Jamie Barlett, Founder/President & CEO at PolyPay | Episode 15

Greg: Hello and welcome to episode 15 of the Leaders in Payments podcast. My special guest this week is Jamie Barlett, the founder, CEO and president of PolyPay. Jamie grew up in Michigan and Missouri and went to school in Massachusetts and then took her first job in California. After taking a position with a leading management consulting firm, she moved on to a client and subsequently started her own merchant services business – PolyPay. 

PolyPay provides merchant services in a transparent and cost-effective way with high touch customer support and differentiates itself by truly taking care of the customers and always doing the right thing. No matter when the service issue happens or questions arise, PolyPay jumps on the opportunity to help their merchants succeed. Jamie has a passion for researching and learning and especially has an unhealthy obsession with Scotland. Surround yourself with people smarter than you network extensively. Listen and learn is just some of the advice Jamie gives. So let’s get started.

Greg: Hi Jamie, thank you for being here and welcome to the Leaders in Payments podcast. 

Jamie: Thank you so much for having me, Greg. I appreciate it. 

Greg: Absolutely. So, let’s dive right in. Tell the audience a little bit about yourself, maybe where you grew up, where you went to school, maybe where you currently live. A few things like that.

Jamie: I grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and then a bit later on in life I moved to St. Louis, Missouri. And after that I went to Wellesley College where I got a degree in English and Economics and moved over to California, worked for a little bit and then actually went and got my MBA from Pepperdine University in International Business. And I currently live in beautiful and lovely San Luis Obispo, California.

Greg: Great. So that’s a lot of hopping around the country there. What led to all of that moving around?

Jamie: I had my father who was in finance and technology moved around from banking to technology companies in the late nineties early two thousands, so we kind of followed him around the Midwest for a bit. And then when it was time for college, I thought, you know, Michigan wasn’t cold enough, so I thought I’d go for Massachusetts at the same time. And then actually had never been to California until I had graduated from college. So got a job opportunity out there and kind of never looked back and I don’t miss the snow or the nor’easters or anything.

Greg: I bet. I bet. Great. So now let’s switch gears a little bit and discuss PolyPay. Tell the audience what PolyPay does.

Jamie: PolyPay is a merchant processing solutions company that provides services that are transparent, cost effective, and they include high touch customer support. We work with businesses that operate in a variety of different spaces. We offer services that are online or in person, mobile and through a variety of different software integrations. We’re in over 50 cities now and we are in 15 states and we’ve been very lucky to grow our business over the past couple of years into a really wide variety of a lot of different verticals. 

Greg: Great. And do you focus on certain verticals? 

Jamie: I think initially when you’re starting out in this business, you focus on the restaurant and retail aspects, but what we’ve been very fortunate that a lot of our referrals have come from very happy customers. So that’s kind of the gold standard in this industry that I have customers willing to put their name on the line for you.

So in that instance, that’s how we’ve grown to all sorts of different verticals in agricultural, at wineries being out here in California that you can get involved in a variety of different verticals as well. And we also work with anything you can think of, automotive, medical, it’s been really fun to expand our footprint that way. 

Greg: And I did read you have a referral program. Do you want to talk about that a little bit? 

Jamie: Sure, please. We’ve been building out our referral partner program for the past couple of years and we look for people that work in a variety of different industries that are looking to augment their services. By mentioning us or talking about merchant processing with their different customers. We typically focus on talking with people that are either in bookkeeping or CPAs, attorneys, anyone who’s kind of looking at a bottom line of a service, also a businesses that are in it or just people that are in constant interaction with either business owners or business decision makers.

And we offer them a residual share on a monthly basis. And I think what’s a little bit different for us, Greg, is that unlike other partner programs or referral programs where it’s typically a one or two time payment, we actually offer ongoing residual payments for the lifetime of the customer being with us. So as long as we’re doing our job and taking care of the customer, the referral partner will be receiving some level of residual share from us. 

Greg: Great. As you know this industry’s very competitive. What would you say differentiates you guys from the competitors out there? 

