Eliot is co-founder and CEO of Plastiq and serves on its board of directors. While still in college, Eliot founded Plastiq to solve his own problem of trying to pay part of his tuition on a credit card. Today, he is focused on empowering everyone to simplify life by putting payments on a card, even in cases where credit is not accepted. As CEO he oversees the strategic direction of the company and directing its various business initiatives across both the U.S and Canada. He holds a BA, Economics from Harvard University as well as a patent for “payment system and methods for brokering consumer-pay transactions.” In 2013, he was honored as a “Hive 25 Under 25” by The Boston Globe.
BusinessInterviews.com: What inspired you to launch your business?
Eliot Buchanan: Very simply it was my own pain point. Coming from Canada I was an international student at Harvard and wanted to pay part of my tuition on my credit card – I was looking to build my credit in the U.S. and thought this would be an obvious way to do it and was shocked when I was told Harvard doesn’t accept credit cards for tuition payments. Many institutions don’t, actually. That set off a year of research that ultimately led to the creation of Plastiq.
BusinessInterviews.com: Do you have any recent success stories that you’d like to share with our readers?
Eliot Buchanan: The last few months have been really exciting because we are starting to see people using Plastiq for a crazy variety of purchases. What started as a way to pay things like tuition or bills on credit cards is evolving to really become a brand that consumers are shaping – for example, some recent customer use cases have been the purchase of a Tesla, a down payment on a plane and vacation rental homes. We are also seeing small businesses use the service to pay vendors, specifically restaurants using it to pay food distributors. It’s a great way for a small business to strategically manage cash flow.
I’ve also been surprised by the number of international customers using it to move money instead of traditional wire transfers. We’ve had customers spanning countries like Switzerland, India, China and Chile, just to name a few. So it’s been very rewarding to watch our customers figure out ways that Plastiq works best for them.
We also recently moved our headquarters to San Francisco and since we got here we have tripled our head count. It’s great to have brought on some really talented people in an area where hiring is really competitive.
BusinessInterviews.com: What issue does your core product help solve and how so?
Eliot Buchanan: We are in a convenience economy where people want to do things how they want, when they want. There’s a mass segment of places that don’t accept credit cards – I mentioned schools, but this includes car dealerships, country clubs, insurance and more. We solve a very simple problem of moving money in a quick, convenient and secure way while empowering people to pay for any good or service however they want, regardless of merchant acceptance. There is really an emotional side to what we do, with people resoundingly saying “I want to pay this way.” In fact, our average transaction size is $1,500, with some of our largest transactions being over $1 million, which is insane for the industry. This is 30-50 times the value of each transaction for competitive payment companies like PayPal and Square.
BusinessInterviews.com: What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner and how have you met that challenge?
Eliot Buchanan: I think my biggest challenge is not just as a business owner, but also as a first time entrepreneur. There are two sides to this because when you haven’t done anything there’s nothing bad on your record, no mistakes to speak of, but you also have no successes or anything good to show. So it becomes about proving yourself to investors, partners, customers, co-workers – really everyone. Which brings me to another huge challenge, which is how often you are told your idea won’t work. Starting a business has been an emotional roller coaster on a daily basis and people tell you “it’s a marathon not a sprint,” but what’s funny to me about that is when you look at people who actually win marathons, they are sprinting the entire time!
People are also a challenge. When you talk to almost any investor they are looking for two to three things and people are almost always number one – the idea actually comes secondary and one of the hardest things I’ve had to do is learn how to manage people, fire people and build the right team.
BusinessInterviews.com: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you/your Company?
Eliot Buchanan: This goes back to what I mentioned earlier about the incredible breadth of desires and use cases for Plastiq. It’s so exciting to watch the company take off with a diverse set of consumers, from hundreds of countries, using the service for tens of thousands of options in a bunch of verticals. To watch consumes decide what THEY want Plastiq to be used for. Instead of us defining the product consumers are defining it and it gets me really excited that the options are unlimited.
BusinessInterviews.com: Where do you envision your company in 5 years?
Eliot Buchanan: We want to be the cash register of the future. There’s a fair amount of hype that as credit evolves credit cards as we know them won’t exist and that younger generations will be more interested in contextual credit on an as-needed basis. That’s a ways off, but it will be interesting to see how the industry goes and we will work to evolve along with it.
BusinessInterviews.com: Have you had any mentors or role models that have influenced you? Describe the impact.
Eliot Buchanan: Yes, I’ve been very fortunate to establish a relationship with a leader of a large credit card company – he was the one big exception to all the “no’s” I’ve heard. He was actually quite the opposite and he would tell me “of course this can be done, just keep going.” It was really unique and refreshing to hear that coming from someone who wasn’t at a startup and whose experience was at the Fortune 50 level.
BusinessInterviews.com: Do you consider yourself successful and by what means do you measure success?
Eliot Buchanan: For me success is very much defined by if you are happy and passionate, so in that regard yes, I do consider myself successful. I also think there is a component of success that’s defined by what other’s think of you. I realize that can be a dangerous point of view because it opens up so much judgement, but really what I mean is do others respect you and view you as credible? I’m not saying your success is defined by if people unanimously love or like you, but I do think if you are unanimously respected, that’s success.
BusinessInterviews.com: How do your competitors view you?
Eliot Buchanan: I think they don’t understand us and think we are a competitor when we really aren’t. Reason I say that is we often get lumped into enterprise software solutions that have a payment component that’s an afterthought. We are more a consumer lifestyle convenience company than a payments company. We are a lifehack for people as we give them the option to optimize the way they make payments.
BusinessInterviews.com: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs and business owners? What do you wish someone told you?
Eliot Buchanan: Just get started – that’s what I would tell everyone. I get calls and emails all the time from people that are really smart and go on and on for hours about their idea, but they are afraid to take the first step. The hardest thing we have ever done, and also the most exciting, is just deciding to go for it and start Plastiq. I probably have 60 ideas a day and it doesn’t mean all of them are good, but you get started and you figure things out.
I do wish an experienced entrepreneur had told me how many competing perspectives I would face around every decision. With so many voices and opinions it can take way too long to come to a decision and if I had just trusted my gut more we could have avoided some bad hires and partnership choices.
BusinessInterviews.com: What’s the biggest risk that you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
Eliot Buchanan: Starting Plastiq – and we are still here and growing, so it seems to be turning out OK!
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