Magician to Crypto Liberator: Marshall Greenwald on Democratizing Commerce
Scaling up a business means standardizing processes and technologies to prepare for growth. See how Greenwald prepared his payment processing company for a radical transformation.
I sat down with Marshall Greenwald, the founder of Ionia, to talk about his journey in the payment services industry and the launch of his newest app, DashDirect, making spending crypto as easy as spending cash for everyday consumers.
Tell me about your background.
I grew up in North Texas, outside of Dallas, where I lived until I went to college. I went off to BYU, but it only lasted a year before I decided that it was too cold up in Utah. So I moved to Arizona, where most of my family was originally from.
I started performing magic when I was 18, and I became very successful locally, but performing every night and on the weekends is not great when you have young kids. I tried college again at ASU, but when I was 20 I had this opportunity to start a payment processing company. I still have that company today, and I’ve built it up to generate residual income every month.
In 2013, I decided to explore how the payment processing industry was being disrupted by technology. So instead of reinvesting my business profits back into my business that year, I went and interviewed a few hundred of my merchants to see what they really needed. I had about 5,000 merchants and some of them had been with me for 10 or 20 years. And what they really needed, they said, was more customers.
So, is this the beginning of Ionia?
Yeah. It’s really hard to reach digital native groups, like Gen Z or younger millennials. Facebook might have all of the data and demographics in the world, but Gen Z sees Facebook as their mom’s social media, and they’re not hanging out on there. So it’s hard to send coupons to that younger generation.
With Cray Pay, we had to find more customers for our merchants, but we needed to solve two main problems. Number one, is this a person that will come here? And number two, is this offer relevant at this time? It’s a complete waste of time and money to send a coupon to someone who’s not anywhere near the Chili’s where you want to offer them a discount.
We developed proximity (of a user to a known merchant) as a factor in our marketing. We haven’t seen any other systems use proximity like we do, so we patented that idea.
There are a lot of competitors in the payment processing industry. Are you worried about competition?
It sounds crazy, but in a fragmented marketplace like payment processing, coopetition makes sense. I may have picked this phrase up from somewhere, but it’s like sending business to your competitors. You’re trying to serve a certain subset of customers, but your competitors can meet this particular need better than you can. So when you have a good fit with your competitor, you’ll send clients over to them for that specific need, and you’ll still keep their business for other services. If you can create value in a relationship, then the individuals serving your customers see you as a partner, even if they’re technically competitors.
Coopetition Strategy: Co-operative competition, made popular in game theory.
I grew Cray Pay from zero to 5,000 clients with this marketing strategy. Rather than everyone in financial services building a financial super-app to provide really high-value services for customers, I created our white label partnership program. We have a unique merchant network with a unique technology on this unique platform, and we let our competitors white label it for their own use, with their own customer base.
Instead of spending millions of dollars and years to launch a financial super-app, a company can launch a platform from us. And whether it’s full API integrations or even SDKs, my company is invisible to the transaction. The customers only see the partner brand. I win, and my competitors win, too. From a customer acquisition cost perspective, I’m spending zero dollars to get customers. It’s been really interesting.
It’s all over the financial news, so let’s talk about Dash cryptocurrency.
DashDirect. Yeah, we are really excited about this product launch since it’s the first solution for spending crypto assets at a store. Previously, if you wanted to walk into a store and buy something, the merchants couldn’t take crypto without taking custody of the funds. Of course, that erases some of your anonymity.
Customers would have to do this conversion rate where you convert the crypto to USD, then send it to the credit or debit card, then spend the funds. Forget instant, you’d have to really pre-plan your spending. In addition to that, some of the merchants aren’t even interested in dealing with crypto as a payment method.
And while converting from crypto to USD works, I mean, why? Why do it? Why even use crypto in the first place? If you’re going to hold the value in USD or exchange it into USD, then why start spending the crypto?
With DashDirect, you’re going to keep custody of your own funds. I mean, we’re not even going to know who you are. You’ll hold your crypto in your own decentralized wallet from Dash, you use your Dash to pay us in Dash, and then we pay the merchant in USD. We’re the bridge between crypto and USD.
You’ll still be purchasing using gift cards, just like you did in the Cray Pay app, but we’re keeping the core principles of cryptocurrency alive. You’ll hold your own funds. You’ll have control of your own money. You’ll still be anonymous. And you won’t be subject to economic censorship.
DashDirect is just your second white label payment processing project. Was it easy to land a big project like you did with Dash?
Before we could white label anything and partner with Dash, we had to get all of our disparate systems fixed. We had to have one unified code on the frontend and backend architecture. Everything from the phone systems to the CRM had to have the ability to be white-labeled. Ventive was instrumental in helping us get everything uniform while also building the DashDirect app for us at the same time.
But the really big Ah-ha! moment came from the combination of preparation, knowing the right people, getting the idea of Ionia out there, and clients seeing what we can do with white labeling. We had to prove we could deliver on a big project like DashDirect before other clients would believe that we were the right fit to partner with them. And let me tell you, it worked.
You’re on the buy box for Amazon. That’s pretty awesome. What does the future look like for Ionia and DashDirect?
We believe DashDirect is the first solution of its kind for cryptocurrency. And we want to take it globally. The sales cycle is typically quite long to get investors interested in you, but the day after we launched, investors were knocking on our door. There is nothing like DashDirect out there.
We’re working on a Buy Now, Pay Later feature that we’re really excited about. Because we delivered on the DashDirect app, we now have our pick of investors to work with. And now we have the capital to invest in updates and features that will make it even easier to spend Dash cryptocurrency anywhere, at any time.