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Monday, January 31, 2022

GS interviews Dimitri Akhrin, the force behind IRIS CRM

Dimitri Akhrin founded IRIS CRM in 2010 with the goal of delivering advanced business management solutions to the payments industry. On Jan. 18, 2022, news broke that the company had been acquired by NMI. The Green Sheet was able to connect with Akhrin to learn about IRIS CRM's evolution and what the future with NMI could bring.

What were some highlights and memorable milestones in your company’s journey?

Since 2010, IRIS CRM’s journey has been full of highlights, and I am excited to see the continued growth of the platform. Developing and operating an SaaS platform in-house definitely has its rewards and the process has taught me a lot.

To get into specific highlights, the first one that comes to mind is successfully connecting two completely separate sets of payment processing network data into a single interface.

The moment we connected First Data and NPC transaction reporting (circa 2010) into a single system, I was provided with validation to take IRIS CRM from an idea to an actual business when payments companies began lining up to talk to us, and we started seeing their eyes light up because they saw the value in a system that would undoubtedly reduce many manual processes.

The feedback from these early adopters of IRIS CRM gave me the optimistic motivation to push forward through many nights of writing feature specifications and preparing for demos.

The second highlight in our journey involves the evolution of our staff, while also continuing to stay nimble. Over the years, IRIS CRM grew, going from one full-time developer, to two, to three and so-on and so-forth, all while using our own revenue as the growth funding source. We kept reinvesting our profits into the development of the product and our team.

As IRIS CRM’s reputation for quality software spread and we became more well known, we started adding more and more integrations. In 2018, we achieved another significant milestone by adding ground-breaking support for the TSYS Full Service Provider channel (now part of Global Payments) and creating a boarding, maintenance and reporting integration that is second-to-none today.

IRIS CRM was announced as the winner of the ETA Star Technology Innovation Award in 2018, which is another notable highlight in our journey.

IRIS CRM has become the full-service platform of choice for sales, direct-to-processor onboarding, transaction reporting and residual income calculations across various acquirers, which can be enabled by clients at any time.

Did IRIS CRM continue to innovate and grow amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

Despite existing within the landscape of a global pandemic, the last few years have been full of exciting highlights that have pushed IRIS CRM further into the payments industry value chain. In 2020, IRIS CRM added an automated underwriting integration and signed up our first sponsor bank to be a client. In 2021, we then rolled out our first payment facilitator reporting integration that supports companies working with the Fiserv network.

In 2022, our roadmap is full of powerful features and onboarding integrations. I am very thankful for the trust and support from our clients, processors, integrators and teammates that have helped us through the decade-long journey.

There have also been several key milestones along the way, one being surpassing the 100,000 active merchant threshold in 2015, which was then followed by 200,000 merchants in 2018, and now we are holding a steady total of more than 350,000 merchants being supported across all clients in 2022.

The name, IRIS, stands for Integrated Reporting is Simple. How have your engineers and developers helped drive deep integrations and simplicity across client and partner relationships and industry sectors?

IRIS started out as a transaction reporting solution used solely to aggregate merchant reporting data such as transactions, deposits and statements across multiple processing networks during a time when there was no such thing as API availability.

The push for acquirers and processors to create APIs was a solution that IRIS CRM and many acquirers needed to run their businesses. We became the guinea pig, in some ways, of these boarding and reporting APIs by creating a conduit for processors to reliably accept new business from their resellers while taking a lot of the boarding support off of the processors’ employees plates while letting technology and automation do the heavy lifting.

Our team realized that by eliminating the need for continuous double-data entry, we created a way with TurboApp to help everyone in the value chain including the processors, ISOs, sponsor banks and merchants that they service. It was the simplicity of TurboApp, our proprietary direct-to-processor boarding tool, which helped reduce the time to onboard a new merchant account.

The time drastically decreased from an experienced keyer spending approximately 30 minutes per application in a legacy system to now spending approximately five minutes or less.

The impact of the time savings and reduction in errors that TurboApp delivered was huge. Smaller retail ISOs adding only 20 or so accounts per month now had access to a tool to manage their businesses efficiently.

IRIS CRM became a tool that everyone could use to manage their payments business, not just super-ISOs approving hundreds of new accounts per month.

When did you first meet Vijay Sondhi, CEO at NMI, and when did you begin to explore a partnership?

Our history with NMI and Vijay actually goes back to 2014, which was before Vijay came on as CEO at NMI. I provided a single demo for the co-founders of NMI in 2014 and they liked the tool but it wasn’t until late 2020, that IRIS CRM completed boarding integrations with both NMI and USAePay platforms to easily onboard gateway merchants from IRIS CRM through their respective onboarding APIs.

Little did I know, that USAePay would end up being acquired by NMI. When NMI’s management team asked me for a personal demo of the IRIS CRM integration with NMI’s gateway, that is when I first met Vijay and the sparks began to fly.

Shortly after the demo, is when we embarked on the beginning of our 'dating phase.' NMI and IRIS CRM certainly did not rush into things because we were both culture and people-first organizations who needed to make sure that everything would blend perfectly, not just the technology. We had a lot of Zoom calls and two face-to-face meetings prior to officially coming together.

What attracted you to NMI as a company and how are your interests and technologies aligned?

The first element that attracted me to NMI is the history of being processor-independent just like IRIS CRM. I do not know of many other companies in the industry that have built their businesses by being an enabler without siding with one processing network or acquirer and, instead, taking the path of letting clients choose their own relationships for issuing and managing their own merchant accounts.

The second element that attracted me to NMI is the positive energy of everyone on the team and that positivity has continued to be very real and non-wavering. IRIS CRM invests heavily into our team’s happiness, and it was a breath of fresh air to see the care and attention with which NMI approaches their people and culture.

Work is typically going to be hard regardless of what your profession is, but hard fun is better than hard or boring work alone, and NMI echoed IRIS CRM’s sentiments in this regard.

The third element that attracted me to NMI is the size of the company. NMI has a ton of growth potential and punches above its weight class. Prior to combining with IRIS CRM, NMI had approximately 300 people, which is larger than IRIS CRM’s 70 people, but is still not as big when comparing it to the legacy companies in the payments industry with tens of thousands of employees.

I recognized that NMI maintains its nimbleness, while harnessing the ability to innovate and move forward with opportunities that clearly make sense and do so without a lot of red tape.

How would you describe your new role in the unified organization and how do you envision working together?

My new role as a member of the executive management team at NMI has been very positive so far. I am learning to work on a team that is backed by the most sophisticated private-equity investors in the fintech industry. On the one hand, I am learning new processes, such as creating organization-level OKRs and presenting strategies to the board.

On the other hand, I am fortunate enough to continue helping architect new features that now include a payment gateway portion. Having a payment gateway in our technology stack is going to deliver more powerful integrations in the near term, which will bring additional value to ISOs, ISVs, payment facilitators, sponsor banks and the merchants they service. end of article

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