Some businesses place more emphasis on being first than on being right. In the rush to beat deadlines and get a product to market, details can get overlooked and the end result suffers.
For example, have you ever visited a company's new Web site, only to find it still had a few kinks that needed to be worked out? Maybe links were broken or the server could not handle the volume of visitors.
Some companies put speed first, while others take a more tempered approach and pore over every detail before debuting their products. Charge Anywhere LLC dba Comstar Interactive is an example of the latter.
"We thought it was important to have the solution in place first, and then go out with our great products," said Ken Racioppi, Vice President of Sales Operations for Comstar.
Even though Comstar has been operating since 1998, it remains one of the industry's quiet leaders. Racioppi and Comstar know there is only one chance to make a first impression, and the company prides itself on making it count.
"If your company is not easy to do business with, ISOs will just go somewhere else," Racioppi said.
"That's why we have built a strong business foundation where the most important thing to us is making our products outperform our competition."
Today the company serves more than 350 banks, ISOs, MLSs and processors, and more than 13,000 active merchant subscribers who processed over $400 million via ComsGate Transaction Manager in 2006.
"With data security being such an important part of the [payments] industry now and in the future, the timing is perfect for the release of our PABP compliant Charge Anywhere POS software," Racioppi said.
"It is now available on VeriFone and Blue Bamboo terminals, RIM, Treo and Pocket PC Smartphones."
Comstar's Charge Anywhere POS software is customizable with solutions for business such as retail, restaurant, taxi, towing, delivery and limousine service. The program captures critical business data combined with traditional credit card data.
Additionally, all transaction details – including processor response, payment card and business data – can be viewed in real time via Comstar's secure Web-based transaction manager. Charge Anywhere is available in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian and English.
The company's goal is to develop and enable secure wireless and Internet Protocol (IP) electronic payment processing solutions. Comstar sets itself apart from the competition with what it does with the transaction data from the transaction.
According to Racioppi, the system equipped with QuickBooks software has opened the door for many ISOs. "Previously, merchants were forced to work with Intuit's ISO," he said. "Now the MLS can keep the merchant with their current processor and provide a QuickBooks solution."
All of Comstar's products are activated on ComsGate, using a level 1 Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant Payment Gateway, which supports a wide array of wireless, IP and dial terminals.
Additionally, Comstar offers Web terminal payment solutions that support universal serial bus (USB) magnetic stripe readers for desktop and laptop computers.
Comstar can also provide the ISO a full line of Sprint phones and data air cards to turn a smartphone or laptop into a wireless POS system.
The Comstar solution is processor neutral. Sales partners can move one or many of their merchants to another processor without ever having to redownload the terminal in the field, thus solving the expense, hassles of portfolio acquisition and attrition due to conversions.
"We are not beholden to any one vendor, nor do we compete with our sales partners where other companies are either tightly aligned with a specific processor or offer products directly to merchants," Racioppi said. "Comstar does not."
Comstar is an entrepreneurial company that allows its customers to have greater input on products and services. "No single company directs our priorities, giving our customers a greater voice during product development," Racioppi said.
All of the software is developed in-house and Comstar owns all of its intellectual property and many trademarks and patents. "This enables us to control the customization of our software and solutions to meet our customer needs more quickly," Racioppi said. Comstar's 21 employees, as well as its network of external MLSs, serve merchants nationwide.
"We have placed more emphasis on increasing our sales support, product development and system enhancements like improving speed of reports, integration of our wireless and Web terminal/e-commerce transaction management systems, and a new Web site," Racioppi said.
Racioppi noted that Comstar's culture puts the customer first. "If the merchant has a problem, then we have a problem, and it is our responsibility to help them solve it in a timely and professional manner."
Comstar is certified with all of the major processors, with more than $1.5 billion in transaction volume since its inception.
Racioppi expects that successful trend to continue, due in part to an agreement with POS terminal manufacturer Blue Bamboo.
