Maeve McKenna Duska, CMO at USA Technologies | Episode 16

Greg: Hello and welcome to episode 16 of the leaders in payments podcast. My special guest this week is Maeve McKenna Duska, the Chief Marketing Officer of USA Technologies. USA Technology specializes in enterprise software and business optimization in the unattended retail space. They provide the hardware payment processing and software to help their customers optimize their business. The Covin-19 crisis is certainly accelerating many of the trends toward unattended retail, including things like contactless payments, digital payments, and really the reduction of cash in our society. Maeve grew up in a tiny seashore town in central New Jersey and loves getting to spend time at the beach. She has a passion for her team and all of the employees at USA Technologies and she also provides some great advice to those just starting out in the industry. So, let’s get started…

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

Maeve: Hi there Greg. Thank you so much for having me. 

Greg: Absolutely. So, let’s dive in. Why don’t you tell the audience a little bit about yourself, maybe where you grew up, where you currently live, where you went to school, maybe a few things like that.

Maeve: Sure, absolutely. So I grew up in a tiny little seashore town in central New Jersey, which does exist by the way, I know that there seems to be some contention around whether or not there is a central Jersey, but I did grow up there, in a tiny little 10 by 10 square block, seashore community where everyone knew each other. We had lots of tourists come in mostly from New York during the summer months. And so, as a child I was super active in my school and during the summer had lots of odd jobs that would pop up and be available, particularly for young people during the summer months. So, I did everything from scoop ice cream to wait tables. I actually also worked in bed and breakfasts, making beds and cleaning rooms. So, the summer was the time for me to make a couple bucks to get me through the school year.

And then during the school year my parents who were both teachers and really valued education would tell me that, you know, school was my job during the school year. So, I took that seriously. I actually really enjoyed school, dove in and focused on that. I think both of those aspects of my childhood, both the importance of an education and doing well and focusing on that as well as hustling in the summer to make as much money as I could to kind of get me through the odds and ends that I might want to buy as a child and a teenager through the school year really taught me the importance of education and work ethic and also gave me a lot of empathy for people that are in the service industry, which I am no longer in, but certainly appreciate every time I come across someone who is working with people every day.

That is a very hard job. We are not easy particularly, you know, the tourists from New York. I mean, I remember lots of stories about that. And so I think that that really kind of built my path for going forward. I went to school in a small liberal arts college outside of Philadelphia and that’s eventually where I settled down in state. So, I still live outside the Philadelphia area. I took a little bit of a circuitous route to payments. I actually graduated with an English literature major, got my start in financial services. I was writing and editing came across, had the privilege to work with a wonderful woman at a financial services company in the Philadelphia area who took me under her wing, really mentored me. She was in the marketing department. She showed me that I could take those things that I was writing and editing and really create interesting and creative and compelling copy to get people interested in our product and wanting to know more.

And that was really my first start with marketing. And that job took me into a tech company called Verticalnet, which is located in this area. And that was my start, my first start in the technology sector. So, you know, my advice I think for folks who are just starting out in their careers is that there’s never necessarily a linear path to where you want to go. Just be open and curious and you know, look for good, smart people that you can work with. And I think eventually it all kind of works out. So that brings me to where I am today.

Greg: Right. So, let’s talk about USA Technologies. Tell the audience exactly what USA Technologies does.

Maeve: Yeah, so USA Technologies specializes in enterprise software for both digital payments and also for business optimization of what we call unattended retail terminals. So unattended retail is really any where you could buy a good or service that doesn’t have a person helping you. So traditionally that would be vending and that’s still one of our largest markets. But more and more we are seeing things like self-checkout happening in big box retailers, kiosks that are maybe similar to a vending machine but are vending non-traditional items like clothing or electronics. And we’re also seeing a move within convenience stores to all unattended. So, I think probably the most interesting and sexy example of that is the Amazon Go experience that people might have read about. But there are these kind of mini-micro markets all over the world where people are going in and buying items and checking out where there’s no attendant on staff.

