FOUNDERS & FRIENDS PODCAST

With Scott Orn

A Startup Podcast by Kruze Consulting

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Scott Orn

Scott Orn, CFA

Joshua Gilbert of American Express, talks about how American Express' business cards help startups run, grow and expand their business

Posted on: 02/02/2021

Joshua Gilbert

Joshua Gilbert

Region Manager - American Express


Joshua Gilbert of American Express - Podcast Summary

Joshua Gilbert, Regional Manager of American Express stops by to talk to us about how American Express’ business cards help startups run, grow and expand their business. Amex helps startups earn cashback and rewards on your payables while extending your working capital terms.

Joshua Gilbert of American Express - Podcast Transcript

Scott: Hey, it’s Scott Orn at Kruze Consulting and welcome to another episode of Founders and Friends. And before we start the podcast, let’s give a quick shout out to Rippling. Rippling is the new cool payroll tool that we see a lot of startups using. Rippling is great for your traditional HR and payroll. They integrate very nicely, but guess what? They did another thing, they integrate into your IT infrastructure. They make it really easy for when you hire someone to spin up all the web services and their computer, which sounds kind of like not a huge deal. But actually, we did this study at Kruze. We spend $420 on average, just getting a new employee’s computer up and running and their web servers up and running. It’s actually a really big deal. It saves a lot of money and the dogs are in the dogwood. We see a lot of startups coming in to Kruze now using Rippling so please check out Rippling. Great service. We love it. I think we have a podcast with Parker Conrad. You can hear it from his own words, but we’re seeing them take market share so shout out to Rippling. And now to another awesome podcast at Kruze Consulting’s Founders and Friends. Thanks.
Singer: (singing). It’s Kruze Consulting Founders and Friends with your host, Scotty Orn.
Scott: Welcome to Founders and Friends podcast with Scott Orn at Kruze Consulting. And today my very special guest is Josh Gilbert of American Express. Welcome, Josh.
Josh: Thanks, Scott, appreciate you having me.
Scott: Oh, my pleasure. We’ve been working quite closely lately because Amex has some really cool things they’ve come out with for the startup ecosystem. But before we get to that, maybe you can just kind of retrace your career, do a little background to the listeners and let them know how you got to Amex in the first place.
Josh: Yeah, sure. I’d be happy to and thanks again for having me. My name is Josh Gilbert. I’m a region manager here at American Express, domiciled in San Francisco, actually not too far from the Kruze Consulting offices and really had an interesting life’s journey to say the least. While completing my Master’s of business administration, my MBA in my home state of New York, I was paired with a fellow classmate to complete our senior thesis. And during sort of that research phase, we found some interesting data points that eventually led us down this path of what would be entrepreneurship. Fast forward a little bit, graduate, postgraduate school, we decided to take those ideas to fruition and successfully launched our first small business. And we just had a great ride, very, very fortunate. After a successful exit, both him and I took a step back. We sort of reviewed our successes and our failures and we decided to take those learned skillsets as an entrepreneur and bring them to corporate America. Both him and I took different positions at different Fortune 50 companies and ultimately it led to a very unique, very exciting and very rewarding career path that has brought me to American Express where now I get to work with fellow entrepreneurs and SMBs.
Scott: I love it. I love how you can relate to the startup founders and startup management teams that we work with. That’s really quite, I didn’t know you had the entrepreneurial background. Well, and maybe you can talk a little bit about just kind of the group you’re working in at Amex and the focus on startups.
Josh: Yeah, sure. It’s interesting. Thank you for that acknowledgement. And so, I’m very fortunate in the business development function to sort of spearhead because as you can imagine, San Francisco, the Bay area is one of the meccas if you will, at least in the US of venture backed companies, the startup scene and being a part of that group, being able to spearhead one of our newest products and programs, which is the corporate card for startups is sort of right up my alley. And just to take it a step back, to this day, I still apply a lot of the concepts and the insights that I learned as an entrepreneur to the scenarios and to the clients that I serve today. I think it’s translated very well. It’s proven to be a valuable approach when seeking to help these startups and small businesses grow. And very fortunate to be a part of that process.
Scott: I love it and Amex is such a big company, but it really kind of got our attention when they came out with some of the startup focused products, probably coming to market a little later than some of the other more nimble startups, but Amex has so much financial heft, so many great systems and so much reach that we wanted to partner with you guys once the new startup products came out.
Josh: And that’s what I love most about this function and my career is I sort of get the problem solve, problem serve for some of the most interesting companies out there. Both early stage and established and working with those founders and startups and executive teams. I love to feel the energy, to be honest with you and see how they approach each unique situation with a very fresh perspective and a veracity that is just it’s undeniable. And together we ultimately implement impactful solutions that drive significant change for their businesses and their growth. And to be honest with you, it’s a mutually beneficial partnership. That’s what I enjoy about the moment.
