In 2012, sanctions were relaxed on Myanmar, an ancient kingdom of 60 million people that had a history thousands of years old.
On a balmy summer day in South East Asia, my manager called me into his office to present a challenge – one that would eventually inspire my company, HeroPay. I was to manage Visa Incorporated's market entry into one of the last untouched frontier markets and one of the greatest entrepreneurial experiments for large and small companies alike.
That July, I packed my bags and headed to the commercial city of Yangon, equipped with only a laptop and a few lessons of Burmese.
When I arrived, there were no Visa cards and no merchants who accepted any forms of credit cards. There was no internet outside of some spotty connections in the local high end hotels, and less than three percent of the country had a mobile phone. This presented a significant challenge for any company looking to suggest a technological solution.
However, we quickly got to work, meeting with banks, government officials, technologists and consumers. We visited local farming communities where the population hoped to capitalize on foreign tourists shopping in the local markets.
By the end of our third year in market, we had built an office, hired employees and enabled over $300 million in local commerce. One merchant's sales jumped from $300 to $10,000 a month by accepting Visa cards in his store. As the country manager for Visa in Myanmar, I began receiving calls from merchants asking how they could do the same. I kept a spreadsheet of the banks who offered credit card processing options and, bingo! It hit me.
Scaling a high-powered growth machine
With extensive knowledge of credit card processing and building a business from the ground up, I had the right foundation to start a business of my own. I thought to myself: there are merchants all over the world asking the same payment processing questions. I can turn this spreadsheet into software and help merchants compare the different options available to them.
Today, 7.2 million U.S. merchants make up 26 percent of the volume, but pay 79 percent of the credit card processing fees. At HeroPay, our mission is to change that imbalance and make the whole process of accepting payments simple, transparent and seamless. We built a comparison shopping engine that helps merchants compare different options online and avoid card processing fees.
Any startup founder will tell you that in the beginning, everything moves quickly. Training employees, getting the word out and dealing with the product management cycle can pull your attention in 30 different ways.
Very early on, we realized crafting a solid growth plan would be fundamental to our success. With a customer-first model in mind, we focus on key target segments and reiterate product-market fit, which helps us improve our relationships with customers and drive customer satisfaction. We're always looking for ways to improve, keeping customers’ needs in mind first.
The lessons learned as I helped build Myanmar's payment infrastructure are still relevant today – face challenges head on, move quickly and satisfy your customers.
About the author: Hiro Taylor is the founder and CEO of HeroPay, a Los Angeles based company aimed at helping merchants compare credit card processing options.