An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
You Don’t Have to be Good at Everything — This is one lesson I learned from a great career coach. She asked me to sketch out all the things I did every day and mark what I was good at and what I enjoyed. My work ethic has always been to roll up my sleeves and dive into whatever is needed. As I sketched up what I did, I soon realized I spent over 50% of my time doing stuff I was not good at and didn’t enjoy. Courageously, I had a discussion with my boss and pointed this out, and I think it opened his eyes up also to what he did daily. Now with my team, I make sure to ask them to do this exercise. It’s a great practice, and chances are you can optimize your team to do more of what they are good at and fill gaps with people who enjoy specific work areas.
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing John Lunn.
John Lunn is an experienced technology and FinTech entrepreneur with 21 years of experience working and investing in financial services, commerce enablement, e-payments, data, security and infrastructure. He was the 36th employee globally and worked as the Director of Technology for six years at CyberSource, the world’s first payment service provider, which sold to Visa for $2Bn in 2010. John then helped found Passmark Security which was sold to RSA Security in 2006.
In 2006, John joined PayPal as the fourth employee in the UK (now 2,000+), where as Global Director of Developer and Startup Relations, he built and grew PayPal’s first Developer Relations team. In 2015, he orchestrated the purchase of Braintree by PayPal and joined the team. In 2016, John launched PayPal Ventures, the venture capital arm of PayPal, a $350m fund with backing from the Board. The fund quickly became one of the most active FinTech investors in Silicon Valley. John recently founded and is CEO of Gr4vy, the cloud payment orchestration platform, based in California.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My path certainly was not direct. I started as a Marine Biologist and graduated during the last recession, which meant there were not a lot of career opportunities available. I decided to be proactive, so I taught myself to code and fortuitously joined the first internet payment company called CyberSource back in 1997 as the 36th employee. I have been in the world of fintech ever since.
Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I have been in the fintech and payments space for a while now, so I have many stories having spoken at rock festival size conferences in Russia, Brazil and Asia with people like Bono, and Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden — weirdly in a suit. There was even one time that one of my network engineers tripped over a cable and took down most of the UK’s ecommerce.
Ultimately, however, one of the highlights of my career has been when I ran the World Cup of Hackathons in 13 countries, called BattleHack, culminating in a Silicon Valley Grand Final with dancing dragons and all kinds of pyrotechnics. Building a global community of fintech developers was incredible, and there are not many people who have danced in a 100 person developer conga on the edge of the Bosphorus in Istanbul having coded without sleep for 24 hours.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
I am a 6 ft 3 bearded, long-haired gentleman, which can be intimidating to some people, so the first thing I do is to smile. It really helps. It’s essential not to take yourself too seriously and to learn to laugh at yourself. I am very curious about everything and will have a go at pretty much anything, which means I fail at a lot of things. The ability to laugh, even when things go wrong, makes it so much more enjoyable.
The last thing that has guided me, and although it is widely used, I really believe in being kind. I recommend trying to see things from other people’s perspectives and trusting in people’s good intentions. We spend so much time getting angry with other people or fighting over opinions or ownership, but most people are good, and taking the time to work out how they operate is always worth it.
Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
At Gr4vy, we have built a Cloud Platform that allows a retailer to add and manage all the ways a consumer would like to pay without needing a team of engineers. A “payments team” is currently embedded in most retailers once they get to a certain size due to the complexities of managing multiple payment providers, especially when they sell internationally. Gr4vy allows a retailer to do one integration through our platform, and then a non-technical team member can manage all their payment methods in a no code fashion.
Gr4vy delivers other advantages by being a cloud platform, which also modernizes payments infrastructure. Gr4vy offers Instances, which act as a retailer’s individualized infrastructure and payment platform in the Cloud. Retailers can spin up one of these Instances as an Edge Instance of Gr4vy, in different jurisdictions worldwide, so they can serve their customers quicker and keep the data locally so they can meet increasing global data regulations. Finally, Gr4vy allows a retailer to avoid building PCI1 level security, as we manage that for them through our vault. This new way of managing payment infrastructure in the Cloud will accelerate payment innovation globally.
How do you think this will change the world?
Although there has been a lot of fintech innovation globally, there has been slow adoption of new ways to pay mainly due to the engineering debt caused by adding these options. Furthermore, not accepting the different types of payments available locally significantly reduces share of checkout for international retailers. Gr4vy’s vision is to help retailers test and adopt payment methods with no engineering debt, which will help boost their bottom line.
However, more interestingly, a huge amount of the global population is unbanked or underbanked and find themselves excluded from online shopping. Enabling other ways to pay will empower this group and provide a more inclusive ecommerce ecosystem.
