Successful platform businesses in the 'Uber/Airbnb' age aren't just about matchmaking. There are also value added services that enrich the experience, and keep customers coming back.
Payments is one of those services, but it could be loans, or integrations with marketing automation or CRM solutions, or anything adjacent to the core offering that makes it easier for people do business together.
A lot of companies don’t recognize that they’re a platform or on their way to becoming one. And even if they do, they’re new to taking payments and don’t understand why the payment solutions that work for two-party transactions don’t work well at all for platforms. And they don’t know about integrated payments, which are a much better alternative.
This is still a new category of payments. The way payments have historically been handled online was ported over from the bricks-and-mortar world. It’s never worked great for e-commerce transactions between one buyer and one seller. It gets even clunkier when you have three parties involved in a payment transaction—the seller, the buyer and the matchmaking platform.
If you're a platform, understanding who's the merchant of record, who's responsible for risk, how money gets moved around, and who has visibility into those transactions all come into play. Integrated payments help platforms handle all those things seamlessly in one package.
One of the biggest opportunities is in software. Many companies, such as Constant Contact, Freshbooks, Infusionsoft and BuilderTrend, are software companies that have successfully made the shift from product company to platform.
One of my favorite examples of platform vs. product is in the CRM (customer relationship management) space. Salesforce.com, the market leader, is a platform. It offers an API for people to build on, along with documentation and guidelines to help them. There’s an app exchange with solutions that can integrate everything from web analytics to order payment into Salesforce.com. It makes for a very sticky platform.
Competitor SugarCRM on the other hand, is focused on being a best-of-breed solution. There are a few third-party apps, but no platform vision. It might have some superior functionality, but the extensibility of Salesforce.com makes it more compelling.
As platforms rise to dominance, product vs. platform is something that ISVs (independent software vendors) and SaaS (software as a service) companies should be thinking about. When
you look at companies such as Zoho, Infusionsoft and FreshBooks, you probably don’t immediately think ‘platform.’ People think of these as cloud CRM, marketing automation and accounting solutions respectively.
But not all solutions in these categories are created equal. Those that are embracing the platform mindset and methodology are continually adding more value for their customers by building or partnering to add adjacent capabilities or processes. If you pick a best-of-breed solution that does just one thing, you may end up having to manage five or ten different solutions to provide the same functionality that one platform may ultimately provide.
The platform economy and understanding of it is still emerging. By most predictions it’s going to be big.
Kurt Bilafer is global vice president of sales & success at WePay.