Keys to Recurring Success

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

Jan 02

Former Protus Execs/Investors
Rally Round Automated Billing Startup

(This article first appeared in
Ottawa Business Journal:

CEO Steve Adams and green-eyed, tech developer Kareem Sultan together with a
13-person, Kanata-based team made up of veterans like Founders Greg Burwell and
Tyler Eyamie are building a global billing system that handles recurring
payments. “We saw a gap in the marketplace—our goal was to provide mid-market
firms with an affordable piece of vital corporate infrastructure—a billing
system that could handle recurring payments including things like credit card
declines and expiry dates. There are competitors out there like, or even Pay Pal but we do things a little differently,” Mr. Adams
says. “Pay Pal, for example, provides a thin solution while is
pitched at an enterprise level competing with SAP or Oracle. does
credit cards but not invoicing. We cover the market from startup to
medium-sized organization.”’s
largest client is a Montreal-based tech outfit that serves customers like the
US Army. They provide secure, legal electronic signatures for more than two
million users worldwide. They initially decided to use Pay Pal for invoicing
and billing—it’s easy to adopt, at least at first. But then they found that in
order to handle huge numbers, multiple currencies, credit card declines and
expiry dates as well as client demands for different plans, they had to put
three of their tech developers on their billing system, full time. “You know
tech projects tend to grow,” Mr. Sultan says with a smile. So when’s
Adams came calling, it was an easy sell—outsource all this to Fusebill and put
their people back to work on their own mission-critical stuff. They also liked
the work that Fusebill was doing with their security layer—storing confidential
credit information is a non trivial problem.

does some smart things like reversing out some of the work to customers of
their customers—for example, allowing those clients to get access to a backend
system through a Fusebill portal to update credit card numbers, expiry dates
and billing addresses. Self serve improves overall efficiency via reduced
labour costs and fewer declines. It provides more accurate information and
decreases consumer complaints. It may seem obvious now but notifying people via
email or messaging service that their credit cards are about to expire before
they do is actually a profound change in the industry. It’s a wonder that more
companies didn’t figure this out sooner.

currently has about 100 clients using their platform. Breakeven is fewer than
1,000 and they are confident they will get there soon. They do some other
simple things—like actually answering their phones, a rarity in SAAS, software
as a service, businesses. “When a client is having trouble with their invoicing
and billing system, they want to talk to someone NOW,” says Mr. Adams.

start at $50 per month and just 40 cents per transaction so it’s affordable
even for startups. They market Fusebill, in part, via tradeshows and, while
they initially targeted tech startups, it wasn’t long before they realized
their market was much bigger—insurance, real estate organizations, mini
storage, any type of vertical where recurring billing is a nightmare. Perhaps
even season tickets for sports teams could soon be on the horizon for Fusebill.

guys know something about having/getting a lot of clients—Joseph Nour, one of
the Founders of Protus where Mr. Adams also worked (Protus was sold to j2
Global for $213 million in December 2010)—sits on their Board of Directors and
is, in fact, their Chair. Protus had 550,000 clients when they sold it. Then
they took what they learned at Protus and productized it.

Hall from Toronto-based Covington Funds (who also invested in Protus) is on
their five-member BOD. He sits as an outside Director. Covington is hoping for another exit like the
one they did with Protus. When I ask about exit plans, they say, “Our focus
right now is to build a sustainable business by making our customers more
successful. The rest will take care of itself.”

I ask them if they are held back by having their HQ in Ottawa
instead of Boston
or the Valley. Mr. Adams laughs, “Occupancy costs and labour costs are way
higher there than here plus you have to expect you will lose half your
development team in the Valley every two years. The talent is here,” Mr. Adams
continues pointing at Mr. Sultan as he says this. “We have access to capital,
office space, air transportation links, grant programs, cutting edge R&D,
everything. Ottawa
is a tier one city now.”


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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.