The Nexus of Ecommerce and Fintech with Ramp’s Karim Atiyeh
Karim Atiyeh is the cofounder and CTO of Ramp, a New York-based corporate card and finance automation platform uniquely designed to help scaling startups spend less and save more.
In the first part of our conversation, we chatted with Karim about his deep fintech expertise and cash conversion cycles.
In part two of our conversation, Karim shares his experience building at the intersection of fintech and eCommerce, the role of data in underwriting, and his personal DTC diligence criteria.
Playing Asymmetric Games
Say you're playing a game where you flip a coin. Imagine you flip heads, you get $1,000. You flip tails, and you lose $1,000. In Karim’s words, this is a classic example of a symmetric bet. You have a 50% chance of winning or losing, and as a result, the payoffs are identical.
Imagine you're playing a new game where you flip a coin, but if you win, you get $10,000, and if you lose, you’re out $1,000. Now you’re playing an asymmetric game. The odds of winning or losing are the same, but in the case you win, the magnitude of the outcome is a more significant.
The best startups optimize for asymmetric outcomes by leveraging their scarcest asset: time. If your scarcest resource is time, Karim notes that you can only make a limited number of bets. Put simply, you can’t play the game forever since your time will run out. So, he recommends only playing games where the difference in the magnitude of outcome is as large as possible.
While asymmetric games are inherently riskier and you might lose 9 times out of 10, there’s an off chance that you win and hit outsized growth curves. For new companies just starting out, it’s critical to avoid the safe approaches to growth. Rather, in Karim’s words, if you try some crazy things and make big bets, you might just find a path towards exponential growth and velocity.
“Every company starts off behind, but your rate of improvement and its derivative ultimately determine where you end up.”
The Collision of Commerce & Fintech
As a founder at the nexus of commerce and fintech, Karim deeply understands how the two realms intersect. He immediately points out that the way companies view and understand software has changed. Previously, it was seen as a sunk cost. All of a sudden, enterprise software is now seen as an enabler for business growth.
In Karim’s words, the vast majority of legacy tools for both consumers and enterprise teams offer terrible interface design and brutal user experiences across the board. For example, antiquated fintech platforms like Expensify force customers through onboarding with a 30 minute video explanation on how to submit basic expense reports. As an analogy, imagine if after signing up for Instagram, you were forced to watch a 30 minute video about how to use it.
In today's commerce ecosystem, both ecommerce brands and consumer apps have to offer wildly improved user experiences. Every product or tool that consumers interact with in their personal lives now has a slick UI and fluid end-to-end onboarding. As a result, consumers are beginning to expect the same elevated experiences in their professional lives. In turn, fintech and enterprise applications have been forced to play catch up and radically upgrade their offerings.
“Consumers have access to insanely well-designed interfaces across their personal products. Now, they’re increasingly expecting the same level of design and interface experiences in fintech and enterprise platforms.”
Leveraging Alternative Data Sets
At Ramp, Karim is deeply involved in defining the platform’s core underwriting metrics. For the most part, he points out that equity investors are fundamentally different from credit lenders in that they have a significantly higher tolerance for risk.
Venture investors in particular are typically attempting to understand whether their return can be 100x or 1000x when they make an investment. Put simply, they’re a lot more interested in the potential massive upside than they are in protecting themselves from downsides.
On the other hand, credit investors are thinking a lot more about limiting downsides by not losing money. They protect their downsides in many ways: contracts, collateral, ability to collect, being the first to get paid, etc. Credit is less expensive, but they’re not looking for as much yield.
From a credit lens, Karim’s team has begun exploring their ability to leverage alternative data sets that can give their underwriting model an early sense of a company's potential growth, e.g. extracting live, real-time data that wasn't previously available to banks.
By having multiple products, Ramp is able to not only understand the amount of money spent by a company, but also know exactly what it's spent on via receipts. By leveraging usage data from companies, Karim’s team can in turn build a better understanding of a client’s business over time, so they can better underwrite them as they grow and deepen their usage of Ramp.
“At Ramp, we’ve been able to extend credit to significantly more companies because our platform goes far beyond traditional data analysis.”
Investing in Consumer vs. Enterprise
As a B2B founder and a consumer angel investor, Karim notes some of the differences he’s observed between building and going to market with a consumer vs. enterprise venture.