There is a certain irony about developers writing code that means that you don’t need code and, therefore, coding ourselves out of work. Ultimately if there are no more coders and something goes wrong, who can fix the code? However, this is unlikely to happen for a very long time, and there is nothing wrong with building great tools that make technology more accessible to more people.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
There was less of an individual tipping point, and more of a multi-year constant irritation of how trying to add varying payment options slowed the payment industry down. While I was at PayPal, I would meet merchants who would want to add PayPal but had 8 to 9 month lead times. I saw some great payment options fail because they couldn’t get merchant adoption, even though consumers loved them. I guess the tipping point was the emergence of Cloud technology and the realization that we could finally do something about the irritation in a way that would scale globally for retailers.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
Gr4vy and truly cloud-native payment orchestration platforms have just started as a technology, and a lot of what we do is educating retailers that there is a better way. The old way of large payment teams and onboarding each new payment option individually has been around for so long that we often see “Eureka” moments as we talk to potential clients. Phrases like “why has nobody done this before” are very common. Payment Orchestration is definitely the next wave of payment fintech, and it’s not a matter of “if” but more of how quickly retailers will adopt it.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. You Don’t Have to be Good at Everything
This is one lesson I learned from a great career coach. She asked me to sketch out all the things I did every day and mark what I was good at and what I enjoyed. My work ethic has always been to roll up my sleeves and dive into whatever is needed. As I sketched up what I did, I soon realized I spent over 50% of my time doing stuff I was not good at and didn’t enjoy. Courageously, I had a discussion with my boss and pointed this out, and I think it opened his eyes up also to what he did daily. Now with my team, I make sure to ask them to do this exercise. It’s a great practice, and chances are you can optimize your team to do more of what they are good at and fill gaps with people who enjoy specific work areas.
2. Delegation is Uncomfortable but Important
I learned this one too late in my career, and I see it way too often with managers. Sometimes you feel like it’s just easier to do the work than train someone else to do it, or you feel like nobody else can do it as well as you. The truth is you will never be a good manager if you do this, and you are unlikely to ever end up in a senior position at a company. You will lose the respect of the people you manage as they won’t feel valued, and you are more likely than not to be considered too valuable to be given management responsibilities. I got stuck in a rut in one of my roles because of precisely this issue. I applied for a more senior role, and I did not get it because I was too valuable in my current lower paid role. Recognizing the problem, I trained up some people in my team to do what I did — even though they were not as good at it to start with — and pretty much made myself redundant over time. I was then able to progress to a more prominent role with more responsibilities. Now, as a CEO, I delegate constantly.
3. Make Space for Others in Meetings
As a manager, I learned this the hard way when one of my brave employees pointed out that I was scary and intimidating — mainly due to my size — and that some staff members would not talk in meetings because they were intimidated. I was embarrassed and ashamed, and I learned to wait and count to 15 before giving my opinions in all multi-person meetings to create space for others to give theirs. I also actively ask people for their views regardless of their seniority, and I have been known to ask people not to talk during meetings so that others can. It’s a lesson I consciously practice, and I encourage others to do the same. Listen and let the group talk first. You are missing so much value if you only let the opinionated people talk in meetings, as they can often drown out others who might have a much more valid opinion if asked. It’s important to remember that quieter voices don’t mean the opinions are less strong. Even in 1:1’s learn that silences don’t need to be uncomfortable and give people the time they need.
4. Learn to Say No
I also learned this one far too late in my career. Every time someone asked me to do something, I would always be helpful, but it led to me massively overstretching myself and giving myself a stress-related illness where I lost all feeling in my skin for a few weeks. I am English and therefore adverse to seeming rude, but I learned that I needed to say no, politely, or I would break. The idea goes hand-in-hand with the issue of delegation, but learning to prioritize and say no to the less important things is the only way you can get better.
5. You Spend More Time at Work than You Do with Your Family so Do Something Worthwhile
This came up in one of my first job interviews where the CEO asked me why I came to work. I started down the whole career passion idea, and he stopped me and said, “no, you come to work because you enjoy it.” He then explained mathematically that I would spend more time with work colleagues than my wife and family at home, so I should make sure I am doing something worthwhile. Now, I look back on this as a pretty privileged thing to say, as not everyone has this choice, but every so often, I stop to think, “is this worth not being at home?” And, if the answer is no, then I look for something else to do.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets?”
There is always an answer. I get pretty irritated with can’t, don’t, won’t and other absolute language — it’s probably triggered by my punk rock youth. The way I see it is there is always an answer, and there is no reason to keep doing the same thing badly. I approach everything with an attitude that there is an answer, even if it just has not been found yet. The word shouldn’t is one of the exceptions here, and although there is a lot of talk of disruption in fintech, sometimes there is a reason for the status quo, which often involves regulation, so don’t disrupt things that might send you to jail.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
You know you have portfolio companies that you know could move faster, expand quicker, and become more valuable if they only could manage their payments better. Gr4vy can remove that friction whether they are a retailer, commerce platform or payments company. Now, if that’s just the companies in your portfolio, imagine what the opportunity is like globally.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I am mainly on Linked in linkedin.com/in/johnclunn
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
Gr4vy: John Lunn’s Big Idea That May Change The World In The Next Few Years was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.