Jamie: It sounds a little bit trite, Greg, but I think it’s really true is that we try and do the right thing in every instance for the customer. We listen to them. We develop a solution that fits their needs exactly. So, we’re really in the services business and not in the hardware business.

We don’t like entangling a customer and a hardware leasing program or try to up sell hardware to them. I really don’t know how people that operate in that way sleep at night. We don’t want to put our customers into contracts either. That’s a big differentiator. We want to earn our customer’s business every month when that statement arrives on their doorstep. So, we read every customer statement line by line every month to ensure that they are receiving the services that they’ve signed up for and that there are no inconsistencies. We also like to let them know what they’re saving with us each month in comparison to their previous provider. So, we’re really big about education, transparency and numbers don’t lie when it comes down to the end of that. So, we’re always willing to share that information and educate our customers so they make sure and understand they’ve made the right decision with being with us.

Greg: Yeah, and I read on your site something that really jumped out at me. It said businesses don’t stop when the sun goes down, so I thought that was pretty interesting way of putting it. So, you want to talk about that a little bit.

Jamie: Please. But that’s our big thing is obviously there’s no nine to five and certainly with what’s going on in the world now, people are having to adapt how they operate and do business in any capacity that they can. So, I joke about it a little bit, but it’s really true. We’ve had team members that have gotten calls when they’ve been in the shower at six in the morning. We’ve gotten calls from customers when it’s 11 o’clock at night. We’ve gotten calls when a team member who was cutting the lawn, I mean, and we’d take those calls and we understand that this is their lifeblood, it’s how they’re getting their money for their services and how they’re able to pay people that work for them and so on. So, we realized we need to be there when a glitch or even just a question needs to be addressed. We want to be there.

Greg: Sure. It makes sense. Put your sort of crystal ball out there and tell us what you think’s going to happen in the next couple of years, maybe the next two to three years in the payment space.

Jamie: I feel that this pandemic, we’re kind of going through this whole new change and swirl of events will change the structure of payments for some time. I think people are going to try to avoid cash and work in a contactless or a virtual terminal environment for a while. I think slowly and surely, and it depends obviously on where you’re doing business, so we see a titration of people’s acceptance to this type of way of taking payments, but I think individuals are on a whole getting a little more comfortable using their mobile devices for banking and for making payments. I think over the next few years there will be an increase in third-party partnerships that are going to be able to offer a whole variety of new ways to connect with businesses and customers. I think too that the text to pay or a code to pay will become easier to use and hopefully safer and I think that the goal of receiving and making a frictionless payment will become mainstream. 

Greg: Yeah. Do you want to take a shot at 10 years out there?

Jamie: Gosh, and two to three years is so far out. I don’t think I want to tie myself to anything like that, but I think it’s would be fantastic. I think as long as the goal is that there is an option and a capability for everybody still out there. I think there’s still going to be the people that want to use a regular normal credit card. And I’ll point myself out there having had a father as a banker for years that actually worked on the ATM system when it was built years ago, I am still that annoying person that goes into the bank and ask for cash manually. So, there’s always going to be people that are outliers like that. And I think as long as we’re able to service everyone in the industry and protect their information and their finances. I’ve look forward to it. I love the creativity of the space and its ability to change and adapt. So, I look forward to it.

Greg: Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned it a little bit ago and I think we’d be a little remiss if we didn’t talk about it, but with the global pandemic and crisis going on, maybe we’ve turned the corner a little bit in the U.S. but maybe if you can talk a little bit about how that’s affected you guys, or really what you’re doing as the leader there for your employees and your customers during this time.

