How I Turned A ‘Napkin Idea’ Into A Successful B2B Payment Solution Business

Abdulaziz Al Jouf, CEO & founder of PayTabs – a cutting-edge payment solutions and payment processing company, founded in Saudi Arabia in 2014. PayTabs is an award-winning, B2B, payments solutions powerhouse.

Our payment processing company caters to growing small and medium enterprises, large corporations, and the e-commerce market by empowering merchants with comprehensive digital payment solutions. PayTab’s mission is to help merchants across the region to go global by facilitating the processing of digital payments in multiple currencies and markets across the MENA region. Our first live online payment transaction in June 2014 was for USD25 and today our transactions have grown by millions. Our growth and success have been built on many factors:

  • Differentiated but relevant payment solutions to small and medium-sized companies, business owners, and entrepreneurs – we’re in the business of transforming lives through payments
  • Dedicated tech support and customer support who work round the clock
  • A commitment to quality and excellence which flows from the top down
  • Flexibility to offer bespoke solutions on demand. We are aware that one size does not fit all and this is where we excel as we can customize solutions based on needs
  • And most of all an enthusiastic, passionate, and loyal team who stem from diverse backgrounds and are always willing to go beyond the call of duty

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

PayTabs is what I refer to as a “napkin” idea. The concept of transforming online payments in the MENA region began when I experienced first-hand the difficulties faced by the MENA market in processing online payments and thought: “Why not build one?” instead of spending tedious hours pursuing acquiring banks. PayTabs was conceptualized out of one of my previous ventures – a company that had difficulty navigating the complex world of payment systems within the traditional banking system. “I thought about it for a while and decided there was a better way and I could do it myself.

The challenge is to allow small companies to connect with the payment system without resorting to major financial institutions, who might not be interested in the small ma and pa shops,”

The result was PayTabs, an early starter in the space that subsequently became known as “fintech” and which is now one of the fastest-growing sectors of the financial world. It is a “payment gateway” and technology provider that offers easy integration between the apps on your smartphone and traditional payment systems like credit cards and other online conduits, promising and delivering a seamless payment experience.

That’s how PayTabs was born. I decided to build a simple and secure payment gateway platform to help business owners who had no access to one. To me, PayTabs represented the solution to the problem which was preventing the growth of e-commerce and digital payments in the Middle East.

This revolutionary vision caught the attention of top institutions in Saudi Arabia and within a short period PayTabs was officially under the wing of Saudi Aramco’s entrepreneurship support venture ‘Wa’ed’.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

PayTabs commenced operations in 2014 with a 6 member team. Since its conception, PayTabs has been growing fast. PayTabs gained momentum, processing payments quickly, securely, and efficiently in multiple currencies.

PayTabs offers clients services to seamlessly ‘plug and play’ various features on their websites. It offers e-commerce websites seamless integration with a tool known as API plugins and offers electronic invoicing, QR code, and secure social media payment link solutions for freelancers, merchants, and professionals.

“The people who ultimately succeed in life are not the strongest or the most intelligent but adaptable to change and survival.”

It typically takes merchants months to integrate with a bank in the MENA region. PayTabs can achieve the same in hours, thanks to its advanced technology. I created Paytabs primarily for SMEs and ecommerce enterprises, which now make up the majority of clients.

PayTabs is more than a technology solutions provider that offers plug-and-play integration between apps on your smartphone and traditional payment systems like credit cards and alternative payment options.

It delivers a seamless payment experience and with add-on services like the Smart Business Manager Dashboard which tracks and measures sales performance, merchants’ can craft their customer retention and loyalty programs and strategies for zero additional cost or effort.

Describe the process of launching the business.

The core focus for Paytabs has been technology development and to ensure quality standards everything is done in-house. An experienced team of engineers is tirelessly working to constantly upgrade and improve the technological arm of the company.

Undoubtedly, PayTabs with its efficient technology has resolved a critical issue faced by many entrepreneurs in the region. A payment gateway, which would previously consume 3-4 months to integrate, can now be done within a few hours by Paytabs.

Streamlining the point-of-sale, new customers can register through required documents and have their payment gateway up and running. In the hindsight, although, visibly the process appears to be an ideal situation, the absence of a 24 hours customer support team and live chat can displace the trajectory of a business meant for easy payments. To foster customer growth and customer retention PayTabs must offer an outstanding customer service experience.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

The difference in our approach as opposed to competitors has always been supported by our unique business model. PayTabs concentrates on emerging and ‘frontier’ markets. PayTabs acts as an enabler to help e-commerce businesses enter the MENA region and sell their online products and services through readily available plug-and-play payment platforms. Integration with merchants’ e-commerce websites is quick and seamless and is often completed within hours, enabling full integration and payment processing abilities for the merchants. The PayTabs Platform can enable payments over multiple platforms and devices including web, desktop, and mobile.

The payment gateway supports processing in as many currencies globally. PayTab’s payment gateway has a built-in fraud protection system which includes its in-house fraud protection layer as well as 3D Security. We are also payment card industry standards (PCI-DSS) compliant. This ensures that transactions are processed in a secure and hassle-free environment. We were one of the first movers to adapt and offer integration with global and regional payment options.

