We talked to Alexander Mihailovski of eComCharge about white label payment solutions and services for payment acceptance and he had the following to say about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Alexander Mihailovski: COVID-19 pandemic definitely affected all aspects of our everyday life. It would be wrong to deny this. However, I can’t say that something terrible happened. I feel good, although other members of my family and myself have had this illness. We were lucky to have it in the lightest form without any sequel. We recovered, and now we are safe and sound.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded eComCharge.
Alexander Mihailovski: I dreamed of being a software developer since I was a child. When I was 6, my parents bought the first computer in our family. It was a USSR designed analog of the British developed Sinclair computer. I am not sure that our days anybody remembers such a company. But back at that time, they were hugely popular in ex-USSR countries because they were cheap. They had only 48 Kb of RAM, and you need about 5 minutes to load a program from a record player tape into the device memory, but it was enough to incite a big interest in computers and programming from me.
Like many people at that time, I started by learning the BASIC programming language. Then it was Pascal. Later in the university, it was Delphi and C.
The idea to start my own business arose when I was a graduate. Naturally, because I studied computer sciences, I wanted to do a business in the computer world. Thus my fellow student and I opened a software development company. Like many computer startups in Belarus, it was an outsourcing company. And it happened that our first client was a company who ordered to develop a payment gateway for e-commerce payments. That is how we came to the payment industry.
We worked at that client for many years and got a huge experience in the development of payment gateways and online payment processing systems. Eventually, we became a software development center for this client, and his orders accounted for over 80% of our revenue. And then our client went out of business. On the one hand, we lost 80% of our revenue within a couple of months, but on the other hand, our accumulated experience, knowledge, and the great team stayed with us. We decided to transform from an outsource to a product company and continued to do what we could do better than anything else – software of payment gateways and online payment processing systems.
How does eComCharge innovate?
Alexander Mihailovski: We are quite a unique company in terms of how we implement innovation. We are a developer of software for payment service providers. And at the same time, we are also a big payment service provider in our home country, Belarus. We use our own software to provide payment services to local and international merchants. Thanks to this we have a great opportunity to receive feedback from all participants of the e-commerce: from payment service providers who use our software to provide payment services to their merchants, from our own merchants to whom we provide payment services in Belarus and beyond, from acquiring banks with whom we make integrations, from the local and international card companies with whom we also close communicate. We learn the business needs of everyone who is involved in e-commerce in this or that way. And the information we receive helps us make our decisions on what feature or innovation or schema we need to implement next time.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Alexander Mihailovski: I would not say that the coronavirus pandemic affected our business in some bad way as it did with some particular business segments as travel or HoReCa. Being forced to stay home, people started spending online more. If before the pandemic you went to the grocery and pay there by cash or by card via a POS terminal, now you order at home and pay online for delivery. From this point of view, we still see quite a big demand for our services both as a payment service provider and as a software vendor for payment service providers.
But of course, we realize possible indirect effects and challenges to our business caused by COVID-19.
First of all, this is switching to remote work and moving our staff from office to their homes. We moved our employees out of the office during the first wave of the pandemic in April. Then in September, we came back to the office, but just for one month, and with the second wave, we moved back at work from home. To organize the remote work of our software developers, technical support, account and sales managers as effective as from the office was a challenge for us, but we coped. We started using new communication apps that we did not use before. We implemented virtual everyday meetings to keep all team members informed about what is going on inside the company and so on. Eventually, now we work almost as effectively as before.
Another factor we have to consider is the possibility of sudden sick leave of any of our team members. Although we urge our staff to stay home, there is still a chance that somebody will catch the coronavirus and will not be able to work 2 or more weeks. To minimize this effect, we try to organize all internal processes so that everyone can substitute everyone and avoid the situation when the company might depend on one person.
To some degree, it became harder for us to grow in terms of the number of employees. Because of closed borders, we can’t hire software developers from neighbouring countries as easily as before and are forced to search for talents in Belarus, whose professionals market due to natural reasons is not such a big as in Russia or Ukraine.
But in general, I would not say that something drastically changed for our business. Both waves of the coronavirus demonstrate to us that at the COVID-19 times we can work and do our business as effective as before.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Alexander Mihailovski: No, we did not.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and eComCharge in the future?
Alexander Mihailovski: The best way to deal with stress and anxiety is to avoid them.:-) But if to speak about this seriously, the best relaxation for me is sport and time I spend with my family. By the way, the scientists advise doing sport at least 2 times per week to get the right chemistry inside the body and feel good. And of course, you need to sleep at least 8 hours per day.
We have big plans for the next year for our company and mine. We plan to launch the new version of our flagship product – the beGateway platform for payment service providers. We are also planning to launch a couple of totally new products – a white label of the software of the e-wallet system and a payment hub platform with smart transaction routing for a single integration and interaction with several payment providers for online merchants. We have several more projects I would like to keep in secret for now.
As regards my personal plans relating to our company, I am going to keep growing it. That is my job.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Alexander Mihailovski: We have a lot of competitors both as for our business as a payment service provider and as for our business as a software developer. I do not want to name them, but they exist. However, we are not afraid of the competition. The world e-commerce market is huge and keeps growing. Nevertheless, it does not mean we can relax. If we want to stay in the game, we must keep our standards high both in terms of our products’ technical capabilities and in terms of the user experience of our clients who use them. My personal recipe for creating a successful business consists of 2 parts: have a high-quality product and provide your customers with a high-quality user experience.
Your final thoughts?
Alexander Mihailovski: COVID-19 challenges every business and every person in this or that way. Someone suffered more, someone less, someone did not suffer at all, but something definitely changed. However, as Nietzsche said, “What does not kill us, makes us stronger”. I am sure that with the appropriate motivation, everyone will be able to adapt to the new normality. Just keep being optimistic, attentive to new opportunities, and do not forget about the WHO recommendations. Stay safe!
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