Payments Dialog

Payments Dialog: Payments in Publishing - Insights from an Internal, Shared Services Team (A conversation with 14 West)

In this edition of Payments Dialog, we learn more about how the 14 West team leverages the power of Payments Orchestration across the organization's many publishing units.

Written by
Peter Mollins
Publication Date
December 16, 2021
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On this episode of Payments Dialog, we are joined by two members of the 14 West payments team -- Elliott Langston, Product Owner, Paygate and Nicole Deludos, Senior Manager, Global Payments. In the discussion we learn more about how their team leverages the power of orchestration across the organization's many publishing units.

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. Very excited to have everybody here for another Payments Dialog, a discussion today with two folks from 14 West. I'm joined today by Elliot Langston who's a product owner for Pay Gate at 14 west, as well as Nicole Deludos, a senior manager in global payments also at 14 West. So welcome Elliot and Nicole. It's great to have you here. So maybe to start off, if you don't mind, could you give me a bit of an overview of 14 West? Just to kind of a where you sit in the market. I'd love to hear a bit more about your perspective there.

Nicole Deludos:

Sure. So the Agora companies are a financial and health newsletter firm. One of our goals is to help educate consumers on various topics. The Agora companies headquarters are located in Baltimore. Our footprint doesn't stop only in Baltimore. It stretches across overseas. We have subscribers across the global and business in major cities, including Paris, London, and Melbourne. Our network includes dozens of in publishing and media companies that are privately ran and have individual product lines. Still as distinctive and independent as they have grown to be, they all share the Agora's core missions of bringing the best news and unconventional viewpoints, perspective and strategies to the global marketplace. Most of our publications within our network are topical, which focus on the most important current trends in economics, investing, business and health. So myself and Elliot work for 14 West, which is a shared service for our dozens of our publishing and media companies. 14 West handles the backend operations from HR to payment processing.

Peter Mollins:

That's great. That's great. I appreciate that background. Now, I'd love to hear how both of you came into payments. So maybe Elliot, can I start with you about... Bit about your own background?

Elliott Langston:

Sure. Yeah. So I've been with the company for about two years now. Before that I was actually, I started out working in non-profits, and then I made the shift to making the software for non-profits. It was specifically for their fundraising and marketing tools. So we would have to take in all of their data from the individual companies, from their actual clients and customers, transfer that data or try to format it. We use that specifically for dashboards and reporting, but also to process this between different products. It's not exactly unlike payment processing, right? Like we need to take in the data from customers, decide what we want to do with it based off of rules that we may set forth, or different types of products, or software we talk to like Spreedly. And based off of the information we get, we would then decide to take that proper action.

Elliott Langston:

So, that's kind of how I ended up here. You know, I just kind of made my way from that space to this space where I now am working on the Pay Gate team, which is kind of our internal API. It's kind of the orchestrator for the payment processing within our company. We talk to Spreedly, we talk to the tools, the CRMs, all of the stuff on the backend on our side, just to make sure we can process the payments with our customers and we can keep track of it in the best way.

Peter Mollins:

That sounds great. And Nicole, what was your path to payments?

Nicole Deludos:

Sure. So 10 years ago, I actually started with the Agora companies on our order processing team. So our order processing team handled the chargeback and fraud mitigation. And then we also handled anything with orders that went into error that never made it to our processor. So we took care of the orders, sent it through, make sure we were actually charging customers.

Nicole Deludos:

So then over the last 10 years, I've just grown in different areas in our payment space and our order processing team. So currently now I manage our team that handles the chargebacks, the fraud, all the order processing, but I also now handle the relationship with Spreedly and all our different payment providers. So Spreedly, like Elliot said, is one of the biggest pieces of our payment strategy. So my, myself and Elliot work on the payment strategy, and then Elliot takes the strategy and then actually develops it for our team. So my background is all in the payment space within a Agora.

Peter Mollins:

Got it. That makes sense. Well, let me come back to something that you had both mentioned, which was sort of the nature of 14 West, which is acting as essentially a shared service across these multiple organizations, these multiple publishing arms. And so I would guess that you're having lots of different asks that are coming from these various teams from across various business units. So can you tell me a bit about how that's impacted your approach to building a payment strategy?