So it is really, anything that you can buy yourself, we network it. We act as the gateway payment processor, so we enable all digital payments because many of these were traditionally cash based. And then once the machine is online, we enable the owner or operator to be able to go to a website, to our software system to see a business analytics to know whether or not they need to visit that machine, if there’s a service issue, if they need to restock it, and to optimize their warehouse and also their routes for their drivers. So, it’s both the ability to make additional money by adding digital payments and also save money through business efficiencies with the software that we provide.

Greg: Yeah, that’s interesting because we actually met many years ago, I don’t know if you remember, I was at Chase Paymentech and came up there to visit you and again it’s probably back in 2008 or nine maybe. So, a good while back and back then you had the hardware on the vending machines and you guys took the payments. But it seems like there’s been quite a transition into the software side. So maybe talk a little bit about how that transition happened and how you’re helping customers on that side. 

Maeve: Absolutely. And yes Greg, that’s right. Back in 2009 my gosh. And it just goes to show you how long I’ve been in this industry and it has changed a lot. So yeah, a couple of years ago, USA Technologies actually acquired a company called Cantaloupe Systems. Prior to that, USAT had really been focused on, you know, that consumer. So how do we get them to buy more, spend more and come more often and improve their experience while they’re buying something. So digital payments, but also consumer loyalty programs that we offered. We also have a product that is a full color touchscreen, so it enables consumer interaction. And then we’ve realized with especially our larger customers that the business operations, the business efficiency end of it really was just as important as ensuring that they were capturing that consumer spend. And to that point, they had typically worked with multiple different companies to put together, kind of cobbled together a solution that worked for them.

The issue with that was they’re getting data files that are going into a software system that’s maybe not fully integrated. They’re still having to do some manual pushes. They have multiple different business types that they’re actually working. So as a, for instance, our vending operator customers have vending machines. They also run these micro-market kiosks that I referred to earlier, and they also have things like coffee and water delivery or potentially concessions that they do. And so, having to use three disparate systems and manually settle and account for those differences at the end of each month to close their books was really, really difficult. So with the acquisition of Cantaloupe, we were actually able to take their best in class VMS system, which is a vending management system and take that system fully integrate it with what we did on the payments and connectivity side and now people have a fully integrated enterprise system to run their business and all aspects of their business. So micro-markets vending machines, kiosks. We have customers who have air vacs, parking meters. All of those different unattended retail examples that are out there can all seamlessly run through our system. So, there’s really one portal that our customers have to go to every day to do everything they need to do.

Greg: Great. Is that called the Seed Software?

Maeve: It is. It’s called the Seed Software. And so that does come from Cantaloupe System, so it makes a little bit more sense if you think about it that way. It was the Cantaloupe Seed System. It’s now the USAT product. We kept that brand name because people did, people did like it and we continue to optimize that and sell it out to the industry today.

Greg: That unattended space is very interesting and seemingly has grown a lot over the years and I’m sure become more competitive. So, what differentiates you guys from your competitors out there?

Maeve: Yeah, so I talked a little bit about one of the biggest differentiators and that is we seek to create a turnkey system for our customers that takes away any complexity that allows for them to take the data from all of the different business types that they currently run. And to have that all port into one system where they can run their entire business. So, there are competitive solutions out there that do different aspects of what we do, but we are the one company that brings it all together in a seamless way. So, our customers really need just one software system and one payment system with which to run their business.

Greg: Yeah, it makes perfect sense. Let’s talk about the industry as a whole. Where do you see, and you can answer this from either perspective of payments overall or unattended, but where do you see all of that headed in maybe the next two to three years?

