InterviewFintech Interview with CTO, Shopkeep – Daniel Rolnick

FTB News Desk FTB News DeskFebruary 3, 202123 min

Daniel Rolnick, CTO, Shopkeep discusses how technology helped small businesses sustain during the pandemic with enhanced payments solutions and initiatives.

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Daniel Rolnick CTO, Shopkeep

Daniel Rolnick is the Chief Technology Officer for ShopKeep. Daniel leads the company's strategy across key technology initiatives, aligning technology-related decisions with the company's strategic vision. Prior to joining ShopKeep, Daniel served as Chief Technology Officer for Yodle, an online marketing service that helps local businesses build a strong online presence.

1. Can you tell us about your role at Shopkeep?
I wear a lot of hats at ShopKeep. As the Chief Technology Officer, I am responsible for the direction of the product from a features, functionality and technology perspective but I also work closely with my peers at ShopKeep to help inform all aspects of the business. This can be anything from the go-to-market positioning, look-and-feel, customer support or even helping to plan our next company event. Normally, I’m in charge of coordinating or writing our bi-weekly technology newsletter, but since our offices moved to mandatory work-from-home, I’ve given those reigns to HR. On the heels of finishing our first all-virtual hackathon, I’m in the midst of turning our annual full-day ShopKeep Engineering conference into a virtual experience.

2. Can you tell us about your journey into this industry?
I’m a general newbie to the payments industry with only three and a half years of experience but I’ve been in fintech and the small business space for quite some time. I spent about eight years at a large investment bank working on a SaaS portfolio and market analysis tool that was targeted at large institutional investors. After working in banking I fell in love with the small business space.or the past six years I have been working on building software to help small businesses succeed in a very challenging market.

3. How do you think technology is redefining the Payments Sector?
I think that historically, the payments industry has been slow to change. It’s been around for a very long time, so at its core is some very old and entrenched technology. Add to that the sheer number of players and the vast scale of their customer base. Throw in the limitations due to the physicality of producing credit cards, gift cards, payment hardware, and driving widespread adoption. On top of all that, there are governmental regulations, so you can see why it has been historically slow.

However,

with the broad adoption of smartphones and the ever broadening adoption of smart point-of-sale devices and smart payment terminals, the stage is set for rapid change.

Fintech companies like ShopKeep are finding creative ways to change the pace of innovation even given the limitations of what has been historically possible within the industry.

4. How would you say your cash advance facility is helping small businesses during COVID-19 situations?
The ShopKeep Capital program is a small business cash advance facility that is designed to help our customers by providing access to funds to invest in their business that they can pay off over time at a pace that scales with them. Merchants who utilize this facility can realize the benefits quickly and find that ShopKeep shares in their success or challenges. When our merchants can’t open their doors due to restrictions, their payments to ShopKeep pause. As their customers come back, their payments to ShopKeep will scale with their own business’s recovery.
Having easy access to fast capital is going to be imperative for our customer’s success as they navigate the reopening process we see the country dealing with now.

5. ShopKeep had launched the R.I.S.E. initiative. Can you tell our audience about that in detail?
The R.I.S.E initiative is something that we’re very proud and excited about. Everything that ShopKeep does is about helping small businesses succeed because small businesses are the fabric of our communities. The R.I.S.E initiative tries to build upon that goal with, what we hope will be, an even more direct benefit to society than just helping small businesses succeed. It is built on the same underlying technology of the ShopKeep Capital program but with an additional goal of trying to bring equal opportunities to minorities.

R.I.S.E. stands for Reinvesting in Small Business Equality, the program provides funding for minority-owned businesses. For the purposes of this program, a minority group member is as defined by the National Minority Supplier Development Council.

All small businesses struggle and have challenges but some business owners have even more hurdles to overcome. ShopKeep wants to be a part of helping the world be a more equitable place than we found it.

ShopKeep has created an evergreen fund of $250,000 that we are providing to these small businesses to help them succeed. When a merchant makes use of this program there will be no fees associated with it. As our merchants return these funds, we will reinvest this money into other minority owned small businesses.

Our hope is that we can play a part, with the tools that we have, in helping all communities become stronger by helping minority owned businesses thrive. We at ShopKeep don’t think that this program will single handedly solve systemic problems, but we hope that other companies will follow suit and look for their own opportunities to help foster equality.

6. In what way did the initiative impact the clients of ShopKeep?
The majority of our responses have been overwhelmingly positive. We look forward to being able to share the success stories that we know we’ll generate out of this program.

7. What features of your payments’ solution differentiates it in the market?
At ShopKeep, we believe that our merchant’s unique payments needs are of utmost priority. We are the only major player in the SaaS point-of-sale space that allows them to bring their own payments processor. While we feel that ShopKeep Payments is an excellent solution and we’d love for them to utilize us for payments, we understand that they may not be able to at this time. Most of our competitors demand that their customers utilize their payments platform and make it an all-or-nothing decision. We think giving our customers a choice is better for everyone. We want to win their business on the merits of our product not through strong-arming them. By joining ShopKeep Payments, merchants see benefits due to the way it integrates with ShopKeep features like our Capital program with even more great functionality to come.

8. What digital innovation in the tech space do you think will make its mark in the coming years?
Covid-19 has left its mark on 2020 in a way that nothing else in recent history has.
When I look back at my own expectations from early 2020 about how the year would evolve I feel like I was naive. I could see the impact of Covid-19 building across Asia and Europe before this unique event began to directly impact me directly. The biggest tech innovation that made its mark in not only 2020 but will also be ringing in throughout 2021 is not new but instead is one that has been around for ages.

Video conferencing that had been mostly relegated to the business world is now in everyone’s lexicon. While Apple tried to democratize access to video conferencing through FaceTime for years, the sudden and protracted stay at home orders and work from home directives have forced millions to turn to video conferencing. It doesn’t make a difference whether you use Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or some other provider. Video conferencing has probably been dominating your work and personal life for the past several months.

I live on Google Meet for work with an occasional dip into Zoom or Teams depending on who may have organized my next meeting. In my personal life, my extended family has been having shared dinners almost weekly over one video conferencing software or another.

We are all still seeing how this situation evolves but I assure you that video conferencing will continue to be a rising star through the rest of 2021.

9. How do you prepare for an AI-Centric world?

I’m not ready to put on my tin-foil hat and throw away my smart phone but an AI-centric world is not something that we can opt out of right now.

While I’ve tried to start taking control of my personal digital persona I’m afraid it’s too late. I have no great advice in this arena and if any of the futurists are to be believed, the future is scary. Probably not Skynet scary but still scary.

10. What book are you reading these days?
I’m currently in a book club with some peers from work; we are all reading the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. The book is the outcome of a yearlong study where the authors were trying to identify highly effective employees with the goal of bottling the secret of their success. It’s designed to provide a framework to help one navigate conversations that meet the author’s definition of crucial. While I’m still in the middle of the book, I’m finding that their approaches are beneficial in both my personal life as well as my work life. At this point, I don’t think the book will revolutionize the way that I interact with people but, as with all management philosophy books, I consider this a valuable addition to my personal toolbox. I hope that I can keep its teachings in mind when these conversations arise.

11. Can you give us a glance of the applications you use on your phone?
I use the standard complement of news apps: the NY Times, NPR One, Washington Post, Google News. My entertainment is full of chromecastable applications: Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, Comedy Central although my screen time is mostly dominated by Slack or Chrome. However, the app that I’m most enamored with is the one that lets me monitor my solar panels. I had solar panels installed on my home last year and this is the first summer that they’ve been in place. Checking the solar production graphs at the end of the day still hasn’t lost its lustre.

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