On this episode of Payments Dialog, we connect with Sanjay Garje, Co-Founder & CTO, to learn more about how Ribbon uses the power of Payments Orchestration to offer its customers easy and immediate access to the payment service(s) of choice and keeps it easy to onboard to the platform.

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 join us today on another Payments Dialog. Today we're going to have a great conversation. Today I'm talking with Sanjay Garje, who's the co-founder and CTO of Ribbon. Very excited to have you here, Sanjay.

Sanjay Garje:

I'm excited as well. Thank you, Peter, for having us here.

Peter Mollins:

Great. Well, if you don't mind, I'd appreciate it if you could give me a bit of background on yourself as well as on Ribbon.

Sanjay Garje:

Sure. I think to summarize, I would say I'm like a part entrepreneur and part computer technologist. That's basically summarizes my career. I grew up in Mumbai, India. I was introduced to computer science, coding, I would say when I was in sixth grade and I've been coding since. Was helping my dad run his transportation mom and pop business when I was in my high school. So that's how it's... it's from the childhood, I've always kind of been in the business in computers and then came to US to do my masters, just like lots of other folks here. And since then I played engineer team lead, tech lead manager, enterprise architect worked from all small, medium black size companies. Last one I was at was Amazon Web Services. I was helping lead couple of technical business development for their couple of services and always doing something as an entrepreneurial splint on the side and finally decided to take a full, deep dive into it.

So COVID happened and there's the right opportunity that came along where trade show industry was completely impacted. No one couldn't run any business. And I saw that along with my partner as a big opportunity to help that industry and make the mark and kind of build a company out of that. So that's when I started Ribbon and since then it's been an amazing ride, incredible ride. Would not trade it for anything else. And I also teach cloud technology at San Jose State. That's one of my passion sharing knowledge and that's why I'm here today.

Peter Mollins:

That's great. So, your mission at Ribbon it's... I've read it as, "To humanize digital transactions." And so how do you think payments in general support that mission?

Sanjay Garje:

That's a really good question. And what we have realized, even though now I think everyone is used to e-commerce per se, but as a consumer, we have been using, let's say amazon.com or things like that. And they have really raised the bar high in terms of customer experience, which is awesome. If you put yourself in a vendor or the seller's shoe, and if you think about the different sales channels they have to go through and the different product catalogs they have to manage on different websites, including their own website and all these trade shows and digital trade shows and payment, and that they would calculate and get from every place, it's tough. It is like a rocket science and it's painful. And imagine if you're a vendor, let's say out of United Kingdom and goes to New York for a trade show.

Now, all your payment methods and the negotiated rate and everything that you have is with a provider in your country. But how do you bring that with you to all the trade shows that you're going to? Or all the places of business that you are doing business at? And so our goal at Ribbon was to make that payment portion so easy, so humanize that, make it super, super simple. And because I'm a technologist, we believe in doing things as opposed to telling things. As opposed to me telling you what Ribbon does, this is actual footage that we shot at one of our real customer trade show experience. And here you go, take a look. Enjoy.

Peter Mollins:

That's great. Let's take a look.

<Video Plays>

Sanjay Garje:

Here I've logged in as a vendor and today if you go... We are a global platform. We have sellers across the world, UK, New Zealand, Australia, US, Mexico, you name it, we have customers from that country. And let's say, if you are a customer or if you are a vendor out of, let's say United Kingdom. So for you to connect Ribbon to your payment provider, which is in your country, that you might be a business that has been operational for the last 20 years, you have well, really good pre negotiated rate with that payment provider. So you don't want to switch just because you want to go do business on a different sales channel or a trade show or platform or what have you or a marketplace. And so this is where you could be that person from UK who has business and pre negotiated rate and right off the bat, we give you 16 to different payment providers and odds are one of your payment provider is here.

So let's say if that happens to be CyberSource, all you got to do is enter basic information, which... it's as easy as logging to your Gmail or your email, and off you go. Now, Ribbon is connected with your payment platform and every credit card transaction that you are going to get, we are going to tokenize that payment and that payment method. And you will have that credit card show up securely in your payment providers backend. That is how easy we have made it, so that's what we mean by making it super simple. As you can see, we already support 105 different countries as a global platform. And there is no way as a startup, I could have designed and architected and built all this in in three months, which took us to do all this. And this is where Spreedly is a great partner for SaaS providers like me, because I can just plug and play and provide a global service when it comes to payments and more importantly, secure payments. PCI compliant payments.

