Celero Commerce CEO Kevin Jones on “Rising Through Chaos” – Competing in a Crowded Payments Environment

We’re continuing an occasional series featuring different perspectives from across the industry. We’re talking to investment firms, payment facilitators, and other providers within the integrated payments ecosystem about their observations on the industry at large and how the current environment affects their own businesses.

This week, we share insights from Kevin Jones, CEO of Celero Commerce.

Celero Commerce recently announced two acquisitions, the company’s third and fourth in the seven months since its inception – a hit-the-ground-sprinting pace that CEO Kevin Jones called a “Herculean” effort, but one he says was necessary for the company to deliver on its plans.

“You really have to have a certain level of scale to be successful,” he said. As a result of these acquisitions, the company now counts 25,000 merchants among its clients and has processed over $8 billion in transaction volume, Jones said, with more than 100 employees in offices in Los Angeles, Dallas, Minneapolis, Greenville, S.C., and Nashville.

“At this point, we are going to slow the pace of acquisition, though we’ll certainly be active in the marketplace – just at a more normal pace,” Jones said. “I feel like we’re at a starting point now, from the perspective of being able to begin delivering the vision of what we wanted and to build upon it.”

That vision follows a desire to level the playing field for small to medium-sized businesses, which face a disadvantage against their larger competition, Jones said. That has led Celero to focus on providing a user experience that is differentiated from the myriad other ways to pay or to receive payment. 

“Everyone can process a payment. So, the key has to be something else,” he said. “There is a large variance in what payments companies are choosing to rely on: product, functionality, cost, service. Everyone has to place their bet. Our bet is on a combination of functional and service excellence. High-tech, high-touch.”

The technology is an important part of Celero’s strategy, which Jones said is focused on providing an end solution that combines data analytics, rewards, business management software and payments into something simple for merchants to acquire and implement, rather than on adhering to any particular payments model. However, he sees owning data and having responsibility over underwriting and risk as important for success, he said. 

“I see us as a true fintech company. We own our own vertical SaaS software in 60 verticals, and we have BINs and are the processor in many cases. We are also working towards launching a payment facilitator model,” he said.

“We’re really focused on the end solution that we deliver to our merchants, vs. necessarily falling into a certain payments category. We see ourselves as a commerce company,” he said.

Jones acknowledged that Celero has entered a market that is humming with activity and jam-packed with providers. Asked who his biggest competitors are, he answered, “Who isn’t a competitor?” And the ongoing industry consolidation is something he watches with interest.

“Some of those organizations create very strong competitors, but they also create very strong partnerships. So, I think the question becomes, how do you structure your organization so you can take advantage of the strength of that partnership and minimize the potential downsides?” he said.

He credits a strong economy and low interest rates for enabling capital to flow relatively freely and providing an economic environment in which payments companies are truly thriving. But that’s only the backdrop – businesses operating in this space have also raised the bar.

“It is a tribute to the innovation of the past 10 years and specifically how much value our industry has added to growing businesses in the economy overall,” he said. “That’s illuminated the importance of payments as our economy has continued to evolve and, as that’s been illuminated, investors have taken note of this industry more than they have in the past.” 

“While I think this trend could slow a bit if economic conditions change, I still think our idling spot is going to be much higher than it was in the past because of those factors,” he continued 

Competing in this crowded environment, however, means that not all companies will succeed. 

“It has never been more important than now to be nimble, smart, and genuine,” Jones said. “We are building our organization with those principles in mind. The payments ecosystem is a bit chaotic, which will push some down, and help others rise. I think rising through chaos is a result of those disciplines.”