Instant, contactless, and safe payment options have enabled SMEs to scale their business even further to offer their goods and service to a plethora of customers. Safe payment experience has now become a priority for global consumers, which is why we are seeing new innovators coming onto the scene to simplify digital payment processes.
Zeller, an Australia-based digital bank is an example of such an entity that successfully raised $100 (AUD) in its recently closed Series B funding round. The 2020 founded company has also managed to double its valuation to more than $1 billion (AUD) after onboarding investors like Addition, Spark Capital, Square Peg, Headline, and others.
Under the leadership of two like minded and former Square executives Ben Pfisterer and Dominic Yap, Zeller is developing into a fully integrated financial operating system for all kinds of business owners in Australia. Let’s dive into the details of how and why they set up Zeller and find clues to predict how the company will perform in its relevant market in the future.
“We don't underestimate the challenges that come with scaling a new brand in an area dominated by entrenched banking incumbents, yet the opportunity is incredibly exciting," said Ben Pfisterer, CEO, and co-founder of Zeller.
The two-year-old startup, Zeller is all about providing definitive, seamless, and safe financial services to businesses of all sizes and types. But the idea of setting up a company took hold in the minds of two management consultants from Australia Ben Pfisterer and Dominic Yap in January 2020. The two worked together in the Asian Pacific & Australian arm of Square, an American financial services behemoth owned by Jack Dorsey.
“Australian business banking is fundamentally broken. A lack of innovation from the incumbents means merchants are overlooked and underserved, at a time when they should be thriving. They need new tools, technology, and service to build and grow," Zeller CEO and Co-Founder Ben Pfisterer said.
The CEO and co-founder of Zeller are Ben Pfisterer who started his career as a management consultant working in Melbourne from 1998 to 2000. In October of 2002, he was offered the role of a Sr. Consultant at Deloitte Australia where he worked for 2 more years. Pfisterer was also employed at the National Australia Bank for almost 3 years as Sr. Manager of Strategy & Alliance Development before he joined the global leader of digital payments, Visa in the role of Head of Innovation.
Ben Pfisterer said, "The industry experience our team has built up over the years means that we are well aware of the pain points that business owners face when being set up with a new banking or financial services provider.”
While working at the National Australia Bank, Pfisterer got to experience the exhausting structure of Australian business banking first-hand. He realized that there was a growth opportunity for an intelligent tool and an integrated platform that helps both offline and online merchants equally. But Pfisterer also knew his limits and needed a co-founder who would possess a more technical background to perfect his bare-bones idea which was Zeller.
“Our experience tells us that Australian merchants still hit roadblocks when it comes to things as simple as accepting card payments, managing cash flow, and accessing their hard-earned funds. In a modern, digital-first economy, these things should be effortless” said Pfisterer according to media reports. “These are longstanding problems that Zeller will solve by bringing together the tools businesses need to accept payments, manage their finances, and pay recipients.”
That is when he opened up to his colleague named Dominic Yap at Square. Yap holds a Bachelor of Law degree from one of the top universities in Australia called Monash University. Starting his career in a consultant role just like Pfisterer, Yap quickly got acquainted with management and technology requirements for businesses.
In 2015, when he joined Square as Strategy and Growth lead, he too was taken aback by the longstanding problems that business owners (in Australia) were facing without a trustworthy and all-in-one tool for accepting payments, managing finances, and also making payments to recipients. It did not take for the duo to find each other and solidify their ambition to set up Zeller as a smart payments solution.
“They (Zeller users) could be some traders or employ a team, may operate across one or multiple locations and come from a variety of verticals including retail, hospitality, fixed or mobile services, events, trades and many more,” said Pfisterer.
Starting Zeller would have been tougher than it turned out to be because the CEO and co-founder Ben Pfisterer already had the experience of setting up a business from scratch. Before joining Square as country manager in 2014, Pfisterer founded a specialized system and application development company previously known as Kinetik Innovation in 2013. But the company was dissolved long ago which gave Pfisterer the opportunity to put all of his energy and focus into Zeller.
Zeller is poised to simplify the processes by which SMEs accept, pay, and manage payments. Just the way large-scale companies enjoy the benefits of custom-made integrated financial solutions, Zeller wants small business owners and merchants to have a similar experience when using Zeller. Zeller is business-friendly due to the following reasons:
“Zeller delivers affordable, accessible, and innovative tools enabling businesses to get paid, access their money, and manage cash flow without ever having to set their foot inside a bank. We’re reimagining business banking for Australian merchants through innovative new technology, backed up by local support and personalized service.” according to Pfisterer.
