Angus Davis is the founder and CEO of Swipely, a local startup that helps local businesses accept payments, understand customers and grow sales.
Prior to starting Swipely in 2009, Davis co-founded speech recognition system developer Tellme in 1999. In 2007, Microsoft acquired Tellme in its largest-ever acquisition of a private company.
Davis talked to Providence Business News about his company, its exciting changes and the state of the Rhode Island business environment.
PBN: 2012 was an exciting year for Swipely, can you tell us a little about the changes you went through?
DAVIS: Merchants use Swipely to accept payments, understand customers and grow sales. Most merchants see little value from the large expense they incur to accept cards. Recognizing this, Swipely launched our payments service in June, and we’ve grown quickly to over a quarter billion dollars in payment volume. We crunch the “big data” behind every transaction to help local retailers understand customers with powerful, easy-to-use analytics, marketing and loyalty tools. For example, Swipely can identify a restaurant’s 25 most valuable customers, connect social media marketing with sales at a liquor store, or even determine the impact of weather on a beauty salon’s business. Upgrading to Swipely transforms a necessary cost of doing business (payments) into a valuable marketing investment to grow sales, usually with zero increase in cost. We proudly work with local favorites such as Rue de L’Espoir, Local 121 and Nikki’s Liquors, as well as leading establishments in major cities across the U.S. To date, we’ve helped these merchants better understand more than 500,000 customers.
PBN: What big plans to do you have for 2013?
DAVIS: For starters, we won’t stop innovating – our product team consists of incredibly bright alums from schools like MIT, Brown, RISD and Northeastern and veterans of companies like Microsoft and Verisign who are building exciting new technology for our merchants. 2013 is about growth - growing our sales team from about 10 today to more than 40 by the end of this year, as well as growing other parts of our organization as we expand into new regions of the U.S. Our biggest challenge is finding talent – so I invite readers to visit our careers page at swipely.com.
PBN: I know you've been expanding and hiring new staff. What do you think has helped lead to your success in a state where the unemployment level is still so high?
DAVIS: We are trying to build a little slice of Silicon Valley in Providence. We attract talent near and far who want to grow their careers alongside technology veterans from Microsoft, Seamless, Living Social and other companies. Our people come from all backgrounds: a designer from RISD, a Success Manager from Venture for America (an awesome national program) and others who went to college nearby and want to build their careers here. We even reimburse Amtrak costs to “import” talent from Boston. Some relocate (a recent addition to our sales team joined us from AOL in New York) while others give up their commute from Rhode Island to Boston (one recent engineering hire came to us from Hubspot).
A long-term solution to Rhode Island’s chronic unemployment malaise is education. The unemployment rate in Rhode Island is the highest in the nation because we haven’t transitioned from the loss of manufacturing. We need more high-growth tech companies, and companies like ours need highly-educated people. We also need to “import” more revenue to the state instead of simply redistributing what’s here amongst ourselves - most of Swipely’s revenue comes from customers outside Rhode Island, but most of our payroll employs people in Providence.
PBN: Do you see the Swipely technology as a potential new breed of marketing tool?
DAVIS: Swipely starts with payments, but our vision is much bigger. Swipely provides significantly more value for payments without increasing costs. But our payments product really just earns us a seat at the table with our merchant members to do something much bigger together – to grow sales with online marketing tools that were previously out of reach to them. We want to become a one-stop platform to help local merchants understand customers and grow sales. For example, we can automatically update a merchant’s customer database every time their customer shops, send a thank you email to repeat customers, and engage new customers on Facebook, all based on spending data.
PBN: What advice do you have to potential technology entrepreneurs?
DAVIS: If you don’t ask, the answer is always no, so aim high! Pick an idea important enough that even if you fail, the world is still better for you having tried. For potential entrepreneurs, I recommend the books “Four Steps to the Epiphany” by Steve Blank, and “Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure” by Jerry Kaplan. Internships with successful startups are a great place to start – that’s how I got in the door at Netscape.