Payments Dialog

Developing Custom Digital Payments Solutions with Orchestration (A conversation with: Launchpad Lab and John Ball Zoo)

What happens when a digital product agency, a payments orchestration company and an AZA-accredited zoo join forces to tackle payments? Listen in and learn more.

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Peter Mollins
Publication Date
January 24, 2022
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What happens when a digital product agency, a payments orchestration company and an AZA-accredited zoo join forces to tackle payments? Listen in to this edition of Payments Dialog where we speak with Ryan Francis, Partner and CEO, Launchpad Lab along with Jeremy Czubko, Director of Information Technology, John Ball Zoo.

Want to learn more about how Spreedly can help your organization adapt and grow your payments? Reach out to us here.

Rough transcript of this Payments Dialog:

Peter Mollins:

Hi everybody. This is Peter Mollins with Spreedly, really excited to have you all here for another Payments Dialog. Today, really interesting conversation that we're going to have. Today I'm joined by Ryan Francis, who's the partner and CEO of Launchpad Lab, as well as Jeremy Czubko, who's the Director of Information Technology at the John Ball Zoo. So Jeremy, Ryan, welcome to the Payments Dialog.

Jeremy Czubko:

Yeah. Thanks for having us, Peter.

Peter Mollins:

Absolutely.

Ryan Francis:

Great to be here. Yeah. Thank you.

Peter Mollins:

Great. So terrific. So maybe if you don't mind, maybe we could start with first off, I'd love to hear a bit of background on the zoo. So Jeremy, do you mind telling us a bit about John Ball Zoo and the background of it?

Jeremy Czubko:

Yeah, absolutely. So John Ball Zoo is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and we were founded in 1891. So we have a lot of history here in the community. We are an AZA-accredited zoo, and that is the highest level of accreditation that you can as a zoo. We're very proud of that, but we're also very proud to be focused on conservation of wildlife and wild places. That's really the main reason we exist. We're here to protect and preserve those animals, but also protect and preserve the habitat that they live in. And we've got a lot of programs that focus, not only in our home base of West Michigan, but we're actively involved with species survival plants throughout the world, even in locations where... Like the Red Panda program we're involved in. We're involved with the preservation of the habitat and the animal. So connecting with local communities, focusing on the conservation and really driving home that message of protecting wildlife in the wild places. That's the reason we exist.

Peter Mollins:

That's great. That's an incredible mission. So thanks for that. Ryan, love to hear about Launchpad and what Launchpad Lab's mission is.

Ryan Francis:

Yeah, for sure. Yeah. So Launchpad, we're a digital product agency. So we're headquartered in Chicago. We have folks spread throughout the United States and even international at this point. But really what we do is we partner with typically non-tech organizations to really act as their product development arm. So for organizations like John Ball Zoo, we're really come in and help them reimagine what their digital experience can look like. Everything from their website to their checkout system to mobile apps and portals. So that's where we tend to focus.

Peter Mollins:

Great. So Jeremy, what was the genesis of the project that you worked on with Launchpad?

Jeremy Czubko:

So obviously we've been having some challenges as a nonprofit that's existed for a long time. There's a huge legacy of previous experiences and infrastructure. And as the zoo modernizes, there's been a lot of challenges for us to move forward and become a more modern organization. History is both a blessing and a curse. Existing for over a 100 years means some of those systems have been around for a very long time. And at times as a nonprofit, it's a struggle to modernize and do it securely and efficiently. So we have a point of sale system that runs a majority of our business. And we have a web presence, and we felt that we had some challenges that we needed to address. That those experiences for our guests would reflect the quality and level of commitment that we provide as an organization.

Jeremy Czubko:

We have a fantastic volunteer program. We have so many dedicated staff that come in and show up and want to talk to our customer, send that message out. But then we looked at our web experience and we didn't feel like it was the same level of quality that we were providing in person. So the pandemic absolutely exacerbated this. That level of direct interaction, our friendly staff getting involved was hampered severely. We couldn't get out there and spread our message and we saw the need to have a better web presence. That's for many people, the first place that they're going to see and learn about the zoo. They may just be looking for a place to take their children for the afternoon and they go to our website. And if it's not that experience that we're looking for, if it's not an efficient checkout, if it's reliable, if there are issues with payments, we're hearing about that.

