Welcome to the NVCA Blog series, Building Better, where we celebrate the dynamic relationship between our VC members and their innovative portfolio companies around the nation. For today’s Building Better, we spoke with Harshul Sanghi, Head, Global Investments at American Express Ventures, and with René Lacerte, Founder CEO of Bill.com, an American Express Ventures portfolio company. Learn about their partnership in the Q&A below!
American Express Ventures: Harshul Sanghi, Head, Global Investments
Give us some background on American Express Ventures: How / why did the firm start, what is your mission and how does the firm strive to meet its goals?
American Express Ventures is the strategic investment group of American Express co-headquartered in Palo Alto, CA and New York, NY. We invest in innovative startups in order to enhance American Express’ core capabilities and accelerate the company’s efforts in consumer commerce and B2B services. Since our formation in 2011, American Express Ventures has invested in over 50 start-ups focused on commerce, payments, fraud prevention, data analytics and security. Our portfolio today includes more than 40 active investments.
What does American Express Ventures look for in a partner when choosing to invest in a portfolio company? What does American Express Ventures value? What do you value in the Bill.com team?
When we make new investments, we look for a strategic benefit for both American Express and for our portfolio companies, whether that’s helping us learn about emerging technology, helping scale our portfolio through commercial engagements or joint offerings that bring value to our mutual customers Today, two-thirds of our portfolio companies have commercial partnerships with American Express business units.
In 2013, we became investors in Bill.com. We know from our corporate clients there is a huge demand for technology and automation to help businesses operate more seamlessly and efficiently. As more and more small and midsize businesses begin to transition their operations online, we believed Bill.com would be well positioned to be a significant partner to their customers in managing their business on a daily basis.
Today, Bill.com is a leading provider of accounts payable and accounts receivable solutions for small and medium-sized businesses that enable them to automate back-office payments processes. Earlier this year we announced a strategic partnership with a new offering: American Express “Vendor Pay” by Bill.com. Vendor Pay couples automating the accounts payable process with the ability for businesses to seamlessly pay vendors with their American Express® Business or Corporate Card. This new solution streamlines vendor payments, improves working capital and cash conversion cycles, and provides better data for payment reconciliation, all while helping businesses earn the rewards of the Card.
The Bill.com and American Express partnership is a powerful combination of two innovators and leaders in business payments. Our Business and Corporate Card Members now have a central platform for managing digital business payments via Bill.com, with the added benefits of enhancing security, improving cash flow and automating their manual and time-consuming back office processes.
How does American Express Ventures support its portfolio companies? How does it help entrepreneurs grow and advance the VC industry?
The objective in our investments is to drive partnerships with American Express and accelerate the growth of the company. That might range from the earliest stages, where the Ventures team can make connections within American Express to help with product development and validation of use cases, to more mid-stage companies where more established commercial engagements are possible, such as with Bill.com. We look to be long-term, value-add partners to the venture community.
Bill.com: René Lacerte, Founder and CEO
What is the mission of your company and how did you start? How has your partnership with American Express Ventures helped you fulfill your mission?
Bill.com is the leading digital business payments company with a network of over 3 million members, managing more than $60 billion annually. Making it simple to connect and do business, the Bill.com cloud-based Payment Management Platform automates, simplifies, and controls the payments process, saving more than 50 percent of the time typically spent. Our partnership with American Express has allowed us to offer our unique services to a broader customer base.
I launched Bill.com in April 2006 after founding PayCycle, an industry-leading online payroll service. While running the company, I felt the same pain that all business owners feel when trying to pay vendors and contractors, get paid on time, and keep everything organized. I combined my empathy with my love of efficiency to create a solution, which was Bill.com
Where and how is your company looking to grow into the next 5 years?
In the next five years, we’ll continue to grow – expanding our headcount and customer base to help even more businesses. Our partners include leading financial institutions, more than 70 of the top 100 accounting firms, major accounting software providers including NetSuite, Intacct, QuickBooks and Xero. We’re also the preferred provider of digital payments solutions for CPA.com, the technology arm of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). Winner of more than 70 awards, Bill.com is recognized as one of San Francisco Business Times’ and Silicon Valley Business Journal’s “2018 Best Places to Work”.
What problem is your company trying to solve for?
We’re helping businesses keep running efficiently by automating the way they pay bills, send invoices and get paid. Our cloud-based, collaborative business payments platform automates every step of paying and getting paid, making life easier for businesses of all sizes.
Business owners should spend time chasing dreams, not paper. That’s why we designed a simple, powerful solution for any business, from sole proprietorship to enterprise. We also give accounting firms and banks the tools they need to help businesses succeed.
How has American Express Ventures impacted your company’s future for the better?
Outside of being able to reach even more customers, the American Express Ventures team has been a huge advocate for us. From the beginning, the American Express Ventures team has been both a friend and a mentor, helping us along the way. They truly understand the payments space and their expertise has impacted us for the better.