Partners and Portfolio Companies, and helping each to capitalize on trends that are emerging as a result.
One trend that we’re hearing with regularity, from both incumbents and startups, is the need to innovate faster, to rapidly deploy new solutions.
Enter Imburse, a portfolio company that SixThirty invested in in 2019, whose “Payments as a Service” enterprise platform offers integration-free access to the entire global payment ecosystem, from card collections, to debit orders, e-wallets, push to card transactions, inter-bank systems, vouchers and more. We had an opportunity to speak with Co-Founders Carl Strempel & Oliver Werneyer to discuss how the unexpected changes in 2020 have impacted them.
MH: 2020 has been a very different year than anyone could have forecast, how has that impacted Imburse?
OW: That’s true. It has impacted us, and we also saw it with our clients and prospects. Right now, every company has a real, deeply felt understanding of what it means to deploy new operational capabilities with a quick turnaround time. We’ve seen a massive focus internally at large companies to focus on transforming core systems, which is a huge tailwind for us. 18-month timeframes don’t exist anymore, core system capabilities need to be upgraded ASAP. Our clients and prospects suddenly had the full workforce working from home and customers completely changing their expectations in terms of payments.
In Germany, for example, prior to COVID-19, you couldn’t convince people to switch off cash; they would only use cash. Now, people won’t touch cash and expect digital payment alternatives.
MH: What were the immediate and more recent impacts of the pandemic on your pipeline, your clients?
OW: At the beginning, there was a desperate cry for help from our customers and those we’d been talking to. Immediately, everyone needed help collecting payments right now or deploying various enhancements around the payment infrastructure, specifically replacing checks and cash. However, as the companies got into it, they weren’t as ready for the digital transformation as they thought.
We heard from several new clients that they felt that if they’d already been using Imburse, then they would have been much better prepared to respond to the pandemic.
Now, some of that desperation has started to abate; for example companies have learned to live with some aspects of the operational pain, but the demand for Imburse’s solution is still strong, as companies realise that they need to be better prepared in future.
MH: So, it sounds like this has been a net positive for Imburse, is that right?
OW: Well, yes we have had some tailwinds as a result of the pandemic. However, as the desperation has abated, these new clients are looking at much larger integrations of Imburse than the original scope. This can be a good and a bad thing for a startup.
For example, it is critical for us to maintain a sense of urgency, to keep all of the customer stakeholders bought-in, even as their attention may shift, and ensure that the sales & contracting stays on-target. This longer cycle can be a risk for a startup as well.
MH: How are you handling the increased demand for Imburse’s solution in the market?
CS: We’re actually doing quite a bit of hiring, especially in IT & business analytics. This has been difficult; despite all the publicity around mass redundancies in the market, the talent we’re looking for isn’t as easily available.
Imburse is also a global company, but much of the team has been concentrated in a few main locations. We’re working towards becoming a “remote-first organization” because great talent is everywhere, and we think that people are placing ever-greater importance on opportunities to work remotely and have greater flexibility. People see fixed locations as an outdated way of thinking, outdated way of growing your business.
MH: How have you kept your pipeline growing in these challenging times, has your go-to-market strategy had to shift as a result?
OW: We used to do a lot of lead-generation through events, such as conferences, and that has changed, of course. We’ve seen inside sales become much more important, and we need to source our customers differently.
This has meant a real acceleration in our marketing efforts, and we’re beginning to see a strong ROI from this, and an acceleration to the top of the funnel via inbound leads.
To complement the inside sales strategy, we’ve also increased our focus on channel partnerships, especially Guidewire and Microsoft. In addition, we’re getting help from a local university to analyze and research our 5 core markets, to better understand what is important to them, who are the key decision makers, what are their primary goals, and to help develop the message we’ll use to approach them.
We expect that will go back to some form of face to face at some point, but it will be more selective.
MH: As founders, what has this highly volatile market taught you?
CS: Through the pandemic, we’ve seen that organizations need to be much more digital and also more agile. This has helped us focus on the part of our value proposition which is offering that agility between payment solutions, in real-time.
OW: We’ve also learned. The importance of great legal advice, and investing in that up-front. When opportunities arise, it is critical to have you contacts in place, ready to go, so that you can move quickly to capitalize on opportunity.
MH: Imburse’s Payments as a Service platform is broadly horizontal to all markets and verticals, but you chose a specific vertical focus in financial services. What do you see as the next steps for Imburse?
OW: This decision was really made for us based on who our first clients were, and who was under real pressure. Imburse really shines when IT & corporate structures are more complex, which led us to a strong business case within financial services, and insurance specifically.
We’re starting to receive inquiries from other industries, and we do plan to continue expanding horizontally. Our current expectation is that we’ll continue to grow into other insurance markets, continue to expand globally, especially in the US, with insurance and banking. At that point, we’ll begin to move into other verticals, starting. In Europe. Especially as we expand into the US, scale is critical, and we recognize that the US will be a much larger market for us long-term, and the US responds best when a product works seamlessly and can scale quickly.