Jeremy Czubko:

And we got to a point where we knew this was an issue we had to deal with. So the pandemic was a turning point for us to realize, okay, we have to take action. We have to make this experience better for the guest. And get them here so they can experience the zoo, but also put a better foot forward for the community as an organization. So it absolutely was a driver, but we are also a growing organization. We used to be part of Kent County and have since split off as a separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit. So since that change happened, the organization has grown by leaps and bounds. And it's amazing to see, but also that means our systems need to grow and be able to support that kind of growth.

Jeremy Czubko:

Our path for the future involves a lot more growth and potentially an aquarium for the area. So the national scale aquarium we want to build out. And it's very exciting, but those same systems that have been around since 1891 and processes have to change. [crosstalk 00:05:28] technology landscape is totally different today than it was 10 years ago.

Peter Mollins:

I'm sure. Yeah. That's an incredible journey. So Ryan, when you and the Launchpad team came in, what was the process that you did in order to help support what the initiatives that Jeremy has been talking about?

Ryan Francis:

Yeah, no, definitely. I remember my first conversation with Jeremy and he mentioned some of these things that he just mentioned here, but this is something where we've worked with several zoos, I think maybe around 10 in our past. So we have a niche in the zoo industry or space. So when Jeremy brought up their dissatisfaction with their existing web presence and checkout flows, I'd had some familiarity with other organizations that we've worked with to solve those exact things. So the process I took Jeremy through was basically our standard flow, which the first step is basically to create an alignment on what the roadmap is for their organization. So that's really about digging into, okay, what are the main problems that you are trying to address?

Ryan Francis:

Right away it seemed that guest experience, particularly as it related to digital was the first focus. Some organizations, it maybe is more their internal operations team that they want to hone some software around. But in this case it was like, let's hone this guest experience particularly around checkout and make it really easy for folks who they want to come to the zoo, let's make it as easy as possible for them to do that. We put together the roadmap and said, "Okay, we're going to focus in on that checkout experience." We do... And we'll get into this, I'm sure today, but Launchpad did have some pre-canned solutions for stream... We called it our streamline checkout offering.

Ryan Francis:

But basically since we had addressed this need for so many zoos, we extracted some of that into a set of technology that we could bring to John Ball Zoo and say, "Hey, we can get you up and running a lot faster than if we had to custom create this whole checkout from scratch." And that is part of the reason why we pushed into Spreedly, which we can get into later today. Yeah, the process really look like roadmap first and then we kick off that design and refinement exercise of really flushing out exactly what the flows and the design should be. And then we move to development where our developers execute on the build.

Peter Mollins:

Great. So Jeremy, it sounds like the checkout experience and the payments portion of the checkout was an important part of making sure that there's a great customer experience for those guests. Is that fair?

Jeremy Czubko:

Absolutely. It was a huge part of what was going on. We heard the feedback and we're very focused on customer feedback and we partner with another organization to do anonymous surveys and get that information back. And in our industry, we definitely had some issues compared to other similar organizations. So we saw that we weren't meeting the standard that other organizations were and when it comes to payments and checkouts, it's literally costing us money by not having that experience.

Peter Mollins:

Right. Right. Now, Ryan, you mentioned about the value of, of having an orchestrated approach to payments. So payments orchestration, maybe you can describe what was the situation that you and the team saw with John Ball's guest experience online that made you think orchestration is a good approach.

Ryan Francis:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. There's a few considerations. The first was given that we had already established some default opinions on what a good zoo checkout should look like. We wanted to have a system in place where John Ball Zoo they could have flexibility on what processor and gateway they were really bringing to the table. One big value with payment orchestration for an organization, it gives them greater buying power with their payment processor and payment gateway. Because what we essentially are able to do is make the checkout itself it doesn't have to be dependent on gateway and the processor that the organization is using.

Ryan Francis:

So for example, if John Ball Zoo wanted to change their processor next year, and maybe renegotiate their rates, they could do that without affecting the code that we wrote to power their online experience. A lot of times organizations they'll write integrations directly into a certain gateway like authorized.net or something. And then when they want to maybe change that gateway or look to renegotiate their rates, they don't have as much buying power because they know if we actually have to move off this gateway, we're going to have to redo this whole product that we built.

Ryan Francis:

So we find payment orchestration just be a really healthy architecture to put in this case, John Paul Zoo in a really strong position as a buyer of payment services, such as gateways and processors. And it also is super helpful in the fact that we do have multiple zoos that are leveraging the same underlying technology to say, "Hey each zoo can bring their own payment system in this case." So John Ball Zoo, they might be using payment provider A, but a different zoo might be using payment provider B. They can both bring those to the table without us needing to change any code.