Maeve: Yeah. So what’s really interesting, I mean, I feel like the answer is the same as it would have been several months ago, except perhaps potentially accelerated by what’s happening with Covid-19 so you know, the answer to the question is that people are becoming more and more accustomed to using digital payments in all aspects of their lives. So, I think that that trend really started with the advent of the smartphone. We can instantly go to our phone, do research buy something. The phone has also created this kind of culture, particularly with younger people where they are more comfortable interacting with technology than they are with a person. You know, I like to joke about that being something that really is that you have a beer and conversation about that. Whether or not that’s a good or bad thing, but it’s the reality that kids today are interacting with their screens much more readily than they are interacting with people in the room with them.

So, there’s this comfort level there for unattended that’s also accelerating, I think digital payments. So, what we’re seeing in our customer base today is we’re already at 50% or more of all payments coming through these terminals being digital. What is now being accelerated I think is digital payments and also contactless payments coming out of this Covid-19 crisis. So, we do have customers that are shutting down cash. They never would have done that before. You know, at 50% of their business potentially, that they certainly don’t want customers not to be able to buy from them. But cash handling is creating a real health issue with our customers right now. And so, turning off cash availability and pushing everyone towards digital payments is actually allowing them to stay in business and take away some of the concern around cash handling for their employees. And I think as consumers we are being driven more to use our cards and our phones to make purchases during this crisis. So, we don’t have to necessarily hand money to anyone and have them hand it back to us. So, I think that the typical trajectory that we were seeing, which is we’re moving towards a digital cashless payments world. I think it’s accelerating. I think coming out of this Covid-19 crisis, I think we will see a much quicker acceleration to digital and away from cash.

Greg: Yeah, I think you’re spot on with that. That seems to be a growing trend. And if you know, read all the trade rags, that’s, that’s what everyone is certainly talking about and it makes perfect sense, right?

Maeve: It does. I mean I’m doing it myself. So I’m using my Apple Pay app almost every time I go to a store because I can just hold my phone up, I don’t have to hand anything to anyone and I’m out the door with the one caveat being I have to quickly pull my mask down for my facial authentication software to kick in. But aside from that, I mean it has been my go-to and prior to this it was not necessarily my go-to, it depended on the application. So, I do think my experience is likely not unique.

Greg: Yeah, I would agree with that. So, let’s talk about maybe what USA Technologies has done for employees and customers during this time. You know, there’s a lot of different things that companies have been able to do to help their employees through this. And obviously the work from home, but what are the things have you guys done to help both your employees and your customers?

Maeve: Yeah, so I think along with every other company in America, we are learning as we go. There may be some companies that were more adept at work from home and some companies that have never had employees working from out of their homes. We were a bit of a mix before the shelter at home that the closure of non-essential business edicts came down. My team is geographically dispersed, so I have thankfully had the benefit of really no delay or lapse in our ability to be productive. But there were other teams in the company like our customer service team who would report into a call center every day. They’ve now had to take that work at home. We quickly mobilized to make sure they had the right technology, that they were able to accommodate the phone calls, that the queues were all being sent to their home offices and we were able to do that.

But for sure it has been a learning experience. I do think along with every other company in the world that there are things we’ve learned along the way that have actually been surprisingly valuable to us. So, having virtual meetings on the software, like Zoom for example, has actually been much more productive than we had anticipated. So, I think a lot of those habits will probably stay with us even after we’re able to return to the office. So all in all it’s been a little trial by fire along with everybody else, but I think there’s going to be a lot of business benefits that come out of it and cost saving benefits that come out of it as we move back into a little bit of a new normal. So that’s the company side, the customer side, our customers are by and large very dependent on the consumer and what they do every day.

So, transportation, vending, food and beverage, travel. So, our customer locations are in airports are in Metro areas. So, our customers have certainly been hit hard. Some of them have been able to stay in business. Some of them have seen a 50% or more decline in their business. Some of them were hardly hit at all because they had a lot of either blue collar manufacturing, which was considered essential or healthcare locations. So we are just working really hard to listen to our customers to do what we can, to partner with them to try to minimize the financial exposure that they are seeing right now by giving them avenues to pull back potentially on some devices that are currently enclosed locations, which we can see and monitor because we see activity on those machines, we have visibility into that and also educate them.

