Q&A: Joe Proto, CEO, Transactis – On Overcoming Early Adversity

Posted by | May 23, 2017

While the consequential decisions leading up to the economic crisis of the late 2000s and early 2010s were made well before September 29, 2008, the date remains a symbolic timestamp for the collapse of the financial markets.

That day Joe Proto watched in awe as the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted by a record -777.68 points. The downward spiral especially embattled banks – the very clients and prospects Joe was working with as chief executive officer of Transactis, a New York City-based e-bill payment and processing solution.

Less than a year into his tenure, Joe would have to utilize all of his available resources and entrepreneurial skills to avoid becoming collateral damage. Although it was an era of high uncertainty, Joe reassured clients and stabilized the business by relying on 25 years of prior experience.

What he knew, from past downturns, was that the economy was resilient and many of the problems would be curable, in some fashion. Joe took a personal stake in Transactis, giving customers, employees, and investors the nod of confidence needed to move forward.

Martina Aufiero: You’ve been the CEO of Transactis for 10 years now, what are the biggest differences between your outlook on the business and/or financial services market in 2007 and today?

Joe: Now when I look back, I believe it was from this adversity that Transactis was able to rally and build a stronger foundation for success later. By surviving then and thriving now, we won the respect of the largest financial institutions and earned their confidence that regardless of hardships, Transactis would prevail and never let them down.

Tina: Is there anything you’d go back and tell a younger version of yourself – whether it’s about raising capital, the digital billing space, or something else?

Joe: As a serial entrepreneur, I have made a ton of mistakes in my career. But if an entrepreneur is not making mistakes they are not risk-takers. Every day I get pumped up driving the business forward and rarely waste precious energy looking in the rear view mirror.

My only advice for younger versions of me would be to keep dreaming big, but prove your vision works on the smallest scale first.

Tina: Safeguard first deployed capital in Transactis in 2014. Since then, what guidance and stability has the relationship provided?

Joe: Transactis was ahead of its time. We predicted that fintech disruptors could co-exist with the largest industry incumbents. Safeguard is an amazing partner and totally bought into this vision. Arm in arm, Safeguard helped Transactis bring five of the top fifteen banks who were already clients on board as strategic investors. Every investor says they will be supportive and add value, but Safeguard has helped Transactis do something most fintech companies have only recently come to understand – having your clients aligned as stakeholders can produce amazing results.

Tina: In theory, every successful modern company should have an online billing and payment portal today. Where does some of the apprehension come from in today’s climate?

Joe: Bill Gates’ motto was “A PC on every desk.” Our motto is “Electronic billing and payment for every company.”

What ADP did to pioneer the ubiquity of the payroll industry three decades ago, Transactis – with our unique technology and powerful distribution channel – is now doing for the payment industry. Time is a valiant enemy to every entrepreneur. But the same inertia that slows change in financial services has now turned into our momentum.

Tina: What is the hardest part about product development in the financial services space?

Joe: Payment technology is hard. Every transaction needs to balance to the penny. Any company that cannot reconcile dollars and data perfectly does not belong in the financial services space.

Tina: How do you challenge your staff to collaborate and create new ideas for the business?

Joe: Payments are “HOT”! Every day a new headline announcement comes out about how payments are changing – PayPal, Google, Amazon, and many others have created an environment where every part of the status quo is challenged. Change creates opportunity. Our team sees this is a great time to be in the payments space for entrepreneurs.

Tina: How do you find the most productive version of yourself? Are there keys to creating this mentality?

Joe: This is my third and final start up, so I am motivated to have this become my biggest and proudest success story. My goal is to do right by our dedicated team members, our clients who make us stronger every day, and our supportive investors. 

Tina: What type of working environment do you like to create when it is time to be most productive?

Joe: For my quiet time I love the early mornings and late nights to reflect on the strategic aspects of our industry and how we can become the dominant technology provider. During the day I love high engagement on the tactical parts of our business. For our vacations we go on active trips to off-the-beaten-track locations like Mongolia, Myanmar, and our upcoming trip to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which gives me the opportunity to think completely differently about life.

Tina: What are the biggest challenges for the company in 2017 and moving forward?

Joe: There are 4.2 million companies in the U.S. alone who need our electronic billing and payment technology. We want to serve them – all of them.

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