Peter Mollins:

That's great. Yeah, absolutely. Those two items that you mentioned are definitely things that we hear a lot. So one was the round bringing your own gateway, so that flexibility to do that. And then second from a negotiation or leverage perspective, absolutely. And another area that we often hear is around the ability to route payments as well to best providers. So what we've seen in some of the data we've pulled is for certain card types or for certain geographic regions or certain transaction types, that different gateways or different payment service providers will have different authorization rates. And so then the idea of orchestration allows you to maximize the authorization rates and hence have a better customer experience with fewer declines.

Ryan Francis:

Oh, absolutely. And we've seen that exact use case as well for... I don't know about for John Ball Zoo, but I know for others zoos that have maybe a separate foundation where they want donations routed into a separate place for their foundation. That payment orchestration layer allows us to easily route that payment to a different place, basically. Yeah, I definitely think that that use case comes up a lot. I don't know Jeremy, if that had any effect on y'all, but I'm just thinking of a different client.

Jeremy Czubko:

No, not with the current setup, but we do have a separate Blackbaud system that we're using for donations. That's one of those things that we have on the roadmap. But when it comes down to it, the whole philosophy of separation, concerns and software, this is really what we're touching on is that we don't want to be so tied to one specific vendor that the effort of changing in our own best interest is not worth it because of that legwork that's required to get us where we want to be.

Peter Mollins:

Right.

Jeremy Czubko:

And that's what creates stagnation. That's what we're trying to avoid here. We want to modernize, we want to be nimble and this platform allows it.

Peter Mollins:

Supporting that adaptability, that's really important. And-

Ryan Francis:

I have something to add on to that too, with just riffing on what Jeremy said there, which is that at Launchpad, we have a philosophy, each of our clients should be focused on the things that really make them unique. So in this case, payments and payment processing is not something that makes John Balls Zoo unique. Spreedly, their expertise is figuring out how to integrate with authorized dot.net and all these different payment providers and gateways. The way I explain is like, Spreedly did it right. Let's not try to recreate the wheel here. Let's lean on the expertise of the amazing developers at Spreedly and integrate with Spreedly system that is so much typically very easy to integrate with comparatively as well, to some of these other systems, like an authorized.net that can be much more difficult to integrate with.

Peter Mollins:

There are so many ecosystem parallels to the zoo world here in terms of specialization and being able to focus on your ecological niche, I guess, and your technological niche in this case. So that's great. Jeremy, you mentioned about the aquarium as being one of the big initiatives going forward. What other areas are you looking at in terms of your future development from a technology perspective?

Jeremy Czubko:

So we have a pretty long list and to be honest, we're very early in the digital transformation of our online presence. Just getting the online checkout working was a major win for us, especially with the challenges we had with time ticketing. So being able to sell tickets for a specific period of time was the direction we had to focus in the past. Now we're looking at a more normal type of interaction, more regular type of interaction. So things like automatic renewals, we've never had. Recurring donations, setting up a plan to work with the zoo and be a supporter of the zoo on a regular basis, but taking some of that level of effort out of it and continuing to interact without that overhead of forcing people to do it manually each time. We also have a lot of programs like camp programs.

Jeremy Czubko:

And in the past it's been a major draw. It's surprising. And as a parent myself, I see this now. We have camp programs in the summer, and we used to have our servers crash from the volume of people that were all trying to sign up.

Peter Mollins:

Wow.

Jeremy Czubko:

To get into summer camp. So incredibly popular program. And it's a lot of fun for the kids, but our infrastructure wasn't handling that gracefully. We were doing two weeks of cleanup work after one day of camp registration.

Peter Mollins:

Oh, wow.

Jeremy Czubko:

So all of these types of headaches that we've been seeing and the inertia to make change, that's been the biggest focus I've had. And how do we find new ways to interact and do the same programs we're doing, but involve them in a more fluent and a more customer focused experience? So online gift shop is something we've never had. That's a direction we want to go. Online food order. If you see a long line in the zoo waiting for a hot dog or a hamburger, why can't we put it in and offer a pickup line to get your food when it's ready?

Jeremy Czubko:

Really the sky's the limit because we are starting from the ground up. And having the right partner makes all the difference. So we built that trust with our organization, with our visitors, with our members, and now we can start taking on more and doing more. And really it's just an incremental release. And we started with the minimum viable product, and now we're looking at, what else can we do to build on that success?

