Katie and I worked together at Informa where she was our social media strategy expert and one of the most positive people around. She always seemed to have a smile to share, even after a long evening at the pub. She had a few of those. In 2017 she relocated to Toronto where she seems to spend more time exercising than playing drinking games. We spoke in early September.
For the past two years Katie has been working for a Toronto-based financial technology (FinTech) company called Versapay. Their core product helps their clients manage payments and billing by automating the order-to-cash process and allowing them to focus on their customers.
“In North America checks are still a dominant form of payment between businesses. With checks comes tones of manual effort; processing them, matching them to invoices and so on. We help move people and payments on-line so businesses can eliminate that manual work while enabling their customers to pay the way they want. On the surface, it’s not the sexiest of products, but when you delve into it and realise what a huge problem this is for businesses, it becomes really interesting. Our approach to solving this problem is pretty unique so from a marketing standpoint it’s a fun challenge and an interesting story to tell.”
Part of that story is about growth. Since Katie joined, Versapay has gone from ~70 people in Toronto to almost 200 across North America when we speak in early September. In the process she’s gone from being the sole content marketer in a small marketing team to taking responsibility for content, brand and marketing programs with a small team reporting into her.
“The goal is to set us up like a little marketing agency within the company. We have world-class graphic design, copywriting and events marketing capabilities with support from marketing associates.”
Before Covid, Versapay’s marketing activity was structured around three pillars; ‘demand generation’ [creating awareness and interest in a company's offerings through data and technology], ‘content’ and ‘events’.
“Since we’re not actually going to live events this year the events marketing function has changed a lot. We went to sixty different events in 2019, either through having a booth presence, sponsorships or speaking engagements. What we were surprised to realise this year is that not going to these events hasn’t impacted our lead generation in any significant way. When Covid-19 is over, we don’t plan on going back to all these trade shows and conferences. We have the opportunity to get more creative with digital alternatives.”
There are winners and losers in any crisis, and it seems Katie’s found a winner in this particular one. Payments became a critical issue for companies when people were suddenly no longer in the office to write or receive checks.
“Our proposition fits in really nicely with what Covid has forced us all to do – work remotely. Our sales lead times are normally pretty long but at the beginning of this crisis we had a few deals close in a week or two as people were scattered in their homes and had no idea how to get paid.”
Katie and the Versapay team got a preview of working remotely when their Toronto office had to close for a week due to some flooding on a lower floor a month before Covid hit. I’m curious to learn if her head start means that she’s nailed how to work from home?
“As soon as it happened I mapped out what I was going to do every day. I meal prepped on Sunday: made my lunch and dinners for the entire week. If I don’t know what I’m having for lunch I faff about for hours trying to figure something out, or just not eat. So I’d log in at 8:30/9am every day, I’d log off at five and go for a run since I get antsy if I don’t have any physical activity. Then I’d usually log back in when I got home. I probably followed that routine for about six weeks and honestly, I was probably in the best shape of my life. Then I realised that I need to be around people, that’s when my brother suggested that we quarantine and move into their lake house together [she’s now back in her Toronto flat].”
Working from the lake house
There has been a lot of debate regarding how productive and creative people are when working remotely. Many say they are more productive since there are fewer distractions around, something Katie agrees with.
“I’m easily distracted and want to chat with people all day. When that gets taken away your work time is work time. You just get into it and lose track of time. I spent tons of hours working at the beginning and I think a lot of people experienced that. I kind of got burned out after the first month and a half by the hours and the lack of human interaction. But also because I was spending so much time starring at a screen.”
Covid didn’t only change where work got done, but also the focus of Versapay’s marketing strategy. With the cancelled events freeing up resources, Katie found new ways to engage with clients.
“We’ve started a webinar series that has been reasonably successful, we’ve worked with partners and associations that would have put on events to find other avenues to reach their audience, and also help them since they were scrambling for business and cashflow.”
Similar to many other organisations, Versapy also went heavy on the emails at the start of the pandemic, with limited success.
“I remember getting bombarded by emails about how to work from home in a healthy way from companies I bought shoes from a year ago. It just didn’t make any sense. There were discussions within our company to do something similar, but our customers don’t want to get Covid tips from their AR automation solution provider. It was an interesting time in marketing!”
While Versapay is growing rapidly, many of their customers are facing real challenges, including one of their biggest customer segments: commercial real estate (CRE). I was interested to understand if this has changed the client conversation? Can marketing continue as before, or do you need to adapt your style as your customers suffer?
“Definitely, we had CRE clients – owners of shopping malls and office buildings – who were immediately impacted. As nobody was occupying those spaces, landlords were struggling to get paid so we worked with them on a one to one basis to figure out how our platform could help them be more lenient with their tenants; provide discounts, breaks and rent delays. We actually built new functionality within our product to accomplish some of this stuff.”
Team management is another aspect of work that has changed as people work remotely. For Katie it’s been particularly challenging since she’s hired three team members while working remotely.
“We had a socially distanced in-person drinks with the marketing team last week and one of our new hires was there. The first thing out of her mouth was: ‘You’re so much taller than I expected you to be!’ Going through the interview process is so different, I found it way more challenging to get a sense of the person. On-boarding people has also been challenging since so much of it is normally around socialising with the team and the company. We’ve been trying to have team lunches, sending out Uber Eats gift cards and then booking in time to have lunch together. But then you’re just watching people eat on camera and it’s all a bit awkward.”
Canada-style remote working motivation
Something I’ve touched on in some previous interviews is the fact that how people work, and when they are effective, seems to have changed as people move away from the office. Katie was a well-known slow starter in the morning, arriving later and then being in full swing when I would normally leave for the day. She tries to arrange her days accordingly.
“I’ve started packing out my mornings with meetings. I can communicate in the morning, I just can’t focus on tasks. So I pack out my mornings with meetings and later in the afternoon is when I can get stuck in. My prime work hours are around 4-7pm.
Before we end our call Katie mentions how positively surprised she’s been with peoples’ resilience and adaptability in face of the pandemic.
“If you would have told any of us at beginning of the year that we wouldn’t see our friends and families for months, that we’d all be walking around with masks as standard practice, nobody would’ve believed it. It’s just crazy how normal it all feels now. It’s been such an interesting year understanding people and society.”
She has also appreciated how much more aware people have become of mental health issues and how people now regularly check in on each other and making sure people are ok.
“I really hope this is something that will continue when we eventually return to the office.”
And on that positive note, from that still positive person, we say goodbye. And at least I felt slightly more positive about things than before our call, and isn’t that what it’s all about these days?