Scott: Yeah. I love too the energy and the founders put off and it’s really, we always say that at Kruze we’re working with companies that are changing the world. And actually, in our Monday morning meeting, we always bring out one, we present kind of one company that’s changing the world. It’s really satisfying. I love it too. I’ve been working with startups my whole career and just, it feels like the way to live life. And there are some downsides, sometimes if you’re a startup founder listening to this, sometimes you’re a little impatient and in a hurry or forget about some of these things, but that’s what we exist for. And I think you feel same way, right?
Josh: 100%.
Scott: Amex is there to support the entrepreneurs and make sure they can be as successful as possible.
Josh: Yes, sir. And one of sort of the biggest questions that I ultimately get is, so in this sort of program launch, this corporate card for startups, these VC funded startups, they are marked significantly different from say an established legacy company or SMB that American Express is typically sort of used to working for. It’s true. We do service businesses of all sizes, my team service businesses of all sizes from those global legacy companies to the pre-revenue, VC funded companies. In all stages of, I guess, their business lifecycle leaders need big spending power back those big ideas. And I found that early stage and VC funded startups, they may place more emphasis on market share and say their cash position, as opposed to say a long-standing organization, that’s operating from a position of strong established revenues and profit. All of which are, I would say equally important, but they just have different requirements and therefore we kind of need different solutions and that’s the fun stuff for me is figuring out what fits because there’s no one size fits all mold.
Scott: I totally agree. And I think I’d love it if you could talk about just those products that you built and that you’re offering to startups now.
Josh: Yeah, sure. Sure, absolutely. Kind of take it back a year or two, it became clear to American Express, I’d say two years or so ago that there again, there wasn’t this one size fits all solution for companies in different stages. And the evolution that a business goes through and we just had to adopt. We saw that there was an explosion, arguably over the last decade, but in recent times, a significant increase in VC funded startups. And that really prompted us to create a program that would meet those dynamic and ever-changing needs. And so, our corporate leaders, in my opinion, they quickly adapted and they moved from concept to product and established this corporate card for startups, which is now on its way to being a general service offering in our working capital solutions portfolio. I’m very fortunate again, to be one of, sort of the spearheading team members to be a part of this. And what it really is focused on is those companies that could be pre-revenue, they’re VC backed. They’re not operating from a traditional profitability or heavy revenues position. And so, this approach we said, “Okay, let’s create a program designed for them. One that provides full corporate liability, meaning that there’s no personal guarantee.” What’s unique about us is we can establish a communicated also known as a hard-coded line or it could be a dynamic spending capacity. We knew that we had to flex in real time so there has to be instant decisioning. And then what’s unique about American Express is we have very lucrative membership reward program offerings, as well as cash back or a combination of the two. And you couple that with virtual card and AP automation, payment, expense and reconciliation tools, corporate partnership offers and curated events tailored towards startups. All of this in one program has really been game changing and has really served the niche in that startup community.
Scott: Yeah. I love it. And there’s so much, I want to kind of unpack all the things you said there. The first thing is Amex is basically, maybe expanding on it, but you come out with a startup centric credit card tailored towards the obviously the SMBs play here. But a lot of the focus is the startup venture backed companies that Kruze works with and that populate the Silicon Valley, New York, Santa Monica ecosystems. And I thought that was pretty interesting because normally Amex looks for, like you said, strong growth, strong cashflow. When they’re doing business credit cards, typically they’re looking for more mature companies, but you guys made, made the jump here to work with venture backed startups. What went into that decision? How did you kind of get there and get there from a risk perspective as well?
Josh: Yeah, that’s a big question and a great question. And we just saw it in the evolution of the marketplace and what our customers and clients and Amex members were telling us they needed. It’s always good to be pulled as to pushing that solution onto someone. And when they told us we assessed the market and put together a team and adapted quickly. Now that being said, there is quite a bit of competition in the working capital space, especially again, to my point earlier about this explosion of VC backed companies over the last 10 years or so. Numerous competitors have entered the world of working capital payment solutions. And to be honest with you, Scott, I expect to see that number continue to rise, especially with the number of financial service providers, there’s now FinTech in tech startups. But what’s nice about American Express is that you’re with a proven leader. It’s been around a 170 plus years, listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. You’ve got that security. You’ve got that stability now with a more, very niche focus in the startup community, which I’m just very, very thrilled to be a part of.