So, there’s been a huge outcry for education. People are home. If their business is, you know, if the business that they’re working is at half mast, it also gives them an opportunity to take a step back, do some research, figure out a new direction potentially for their business coming out of this. Consider what new kinds of software technology they want to introduce. So even though they may be experiencing a pullback in business, they do know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. And so, this also represents an opportunity for them to invest back into their business with either technology or knowhow. So my group has done a lot to reach out to customers, share best practices, give them some information on what they can do during this time to bolster their business so they’re ready for when people return to work. And so, we’ve seen some really good feedback to the education courses of virtual learning and webinars series that we’ve been doing with customers as well. 

Greg: Great. I think that’s pretty common theme that I’m hearing. Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about you. You mentioned already a little bit about your journey to where you are today. So maybe just summarize that and tell the audience a little bit more about what you do today, your roles and responsibilities as the chief marketing officer there.

Maeve: Yeah. So, I first came to USA Technology is through an acquisition probably 12 years ago. I actually left and went to Aramark for a few years and then came back. And so that is always my story. And you know, if you leave a company, make sure you leave gracefully because you never know. You never know if you will be returning one day. You certainly don’t want to burn any bridges. But I did find myself back at USA Technologies about 10 years ago or so as the director of marketing. And so this story is an interesting one I guess because it sort of follows the path that I took to get there, which was not linear, but I’ve always been involved in marketing and in the marketing department in some way. I love it. I feel like it’s an opportunity to be creative too, I love working with customers.

I love talking about our product. It’s exciting, but along the way, because USA Technologies is a small company, I’ve had to wear a lot of different hats and I really think that that has helped me keep a much more holistic and comprehensive understanding of the business. I’ve led the sales team. I actually led the sales team for about four years. I was involved in business development. I was also before we had a product team, very much involved in product and innovation strategy and so it’s run the gamut. It’s brought me to where I am today as CMO, but I come with a lot of understanding about the different challenges. Personally there is opportunity in all of the different departments that we have within the organization and so I can certainly work through from start to finish what a new product rollout might look like, what a new feature, what that impact might have across the organization in addition to just how to market that out to our customers.

And so, I think that that holistic view has really served me well. And so, I would say from the perspective of what’s some advice to folks, try to put yourself in the shoes of other folks within your organization. It’s easy to become siloed. It’s easy to say, this is my job. I’m responsible for marketing and to kind of stay in your lane, but it doesn’t serve you well and it doesn’t serve the company well to not try to push the boundaries of what your accountabilities are and look to other departments and organizations within your company to see what their challenges are and also to make sure that you’re communicating with them what your objectives are so they can get behind that and have a more holistic understanding of the company themselves.

Greg: Absolutely. And you touched on something that I’ve always thought to be true is if you can bolt together product, marketing and sales you can really be successful as a company if you have those three areas. And then it also goes for CMO role. If you have experience in product, sales and marketing altogether, I think it’s definitely helpful.

Maeve: Absolutely, yeah, absolutely. And it’s also given me the ability within my organization to have, potentially a little bit more of a nontraditional CMO role. So, I’m also overseeing some of the customer experience, overseeing some of the sales operations process and procedures that we do within the company to really create a seamless start to finish experience for that customer. And so that involves both the communication out to the customer and the support of the customer as well as internally what we do to support that customer that may actually be invisible to the customer, but is just as important as what they can see and touch.

Greg: Yup. Right. So, let’s talk about something you’re passionate about. So maybe one work related thing and one non-work-related thing.

