Since age 13, when he wrote software to optimize his neighborhood lawn-mowing business, Clover Founder John Beatty has looked to technology to give small businesses an edge. The theme has remained a constant in his career, which has included stints in information technology, consulting, and venture capital as well as time as a founding engineer at Bix, an online voting website acquired by Yahoo.
Beatty's varied background proved to be the perfect training ground for developing Clover, a flexible, customizable, and decidedly cool point-of-sale system for small businesses. Acquired by payments processing giant First Data Merchant Services in 2013, the Sunnyvale, California-based firm recently sold its 1 millionth unit.
In further support of small business owners, Clover has launched CloverAchievers, a new program that showcases how small businesses thrive. CloverAchievers are business owners who are unique, authentic and passionate about their day-to-day work and do whatever it takes to achieve great success. The CloverAchievers program seeks businesses that exemplify these traits, and plans to award business grants and prizes totaling up to $100,000 to select small businesses.
Beatty recently took the time to share his insights on hitting an entrepreneurial home run, being an "intrapreneur," and provide some powerful advice for other founders.
What lessons from your own journey helped you create Clover?
Entrepreneurs--at least when swinging for the fences--need a very clear thesis and the ability to test it in the absolute fastest, cheapest way possible. Then, you shouldn't argue with the results. I saw that at Bix. They made some decisions that were pretty bold. My personality would have had us grinding away to figure it out. They were very honest in saying, "That particular key metric is so far off, and we can't come up with a good idea to close the gap, so we'd better pivot the business now while we still have cash."
How did that affect your business?
We raised $6 million dollars for Clover based on a PowerPoint presentation, so it's not like we had any sort of initial traction before we got our financing. The first couple of ideas weren't exactly right, and that lesson of pivoting as fast as possible gave us multiple bites of the apple. If we hadn't been that honest with ourselves, we would have run out of money and been dead.
What did the First Data acquisition mean for Clover?
In addition to having the largest partnership distribution with big banks, they had a true appreciation for our vision. We really felt like they understood the strategic value that we could bring. They were also willing to give us tremendous autonomy to let us incubate this thing and really get it out into the world. For our customers, this was the best of both worlds - the stability and reach of one of the largest financial technology companies in the world with the innovation and agility that comes with a Silicon Valley startup.
What freedom and opportunities does your role as an "intrapreneur" at First Data provide?
Our first-generation product was built with about 20 engineers moving incredibly fast. You just don't see that in larger companies. First Data let us bring in incredibly talented people who are able to get something off the ground quickly and bypass a lot of the formal processes, relying on trust, skill, and passion. You have to bootstrap at first to prove you use money wisely. But, once you build that trust, no one asks, "What's the ROI of that one employee you're hiring?"
What did it mean to you when the 1 millionth Clover was sold in September 2018?
As you build things, the milestones are probably under-appreciated. It's pretty remarkable and very gratifying. It's also very sobering because it's a big responsibility. You made a million devices. Now, you've got to make sure that they all work, and that hardware reliability is good--these are the things I think about. But it was a cool moment, nonetheless. That said, there's always more value we can drive for our customers. My head is always thinking about the next innovation that we can develop.
Tell us about your partnership with the Girl Scouts of America.
Now that we have these young women armed with Clover Go devices, people who aren't carrying cash can purchase Girl Scout cookies. The importance of feeling professional in that way gives them confidence. I learned this as a teenager in my lawn-mowing business. I'd be shocked if we're not empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Speaking of empowering entrepreneurs, what do you hope to accomplish with the CloverAchievers contest?
From early May through July, we'll be looking for small businesses that embody the Clover ethos of striving to accomplish more than the status quo and surprising and delighting their customers in unexpected ways. Winners will receive a combination of a cash grant, a 'Clover makeover' and a donation on their behalf to an approved local non-profit. This contest will really let us celebrate the impact that small business owners have on the broader economy and give them a forum to tell their stories. Interested business owners can find out more at firstdata.com/clovercontest.
If you had one piece of advice for people thinking about starting a business, what would it be?
Starting a business, whether it's a Silicon Valley startup or a new shop on Main Street, is all-consuming. Knowing that, you should do something you really love and believe in. It certainly helps to have a support network around you between friends and family that are able to appreciate the long hours and mindshare that your endeavor will require. It's amazing upside. Just be prepared for what it takes to get there. A bonus piece of advice is to be flexible. Oftentimes, entrepreneurs go down paths they never expected, so be flexible, and enjoy the ride wherever it takes you.
For more information on the CloverAchievers contest and to submit an entry, click here.