Peter Mollins:

That's fantastic. Very, very elegant solution there. That was incredible to see. So maybe I can ask you, so really obviously you're reducing the complexity for these vendors, which is terrific. And just thinking about complexity, many organizations, I think you had started out with, on your payments journey with one payment gateway integration that you were managing, but it sounds like you outgrew that and needed to expand. Can you tell me, what were the main challenges that you were trying to address when you did move beyond a single provider?

Sanjay Garje:

Absolutely. That's a really good question, Peter. I joke around with my friends and fellow entrepreneurs that building a startup, especially the early product version is like you're trying to build the airport. You're trying to build a plane. You're trying to build the next airport and the destination runway at the same time. And by the way, while you're building all this, you're trying to write manuals that the flight attendant needs to use to serve the customers. You're trying to write the manual that pilot needs to read to fly the plane and all that is happening at the same time, it can get really crazy. And we have gone through that, lots of scars on my back. I don't want to say I want to go through that again, but that's entrepreneurship. And when that happens, naturally all SaaS provider or early startups like that, we gravitate towards the name that you see on the internet, the pain that we experienced with that...

And the pain was they don't support cross-border payment settlement. So what do I mean by that? The first trade show that we launched was out of New York, US. So most of the buyers where from US, but some of the vendors... the sellers came from all over the world. And as the buyers are adding their credit card and buying stuff, we had to settle that payment and send that payment to, let's say the seller from Mexico or the seller from UK or the seller from Japan. And these are all real sellers and have customer service tickets... that we couldn't do it. And they were mad. They were unhappy. And it is all because the platform solution that I'd picked to do the payment didn't promote that they don't support cross-border payment.

It was a beta that I tried to sign up on and never heard anything back from them, and it was painful. As a result of that, Ribbon... we lost some trust with some of those early vendors. Our customer service workload went up. Now, because we have angry vendors saying, "Hey, why can't you settle our payment?" And we learned a really good lesson there and I'm like, "Never again." So we evaluated a bunch of solutions and that's when we came across Spreedly. We did the quick design, quick POC. We had a great customer support, the account management support at the time from Spreedly, and even today, we enjoy that. And we were able to demonstrate that within two weeks of sprint, that this is something that's going to work. And the big thing that I wanted as the CTO is, as we are launching these new trade shows in different countries, I don't want to go back to drawing board every time we had to sell in a new country and say, "Okay, what are we going to do for our payments?"

Sanjay Garje:

The user experience that I showed you, that was the vision that I had. It should be as easy as just pick your country, pick your payment provider, enter API keys, off you go. And so with Spreedly, we were able to do that. We were able to launch the whole thing in, as I said, in less than three months. And since then [inaudible 00:11:16] no angry vendor, no declined credit cards. Overall the customer satisfaction on payment has gone really up. And we were also able to introduce the pre-authorizing capture functionality quickly as well, fast follow after that. So overall a big win for our vendors. And when our vendors are happy, the sellers, the exhibitors, then our trade show operators, which are our customers they're happy. And when our customers are happy, then we are happy. So thanks to Spreedly for that.

Peter Mollins:

That's great. That really demonstrates the power of being a platform and getting merchants happy, and then the merchants can spread the happiness to all their customers. And also just amazing that you saw that first value within that first two week sprint. That's pretty incredible.

Sanjay Garje:

Given all the API driven and... I think, and as a technologist, as the SaaS platform, we are trying to always consume technology. And one thing that I do want to comment out and call out is the amount of documentation that Spreedly has for all those APIs and all the different stubs and client examples is... as a developer hat on, it's really incredible, so thank you for that. I think that really helped us kind of get going quickly early on.

Peter Mollins:

That's fantastic to hear. Thank you. Now, maybe we can dive in a little bit more on the detail on how exactly Ribbon structures its payments. Do you mind describing that a little bit more for me?