Maeve: Oh my goodness. Okay. So work-related. I’m super passionate about the people at our company. My team is a team of rock stars. I love to talk about them. They’re wonderful. I feel like one of the biggest and most important parts of my job is to make sure I’m paving the way for this new talent to come up through the ranks and to make an impact on the company. And so, the people that I work with and the people that are on my team specifically just really get me going in the morning. It’s, I think so important to enjoy the people that you work with if you’re going to enjoy your job. So that is a passion. I work hard for my team. I work hard to advocate for the folks internally who may not have a voice at the executive level to make sure that the other executives at my company have an understanding of what the challenges are across departmentally down the line where they may not have direct visibility.

And the people that work at USA Technologies are just wonderful people and have become like family over the years. So that’s a passion of mine. I think professionally is great people creating a great place to work and making sure that the people that I work with feel valued because they certainly are personally. It’s funny, I think the first thing that comes to mind, and it may not sound like it’s a passion, but for folks who grew up near the ocean, I think they’d understand. I love getting to the beach. So, I know folks would talk about biking, cycling and canoeing. I love all that stuff too. Very active, outdoorsy person. But there is nothing like getting down to my hometown and sitting on the beach and listening to the waves and the sound of the seagulls. So, I’m super hopeful that they opened the beaches this summer because I just can’t imagine not having a little bit of time down there to sort of recoup and reconnect. So, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we can get beyond all this Covid-19 crisis and get the beaches open.

Greg: Yeah, I think we are all hoping that happens soon. So you talked a little bit about this already, but if someone was just coming out of college and they were looking at going into an industry and they chose FinTech or the payment space, what would your advice be to them as someone just starting out in the industry? 

Maeve: I think it’s twofold. I think from a personal perspective, look for smart people who are willing to be your mentor. I talked a little bit about this, but there’s really been multiple people that I’ve been lucky to have in my life that have taken the time to talk to me, to teach me what they know, to advocate for me, to cheer me on. And now I hope to do and be those things for others because it was such a big part of my career path and the opportunities that presented themselves to me.

So, look for folks that are willing to teach you and talk to you and be open to criticism, right? So, nobody’s perfect and it’s not personal. And if someone recommends a way that may be better or different, listen to them. Be open to that possibility and learn as you go. But from a professional perspective, I would say we’re living in really interesting times and the companies that are the most disruptive are the companies that are popping up because somebody somewhere said there’s got to be a better way to do this. Right? So I do think that there’s a tremendous opportunity for people, whether they’re starting their own business or they’re looking to get a job within an organization or they have a job within an organization, no matter how big or small to approach all of their payment experiences with that mindset. How can this be easier, more frictionless, more fun, and to take those ideas and to carry them back to the folks that they work with, to not be afraid to take risks and to always think about it from the consumer perspective, even when you know it’s specific to your job function.

So those would be my two pieces of advice.

Greg: That’s great advice. We’re about to wrap up. So, anything else you want to mention either about the company or yourself before we wrap up? 

Maeve: I just think for payments, maybe we talked about this a little bit, but I do think we’re entering into really interesting times. We had already seen an increased trajectory towards unattended towards digital payments towards folks being comfortable with buying things and serving themselves and not needing folks there to help them. We’re seeing that in ways big and small, whether it’s in store experiences or you know, pop up shops or kiosks that are outside of stores that are increasing hours and making goods and services available in nontraditional ways. I think that now as we talked about is going to be accelerated. I do think we’re entering into a much more concentrated self-serve world. Right. So I do think that we will see a lot more new businesses popping and a lot more businesses who have been around for a long time who have been mainly focused on an insert experience looking to go unattended, looking to put their goods and services in nontraditional places.

And all of that is enabled by the digital payments experience. So, I think that we are going to see a lot of change in the next three years. 

Greg: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more there, but we’re about to wrap up, so you know, I really appreciate your time. I know it’s incredibly valuable, so thank you so much for being on today. 

Maeve: Thank you so much for having me, Greg. It has a lot of fun. I appreciated the conversation. 

Greg: Yeah, I did too. Thank you so much. And to all your listeners out there, thank you for being there and listening and until the next story…