Nicole Deludos:

Sure. So I think one of the coolest things about working with so many businesses is really the energy that they all provide. Each of our LLCs are competitors. They're most likely selling very similar items, and targeting the same customers. So they're acquiring the same customers, but approaching them in different ways. So each of our businesses have very different wants and needs of how they want to sell an item. So as centralized services, our main objective is to make sure that we are planning thoughtfully and actually planning things out.

Nicole Deludos:

So the last couple years, we really have been striving to prioritize our projects, asking the wants and the whys behind why they need something. So from there, we work on quarterly planning, we plan our projects and we leave capacity for any unplanned work that comes to us.

Nicole Deludos:

So then our strategy is built in many different ways as well. For starters, it is built by the wants and asks of our business, like I said, but then from there we're also working on trends and then the mandates of best practicing with payments. And then from there, we're also building on top of Spreedly, right? So Spreedly is the major part of our payment strategy. We want to make sure that all our orders go through Spreedly and that we're staying on top of any new tools you guys bring to our table.

Peter Mollins:

So when you think about payment orchestration, when you have many different companies within your brands, what role do you find that payment orchestration... So orchestrating multiple payment services, what kind of role does that play in your payment stack and what are the problems that it helps to address for your internal clients?

Elliott Langston:

Yeah, I mean, I would say this is kind of where it all begins, right? This is a huge portion, a huge aspect of the payment stack in general. So, but before we partnered with you all, we actually were working with one of your competitors to help try to do this piece with us. Some of the processes that we use would go through them, some of them, we kind of talked to directly, based off of how our clients kind of asked us to do this. You know, it kind of, you could basically took a look back through and say, "Oh, this is how we got to the point that we are."

Elliott Langston:

But it frankly was kind of... It was a bit of a tangled mess. It was, it worked enough. We could get done what we needed to get done, but there definitely were a lot of points of failure where things could go wrong. It was really tough to troubleshoot this. And if we wanted to make an improvement, it was a super fun time, right?

Elliott Langston:

So one of the things that we were looking to do and especially with the partnership that we have with you, is to really try to streamline that whole process. So instead of multiple ways that we can kind of get to that credit card processing, we have our E-com tool that can take in the data from customers. It all goes through the Pay Gate tool, so we can kind of just make sure we have the relevant data, it is in the proper format. We do what we need to do to, to talk to you guys. And then it just comes back out that same way.

Elliott Langston:

So it really has helped us to be able to process this faster just from the transaction standpoint, but also our other tools within the company as well. It's easier to identify what they should get back, what the data are actually going to look like. And it's an easy your process to kind of do these upgrades too.

Peter Mollins:

OK. Terrific. And so you're using Spreedly essentially to then connect to multiple payment services. Is that correct? And so starting with tokenizing of payment data, and then using that data then to transact across multiple gateways. Is that essentially how it works?

Elliott Langston:

That's exactly right. Yeah. The other big thing for us too, is we no longer have to worry about PCI scoping quite the same way. To your point with the tokenization, we don't actually touch those cards now. So it definitely is a bonus to us, certainly.

Peter Mollins:

Right. What do you think that allows you to... Or by freeing up those resources, I mean, does that allow you to focus more on other requests that are coming in from across the... The rest of the companies within 14 West?

Elliott Langston:

Yeah. I mean, I think that's definitely true, right? There are less things that we have to look at from day to day to try to look back, to see what may have gone wrong, or what we want to do. I mean, just with the fewer possible touch points of all this stuff, it is easier to take a look at what we are doing today. Which definitely gives us that time to kind of take a look at where we want to go and what we actually want to do next, which we didn't always have the most amount of time for.

Peter Mollins:

Right. Right. Well, actually, that leads me to my next question, which was, if you... Wondering if either of you could give me insight into, what are some of the future developments in your inner payment stack that your team is currently working on?

Elliott Langston:

Yeah. So actually one of the newest and most exciting pieces for us is an offering from you guys, the recommendation, API that we just started to work on. So we had actually just started the process of trying to look at all of the processors that we use today with all of our domestic and the international clients, just to make sure that we are providing them with the best mix, the cheapest for them to process those, the likelihood of actually the transactions going through.

