In a culture where anything new can develop a buzz of innovation, it’s important to determine which problems are worth solving. Businesses and consumers want products that address their immediate needs. For example, a shipping firm doesn’t need a self-driving car; it needs to balance its accounts quickly and efficiently. Fresh from securing a deal with Visa, Billtrust CEO Flint Lane shared his thoughts on how to make those determinations, and some other things, too.
In this week’s Commander In Chief series, PYMNTS spoke with Lane about what it’s like to be a CEO, his concerns about addressing meaningful problems and the thing he wishes he could spend more time doing.
What does a day in the life of a chief executive officer look like?
One of the best and worst things about the job is the unpredictability of each and every day. On Monday, I could be focused on sales and marketing, Tuesday on bank partnerships and Wednesday on technology innovation. And that’s only halfway through the week. For some people, that’s too much. But that’s the most exciting part of the job for me.
What keeps you up at night?
Not much keeps me up at night other than the endless Diet Cokes I drink! But I often worry whether there are macro trends that we’re missing. When things are going well, that’s a good time to worry.
What concerns you most in the payments solutions space?
The majority of coverage in the payments space focuses on new technologies that are deemed sexy but that aren’t always relevant to the real world. A few years ago, it was wallets. Everybody was launching their own electronic wallets, and it was unclear what problem they were solving. Bitcoin is the latest example. I get zero questions from CFOs on the impact of bitcoin on their businesses. They’re much more concerned about the ability of customers to pay them faster and in more efficient ways.
What trends and changes are you watching that are affecting the industry and your role?
In the last five years, accounts payable (AP) has experienced a technology revolution that is moving departments away from the paper-intensive manual processes of the past. This has been driven by an increased management focus on business process improvement, cost reduction and the availability of new disruptive technologies. Those AP technology trends are affecting the accounts receivable (AR) space. It’s what led Billtrust to build automated solutions for that push-pull relationship between AP and AR with Virtual Card Capture and Customer Portal Automation.
What do you wish you had more time to do?
Ping pong! I’m addicted to the game and play competitively. I used to think I was good before I played real players. I wish I could play more.
What do you do to understand what businesses want and need?
I use a combination of information gathering from social media — Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs — in addition to reading business and leadership books. But the best education I get is visiting clients and understanding their pain points. I average probably 50 client visits per year. Our best product ideas are developed by listening to clients talk about what they’re struggling with.
What does innovation mean to you?
People often confuse innovation with rolling out new capabilities. There’s a big difference between continuous innovation — which is what our clients are typically asking for: enhancements to our current products — and discontinuous innovation: game-changing, disruptive innovation that changes markets and the competition. We’ve launched three major products in the last 12 months that no one was asking for: Customer Portal Automation, Virtual Card Capture and the Billtrust Business Directory. Innovation is giving clients what they want without them even knowing what they want. It’s exactly what Apple did when they launched the iPhone. As Steve Jobs said, “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.”
Speaking specifically of the payments and commerce space, what in your opinion is the most impactful innovation in that realm in the last five years?
The credit card industry is incredibly motivated to move B2B to the card networks, so we see a ton of innovation in this area — like one-time-use credit cards, large ticket discounts and surcharging. However, until the rates come down to more closely match the risk level, we don’t believe we’ll see widespread movement of B2B spend to plastic.