Jamie: Our employees have been fantastic. I think they realize we take all of our customers personally as a part of our own kind of company and family. And when this all started to go down a few weeks ago and, and being based in California, a majority of our customers are in California, but we’ve had to adapt to different experiences with this pandemic across different states. But as soon as we saw that we wanted to be as proactive as possible. So actually, even as we kind of got the shelter in place thing going down and restaurants and other services we supported, we’re having to adapt. We got messaging out right away to them that we were going to be available for them with whatever they needed. If they had issues with fees. We were working with our processing partners to try and figure out a way to soften that blow while people were still trying to figure out what they needed to do. So, we’ve been working with them and figuring out, making sure they can take payments remotely and safely, try and buffer the fees and the sunk costs kind of having an account with us. So, everybody’s a little bit different. Everybody has a little bit of a different stressor with what’s going on right now so we have tried to be as inclusive and adaptive to them as we can.

Greg: Yeah, that seems to be a pretty common theme with people that I’ve talked to is really, you know, employees are adapting as well as can be expected and you just have to be there for your customer. You just have to handhold them through this, let them know you’re going to be there. So that seems to be a common theme and something I think people are really trying to do across the industry, which is really great.

Jamie: Yes, and we’re lucky too to be able to do a lot of this support and effort remotely, but there have been instances where we’ve actually had some new customers even through this time when people are able to take time and think about making the switch to us, which we are appreciative of. And if we have to do that in person, then we take all necessary precautions and proceed so that they are up and running once the wheels in the industry in the world start turning again.

Greg: Yeah. That’s great. Well, let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about you. You mentioned earlier sort of where you’ve lived and where you are now. Maybe talk about sort of your professional career and your journey there and how you got to be in your role today. 

Jamie: Sure, I grew up in a finance household. I think I’d mentioned before that my family, my parents were in banking and technology for many years, so I got exposed at a young age to businesses and was always included in conversations at the dinner table and whatnot. And I was always interested in learning different aspects of finance and it’s kind of a joke, but it’s really true was that I kind of grew up reading the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times at the breakfast table with my parents. So, I was always exposed. I joked how I would learn things sitting in the backseat of the car as they talked about business. So, after college I worked in marketing for a while and then I took a position with Accenture Consulting up in San Francisco and it’s a great industry to be in. You get exposed to so many different roles.

It’s like having five or six different jobs over a span of even sometimes the same amount of years. So, I got to work with Cisco and Hitachi, Kaiser Permanente, Pacific Gas and Electric. And then as often happens in consulting in making that jump from being a consultant to one of the customers that being Pacific Gas and Electric. I took a job full time with them and I worked over the course of a few years in HR leadership development and then labor, labor relations. I never thought I would start my own company, but I had worked for a fair amount of time in technology and marketing and consulting. I was interested in returning back to finance and what kind of came with that. So, I felt that the payment space was one where I could create a company that could make a difference for customers in a variety of different industries. And it’s also been a really unique space to be in as both a female and as well as a founder and a CEO.

Greg: Great. Maybe talk now about something you’re passionate about. Maybe one thing work related and one thing more personal.

Jamie: Sure. I enjoy learning. I think I have to say that splits into both the personal and the business side, Greg. I think that I’m always trying to read on a variety of different subjects. I’m always trying to learn about different industries or how different businesses operate and I love to interact when I can with our customers. I like to learn about how they started their business, what’s important to them, and then obviously why it should be important to us if they’re trusting us with their livelihood in that instance. So, I’m always kind of reading, learning, I’m always researching, obviously being a English major, I’m also that hopeless romantic that is still reading Shakespeare and some of that dry stuff that I’m sure people roll their eyes at. And so I’m always love learning about different countries and I have a unhealthy obsession with Scotland and England and all of that. So that’s kind of the hopeless English romantic in me at the same time. So, I think research and learning and reading kind of delves into both sides of my world.

Greg: So, are you into the apps that go into your background and heritage and all that?

Jamie: I haven’t done it personally, but I’m very lucky to have a couple family members that are retired that have a lot of time thankfully to do that. And so I have found some very interesting history about myself that I’m part of, uh, the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland and apparently might have some clan members that have been involved in the death of William Wallace, though I don’t like to advertise that. That’s not very good. So, uh, yeah, so I’ve come up with some very unique and interesting wooly lines that connect your family to different bits of history, which is neat.