Our business is such that we provide solutions for multiple business industries. Interestingly, we learn from these different business models and engineer products accordingly. For example, the health sector that we cater to might have a typically cautious mindset while the e-tail industry is more aggressive and ready to grab the bull by its horns in its sales and marketing approach.

One of our key services, providing electronic invoicing services, is readily embraced by gyms and spas and the leisure sector as it reduces the man-hours spent on creating paper-based invoices. At the same time, we have also witnessed instances wherein there may be end consumers in the utility sector who still prefer a paper bill that they can file.

In a nutshell, our key learning is that digital transformation is not a singular event but a holistic change in the way we operate and cater to our partners and merchants’ businesses.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

PayTabs currently has around 150+ employees across 7+ markets in multiple cities across MENA. Fast forward to the present and backed by private Saudi investment, PayTabs has evolved and emerged with a global presence and strategic business partnerships worldwide. PayTabs game-changing secure online payments solution caters to every stage of the payments lifecycle and every industry that fuels the economy.

This includes hotels, resorts, and schools to airlines and travel agents. Via its booking conversion and payment engine, PayTabs has empowered the hospitality, travel, F&B, and leisure sector businesses to improve their occupancy rates by introducing automation and customization in guest reservations and electronic invoicing, and recurring billings like gym memberships and spa subscriptions, and passenger ticket booking processes.

Social Commerce: In today’s hyper-connected world of social commerce, we continue to make payments super simple for clients that have placed their trust in us. For the first time in the region, we successfully introduced and launched PayLinks. PayLinks will now enable our merchants to sell from the comfort of their home, living room, or office and get paid with ease.

It is a secure payment link that our merchants can share with their customers over any digital channel or social platform. Once the customer clicks on the PayLink shared on any social platform they are directed to a payment page and then the merchant gets paid instantly. PayLinks can be shared via Facebook posts, Instagram photos, Tweets, LinkedIn articles, Pinterest pictures, or even Emailers.

With Farapay, another user-friendly PayTabs innovation, school fees can be managed online easily as the intuitive PayTabs interface let schools and parents easily manage every aspect of fee payment and fee collection.

Biller solutions introduced by us now enable one-touch utility, mobile bill payments, toll fees, and even traffic fines via consumer apps and interfaces to simplify the lives of millions of consumers in multiple countries from Oman to Jordan and Egypt to the Emirates. In April 2021, PayTabs launched PT Touch, the first soft POS solution in the MENA market to transform smartphones into merchant point of sale (POS) terminals.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I’m a software engineer by training. What is unique about our solution is the simplicity of the platform. I built it myself with the help of our engineers. It is all in-house, not from external vendors. The core focus for Paytabs has been technology development and to ensure quality standards everything is done in-house. An experienced team of engineers is tirelessly working to constantly upgrade and improve the technological arm of the company.

Undoubtedly, Paytabs with its efficient technology has resolved a critical issue faced by many entrepreneurs in the region. A payment gateway, which would previously consume 3-4 months to integrate, can now be done within a few hours by Paytabs. Streamlining the point-of-sale, new customers can register through required documents and have their payment gateway up and running.

PT 2.0: PT 2.0 our enhanced payment processing platform has been designed to enhance our merchants’ user experience, automate, and streamline payment processes.

Solutions Portal: Our newly developed customer self-help tool; the Solutions Portal is a database of frequently asked questions and answers aimed at assisting merchants with their queries. Detailed answers to common merchant queries are provided on this portal with in-depth articles put together via a collaborative effort from various departments at PayTabs. The solutions are available in English and Arabic and provide self-help to merchants on PT 2.0 Conversion Support, integration queries, pricing, and the use of payment pages. With the launch of this portal, we will be able to facilitate regular merchant queries at a faster pace, thus improving our service delivery and customer perception. Chatbot: To make it easier on customers to find solutions as fast as possible, we have custom-built a new ChatBot to provide fast yet reliable answers. Our ChatBot produces answers relying on our solid support solution portal as-well-as training the ChatBot. This is achieved by manually feeding it with different variants of the same question to answer different questions that offer a solution.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I have personally always been inspired by Steve Jobs. Most of his books are on my desk as a constant source of motivation and inspiration.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

I believe that failure in a venture should spur you on to success in the next one. PayTabs is one of my many start-ups, and while there were some successful exits in the previous ones, there were some disappointments. Failure is not the end of the world – you should learn from it.

First, you must work smarter and take your time to prepare yourself for entrepreneurship. Secondly, you cannot do it without a good team. Building a good team is the second most formidable challenge for an entrepreneur. However, it is the most critical since a good team can make or break your business. A good team will build on your ideas and improve the quality of your decisions as a leader. I always surround myself with what I call a challenger (a person who doesn’t fear challenging their boss). Lastly, do not fear but embrace change. The people who ultimately succeed in life are not the strongest or the most intelligent but adaptable to change and survival. It’s always about moving to your next market or project without delay. Change is part of the journey, so why the fear?

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