Here is a highlight of each of the products offered by Zeller to become a successful Australian neobank:
The most popular product built by Zeller is undoubtedly their smart business EFTPOS terminal also known as Zeller Terminal. This terminal is available nationally in all Officeworks stores for $299 (AUD). Like a normal EFTPOS terminal, this simplifies accepting payment at any outlet. But it offers a wide variety of features that differentiate the Zeller Terminal from all of its peers.
This contactless device accepts other NFC-enabled devices and cards in addition to the normal chip, magstripe cards. Zeller terminal also allows MOTO payments and supports QR codes. All of these features cost 1.4% of each transaction made without any hidden fees. Zeller is working on adding compatibility with Alipay and Zip soon.
There are not many options for SMEs based in Australia that offers a completely free business Mastercard. But Zeller is handing out its Mastercard in the box for all those who opt for the Zeller terminal. It takes a couple of minutes to activate the Mastercard that you can use to spend funds in your Zeller Transaction Account without paying any extra fee.
The Zeller Mastercard offers businesses quick access to their funds stored in their Zeller Account. There is no need for a business loan to use these facilities. This way the spending process becomes convenient for in-person as well as online transactions.
Businesses connected with Zeller get a merchant account that offers more features and freedom than the standard ones already available in the market. Through a Zeller Transaction Account, spending funds and managing your business gets simpler. The fact that merchants are not charged any fee for the Zeller Account is a bonus.
It can be set up online and once it is done any payment made through Zeller Terminal goes straight into your Zeller Account for easy handling. Users have the option to add employees’ additional cards, get real-time visibility through Zeller Dashboard.
There are several EFTPOS terminals in the market but none of them can function properly without uninterrupted and constant internet activity at all times. The same goes for Zeller Terminal but to boost its connectivity, they have introduced Zeller SIM Card. It is Zeller’s on-the-go product for completing quick and flexible payments.
Zeller SIM Cards are offered to keep your business running even when the connection is unstable. Having one of these cards can extend your reach and maintain stability even when you are outdoors. But the best part is that you do not have to pay extra charges for more data.
According to Zeller’s co-founder, there are many difficulties in the path of development of SME business owners in Australia. Zeller was created to do exactly what hasn’t been done for a long time which is connecting the disparate financial services, payments, and banking tools used heavily by Australian businesses.
“The displacement of cash is happening at an accelerated rate, in all my years in financial services I never thought a global pandemic would kill off cash but that seems to be what’s happened. For us it just shows the appetite is there with businesses back on their feet post-COVID and getting savvier," Ben Pfisterer said. "We have found 80 percent are switching from incumbent providers.”
Last year in April, Zeller revealed in research that;
Removing financial hurdles by means of its integrated financial services platform, Zeller is allowing an array of businesses both offline and online (mostly stores) to grow and scale their operations. After just a month of being founded, Zeller included more than 1,500 businesses onto its platform which grew to 10,000 businesses after 7 more months. As a result, their operations and weekly payment volumes shot up by 200% in a matter of just six weeks.
“We just pressed the accelerator to start building the next set of products," Mr. Pfisterer said. "We are looking at all the different types of things you would expect from a financial services business in Australia it will include lending and different card products.”
According to Reuters, Zeller has been planning to get a full Australian banking license which would enable the Melbourne-headquartered company to share the same spot as Australia’s Big Four banks. ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, and Westpac have monopolized the business lending sector nationally for several decades now.
Zeller’s CEO estimated “Zeller’s market opportunity in Australia includes just fewer than 1.5 million merchants, and it is also designed to be scalable into other markets.’’
With Zeller's terminal and software offerings, they could be at par with the aforementioned banks as their simpler and cheaper payment products make them a better alternative for SMEs. The recent financing received by Zeller has boosted the company's valuation while also contributing to its explosive growth in customer base.
The company which started amidst a global pandemic has grown into a successful financial services platform with almost 200 employees working round-the-clock on all-around integrated payment solutions. Globally, there are 3 direct competitors of Zeller which have been introduced below:
Stripe is a globally-renowned fintech platform based in California which was founded by current CEO and co-founder Patrick Collison in 2010. The company offers a plethora of payment processing services including VAT automation and invoice-related solutions for all types of businesses. This private company raised a total of $2.6 billion in funding from investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, Shopify, GV, Fidelity, Capital G, and Treasury Management Agency.
