CIX Top 20 CEO Series: Kathryn Loewen, CEO, Control

The CIX Top 20 CEO Series highlights the chief executive officers of Canada’s most innovative companies.

You can register for CIX 2015 here.

Today we sat down with Kathryn Loewen, CEO of Control.

What impact does being on the CIX Top 20 have on your business?

It is an honor to be selected by the CIX. Being evaluated by a committee of experienced Canadian investors and professionals in finance and technology as a top 20 re-ignites our passion to build something great. I am also excited to meet a broad base of potential investors that are interested in being a part of Control’s story.

How was your company formed?

There were two main catalysts that sparked Control. Firstly, working in the payments space I saw first hand all of the frustrations developers would experience when integrating credit card processors. Testing transactions was onerous and the back-office applications didn’t fit into existing workflows. When a small fledgling startup, Stripe, created the first truly open APIs for payments, I knew they would radically transform the industry. Around the same time I was selling enterprise eCommerce solutions for SAP. Mobility was mostly focused on the consumer and we were building apps that addressed the front-end of the checkout experience. However, there was an increasing demand for business apps within a native mobile context from our enterprise users.

I was inspired by a company that had built the first iOS tool for managing Stripe, so I started working on the Android equivalent. When I launched the product on the Google Play store it started gaining momentum very quickly. Within a few months I had reached out to the founder of the iOS app, and quickly worked out a deal to acquire his IP, assets, and customers and migrate them over to Control. We have been moving at full speed since then, and have expanded to a full platform spanning mobile and web, with integrations to other payments processors such as PayPal and Paymill (with many more planned).

What brought you to this industry?

I have worked in financial technology and payments my entire career. In my early 20s I moved to Ireland with a backpack, a laptop, and a skateboard. I worked as a developer for Citigroup and learning about ACH and SWIFT. I was fascinated by international funds transfer, how foreign exchange worked, and how major corporations moved money globally. I was highly impressed by the world of high finance, but I didn’t fit the typical profile of a Wall Street banker. I was much more interested in the technology behind it.

At the time most bank communication was happening via Electronic data interchange (EDI) but financial institutions were starting to embrace the idea of processing transactions via the Internet. I had a hunch that was going to take off, and I have since made a career out of building financial technology on a more widely distributed network. While writing my MBA thesis paper on the rise of mobile business apps, I sketched out much of the original thinking behind what would later become Control.

Who are your typical clients?

Our target market is small to medium sized enterprise. The users of Control tend to be part of a team of under 10 people from a global eCommerce or SaaS business. They manage a significant amount of their businesses activities on their smartphones. One of their most common daily activities is managing payments, and they are looking for ways to access timely analytics, react to time sensitive transactions, and reduce the cost of fraud.

Can you give me a sense of your role and what you do as CEO of your company? What are your goals?

I started the company only about a year and a half ago and in the early days between managing product launches, pitching to investors, dealing with legal agreements, hiring staff, setting up operations – the simple act of keeping your head above water while continuing to grow, is a huge achievement.

Now I have a small but incredibly hardworking team and we distribute the activities based on our respective talents. This allows me to focus on where my strengths are: designing product for our customers, and pitching the vision of Control to potential partners, customers and investors.

My goals are to build a product that helps our customers to better manage what I believe is the most critical aspect of their operations: payments. We have a highly engaged and active user base and we want to help them better manage every facet of their transactions.

How do you feel your past experience has impacted you and your role as CEO? Have you had any mentors?

Having a depth and breadth of experience in payments allows me to tackle the role of CEO of with credibility and authenticity. I didn’t start the company because FinTech is “hot”. This has been the focus of my entire career, and it is an area I am genuinely passionate about. Designing transactional based software doesn’t necessarily invoke an image of appealing design and sticky products people want to compulsively use, but that is exactly what we are trying to achieve. I want my excitement and energy about this industry to parlay Control into something really big, something unique.

I am surrounded by a really fantastic team of mentors that have truly been instrumental in helping to guide where Control is today. I know where my strengths lie and where I need help, and it is great to be able to tap a network that have experience where I am lacking. The Vancouver tech community has some really great people that are humble, generous, and that genuinely want to see the entrepreneurs behind them succeed. Laurie Wallace, Keith Ippel, David Tedman, Amy Rae, Ryan Holmes, David Tedman are some of the mentors who have helped along the way, and I am very grateful for their support.

Are you developing anything new that you can share with the public?

As I started the company with a mobile first focus, we have developed a deep stack of really unique mobile technologies. Some of the ideas we are working on will help to set the pace for business operations as we know them. Intelligent and actionable alerts delivered to any device, is where we anticipate the curve heading, and our R&D focus is already there.

Where do you see your company in 5 years?

There’s a couple very interesting trends I am keeping a close eye on. SaaS adoption by micro, small, and medium sized enterprises is going to double in the next 5 years. Most SMEs don’t have in-house engineering teams and their time is occupied by the endless minutiae of running their business. They want to be able to access a standardized ecosystem of apps that fit seamlessly into their existing systems and workflows, while minimizing development costs and support overhead. Many SMEs are either moving, or planning to move, to hosted services. Early adopters of cloud based services spend approximately $650 per year on SaaS and use on average 3 apps. In the next 2-3 years that average will increase to 7. They spend 4 hours a day online, and not on consumer or social apps such as Facebook or Candy Crush. According to a study by Intuit and Nielsen, nearly half small business owners use a smartphone as their primary device to manage their operations.

We want to position Control as one of the indispensable apps that SMEs use to manage their payments, and get a share of their growing SaaS spend wallet. I believe we are just getting started: the market for SaaS and mobile business apps is expected to grow to $100B + by 2020 Where I see Control in 5 years is in geographies that have a developed economy but a less mature IT market, and SaaS adoption is only at the bottom of the growth curve.

For example we are working with in Mexico to offer our products to their merchants. Greater Mexico City has an official population of 20M+ people, and that’s an exciting partnership for us. In emerging markets, compounded annual growth rate of the the SaaS market is expected to be 40% over the next 5 years. There’s big opportunities and a huge space for Control to play in.

What are you looking forward to most at CIX 2015?

Meeting new people, sharing ideas, finding opportunities to make connections, and getting people as excited about our vision to create the Mission Control for payments.