First, he points out that B2B consumers are inherently stickier, yet B2B startups must excel across multiple siloes like sales, product, and finance divisions. Meanwhile, DTC consumer brands can often get away with being the category leader in their vertical despite only excelling in a single function or point of expertise.
Similarly, B2B companies need to activate every acquisition channel at their disposal that's relevant to their target audience, while consumer brands can master only one channel, like Instagram or partnerships, and still reach a high degree of success in user acquisition.
One particularly notable shift across the two business models is the prevalence of strong user interface and experience design. DTC has essentially never been permitted to deliver a poor UX experience because consumers will easily churn and migrate to a similar brand.
Meanwhile, in B2B, companies could historically provide underdeveloped, unfriendly UX to clients once they signed a contract. However, with the recent rise of a new generation of B2B businesses, well-developed, consumer-grade UI and UX are critical to differentiate oneself from competitors and retain clients over a long-term time horizon.
“A lot of the B2B sector has been forced to catch up. They can’t peddle outdated, clunky software and interfaces to customers anymore.”
Karim’s DTC Diligence Criteria
As an investor, the most successful consumer brands Karim has invested in share a handful of traits. First, they approach growth as a science. This requires concentrated resources, such as analysts and engineers who are embedded into growth and marketing teams on a daily basis.
One example he shares is Ro, a unicorn telehealth company that’s applied a scientific approach to growth by running countless experiments and iterations as quickly as possible. Then, they’ve scaled the experiments and products that perform well while continuing to monitor metrics.
Second, Karim prefers to invest based on founders, particularly those who can teach him as much as he teaches them. Regarding quantitative diligence, three metrics catch Karim’s eye.
One, Karim looks for companies that can break even on their first transaction, which facilitates more runway and room to experiment. Two, he likes DTC brands that are able to generate repeat customers (and revenue) from that first purchase. Three, he prioritizes an effective referral program where customers essentially will sell your product for you.
“At the start, experimentation and iteration speed are crucial. With every single successful DTC company I’ve seen, they’ve been able to figure out what works and then scale those things very quickly.”
- What to pledge
- How to improve
- Which tools will set you up for success
I think the most important thing brands can do in 2023 is to better manage their customer data—both ethically and effectively. There’s an opportunity for brands to know their customers better than ever before—a clear benefit for both the customer and the brand. When you manage your data correctly, you’ll create stronger and more personalized ads, creative, site experiences, and so much more.
This is a classic: Let the data guide you. Go where the buyers for your products are and communicate with them on a personal level (i.e. by persona and funnel position) and nurture those relationships (past, present, and future customers). It’s possible—all through data.
We recommend that Shopify brands analyze and update their websites using data-driven decisions. Using analytics tools such as heatmaps and scrollmaps can help brands better understand how customers are interacting with their store.
Store owners tend to make assumptions about the way customers interact with their website. Most never go back and analyze their design choices to find pain points or areas of opportunity. By using heatmaps and scrollmaps, they can see where real customers are clicking and concentrating their attention. Leveraging this data, brands can start to iterate on design and make their online store experience streamlined and intuitive.
Hotjar provides a simple way to implement heatmaps, scrollmaps, and recorded user sessions on your site, helping you acquire incredibly informative user data. Additionally, it gives you the ability to create on-site surveys, which allows you to obtain direct and often critical feedback from users about their experience.
Test various attribution models and analyze the impact on your business. At Fifty Six, we are always here to help our clients identify and optimize their approach—a critical step in any successful marketing strategy.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times–Customer Lifetime Value. And even more importantly, Future Lifetime Value (FLTV). With the ever-growing importance of first-party data, it is crucial that brands take a good look at their CRM and FLTV metrics.
OrderlyEmails is our go-to tool for transactional emails. It helps us level up our brands’ email aesthetics with customizable, quick-to-implement Shopify templates.
Lately, I’ve been really interested in Smile.io’s loyalty platform. Their UX is fantastic for teams with low bandwidth!
Stop allocating budgets to low-hanging fruit that doesn’t move the needle on conversion. Think about what’s really going to improve your CX and the return of undertaking different initiatives—not just on what’s top on your list of bugbears on the site!