Scott: Yeah, I love it. And one of the things I think coming out with a startup card, I think people were very excited for, I know this has resonated with our client base quite a bit in that Amex credit cards for startups don’t have that personal guarantee that a lot of founders have been forced to okay if they use kind of the classic Amex card or some of the other big banks, historical banks. Did you guys zero in on that as one of the big differentiators early on?
Josh: Absolutely. I would say it was probably one of the key differentiators. We have a full suite of products from personal cards to business cards. Which is joint personal liability and then a for corporate liability corporate underwritten program. And we made that the default option for the corporate card for startups, because, to your point, we saw it as a key differentiator and it’s what our clients or prospects were telling us they wanted.
Scott: Yeah, I love it. And for those that don’t know, if you personally guarantee a credit card for your company, for your startup and the company runs out of money and you still have a balance on that credit card and other open kind of liabilities, you’re personally responsible for the balance of that credit card. And I’ve personally had a couple times where we had a company, unfortunately shutting down the founders are crushed and it’s just, they gave it their all. And then I kind of would offhandedly ask them, be like, “Hey, did you pay your credit card off?” And they’d be like, No.” They’ve forgotten. And so there’s been a couple of times where Kruze has been able to save founders from kind of financial ruin by reminding them to pay that credit card off. And no one wants to see that and Amex doesn’t want to take a loss either and I totally respect that. Having a card that does the automatic payments and doesn’t require a personal guarantee, I just think is huge. I think that’s the number one decision when you’re picking a credit card.
Josh: Yeah, definitely. And know that there is instant decision with this program, but there is an algorithm too. It does assess the risk and ability to underwrite or connect to a bank account to assess a dynamic limit. But we saw that there was a need. Clearly reward outweighed risk. And what’s nice too is the statistics are alarming. We know that startups are more likely to fail than not. It’s just a fact. But when you’ve got the right partner or working capital provider in there to do everything that they can to see you grow, to see you excel as an organization, that’s what we’re here for. And what’s nice is if we can help generate a return for you where one did not previously exist, in hopes that that helps benefit the growth of the business, impact the bottom line, it’s kind of all-encompassing in one solution.
Scott: Hey, it’s Scott Orn at Kruze Consulting. And before we get back to the podcast, quick shout out to ChartHop. ChartHop is one of my favorite new SaaS tools on the market. And basically, what ChartHop does is it puts your org chart in the cloud. And I always like to say, it brings transparency to your organization. And so everyone in your organization can see who they report to. They can see the full org chart of the company and how their group relates to other groups. It also has a lot of information on individuals in the company. And so you can click on the ChartHop profile and just get where people live, their experience, Slack handles, all this kind of stuff and it’s just a really great tool. The other thing is, ChartHop has started doing some cool stuff around compensation and budgeting planning. And so, you can actually start seeing what the cost structure of the company looks like during certain kind of scenarios. I’m loving ChartHop, check it out, charthop.com. We use it at Kruze, really like it and I can’t recommend it enough. All right. Back to the podcast. There’re some other great aspects of the Amex startup credit card. Do you want to cover some of the rewards and some of the cash backs options that you can select if you’re an entrepreneur?
Josh: Yeah. It’s unique to American Express in that we have the ability to do a membership reward program that’s based on the card program. The corporate card for startups is a program underlying there are assets or cards and there’s different tiers. There’re super premium cards with embedded features and then there’s your everyday T and E card with its own set of benefits. And what we can do with this corporate card for startups program is really get customized on to how you want to serve your employees and your business. Whether it’s membership rewards, whether it’s cash back, whether it’s a combination of the two. It’s fully customizable, it is competitive. And what I like to see in a lot of these startups, especially the ones that are going through a heavy VC round and they’ve got head count increase and influx. They’re oftentimes creating a cashback return for that AP spend, so that reoccurring vendor spend, but maybe they want to provide a retention perk if you will or a bonus to their employees in regards to a membership reward point and a return for utilizing their own card, they’re sort of benefited. And it’s really nice that you can create that custom program with us.
Scott: That’s really great. I didn’t even know you could do that. That’s phenomenal. And you’re right there’s some companies that want the rewards and travel or other types of things and then there’s some other companies that want cash back. And so, it’s really nice that the Amex program allows you to do, just basically customize to your taste. Because some founders are like, “Hey, if I can get a 1% back on my spend, then I’ll take it because that’s a material amount of money.” That it can even pay for half an engineer sometimes every month or maybe not quite that much, but it’s beneficial for sure. That’s really great. You also talked about the virtual card, which has been a pretty cool innovation in the market. And I like virtual card capabilities because you can really, correct me if I’m wrong, but you can spin up those cards for employees put a limit on it, know they’re going to use it responsibly, but you’re not dealing with sending them cards in the mail and lost cards and all that stuff. And it’s really quick. Am I describing the program correctly?
