This is pretty much the entire text from the talk I delivered at Paymentsfn 2018 on May 24, 2018 in Durham, North Carolina.
This is an abolitionist one. They came in many different themes.
But by 1843, the year The Gold Bug was published, a number of innovations made publishing cheaper and easier than it had ever been before.
These innovations include the first lithographic rotary printing press, a press in which the type is placed on a revolving cylinder instead of a flatbed. This sped up the printing process considerably and a form of it is still used today.
The inventor Charles William Siemens, of the same electronics company Siemens that exists day, had also helped to roll out anastatic printing, a process of printing using zinc plates that made copying of prints, designs, and literature faster and cheaper.
This is incidentally around the same time that Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage were pulling together their work on the Analytical Engine, largely considered to be an example of some of the earliest computer programming.
So lots of experimentation was going on. Electricity was in the air.
We are living in a similar period.
Innovations like the introduction of protocols, the decreasing price of microprocessors, and services like AWS enabled the rise of our current tech industry.
However as our poor unfortunate Mr. Poe discovered, there is quite a difference between riding a wave and being submerged by it.
While I’m not an engineer, in the beginning at Clubhouse we were a tiny team and I worked very closely with the engineers to set up and maintain the payments system.
And the process hit us rather hard.
Enabling payments was one of the biggest hurdles to clear before we could formally launch.
Like at many companies our engineers were hired for their competency in the skills necessary for building our product. While we have to build or integrate and also maintain a payment system, that is not our product. We build and maintain a payment system so we can get paid for building our product.
Now the payment system is integrated in the backend and our backend developers work with a functional programming language called Clojure and a database Datomic. For those unfamiliar, Datomic is a system that is immutable, which of course means that an entity holds on to values over time and as such you get a lot of fancy “time travel features”.
For billing and more importantly for understanding a customer, that is so valuable.
Knowing who did what and when at any given moment in the span of the customer journey is so valuable. For example, if someone was an active user and then left for a long stretch that is useful to be able to trace back actions to find out what may have lead to them abandoning the product. Being able to see the fullest picture of the past and the present is important to people who do any sort of account management. And if you are interested in this, there is also a really great talk called “Exploring Four Datomic Super Powers” that I encourage you to check out. There is a lot of great functionality there.
However, for us, leveraging Datomic to get that full picture meant that we had to take on a large share of the complexity of the payment system and set up our own trialling and payment logic. Something we weren’t terribly thrilled to do. Taking on this complexity also means that we have a hard time using the out of the box integrations with many analytics, metrics, and subscription management services.
Most of the integrations tend to only work properly with the vanilla implementation of payment processing not the sort of mixed up version we’ve implemented.
So at Clubhouse we are still very much in the process of trying to find a middle way where we can leverage the cool innovations of the day like Datomic without losing the great functionality of the payments software and— perhaps more importantly — the expertise of engineers who actually specialize in payments.
The third area where Poe’s life and work proves illuminating is internationalization.
As I mentioned before, Poe’s work particularly The Gold Bug and later The Raven gained him popularity not just in the US but in Europe and even Asia. In fact, the great French poet Charles Baudelaire spent some seventeen years translating the works of Poe, often putting his own writing aside to do so.
Unfortunately all of this international fanfare proved of little monetary value to Poe. In Poe’s day there were no international copyright treaties. The absence of such treaties meant two notable things:
1) Instead of paying American writers to produce new content, American publishers often simply copied the work of British writers and issued it from their presses. There was no author to pay so all the profits could be pocketed.
2) Poe had no real way of brokering to get compensated if and when his work was issued across the pond. Though his work undoubtedly circulated around the world, as an American whose work had not gone through whatever arduous registration processes England or France or wherever required, he had no standing in court to make a claim on his works or their translations.
While I consider myself a copyright minimalist, I do sympathize with Poe as he was faced with a significant obstacle to getting paid. As we know, the primary convention for payment on SaaS software like Clubhouse is a major credit card, but that simply doesn’t work for everyone who would like to use our software and we also know that much of the rest of the free world has wisely rid themselves of checks.
According to a 2012 World Bank report, “at least 110 money mobile systems have been deployed, with more than 40 million users”. Some six years later, I can imagine it may likely be double that number.
When credit cards don’t work but mobile payment systems are on the rise, payment system purveyors should more easily enable tech companies to hook into the ways people around the world can and do pay for things.
When our products have avid fans all across the world, we need payment system providers us help us find more ways to let them pay.
To close, I want to share one last nugget of wisdom from dear old Edgar Allan Poe.
In a piece called “The Philosophy of Composition”, Poe explained why he wrote The Raven backwards saying:
“There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story….I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect.”
My ask is that payments system providers work with a consideration of the effect on customer success and support people like me, on engineers who are not payment specialists, and most importantly on our end user.
Help us iterate on our ideas while keeping the payment experience easy and constant for the user, help us leverage innovation without losing functionality, and enable us to cultivate an international user base that pays us in the ways that work for them.
And maybe, just maybe, we’ll all get a little closer to our fortunes.