We recently had a chat with Russell Hamilton, a Senior Business Leader in Visa’s Global Business Development group. He evaluates partnerships and strategic alliances for Visa’s emerging products group, including mobile and online payments.
Russell gave us some great tips on what companies should think about before they approach Visa. Startups take note!
What do you wish startups did in their first meeting/call with you?
Ask more questions at the beginning. Typically, people haven’t really been thinking about what Visa is trying to do, where we’re trying to go, and how their company can help get us there.
There’s a lot of times that I’ll have to sit through an hour long conversation where companies are describing their service. And they are very passionate about their service or they’re product, it’s understandable… but there’s no lead in, and they spend so much time talking that by the end of it, there’s no way to really make the connection of how it might work for Visa, or what we even get out of this.
It’s nice to talk at the beginning about what we’re looking for… For example, “Visa is looking for platform enablers.” And then they can say, “Oh well our company doesn’t do that, but here’s how we think we can work together.”
A lot of companies like to launch into their stock presentation, and even if they are nimble small entrepreneurs, it seems like they still have a standard pitch that they’re sitting through. Their enthusiasm is infection, but only to a certain point.
How do you recommend startups get the information that they need to come to a meeting prepared?
If you’re going to try and have a half an hour meeting with someone, try and actually spend half an hour looking on the company’s actual website and see what we say about our own goals and what they’re trying to do. Look at a couple of press releases. That should help you understand where we are trying to head and what kind of companies we are trying to partner with. What kind of partnerships we’ve been announcing, etc.
Look at what our competitors are doing. Companies who come to us saying, “We saw AMEX is doing this, we know you are going to want to do this too, here’s how we can help you.” Those kind of people are great because they know what’s going on in our industry and they are trying to bring us up to parody with our competition, and they are proposing a solution.
What’s the number one thing you look for when considering a partnership? Does a company have to be a certain size?
We get the occasional two people and an idea and we’re just too large to be able to even do any small pilot that way. So unfortunately companies do have to be of a certain size before we will be able to meaningfully be able to do anything, even a pilot. Probably over five people. Usually over two dozen people.
And why is it important that the company is of a larger size?
The problem is we are a heavily regulated financial services company. Anything that you pilot with us also has to pilot with our member banks typically. Even if we are trying to do something very small, there are still all these legal and regulatory ramifications for anything that touches any customer. You can’t just throw something up on the website and see if people click on it. There’s all the backend implications.
Is it difficult to work internationally?
No, we work very well all together. We are all in global development but we try and break up by region just because its easier for time zones. The types of things we partner with vary greatly between the developed world and the developing world. For example, in the developing world you don’t have a bank account and in the developed world you don’t only have a bank account, but you have all of these offers of payments at your fingertips. There are a lot different conversations between them, but we work equally well between the two.
What’s the turn around time for a partnership from pitch to completion?
Visa is difficult to work with because we are so regulated. We have lots of internal reviews before a pilot even happens. So you wouldn’t want to hang your hat on us to meet your quarterly goals. One quarter to four quarters is typical to get something live from the initial meeting. Of course it depends on whether it touches our core processees or it’s more peripheral.
Can you tell us about a recent acquisition?
We did an acquisition of a company called “Fundamo.” It’s in South Africa and it helps facilitate mobile payments and money transfers in Africa. That’s a developing market.
How many partnerships do you do in a year?
We evaluate a lot and we maybe do one to two dozen partnerships a year. Sometimes there can be regional partnerships, so probably less that 50 globally a year. We probably do partnerships with 5-10 percent of the incoming requests.
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