MarTech Interview with Victor Ho, Co-Founder & CEO at Fivestars

While embracing a new way of work in the post pandemic world marketplace, what are some key factors marketers should keep in mind? Victor Ho, Co-Founder & CEO at Fivestars shares some thoughts:

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Welcome to this martech chat Victor, tell us more about Fivestars and its journey over the last few years and especially about some new (latest) innovations!

Fivestars started as a garage-based idea between me and my co-founder, Matt Doka. We saw a disconnect in tech platforms that were meant to help small businesses by driving payments, marketing and loyalty— there wasn’t a solution for all three. This brings us to what Fivestars is today: a platform fighting for the success of America’s small businesses.  

Today, Fivestars is one of the largest two-sided payments and marketing solutions. We use our merchant’s customer data and optimize it to drive foot traffic and increase sales. Most recently, we’ve adopted modern hardware technology and even helped make PPP loans more accessible for thousands of small businesses across the US. I’m proud to say these innovations have led our platform to drive 10 million visits to local businesses every month while powering over $3 billion in sales.

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We’d also love to know more about the key highlights from your latest survey on how local merchants have pivoted during the Covid-19 pandemic? 

To gather even more insight into how the pandemic affected small business owners, we surveyed nearly 600 to obtain data relating to COVID-19 and its effects. The data demonstrated that despite DoorDash placing extreme financial constraints on small businesses by charging delivery fees approaching 30%, 17% turned to the app for additional income during the pandemic. Our data also found that 48% of owners would require their employees to receive a vaccine, and 70% of those businesses requiring a vaccine would fire employees for refusing one, amounting to 33% of all small businesses surveyed. 

After observing data from our network of 14K+ businesses, we found that national foot traffic at local businesses is now at 84% of where it was before COVID-19 forced business closures across the nation in March of 2020, demonstrating gradual but encouraging growth, which has only accelerated in the last few weeks.

How are you seeing marketing technologies redefine the way commerce / ecommerce is being handled today?

The rise of omnichannel communications and technologies has been increasingly vital since the pandemic. Today, small business merchants are shifting their priorities to cater to their customers through different channels. Even with the rise of ecommerce over the past year, I don’t believe brick-and-mortar businesses are dying. Consumers still want to experience physical retail. At Fivestars, we’re continuing our mission of supporting US small businesses by turning their payments into a marketing machine. Getting new customers in the door is important for a business, but getting existing customers to return is even better. With Fivestars’ marketing technology platform, we help merchants bring in new customers and turn existing customers into repeat customers through personalized loyalty and promotions.

Can you talk about the future impact of these technologies?

At Fivestars, we found that we can share important customer data with the merchant by using effective marketing technology, ultimately helping them grow their business. Big business usually has this type of data under lock and key, but at Fivestars, we use customer targeted marketing to help increase foot traffic and drive loyalty. COVID-19 changed the way small businesses operate due to changing consumer behavior, which is why solutions like Fivestars will have a significant impact on the merchant/consumer relationship. Small businesses can now quickly and easily reach their entire customer base, and consumers can reap the benefits of rewards and promotions from their favorite local shops.

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Tell us your thoughts on the evolving and growing use of AI in marketing technologies and marketing platforms and how you feel AI will lead to a change in the way local merchants transact?

The way small businesses treat customers has changed. Brands can no longer get away with one-size-fits-all in advertising or customer engagement. The beginning of the move towards personalization was data and segmentation, but the holy grail is 1:1 personalization and prediction based on data. This is where AI comes into play. Technology players with large datasets from millions of customer interactions, like Fivestars, can build machine learning models and AI algorithms to power the type of messaging, offers and recommendations that companies give customers. Personalization is now expected, but better personalization and convenience will be what differentiates players.

What are some of the core marketing technologies that you feel local commerce platforms should now be adopting to boost business continuity and growth?

Now is the time for local business owners to adopt new technologies to stay ahead of pandemic recovery and keep their doors open. Historically, the most popular SaaS enterprise applications were simple and most often focused on business operations, so teams could avoid the headache of building their own payments integration. As a result, merchants spend money on two fragmented technology platforms: one powering payments and financial services, and then some sort of traditional software for CRM marketing or accounting.

Today, commerce platforms need payments and marketing integration in their solutions for merchants – these go hand in hand as transaction history allows businesses to spot new opportunities to pursue loyal customers.  

A few predictions that you have for the future of martech?

At Fivestars, we’ve always believed financial tools and marketing technology would be a massive driver of small business growth. Implementing automation with marketing tech will also push small businesses closer to competing with giants like Amazon. As we look to the post-pandemic period, I’m hoping that small businesses wary of technology before the pandemic will now adopt new solutions that help drive their bottom line by getting new and returning customers through the door. 

A few takeaways for marketing leaders and CMOs/CEOs in 2021: top factors they should keep in mind as they plan for the rest of the year, innovate and expand their teams?

Many businesses have been through the wringer in the past year. I think it has shown most CEOs how resilient their colleagues, employees, and customers are — no matter what field or industry they may work in. Keeping a forward-thinking agenda, adapting to modern technology, and embracing our “new normal” for the future of work, will only benefit one’s business.

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Fivestars is a leading two-sided commerce network, connecting 65M+ consumers to modern small businesses. The Fivestars platform turns payments into a marketing machine for 14,000+ merchants in the U.S., helping businesses bring in new customers, drive loyalty, process payments, and increase sales. Created with a mission to bring authenticity and engagement to small business relationships, Fivestars has helped drive over $3 billion in sales to local businesses in 2020 alone. Founded in 2011, Fivestars is backed by Lightspeed, DCM, Menlo Ventures, HarbourVest, and others.

Victor Ho is the Co-Founder & CEO at Fivestars

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