Sanjay Garje:

Absolutely. So the number one thing that we are doing is... it's the ease and the customer experience, that's our number one priority. And if you look at what we are, we are truly a B2B e-commerce SaaS platform that people are using either to launch a marketplace or to launch a hybrid trade show or a digital online trade show. And if you look at it at the core of it, it's basically bunch of buyers who want to buy things and these are business owners, these are not like... this is not B2C, this is B2B. And there are lots of, let's say, vendors or sellers or exhibitors who wants to sell things. And the key thing here is just like with amazon.com or any other place as a buyer, just because today... Let's say Peter is buying from Sanjay, tomorrow Peter is buying from some other vendor. You only want to open up your wallet once, add that credit card on the file once in a secured fashion. And then next time you keep buying from the rest of the 500 vendors on that marketplace, you shouldn't have to, again, reenter your card.

The method should be securely transmitted to any other person or any other vendor that they buy and bought it from. So that was a key requirement for us as a platform. The way we ended up structuring that, so Spreedly has all this, purchase API, tokenization, Walt. So we bought everything with Spreedly. We don't want to take on any of that burden. And as the buyers are making purchases, we are sending the secured tokenized credit card to the vendor, so the vendor has that same credit card in a secured fashion in their own system. So they can use it. They can use their existing workflows, which most vendors, especially sophisticated vendors or merchants have. And as long as they have the credit card there, they can use their current workflows and charge the card, or they can come to Ribbon, and they can use Ribbon's user experience to charge that card or pre authorize and capture that card.

Peter Mollins:

Got it. Okay. Great. Thanks for that. And I don't know... I think you mentioned before that you might have a diagram that you wanted to share. Is that right?

Sanjay Garje:

Yeah. So since you asked, how do we... I mean, one of the thing being architect, CTO, sometimes I love my diagrams a little too much, but they're important. And for me, it's important to equally have a vision that have a deep dive ability. But this is kind of the vision that we had laid out early on. And we were very clear that I didn't want to take on the additional burden of anything, because given my background at AWS in cloud and especially the big... I'm a big fan of Andy Jassy, and one of his favorite line or famous line is, "Undifferentiated heavy lifting." And in my mind looked I at the Spreedly, the payment processing as that undifferentiated heavy lifting that I didn't want to do as a SaaS eCommerce platform because our success is how easy can we make it to onboard a new trade show or a new vendor? How easy can the eCommerce experience be?

And then making a PCI compliant payment, that's something I... we know how to do it, but if I had to take on that problem, then I'll have to leave Ribbon and just bring another company like Spreedly just to do that. And I don't want to do that. That's not why we started Ribbon. So it was very clear from day one that we always wanted to have a partner that we can trust and we can build this integration. This is a quick high-level architecture diagram. Everything we do in Driven is server less. We done everything in Amazon cloud. And all the payment stuff, we use TLS level encryption. We send everything to Spreedly. We don't save any in our system. Everything that we save in our system is tokenized and nonsensitive.

Peter Mollins:

That's great. That's super helpful. As you talk about your customers, it sounds like they're a very, very diverse group and they're based all around the world is what you said. Are there different regional considerations that you think about, or that Ribbon needed to take into account as you expanded and added new merchants? I'm curious how the orchestration that you've been talking about has helped that.

Sanjay Garje:

Absolutely. So, as I showed you the diagram or the user experience earlier, I didn't want to each time... and if I were to go back to that, let's see here. So for example, let's say each time we add a new country when we are selling Ribbon, the design vision and the technology vision that I had was, we couldn't go back to design, drawing board and say, "Okay, now how do we... What are the payment providers there and which are the top two or top three? And then let's figure out what are their API is and how are we going to integrate with those and build another implementation project for three months to just integrate with one of them," and that would have been a total non-starter for me, given how I think about technology and how quickly we need to be moving, especially when you're a startup.

