With experience in the payments industry for nearly a decade, Caleb Avery was often asked to help software companies who were looking to monetize their payments. Unable to find a solution that didn’t require his clients to compromise on either technology, user experience, or economics, he decided that he needed his own solution. That led him to build Tilled and create PayFac-as-a-Service.
Caleb first started working in the payments industry while in college, co-founding a credit card processing independent sales organization, or ISO, with a few of his friends. Beginning with very traditional credit card processing customers including restaurants, salons, liquor stores, and other brick and mortar businesses, Merchant Services Done Right later expanded into processing services for e-commerce businesses, software companies and now operates in 22+ states across the country.
Over the years, he also consulted for larger software companies processing anywhere from $100 million to over a billion in annual payments volume. These clients needed a payments expert to help them negotiate agreements, develop new pricing models, and maximize their revenue from credit card processing.
It was while working with these businesses that he realized software companies who were looking to optimize their integrated payment processing solution were really looking for two key things. One, an instant digital sign-up experience for their customers. And two, to maximize the revenue they could earn.
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Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Caleb Avery: I first started working in the payments industry in college, co-founding a credit card processing independent sales organization, or ISO, with a few of my friends. Starting with door-to-door sales with very traditional credit card processing customers including restaurants, salons, liquor stores, and other brick and mortar businesses, over time we expanded into processing services for e-commerce businesses, software companies, and more, in more than 22 states across the country. It was consulting for those large software companies – including one that was processing more than a billion dollars in annual payments volume – that I realized software companies who were looking to optimize their integrated payment processing solution were really looking for two key things: one, an instant digital sign-up experience for their customers, and two, to maximize the revenue they could earn from payments.
At the time, there wasn’t an option that could fulfill both of those requirements easily. These companies, and thousands of others, needed a new solution. Several years ago, I began investigating what it would take to create a solution that would fulfill what I call the PayFac Holy Grail — an easy-to-implement solution that offers an instant onboarding experience and economics that provide a substantial revenue stream to software companies leveraging the platform. And Tilled was born.
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?
Caleb Avery: I started out as a solo founder, which is a lonely and difficult place to be even in the best of times. I was investing my own money, hiring, and managing developers, and then a little over a year into the journey, COVID hit. I had just started talking with outside investors about fundraising, and to see everything spiral away during those first few weeks of the pandemic definitely made me question my commitment.
No investors would talk to me, I was still paying my employees, and our product didn’t fully exist yet. We had been planning to go on a hiring spree, which instead turned into a hiring freeze for several months. It was a difficult period for Tilled, but it also gave us an opportunity to slow down and spend more time talking with our customers. We found out they were having a hard time too, and we gained invaluable insight from them during that time.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. What’s the worst advice you received?
Caleb Avery: During our fundraising process, one of the investors we spoke with essentially told us we were not any different from one of our competitors and had no place in the market. He advised us to just stop what we were doing entirely. I think back to that conversation often because it was the worst possible advice anyone could ever give me.
But it also added fuel to the fire behind Tilled. He formed his opinion before we’d even had a chance to tell him our story, and it helped me refine my message and how I presented my deck to future investors.
Has the pandemic and transitioning into mostly online shopping affected your company positively or negatively?
Caleb Avery: In many ways, COVID provided opportunities and accelerated trends that were very positive for Tilled. Forbes estimates that COVID helped accelerate e-commerce growth four to six years into the future. There are stronger positive trend lines towards digital payments now than there were before the pandemic. COVID truly changed the way that consumers pay for things, and how merchants look at their payment software and products. It’s exciting that Tilled is a part of that conversation.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Caleb Avery: Beyond just offering a PayFac solution, Tilled offers PayFac-as-a-Service. That means we combine an easy-to-implement solution with an instant onboarding experience, alongside economics that provides a true benefit to software companies. During our initial customer discovery process, we found the main reason that many of our customers weren’t using our competitors was because of the time it would take to implement their solutions.
At Tilled, we place a high priority on being able to launch with our customers in under two weeks — and we are working hard to make that time even shorter. We also offer competitive revenue streams that can’t be beaten by other options.
What do you consider are your strengths when dealing with staff workers, colleagues, senior management, and customers?
Caleb Avery: I strive to empower my team to make decisions for themselves. Just recently, I was in a meeting with several new hires and could tell they were worried about making final decisions. I made it clear to them that while I was happy to provide input and advice as needed because they would be living with the day-to-day impacts of those decisions they should be able to make it themselves.
It’s how I lead, by bringing in people who I trust to do the right thing and giving them the resources to make those decisions. From a customer perspective, I take a consultative approach to sales, and our customers appreciate our honesty and transparency. We are not afraid to tell a customer that we might not be a good fit, and never sell at all costs. We are working to establish Tilled and ourselves as thought leaders and payments experts.
What have you learned about personal branding that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Caleb Avery: I wish I had spent more time on LinkedIn earlier in my career. During COVID, I had no choice but to try social and online networking after years of door-to-door sales and in-person events, and it has paid off more than I ever could have imagined. Just in 2021 alone, my LinkedIn profile has received more than 250,000 views, and all of those impressions have been just as much for Tilled as for me.
When I think about our pipeline of customers and investors, many of them have come from LinkedIn and the personal brand I’ve built online. I can’t recommend enough that everyone gets on there and starts talking about what interests you. You’ll find and attract similar people and sharing your experiences will pay dividends for yourself and your business.
How would you define “leadership”?
Caleb Avery: I believe leadership is about empowering others and leading by example. I work hard as Tilled’s CEO every day, but I also want to show the values that I believe are important. One of those values is taking the time to go pick up my daughter from school and go on vacations with my family. By showing other people that I am doing those things, I hope they can feel comfortable doing those things themselves.
Recently I heard more than one of my leadership team members tell their teams that family comes first, and that made me happy to know I’ve created that culture. I hope that by doing and showing through example, I can build trust and allow people to be humans and do what they need to do, both to get their work done and also to enjoy their lives.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Caleb Avery: One of the most valuable things I did during my founder journey was to talk with my end customers as early and often as possible. I wanted to make sure that what we were building at Tilled would actually solve their problems and that they’d be willing to pay for it.
Too many founders and entrepreneurs think they have a great idea and they go out and build it, not realizing they might be building something no one needs, wants, or will pay for. It’s so important to get your market validation and find a product-market fit before you dive in headfirst.
What’s your favorite “business” quote and how has it affected your business decisions?
Caleb Avery: “Every business is successful exactly to the extent that it does something others cannot.” Peter Thiel wrote that in his book Zero to One, and to me it means that if you want to create something that is truly game-changing or “the next big thing,” you can’t just iterate on something that’s been done before. You have to come up with something new.
My first business was very much something other people had done, and, don’t get me wrong, we were reasonably successful with it. But Tilled is something foundationally different, and I believe we’ve found an angle and an opportunity no one else has seen or figured out before. We are truly differentiated in our market and operating in our own space. It’s an exciting place to be.
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Caleb Avery for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Caleb Avery or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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