We got in touch with Jeff Thorness, CEO and Founder of Forte Payments, through the FinDEVr Conference in San Francisco. As Founder of the company he bootstrapped the venture from inception in 1998 to a 115-people operation in 2014.
Over time the company has become a leader in omni-channel payments processing and also has consistently ranked among the Inc.5000 “America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies” in the past 7 years.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Jeff Thorness, CEO and Founder of Forte Payments. I’d say I’m a coder by trade who has taken on the responsibilities of a CEO and just likes to dive into R&D type stuff. I am sure that this also influenced how closely we are working with developers in the financial services space and why we attended FinDEVr Conference.
Was it difficult to switch from a very hands-on type of work to a strategic position?
It is definitely difficult as it entails just such different skill sets and to be honest I still enjoy coding a lot. Unfortunately I just get a weekend per month to do it. I usually use this time to do concept-type of work – testing technological assumptions and validating if they work.
How did Forte Payments get started?
Back in the day I used to be a contract programmer for financial services companies and this gave me exposure to different technologies and the opportunities that they entailed.
Thinking about it I recall a specific moment, where I met a former client. In a chat he hinted to me that I had to “take a look at the ACH (editorial addition: Automated Clearing House) stuff and you’ll see there is a lot of opportunity.” That was around that time that I was almost done and was driving around in a Beatle car and he was driving around in a Porsche.
Point-in-case and so we explored this area further, which eventually led to Forte.
We started the company in Southern California, where I’m originally from but after 6 years decided to move the company for a variety of reasons: cost of living, cost of transportation, and the necessary talent pool for our type of business. We found the ideal spot to be Dallas, Texas and I still believe to date that it has been the 100% correct decision.
So how does the product work?
In short we are a payments processor. We cater to any type of payment channel and add additional functionality (origination/reporting/manage subscriptions/administration/fraud/etc.) on top.
How does the competitive landscape look for you?
To be honest we have a ton of competition as we have a broad offering and as any realistically-thinking company we have strengths & weaknesses. On the Electronic Check & ACH side I must say that there are not many people who do it better than us.
As we are doing lots of work with developers we are naturally competing with Stripe & Square, also on other playing fields such as governmental services, utilities, bill payments, etc. we compete with the big guys. Fidelity, just to name one of those.
So are you David or Goliath?
Definitely David. At the moment we have 115 people working at Forte and one thing I’m particularly proud of is that we had pure organic growth so far. With our entirely bootstrapped approach we have consistently been included in the Inc.5000 “America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies” since 2008.
Was the bootstrapping a distinct decision?
We made a clear decision not to take on outside capital. It is tough to avoid outside investment and you catch yourself at times asking “should we take on external capital to accelerate growth or should we maintain 100% control and be in charge of steering the ship?”
Tough call to make, but maybe one day we’ll opt for a strategic investment.
What makes Forte Payment Systems unique?
We have the security and infrastructure of large organization yet maintain the flexibility and nimbleness of a small organization. With the big guys you have to fit into a box, otherwise there is no business.
Our philosophy is “tailored solutions & flexible business relationships”.
What is on your Forte’s roadmap?
Besides maintaining our core payment processing capabilities and adding further capabilities we want to grow in the analytics segment.
At the moment we have a tremendous amount of data. Our ambition is to organize this data, repackage it and give it back to our clients so that they can derive value from it (fraud prevention, reporting, etc.).
In this area I’m most excited about our developments in purchase activity insights. The granularity of our data actually allows us to come up with highly actionable results. But you’ll see more of this coming up soon.
What major trends do you observe in the industry?
Data and new payment methods are definitely the biggest trends out there. Everyone is embracing the abundance of available data.
If I’d have split it into sub categories I’d say (1) data security (2) introduction of smart chips in the US banking system and (3) the launch of Apple Pay, which is a huge thing.
To elaborate on the last point, I believe Apple managed to create a non-disruptive approach for the ecosystem as a whole, that’s why the industry is embracing it unlike Google Wallet, which was more invasive. Also Apple took care of the data security issue through tokenized information transfer – basically your credit card number never actually hits the merchant.
Also beacon technology will be huge as it allows for new interaction between merchants and customers. Lets say you enter a Starbucks and the cashier already knows what you have been buying, what you are allergic to and what you might like to consume this time. Just think about it.
Will Forte ride this wave too?
I can say that the formula is definitely correct and that we will explore this are for sure.
To round it up is there any question that I did not ask you?
No, I think you pretty much covered it from a detailed and a birds-eye-view perspective. I just want to add that Big Data will be huge for the industry. We’ll see lots of innovation happening here in the next years.
Founded in 1998 and headquartered in Allen, Texas, Forte Payment Systems is a leading provider of innovative electronic payment solutions. Offering unique and scalable enterprise-class solutions, Forte helps organizations of all sizes build, manage and perfect the way they take payments.
A truly omni-channel payments provider with solutions for every potential point of sale, Forte offers full stack APIs and dynamic processing services for developers and merchants who seek comprehensive and robust web, mobile and retail options. Find out more information at www.forte.net.