Josh: Yes, definitely. You’ll hear it coined internally with us and some other financial service providers, they’ll call it tokenization or accounts payable automation, essentially what a virtual card does. And with this program, you have access to a complimentary virtual card platform or a more robust virtual card solution. And what it does is inherently with American Express because not only are we the card issuer, we’re also the merchant. We operate on this closed loop network. What that means is you already have increased fraud protection, but when you put insert a virtual card solution, what that’s doing is you’re taking that card that you may have on file with say your media spend and you’re removing that and replacing it with a virtual card or a token, which will pay that vendor and immediately expire upon usage. It eliminates, it mitigates all opportunities of fraud. You’re still getting the return, the rebate back, the full data feed, but it’s just an even heightened security measure. And it’s now a general offering with the startup program, which I absolutely believe AP automation, virtual cards tokenization is definitely sort of the next wave in the FinTech industry.
Scott: Yeah, I love it. That’s that’s fantastic. And then I guess the other big thing I’ve seen really candidly huge improvement on from Amex because of the startup group is the customer service has gotten really, really good. I think there was time we often used Amex in the past because our clients liked using it and people liked the rewards and things like that, but sometimes we’d have an issue with customer service, but your team, I got to say has really, really stepped up and solved some pretty serious customer service issues for some of our clients, in a day or a day and a half. Has that been a point of emphasis internally in the startup group?
Josh: First, thank you for acknowledging that, Scott. Working with you, Vanessa, the whole team, you guys are exceptional. And so, you do have, you’ve been a longstanding client of ours, you have a dedicated account management team. Our corporate card for startups comes with a dedicated account management team. In addition, we have the 24/7 concierge customer service. That’s what American Express is known for. If you get something pops up outside of say standard business hours, you’re still going to have a responsive team to fix that solution. And that’s something that I love to be a part of because I’m here to serve and not to sell, if that makes sense.
Scott: I love that. Well, I’ve seen you and your team in action on the customer service aspect and that’s been pretty awesome so thank you for all you do. And please thank the rest of the support team as well. In terms of where Amex is going next with the startup program, what are you thinking? What are you seeing? What are the exciting opportunities you guys are going to tackle next?
Josh: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I wish I could put my thumb on it, but knowing where we’re going to next as sort of this next generation, focused on startups, VC backed, pre-revenue companies, we’re taking that next generation to a global financial solution. Something that our competitors just don’t offer. I believe that we’re going to continue on with more of a custom tailored, dedicated account management, AP automation, virtual card tools and solutions, but all available to you globally, which is a key differentiator for us. And that’s really where I think American Express is going is to more of a global provider, especially in this space. With the explosive growth again, here in the States, it only makes sense to tap outside markets, outside of the US. And that’s where I think we’re headed.
Scott: Yeah. Well, I agree with that. But also, what I’m seeing even in the COVID era, when we’re taping this podcast, globalization of the startups and teams, having people all over the world, I know we do. And I know that pretty much every startup we work with has some type of development team somewhere outside of the United States that’s doing really important work and who’s not a quote unquote contractor. They’re part of the team. They are a critical part. And so, I think that’s really great that Amex is focusing on that global approach because I think it’s been a steady march in that aspect for startups for a long time, but I think COVID has really turbocharged that.
Josh: So true. Nailed it. Agreed.
Scott: Awesome, man. Well, I really appreciate your time. This has been great. And maybe you could just kind of let everyone know how to reach out to you, how to reach out to the startup credit card program and how you partner with Kruze and looking forward to having many, many more clients working together.
Josh: Yeah. Agreed with you. Again, thanks for having me. Again, Josh Gilbert, you can find me on LinkedIn. If you want to message me direct, Joshua Gilbert. You can visit americanexpress.com. Our corporate card for startups as well as our other corporate and business solutions are available there, should you be interested. You can also defer to your Kruze Consulting representative and they will set you up with an American Express associate.
Scott: I love it. Josh, thank you so much and really appreciate all you’ve done for Kruze and all you’ve done for our clients and looking forward to many years of working together.
Josh: Vice versa, Scott. Thanks so much for having me.
Scott: All right, buddy. Take care.
Josh: Talk to you soon.
Singer: It’s Kruze Consulting. Founders and Friends with your host, Scotty Orn.

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