One of the best ways to understand your customer behavior is by using HotJar. Their heat-mapping and screen recording tools shine a light on where customers are navigating to and from on your site, where they're rage clicking and experiencing frustration, and where conversion is dropping off within real life customer journeys and flows!
Understanding your customers’ pain points via data and analytics , will allow you to work with your CRO/CX Agency to solve customer frustrations and improve conversion.
Rewind backs up all product, customer, and order data for Shopify sites—essential since Shopify itself doesn’t provide this solution. It's saved so many of our clients time and money from administrative accidents.
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33% of customer service inquiries are pre-sale questions. What does this mean? If you’re not investing in customer service, you’re missing out on revenue-generating opportunities.
The benefits of elevating your customer experience:
- 10% to 25% increase in AOV for customers who engage with live chat pre-purchase
- 21x higher conversion rate for customers who reach out via Live Chat or SMS compared to other site visitors
- 87% of customers who have a great customer experience will make another purchase
- 72% of customers share positive experiences with 6 or more individuals
Gorgias is our favorite Helpdesk platform. They can reduce costs by 35%, primarily by decreasing the average ticket handle time. Their machine learning algorithms are trained on millions of ecommerce-related interactions across Gorgias’ customer base and provide accurate, automated replies for the most common ecommerce inquiries. This helps our agents resolve tickets faster, which provides the customer a seamless experience.
Trust your agency! Agencies do the same things across multiple brands and niches, so we see the trends and have the practice and experience!
Don't be afraid of data and insights. If customers aren't clicking on your emails, try a new CTA. If your ads are driving good metrics at a small spend, start scaling. If your customers are complaining about a product, look into QA! If the data tells you something isn't working, let it go and try something else!
I'm supposed to say Tydo, right? 😉
Double down on differentiation. There will be a lot of headwinds this year and standing out from the crowd will set you apart.
A picture is worth 1,000 words. A video? Probably millions. In ecommerce that value translates into engagement, acquisition, and retention—everything you need to impact your bottom line.
At soona, we've seen the we've seen the impact of creative and the continuous split testing of it yield results. Our resolution is to challenge ourselves and double down on innovation and creative optionality so that each brand we work with can distinguish themselves in a crowded sea of D2C ecomm. We'd love to see our brands share this resolution and keep pushing the creative limits.
Klaviyo. We're using it to power our email and newsletter at soona too!
Optimize your returns strategy! This can lead to valuable customer insights, enhanced user experiences, and increased revenue and customer loyalty.
Brands need to dive deeper into understanding their customers to set themselves up for success. Conduct research to gain insights into customer needs, preferences, and behaviors. By doing so, you can develop targeted strategies that will enhance customer experience and boost overall retention.
Right now I would say Gorgias. Having a good customer service tool is crucial to building strong customer relationships.
Start paying heavy attention to data, specifically around retention. We see a lot of effort put towards acquisition with the assumption that once someone buys, they are your customer forever. Instead, get to know your customer, understand their needs, and analyze their behaviors once they are on-site and judge their sentiment after they have visited. Work with a retention focused and data-driven agency to implement tools that contribute to repeat business and customer delight. It will pay dividends.
When surveyed, about 80% of ecommerce merchants think that they are delivering a great experience to their customers. However, when the same customers are surveyed, only 8% of those customers think that they are getting a great experience from the merchant. Now, more than ever, retaining loyal customers is an essential part of any online business and you should spend time with your customers to judge their experience with your website and products and offer improvements based on that feedback.
Tydo's report cards are an essential tool, along with Klaviyo for email and SMS, Recharge for subscriptions and memberships, Okendo for reviews and surveys, Rebuy for AI driven collections and upsells, Loop for self service returns... each tool is great on their own, but their strength as the ultimate tool comes from when they are used together!
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More about the project
Here at Tydo, we try to highlight DTC founders who run their business in various ways. And, that's because there's no "right" way to run a DTC brand.
This project illustrates exactly that. Whether it's how a founder supports their team or how they talk about mental health in the workplace, every founder has a different approach. How do they discover these different approaches? One way: reading. Discover the greatest books that have changed the way 15+ founders think about or operate their business.
You can also listen to these book picks on Spotify or Anchor.fm.