So the early, it was very important that the design and the solution that we pick, we should go to plug and play. What do I mean by that? So tomorrow if Spreedly... you guys are already working 24 by 7, trying to integrate and incorporate new countries and new gateways. So the way I've structured the solution is, as soon as you have that in place, this is all real-time APIs. And all of a sudden, we are going to have a new country here. And all of a sudden, we'll have a new gateway, as soon as you add it on your side. That scalability, that plug and play integrity is extremely, extremely important. If you're going to be designing any meaningful SaaS platform. If you're going to be a SaaS provider, you have to be pretty much omnipresent and omnipotent, which we can't be, at least not by yourself, so that's why we have to partner with the right partners and design this in a way that it really scales well.

Peter Mollins:

That's really wonderful to see just that value cascading out. As we add value to the platform, then you're adding value to your platform at the exact same time. That's fantastic. Now you'd mentioned before, there was... you were talking about PCI compliance. And compliance with payments regulations, it's obviously it's a big deal. And are there any other tips or tricks or guidance you might give to others that are in a similar space? What do you think... What are the road roadblocks that you might point out to them?

Sanjay Garje:

Absolutely. So I think the first thing is understand that it's not easy, PCI compliance. I mean, look at the industry that we are dealing with. People are still writing credit cards on a piece of paper and passing those around. And you can imagine if you're going to any new show or any new venue, you can't take your system there. Most systems are clunky. They're not mobile. And the reality is people are forced to do non-PCI compliance stuff at all times, even in their day-to-day operation. So especially when you are designing a system, it's very easy to take on all that additional burden. And pretty soon you're going to realize that it's the amount of the level of compliance, the logging, the auditing, the security, the backups, the sensitivity to the data.

It's a full time job of a company. If you're an early stage startup, you just can't take that on. I would not want to take that on. So my guidance is, understand the problem for what it is, appreciate the complexity behind it, and then appreciate the partner and give it to somebody else who has already solved it. And then even after that, encrypt everything, so encryption at rest, address encryption in transit, deny access to everybody by default. That's what we do. Nobody has access to any systems that they shouldn't have access to. Nobody has any more access than what they should have access to. So if you are a developer who is troubleshooting something in production, and then the only thing that you occasionally might need access to, logs, then that access should be curated so that they're not logging into something where they can accidentally do something else.

It's a very curated access control list, tightly governed access, so that's key. And if you can establish some early best practices at your company... So for example, I'm a big fan of Center of Internet Security standard. And there are a bunch of 14, 15 different controls that they offer on data, on application security, devices security, and we try to follow most of them and make sure that you are... Now, that's something that's non-negotiable to me as a technology and as a CTO, you must bake in those best practices early on. It doesn't matter if you have two people company or 200 people company, that's something that's... you want to get that right from day one. So recognize that, try to offload as much of the burden to somebody else, but you still have responsibility. And do occasional audit. So we do periodic audit with third-parties. We try to make sure we are scored on that is always 100%. We do run penetration testings, we do things like that as well. But again, the best way to do something without making a mistake is not to do it and let somebody else do it.

Peter Mollins:

So this has been a fantastic conversation, Sanjay. I really enjoyed the chance to hear your perspective and what you're doing at Ribbon. But I want to leave you with one more question, if that's okay and ask you what's next in payments for Ribbon and what new things are your customers asking you for, those merchant customers?

Sanjay Garje:

So, our customers are relentlessly unhappy in terms of how much more they can ask for. And that's a great problem to have. So as we offer more and more trade shows and there's more different types of audience we are catering to now. So, especially as we onboard some of our European customers, Bitcoin seems to be really big there. And they're asked to us as, "Hey, all these payment methods are great, but can we have some Bitcoin support?" So cryptocurrency is definitely a big thing right now for payments for us. And we are right now evaluating our steps on how to address that. But if you ask me what's next on our radar, that's the next thing, Ribbon supporting cryptocurrency payments and really having a true global SaaS platform that supports and caters to global vendors, global buyers and global payment methods, including cryptocurrency.

Peter Mollins:

That's great. Well, Sanjay again, thank you so much. Really enjoys the chance to chat and to hear your perspective and to hear more about the Ribbon story. So thank you again.

Sanjay Garje:

My pleasure. Thank you, Peter.

Peter Mollins:

And thanks to all the listeners. Appreciate it. And we'll see you next time on Spreedly Payments Dialog.