10 Questions for Mike Marenick, Cofounder of Pine Brook Startup Paydunk

Photo: Paydunk cofounder Mike Marenick Photo Credit: Courtesy Paydunk

Paydunk cofounder Mike Marenick | Courtesy Paydunk

Although Amazon has put countless brick-and-mortar shops out of business over the years, and continues to do so, the e-commerce space is not without its own imperfections. In order to buy something online, we still have to deal with usernames and passwords, and we have to go through a lengthy checkout process and repeatedly enter in our sensitive credit or debit card numbers.

Not only are e-commerce payments due for a facelift in the area of user experience, but the recent increase in cybercrime has created a further sense of urgency in this market.

Enter the Morris County startup Paydunk, which is working hard to finally bring the universally familiar “swipe card, enter pin, hit OK” experience of brick-and-mortar shops onto the Internet, with an emphasis on information security. NJTechWeekly.com spoke with cofounder Mike Marenick.

Basic Info:

Company name: Paydunk, LLC

When did you launch the company? 2015

Product name: Paydunk

Cofounders: Mike Marenick and Robert McHugh

New Jersey location: Pine Brook

Team: Michael Marenick, cofounder/inventor; Robert McHugh, cofounder; Mike Losch, finance; Steve Verdino, business development; Stephen Garcia, information security; Kim Henry, Web development; Joe Raftery, enterprise sales; Yan Kirichenko, website operations.

Any employees yet? None of us are full-time yet, but many of us put in 40+ hours per week. We are supported by our family of investors, whom we call the “ Paydunk Partners.”

Funding: $500,000 seed round closed.

Market you are serving: The e-commerce market, or any browser-based payment service.

Entrepreneurial questions:

1. What is your New Jersey connection? What brought you to New Jersey, and do you plan to stay here?

I grew up in northern Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C., and moved to New York City following college. In 2001, when I decided I wanted to become a homeowner, I moved to New Jersey.  It was perfect for me to start a business because everything I needed was right here. I quickly discovered that, aside from my business, there was a lot of fun to be had in New Jersey. Whether it’s the beach, fishing in the summer or the mountains in the winter, it’s all just a short drive. My cofounder, Robert McHugh, is a native of New Jersey.

2. What problem are you solving?

The e-commerce industry has two problems: the cumbersome checkout process and the increase of cybercrime. More people are using mobile devices for online purchases, and the current experience is not aligned with expectations for a fast and user-friendly checkout. The poor desktop experience of tedious form-filling is worse on a mobile device, with checkout abandonment topping 90percent. Additionally, three out of five shoppers have five or more online passwords, and adding credentials is difficult to manage.

Paydunk’s mobile payment app solves both problems by offering retailers and consumers a simpler, faster and more private way to shop online. With Paydunk, the typical transaction is completed in less than 12 seconds, achieved through numeric PIN-based authentication and a streamlined user interface for selecting payment methods and shipping addresses. The long checkout process becomes the simple ‘swipe card, enter pin, hit OK’ experience everyone knows from an in-store checkout.

Paydunk has also devised an ingenious process where all financially sensitive information is encrypted and stored on the phone. We reduce risk by encrypting the user’s sensitive information and storing it locally in the app on their mobile device, not on servers or the cloud, where it is at risk. The encrypted information, passed securely to the payment gateway, is never shared with retailers, third parties or even Paydunk. Our Paydunk’s technology is patent-pending.

3. Why can you address this problem better than anyone else?

I thrive on technology improving things in our day-to-day life. Unfortunately, sometimes improving things with technology doesn’t always make them simpler. For example, mobile wallets and payments are moving in the direction of biometrics — the use of fingerprints, for example, to approve a payment. This is amazing technology. However, if you ask your mother to use her fingerprint to pay, will this really be easier for her?

With Paydunk, we took the familiar process that we use in every store at the checkout counter. Swipe your card, enter a PIN, hit OK and you are out the door. Paydunk makes online checkout this simple.

However, even though the user interface for Paydunk is simple, the security technology behind the app is where we truly excel. With Paydunk, the user’s personal and financial information resides encrypted within the app. That means there are no accounts to set up, and there is no information sent out into the cloud or onto servers where it can be stolen. Paydunk returns privacy back to the user, where it belongs.

We also have domain expertise. Robert spent seven years working in ecommerce for an enterprise retailer. I operated several websites and owned seven retail locations of an existing consumer products business. This experience gave us significant knowledge of both in-store and online processing and exchange fees for both credit and debit cards and ACH transactions.

4. How did you come up with your startup name?

Paydunk is really a basketball reference, since it is a “slam dunk” solution for online checkout. However, secretly, I will often say to people “Isn’t everything better when you dunk it?” This is more of a reference to my love for dunking cookies in milk growing up, and now my love for Dunkin’ Donuts.

5. What was the biggest mistake you’ve made so far in your entrepreneurial journey, and what did you learn from it?

Not buying flood insurance. My previous office was located in an industrial complex that was near the Passaic River. The landlord told me the building had never been flooded in 60 years. That changed during Hurricane Irene, when we got three feet of water in our building.

Fortunately, I was able to save a lot of stuff in advance of the storm, but I can honestly say I almost lost everything. I was forced to move due to mold in the building, and that move saved me from the next year with Hurricane Sandy.

6. When was the last time you thought about quitting your startup and going back to corporate life, or doing something else? What got you to stay?

This is not my first startup. I’ve always been an entrepreneur on some level, and I have owned my own businesses since 2001. Even with all the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur, I have never looked back, and would never consider going back to corporate life. There’s a thrill that comes with the risk of success and failure. No one likes to fail, but everyone does at some point.

Once you figure out how to use failures to help build future ventures into something stronger, you quickly learn that failing is just a part of doing business.

7. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?

Make sure I take a vacation every year. For about ten years, I never considered going on anything more than a weekend getaway. I had this fear that if I was not in the office every day, something horrible would go wrong. For the past five years, I have made sure to take a week off. I usually go to the Caribbean, where I have to turn off my mobile phone because rates are so high. Usually, after these trips, I am so rested and my mind is clearer, and it actually helps my business to grow.

8. What’s the best place to find founders to network with?

Trade shows and industry conferences. Typically, the founders of most startups will be the ones attending these events. We are already there to talk business, so networking becomes much simpler in this environment.

9. What does your family think about you being an entrepreneur?

Without a doubt, all of my friends or family would tell you they knew I was going to be an entrepreneur. I was always a hustler, and was never afraid to work hard to get what I want. On more than one occasion, I have heard someone say “Is he crazy?” Then, one of my friends would simply say “No, that’s just Mike.”

10. What has helped you the most to achieve your current success?

Hard work and meeting the right people. Lots of people have great ideas, but very few can see them through to create a business from them. You also have to learn to take a networking connection and turn it into something that moves your business forward. The power behind all of this is doing the work to make it happen.

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