Adyen is an undertaking of Pieter van der Does which was founded in 2006 and is now known as one of the biggest providers of online, mobile, and POS payment solutions. The Amsterdam-based company generates $4.5 billion annually and has received $1.3 billion in funding from investors like Iconiq Capital, Temasek Holdings, and Index Ventures.
WePay is a California-based company that offers integrated payment processing solutions for both offline marketplaces and online platforms. With annual revenue of $80 million and around 500 employees, this company has received $75 million in funding since 2008.
Zeller has been funded thrice since inception as the company has managed to move forward with steady growth in customer base and product offerings. Financially, the company has amassed a total of $181.3 million in 3 successful funding rounds from the support of 6 investors. The lead investors of Zeller include Square Peg Capital, Addition, Spark Capital, and Headline.
“We were looking for an understanding that what we are building is big and audacious and to take on incumbents requires a long-term vision.” said the CEO of Zeller. “They also have an understanding of what we are doing and a real innovation and entrepreneurial mindset.”
After wrapping up its Series B round, the Australian neobank has doubled its valuation to $1 billion (AUD). The Zeller team is working on developing its financial operating system for business owners. According to Oddup's research, Zeller's last valuation after Series B was around $730 million but the post-money valuation has risen to $803 million. Zeller has been given an Oddup score of 73.34 because there is a lot of room for growth in this early-stage venture.
The seed funding round for Zeller was announced in June 2020 when the company was barely a few months old. But contrary to all expectations, Zeller was able to raise a total of $6.3 million from the participation of two important investors Square Peg Capital and Apex Capital Partners. The lead investor turned out to be Square Peg Capital which is a well-known venture capital fund that prominently in businesses located in Australia, Southeast Asia, and Israel.
Paul Bassat of Square Peg Capital said ‘‘It is only six weeks but with any launch you would much prefer to come out of the gate really quickly than slowly,” he said. “It just illustrates that there is a really big appetite for small businesses in Australia for the product Zeller is bringing to market. There has been a relatively low level of competition and innovation in merchant services for small businesses until now.’’
After a year of receiving seed funding, Zeller announced its Series A financing round which was led by Addition named VC firm and Spark Capital. Addition is recognized for focusing on growth-stage tech companies. Other than Addition, two existing investors (Square Peg Capital and Apex Capital) also took part in the Series A round in March 2021. Additions’ Lee Fixel ended up joining the team of Zeller advisors as a partner. Fixel’s portfolio includes investments like Spotify, Stripe, and Peloton.
In a press statement, Spark Capital investor James Kuklinski said, “From our first meeting with Ben, we knew we wanted to be a part of Zeller. Australia’s business banking landscape is dominated by a small group of incumbents. It is ripe for disruption through simpler, more transparent pricing, best-in-class technology, and better customer service.”
This year, Zeller went ahead with another round of finance with a pre-money valuation of $900. The Series B round's success gave the company an entry to the unicorn club. The total money raised is approximately $100 million. A total of 5 well-known VCs took part in Zeller's recent Series B funding round which was led by Headline, a global venture capital firm investing in various teams across different stages. Other investors who participated were Addition, Hostplus, Spark Peg Capital, Spark Capital, etc.
“Zeller is well on its way to redefining how financial connectivity is delivered to Australian businesses, following in the footsteps of the tectonic shifts in the global B2B fintech ecosystem,” said King Goh, principal at Headline.
Other investors who participated were Addition, Hostplus, Spark Peg Capital, Spark Capital, etc. Headline's King Goh has joined Zeller as a partner.
During and after the pandemic, Zeller has seen record growth in sales and partners as several Australian businesses came forward to re-establish themselves using a fair-priced integrated financial product. As of now, the company is preparing to deploy more financial services to benefit a huge number of business owners in Australia that are usually ignored by other business banks.
‘’It’s been ridiculously exciting … You get to the point where you’re racing towards what seems like a finishing line. The closer you get, you quickly realize it's actually the starting line,'' says Zeller CEO.
Capabilities like online payment acceptance, next-gen banking, innovative credit/debit cards, smarter expense management, and lending are on Zeller's roadmap. The co-founders have stated that their next-gen omnichannel payment platform for commerce use "Zeller Financial Services" would help the company to rise in its ranks.
“This year we will extend payment acceptance beyond Zeller Terminal to online payments and invoicing via Xero, enabling merchants to get full visibility over transactions across all areas of their business," said Pfisterer.