Keith Smith, co-founder and CEO of Payability, hails from the Pacific Northwest and now calls New York City home. Keith spent the first few years of his career working as an analyst at financial institutions before founding CyberMortgage and then Zango. Keith was most recently the co-founder and CEO of BigDoor, which provides loyalty programs to large consumer brands, including the NFL, the MLB, CBS, Viacom, and Starbucks. A successful entrepreneur, Keith regularly lends his time to early-stage startups via Techstars and serves as an advisor, investor, and board member for multiple tech startups.
Put the customer first. Your customers are at the core of your business. Without them, you don’t have a business. As you’re building the product, think about your customers — better yet, ask them! Features and new products are fun and shiny, but if they don’t help the customer, why did you build them?
Where did the idea for Payability come from?In my prior advertising technology businesses, I saw the need in the value chain firsthand. Publishers needed faster payments to grow their businesses, but brands wanted longer and longer terms. As a marketplace, sitting between the two was frustrating.
The advertising industry has consistently focused on utilizing technology for efficiency and speed (e.g., yield optimization, programmatic, etc.), but payment terms have stayed the same — if not worsened. We knew that publishers needed faster payments to reinvest in their user acquisition, but we didn’t realize the impact across the business (e.g., making payroll, delaying equity financing, more product development, etc.). Once we recognized the extensive impact faster payments could make for publishers, Payability was born.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?I focus each day on accomplishing or moving forward on my top three priorities. For me, this helps maintain short- and long-term perspective.
How do you bring ideas to life?To bring ideas to life, it’s essential to talk about the impact on the customer. The end story of what we do for the customer is what motivates the team.
What’s one trend that really excites you?On-demand marketplaces are exciting because they remove the friction between buyers and sellers of just about any product or service.
What’s one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?Having breakfast with my kids every morning keeps me on top of my game. This starts our day off right, reminds us that we have the love and support of family, and provides perspective on what’s truly important in life.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?My worst job was planting trees in the interior of British Columbia. That was a hot summer of mosquito bites and manual labor. But I will say that all of my prior job experiences (even planting trees and selling military surplus) have contributed to the tool kit I use today.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?That’s a difficult question. I’ve definitely made more than my share of mistakes. But when I think about it, the past has put me in the position I’m in today. I get up every day and feel fortunate to be doing what I love: growing a company that truly makes a difference for our customers.
As an entrepreneur, what’s the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?Put the customer first. Your customers are at the core of your business. Without them, you don’t have a business. As you’re building the product, think about your customers — better yet, ask them! Features and new products are fun and shiny, but if they don’t help the customer, why did you build them?
What’s one strategy that has helped you grow your business?Talk to your customers about their businesses, and really try to understand the challenges and successes they face — regardless of whether they directly involve your product. Get to know your customers, and become their trusted partner.
What’s one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?I think most tech entrepreneurs felt the impact of the financial crisis in 2008 — some worse than others. To overcome major challenges, you need to have good people by your side and an optimistic outlook.
What’s one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?I’ve been ranting for years that every home in America should be plumbed with a 10-inch tube. Think of it like the pneumatic tube at your local bank. Just about every item in your house except for furnishings could be packaged to fit inside a 10-inch tube. Consider the ramifications on shipping and transportation. With that said, it’s frankly silly due to the infrastructure costs, and Amazon’s proposed delivery drones will eventually serve the same purpose.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?I initially planned to be a youth pastor. I even went to Bible college!
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?My favorite tool is Slack. It’s helped us maintain consistent communication without so many emails. The chat is in real time, but it still keeps a history. The app is convenient, too.
What’s the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?I always recommend “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” by Jack Weatherford. Genghis Khan has suffered from bad PR for the past 800 years, but when you discover the impact he had on our current world, it will likely shock you.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?Winston Churchill was the very picture of determination and grit; those are really good lessons for entrepreneurs.
Payability Twitter: @getpayability
Keith Smith Twitter: @KeithLloydSmith
Keith Smith LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/keithlsmith