Greg: Yeah. I did want to go back to something that you sort of mentioned and that was obviously getting into the merchant services or payments business. How did you arrive at that decision? I know you said your parents were in the finance, but to pick merchant services, what sort of led to that decision? 

Jamie: That was one of the positions my father had for a while was in the payment space in both banking and technology. And that was kind of when I was a bit older in life. So, I was in high school and I was paying more attention than a little kid would be. And I thought this is an interesting space. And it was kind of in the 90s when they were trying to figure out how to bridge technology across Europe and into the United States and then protection and EMV was already being talked about at that time. And so I kind of always had it shelved in my mind as a pretty interesting industry.

I think also another aspect that the industry gets is a bit of a bad name because it is a, it can have just like any industry, it can have shady aspects to it where there’s just bad operators and it’s interesting to watch the reaction on people’s faces when you say what you do, but then you like to follow it up quickly by saying, “oh no, you’re a good guy in the business.” So it’s an interesting conversation to have with people, but I thought it was an industry where I could make a difference because doing the right thing is always great at any kind of circumstance, but when it certainly involves someone’s business and how they can make sure they can open up the next day and whatnot, that it just felt like more more of something that I wanted to be a part of and to lead a path and do the right thing that really extends to everything I do in my life.

Greg: Great. And you know, I’ve been in and around the payment space for the last 15 years and I would say the last, I don’t know, five to 10 years. It’s been a really an interesting place to work. I think that kids coming out of college or in other industries now see payments or if you want to call it FinTech as an interesting place to work. So I always like to ask this question from people in leadership positions, sort of what would your advice be to someone that’s maybe just coming out of school or is interested in changing industries and wants to come into payments? Like what would you tell them to do? What would your advice be for someone just coming into the industry?

Jamie: I think you really need to surround yourself with people smarter than you. I think it’s an interesting comment that I’ve heard a while back that I definitely agree with. You are the people that you surround yourself with and that’s a great way to get ahead, is to listen and to learn, listen to the people you interact with. I think you can always learn something new. You will never know everything and there’s always going to be someone that’s smarter and faster and better-connected than you and that’s fine. And that should make you focus on never to stop striving and growing and learning. And I think you need to network wherever and whenever you can because really and I have experienced it firsthand, you never know who you’re going to meet. And when that relationship will make a difference to you now or 10 years down the road, it’s really about listening and being open and just that you’re never going to know it all. And that’s the beauty of it. It’s always going to keep changing. There’s always going to be more runway ahead of you.

Greg: Yeah. And you know, another thing that I heard that you don’t really think about just you know, not burning bridges. It is a small industry and you know, everyone seems to know everyone so you know, you got to be careful about that. But yeah, I agree with your advice there. I think that that was all great. We’re about to wrap up. Any final comments about PolyPay or the industry that you want to mention?

Jamie: I think I would just love to say that I’m very proud of what we have built and I think you are the people said, that you surround yourself with. We’ve got a wonderful team here. The individuals that are kind of closest and work most closely with me didn’t come from the industry, but they have grown immensely and they have brought a lot to the company and that’s reflected in how we have grown and how we have learned and we continue to learn on our customer’s behalf and they teach us every day too. And I think that’s my goal is just always make sure that I take care of them and that our team takes good care of them and they are happy and whenever they hear our name and whenever they hear PolyPay that there is a smile or at least a look of relief and happiness when they hear that name. 

Greg: Sounds like you’re building a great culture. 

Jamie: They’re all about, yes, all about your people are your company and they represent you. And when they’re out in the field or on the phone, I smile myself because I know that they’re being well taken care of and they’re wonderful and excellent representatives for us.

Greg: Great. Well Jamie, thank you so much for being on the show today and I know your time is incredibly valuable. So, I really do appreciate it. So, thank you so much for being here.

Jamie: Well, thank you so much, Greg, and thank you for the opportunity.

Greg: Absolutely. And to all you listeners out there, thank you for your time as well. And until the next story…