No longer do digital publishers or ad-tech businesses have to wait months for payment from advertisers. Technology-driven commercial finance company FastPay is an “anti-bank” in the words of its founder, formed by digital media industry insiders who understand first hand the real costs of lengthy and growth-prohibitive payment cycles.
FastPay offers offers credit lines up to $5 million to content publishers, social media marketers, digital creative studios, and ad-tech businesses. After more than a year of testing and refining its business model with “a few million dollars,” the Los Angeles-based company is dramatically increasing the scale of its operation with $25 million in newly secured commercial financing. The new funding consists of 50 percent Wells Fargo senior credit facility and 50 percent SF Capital Group subordinated debt and equity investment.
“Most banks look at our clients and call them unfinanceable,” says founder and CEO Jed Simon. “To them, tech and media businesses are too esoteric to evaluate. We speak our clients’ language and see them as fantastic financing candidates.”
The company keeps its application process simple, using a proprietary algorithm to make decisions in a matter of minutes or hours, offering approved borrowers 80 percent of an outstanding invoice as quickly as the next day. The criteria considered when evaluating applicants include the personal credit of the business owners, the size and reputation of the payable vendor (e.g. Pepsi versus “Joe’s Carpets”), and the age and profitability of the borrowing business.
The business is built on the KISS methodology — “keep it simple stupid.” For borrowers, there are no monthly minimums, bullshit commitment fees, or restrictive covenants like those that would be associated with traditional bank financing — if such old school financing were even available, which it’s not. Borrowers pay a flat monthly fee of 1 to 2.5 percent based on the risk determined through the above algorithm. When vendors submit payment, they do so directly to a Wells Fargo “lockbox” that remits the balance of the payment along with a scanned copy of the original check to the business owner.
In the two years plus since its 2009 soft launch, FastPay has deployed over $45 million in financing to more than two dozen clients. Its initial loans were in the range of $100,000 to $500,000, a number that will only increase going forward. The company has yet to experience a default, although its founder acknowledges such issues as a part of the business and says that it sets aside reserves to protect against the inevitable bad loans.
FastPay points to an Interactive Advertising Bureau survey indicating that nearly 80 percent of invoices in the $100 billion digital ecosystem take 60 days or longer to pay. Delays of this length are often enough to stunt the growth of healthy, successful companies or even put them out of business.
“Previously, our clients were raising equity capital, when they shouldn’t have had any reason to,” says FastPay’s founder. “It’s just ‘sub-optimal’ to wait for a check in the mail before you can operate your business.”
“Our entire business revolves around executing campaigns on behalf of big brands which have extended payment cycles,” says video syndication platform Giant Media CEO and founder David Segura, FastPay’s first ever client. Through the additional liquidity created by FastPay’s receivable financing, Giant Media has grown over two years from a one man operation to a 25 employee business that is doubling in size quarterly.
Prior to starting FastPay, Simon worked as a vice president at DreamWorks Records and before that as a mergers and acquisitions advisor in Morgan Stanley’s media and technology group. His partners include a former television producer and a recent Harvard grad who joined this year as the company’s chief revenue officer.
“None of us have commercial lending backgrounds,” says Simon. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing will likely depend on who you ask. FastPay’s clients will surely like the empathetic perspective of the company’s former digital media executives. Wells Fargo and SF Capital Group seem to have voted with their checkbooks, but it’s hard to imagine that they never questioned the lack of an experienced lender on the team.
“We like to think of ourselves as peers with our clients,” says Simon. “In that way, we’re modeled more like Amazon Web Services than Bank of America.”
Simon raised FastPay’s earliest financing in the amount of “a few million dollars” from several of his personal mentors and advisors, including real estate investor Victor Coleman. “We’re disrupting the traditional model of raising VC financing, and we’re okay with that,” says the founder. “Our investors insisted that we take six months to a year to turn the money a few times and really test our market and product. Now we’re ready to do this on a much larger scale.”
With the newly secured $25 million line of credit, Simon predicts that FastPay will be able to increase its lending activity tenfold, while increasing its maximum loan size to $5 million. In addition, the current Wells Fargo line is just a starting point and can be scaled in the future.
FastPay is addressing a true void in the marketplace. Prior to its launch, digital media receivables fell into the category of unbankable. The company is now delivering a service desperately requested by one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. Although there is little or no competition in the space currently, this won’t last forever. FastPay is counting on its first-mover advantage, its technology, and its status as industry insiders to win the market.
“This sounds like such a simple and appealing business to enter, but it takes a lot of time to optimize,” says Simon. “If someone else can offer the same service with as low friction as us and add the same value, more power to them.” Consider that the sound of the gauntlet being thrown.