Elliott Langston:

And I believe you had approached us with this possibility, and the timing was perfect. So in the past few weeks, we actually got this up and running in a listening mode. So what we basically are doing is as we get a transaction coming through, we also ping the API just to take a look at possible processors that could have been used for this, just to kind of take a look at like... So we have a set list that we kind of are looking from, that we have today that are kind of on our radar, just to be able to compare that data live with what we did versus what we could have done-

Peter Mollins:

Right.

Elliott Langston:

To really help guide our strategy going forward. And to be honest, the results that we've seen in just this short time have kind of been surprising. It's not what we expected. And we have already started to have some meetings internally of this is actually... We might want to pivot. This is not a thing that we thought about. We kind of talked about it, but we might want to bump this one up the list a little bit.

Elliott Langston:

So, I mean, it's definitely fun. It's definitely a fun game that I've played with coworkers of like, "This is the data, this is list of processors. What do you think this looks like?" And we're kind of just, we are blown away at this point.

Peter Mollins:

Yeah.

Elliott Langston:

And then the next phase with that, which we definitely are looking forward to, is to actually turn this on live. So once we actually kind of make that shift to call this, we can get back all of the wonderful data from you all to kind of craft our own rules of actually trying to do this routing based off of the processors that we have, and how we would like to actually make those calls to the specific processors at that time.

Peter Mollins:

That's terrific. And it's really interesting the way the model works for you, because often when people think about optimization and using this kind of smart routing recommendation tool, often think about it in terms of a merchant looking to optimize. But in your case where it's a shared service, essentially it's a platform that you're able to, you're essentially adding value, or value added service down to the merchants in your, under your umbrella. So really fascinating model.

Elliott Langston:

Yeah. I mean, it is definitely a lot of fun. If you asked us a year ago, we definitely were not in a place to do this yet. So like I said, the timing when you came to us was absolutely perfect.

Peter Mollins:

Oh, that's great.

Elliott Langston:

Yeah.

Peter Mollins:

That's perfect. Well, this has been a really fascinating discussion with you both. And, as I mentioned at the top, a lot of folks that listen to this are other payments professionals, some that are earlier in their career. And so if you don't mind, are there any piece of advice that you'd like to share with upcoming payments professionals about how they could grow their careers in advance?

Nicole Deludos:

Sure. So mine are all going to sound very cliche, but I would really suggest don't be afraid to ask questions, right? And ask for help. I think a lot of things in our payment space, they're changing every day, right? New mandates are coming out. And if you're not asking for help or working with your vendors, you're not going to know how to go live with things, right? I would suggest, attend all the conferences, webinars you can. I think, while we were working from home, I was attending so many webinars that I was never able to do before, right? I couldn't travel as much before, like leave the office, but now I can just listen to a webinar, and it's been great being able to do that.

Nicole Deludos:

And I would really encourage to work with your vendors. We have a very close relationship with our Spreedly reps and our vendors that are payment processors too. And we're continuously asking for help, asking like, "Hey, I see that you have a vendor that uses this as well. Can we talk to them? Can we talk to your vendors? Can we talk to your other partners? Can we do round tables?" I think round tables are really important when you're in the payment space of understanding. Hey, you're not a publisher, but you also sell to customers just like ours. How do you do this?

Nicole Deludos:

And then my last piece of advice is really just question the unknown, and really think about your experience as a customer, right? All of our stuff we sell is all online. So I'm continuously, especially placing orders online, right? And seeing what my experience is, thinking like, "Is this how our business works? Do I like this? Could we enhance ours? Should we make sure we never do this on our websites?" So really just question anything, and just see how it works for you.

Peter Mollins:

Again, thank you both so much. This has been a fantastic conversation. I really appreciate it. And again, to everyone out there, we'll be hoping to join you soon on another Payments Dialog. But in the meantime, Elliot, Nicole, thank you again.

Nicole Deludos:

Thanks Peter.

Elliott Langston:

Been a pleasure. Thank you.

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