The two formed a technology partnership and distribution agreement to sell low cost wireless POS terminals equipped with Charge Anywhere POS software. Comstar expects its recent partnership with Sprint Business Solutions to boost sales, as well. Being a Sprint Business Solutions partner enables Comstar to offer its payment processing solutions on Sprint's wireless devices.
For those MLSs and ISOs who miss the days of upfront revenue, Comstar has found a new way to make a profit on equipment. Now, the equipment is a phone, rather than a countertop POS terminal.
"As a Certified Sprint Business Partner, we enable our ISOs to offer cell phones with voice and data plans while earning income on the sale of both the phones and our software," Racioppi said.
Also, if ISOs and MLSs desired, they could sell wired and wireless phone service. If there are merchants who do not want to switch credit card processing companies, they can stay with their current provider and just purchase the phone service from Comstar.
Then the ISOs/MLSs have created a relationship with the merchant and, when the time is right, encourage the merchant to switch to them for additional processing services.
Comstar has worked diligently to get powerful tools and business information into its partners' hands. The company designed its Web-based Partner Portal so that agents can manage their merchants any time.
"Information is king," Racioppi said. "With Comstar's Partner Portal, ISOs and MLS can go online and view or edit merchant data in real time." The Partner Portal allows partners to build merchant and terminal profiles, configure and/or load POS terminals, access real-time data and set up customer billing.
"Comstar is a one-stop shop to view, report or manage your electronic payment transactions in one centralized transaction management system online and in real-time," Racioppi said.
"We have worked hard to make doing business with Comstar easy," Racioppi said. "We are the most ISO-centric gateway and processor neutral, which makes portfolio conversions hassle-free, moving the terminals from one processor to another without having to redownload the terminal."
Since the new software and ComsGate protocol live in the terminal (or Web site or phone) and the terminals communicate with the gateway during a conversion, no changes need to be made at the terminal level.
An online edit in the merchant profile on the Comstar gateway converts the merchant, eliminating the need to download each terminal, Web site or mobile phone.
It is painless for the merchant, which is probably the most important part. Racioppi said, "When our processor neutral Charge Anywhere POS application is installed on your merchants' terminal, Web site or mobile phone, you take control of your merchant base thus eliminating the hassle of future portfolio conversions."
Comstar's business model is based upon software licensing fees, monthly service recurring revenue and per item processing revenue. The company expects ISOs and MLSs to make money in these areas as well.
Customers have a choice of how to partner with Comstar to create a program that works best for them. With either of the two billing options, ISOs and MLSs are free to determine their own pricing. "We enable the ISO to mark up a variety of service fees including activation, monthly air time and per transaction fees."
In the first option, Comstar bills the ISO or MLS partner, and the partner bills the merchant directly using Web-based reporting provided by Comstar. With this option, the partners set their pricing and handle the receivables from the merchant, while paying Comstar separately.
In the second option, Comstar bills the merchant based on rates determined by the ISO or MLS and then pays a portion to the partner.
"With our merchant level billing capability, Comstar bills and collects the money from the merchant via ACH [automated clearing house] and remits 100% of the difference to the ISO on a monthly basis," Racioppi said.
Detailed commission reports are available on-line via the Partner Portal.
Comstar's executive team knows that when you hang out your shingle, you'd better be ready for business. There is only one chance to impress, so it pays to be detail-oriented and do it right.
Comstar took the time to listen to its customers and form valuable partnerships. The company's patience has allowed it to create a solution that offers ISOs and MLSs valuable information, easy conversions and increased profits.
"We were the best kept secret in the industry," Racioppi said. Not anymore.
Notice to readers: These are archived articles. Contact names or information may be out of date. We regret any inconvenience.
VP Sales Operations
Phone: 800-211-1256 ext. 106
4041 B Hadley Road
South Plainfield, NJ 07080
Fax: (732) 417-4448
Web site: www.comstarinteractive.com
Company Profile originally appeared in
The Green Sheet Issue 071002
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