Peter Mollins:

Great. And as one of those partners, Ryan, I know Jeremy had mentioned about subscriptions. Another important payments element is around keeping the cards that are stored updated. Not sure if that's an area you're looking into in terms of the account update or functionality where those stored cards are constantly refreshed so they don't go stale. And then when it comes to renewal time, there's frustration for customers.

Ryan Francis:

Huge. Huge. Oh, I absolutely. Conversion rate is always something that Launchpad is thinking about. And there's conversion rate in terms of converting new customers, getting new customers indoor, but there's also conversion rate in terms of the percent of people who renew. And if you can reduce friction in any checkout experience or purchasing experience, your conversion rate tends to go up and sometimes can go up pretty significantly. We've seen in some cases, being able to double, triple, quadruple, or even more conversion rate, which can have astounding impacts to bottom line and revenue.

Ryan Francis:

So certainly when you leverage a great vaulting system like Spreedly, and those payment methods like, if someone's credit card, I don't know the specific scenarios, but I'm thinking if it gets expired and it automatically updates to the next expiration. And that customer doesn't have to go back in and make that modification, which you know some percentage of those customers are going to fail to do. You're going to capture more revenue and get more renewals easily. So it absolutely has a big impact and is something that when you look at conversion rate, that's probably one of the biggest drivers of revenue for a lot of our clients is their conversion rate.

Peter Mollins:

Terrific. Well, I've really enjoyed this chance to connect with you both on this project and with John Ball and all that the zoo is doing, and all that Launchpad has been able to do in partnership with John Ball. But before I let you go, is there anything that you'd like to share with any folks out there that are in eCommerce or in payments about delivering that great checkout or that great customer experience online? Any anything you'd like to share for you both?

Ryan Francis:

I have many things. I'll add a couple thoughts and Jeremy, I'll throw it over to you. Yeah. I think I mentioned reducing friction, I think for a lot of our clients in the zoo industry, one thing I've noticed is, even if your business tends to be more in person, it doesn't mean you can't have a really strong digital component to it. And I've actually found in some cases that our zoo clients go from maybe a minority, or even only five or 10% of the revenue being online to actually the majority of the revenues is actually digital. I think what's interesting is that when you start to incrementally push into, you don't need your first project to be the perfect experience, but you need it to be a step in the right direction and have a strong foundation to iterate on.

Ryan Francis:

We have one client where we doubled their conversion rate when we launched their new website, but over the course of two years of iterating that, we actually were able to double it again after that. So they went from 4% conversion rate all the way to 16% through constant iteration over two years in experimentation. So it's one of those things where you've really just got to buy in to a long term strategy of digital as being an important, and then from it's a lot of experimentation and iteration with a solid partner or a solid in-house team.

Peter Mollins:

That's great. Well, Jeremy, I'd love to give you the last word.

Jeremy Czubko:

Sure. I think for us, what it comes down to trust is the key in any of these engagements. And it comes from the customer, it comes from our vendor, but if we don't execute well, if we don't gain the customer's trust with that experience right from the beginning, the opportunity's already gone. And we had already had that situation. We were lacking trust. So for us, we had to find a good partner, we had to execute the first time. And relying on that expertise rather than trying to pull everything in house, I think is one of those things that Ryan has iterated on is that Spreedly has that knowledge, has that capability. It creates trust when you work with partners like that. It makes sense and it provides us the peace of mind that we know that you're going to execute when you put something out there. And then we can build on that success and continue to build trust.

Peter Mollins:

That's terrific. Well, again, I really appreciate the chance to connect with you both and to hear more about the story. Congratulations, Jeremy, and all the work that John Ball has done. It's great to hear about the summer camps and just the explosion of interest that you're generating in your mission and in education. And wishing all the best for the aquarium expansion, for sure, and your continued digital expansion. And Ryan, thank you so much for all of your insights and the work that you've done in partnership with John Ball. Thank you. It really was great to hear your perspective.

Ryan Francis:

Yeah, no, thank you. It's been our pleasure to work with John Ball Zoo, and certainly we're excited about their mission and just being able to do anything we can to help in that space of environmental, there's just so much need there. So we love being partnered in that industry and particularly with John Ball Zoo. So thank you, Jeremy, for that opportunity.

Jeremy Czubko:

Yeah.

Peter Mollins:

That's great. Well, thanks everybody. And we'll see you next time on the Payments Dialog.

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