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Ian Marsh: “I foresee an extension of businesses accepting card”


Ian Marsh

Role and company:

UK MD of payleven

Employee numbers:

150+ globally

Growth forecast for the next three years: 

We are aiming to become a global leader in mobile payments, grow our customer base to over hundred thousand worldwide and be in over ten countries across three continents.

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:

payleven is shaking up the traditional industry of payments and pushing the door on what is possible. We launched the first pan-European mobile Chip & PIN device, whilst being the first company to receive the new mobile payments license from the UK FSA and launching the world’s first Chip & PIN device available in Apple stores across Europe.

What’s the big vision for your business?

Our vision is twofold. Firstly, it is to deliver a superior payments solution, aimed primarily at small businesses. The payments world has been dominated by large for too long, bureaucratic and old-fashioned banks which deliver poor customer service and poor value for money. payleven’s revolutionary new smartphone-based payments solution is superior in a number of aspects: it is easier to signup (only takes five minutes), it is lower cost, with no monthly fees, and it is more portable and mobile being a fraction of the size of a traditional terminal.

The second part of our vision is to harness all the computing power found in today’s smartphones and tablets into our smart App-based solution. Our objective is to build a range of additional features and benefits for small businesses all based off the core payments product.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations: 

payleven is only 18 months old and is already live in seven countries across two continents – UK, Germany, Italy, Holland, Poland, Austria and Brazil. Our future aspiration is to further expand our footprint in the European market and also establish a strong presence in several other continents.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it: 

A previous company that I started, selling online design products, had to close after six months. It was heart-wrenching having to tell the team that had worked so hard since day one that the project wasn?t going to continue. We had built a great company and they had performed well, so it was a very difficult time. It taught me to think long and hard about unit economics before starting a business, as well as assessing the competitive landscape. We were undone by the economics of design products (relatively low margins and high shipping costs/ return rates) and by a large US player who entered the UK market and made it too crowded to compete, especially versus their scale.

What makes you mad in business today?

Hot air and  mis-advertising. What is very frustrating, especially in a complicated market like mobile payments, is how other players can really bamboozle the press/ other partners with hot air rather than real, grounded products and achievements. A very clear example is a competitor of ours in the UK that has been talking about how it is launching the world’s first mobile Chip & PIN device for over 18 months. They have still not launched a product whereas we have been offering our product for over six months, have tens of thousands of customers using it and are stocked in leading retailers like the Apple Store. Similarly, another competitor launched a non-Chip & PIN mobile payments solution and gained a lot of press, but it did not accept VISA. VISA is over 70 per cent of card payments in the UK, so a payment solution which does not accept it is pretty useless. Hot air like this has meant we have had to spend a lot of time re-educating our customers and journalists about why having our Chip & PIN solution really is revolutionary.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

I foresee a massive extension of businesses accepting card, and a decline in the cash economy. Most estimates I’ve seen show there are somewhere between 1.5-3m small businesses that don’t currently accept cards because the fees on a traditional terminal from a bank are too expensive, the paperwork too complicated and the device itself too cumbersome for people on the move (e.g. hairdressers, tradesmen). With technology like payleven’s, where you can pick up a fully functioning Chip & PIN Device for only ?99 in the local Apple Store and register in five minutes, it opens up a whole world of new businesses to accepting card. As such, I am sure in three years time businesses where you would have always expected to be cash only will be accepting card.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow” If not, what can be done to improve things?

Yes, luckily there is a lot of interest in our sector at the moment, both from venture capital and strategic investors.

How would others describe your leadership style

I believe in hiring the right people, setting them clear objectives and then letting them have a large degree of control of their time. We have some very smart, young, motivated employees who love the fact that they have the authority and ownership to pursue their own projects, rather than being in a stodgy large corporate environment. I tell them, “if you come to me with a good idea, I?ll let you have both budget and time to run with it.”

Your biggest personal extravagance

Travel. My girlfriend lives in Italy, my parents in France and both my sisters in Germany. Hence, just seeing my loved ones ends up costing a fortune. On top of that, I really do like to travel. The second highest extravagance would be a close-run thing between sports equipment – I?m currently learning to kite surf and about to buy the kite but it’s pretty pricey. Of course, there are also restaurants. Whenever I?m abroad I like to try new foods.

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

Well I would say that the UK is already a great place to work in comparison to many other countries and this is highlighted by the level of entrepreneurial tech-focused businesses in the UK. The private sector needs to shape up though – especially banks (it took us over three months to open our company bank account) and telecoms (it takes an age to get good fibre installed). Both of those issues are a major headache for any new businesses.


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