Automate your recurring billing, manage subscriptions at scale and access metrics that matter with Chargebee

ChargeBee is a PCI Level 1 certified recurring billing platform for subscription based SaaS and eCommerce businesses. ChargeBee integrates with the leading payment gateways around the world to let you automate payment collection, invoicing, email notifications and customer management. With power packed integrations such as MailChimp, ShipStation, Salesforce and Shopify, ChargeBee takes the pain out of subscription billing.

Kevin William David interviewed Krish | ChargeBee, CEO of Chargebee to learn more.

Can you tell us about what you are working on ? What is Chargebee?

Krish: For any SaaS/online subscription business, it is imperative that they deliver a consistent experience across all the customer touch points, while operating at scale. Billing forms an integral part of the customer experience, and an internal billing solution — that automatically keeps track of the subscriptions, charges them accurately, and accommodates ad-hoc pricing and promotion changes — becomes indispensable.

And that’s where Chargebee comes in. With its secure plug-and-play billing system, Chargebee abstracts all the complexities of subscription billing with an automated solution, that becomes a natural extension of your business, allowing you to focus on building your core product instead.

Why are you building this? What problem are you trying to solve?

Krish: With SaaS becoming the most prevalent delivery model in the industry, the software business model has shifted to a subscriptions model, making the switching cost as low as possible for the customers. This has made vendors pay much greater attention to building lasting relationships with customers, while also seamlessly managing thousands of month-on-month payments.

Subscription management and billing are among the most underappreciated aspects of a business in terms of their intricacy, where a slight delay in performing something as simple as updating a customer’s card details could cause a crack in the customer relationship. And at the same time, the vendor’s time and resources should rather be focussed on building their product and winning over their market, than tackling such billing complexities. And Chargebee lets them do just that.

How is Chargebee different from what’s already exists in the market? What’s unique about what you are building & why do you think companies should use Chargebee?

Krish: We have got Zuora, Aria Systems, Vindisia, etc., in the enterprise arena. And then we have Recurly, Chargify, et al, who operate in the same space as ours, and are in a way, our direct competitors. However, our true competitors are companies who build their own billing solutions on top of existing payment gateways like Stripe and Braintree. About 95% of the competition is posed by these in-house systems, making this a Build vs. Buy challenge. And our proposition is simple — build smarter.

When you’re building a SaaS product and are eyeing world domination, you can’t afford to restrict yourself to accepting payments via a single payment method or in a single currency. When you build your own billing system on top of payment gateways, you’ll only be able to accept card-based payments, thus having you lose out on other local payment gateways and alternative payment methods like PayPal and wire transfer.

Adding to that, data has proven that you can have 30% more conversions when you have your pricing plans in the local currency. Now, why would you want to go through the difficulty of building all of that by yourself? Why not use a system that already covers all those scenarios, and work on building your product instead?

As for the other subscription billing solutions in the market, Chargebee sets itself apart from them in terms of four main factors:

  • Comprehensive and well-thought-out features that align with the compliance, taxation, and accounting principles of each country
  • Smarter and more flexible RESTful API for effortless integration
  • Consultative customer support team that acts as the customer’s ambassador interacting with the company
  • Global support for payment gateways and alternative payment methods, to help businesses accept payments globally
  • Multi-currency and multi-lingual support, for the customers who’re eyeing global domination

Who uses Chargebee? Can you tell us a bit about the different customer segments using Chargebee? What types of roles do your customers have at their companies (Sales, Marketing, Devops, etc.)?

Krish: Our customers can be broadly classified into two categories: tech and non-tech. The tech customers include the SaaS companies and well-funded, subscription-based e-commerce companies like Soylent who have in-house developers. These customers are more likely to use Chargebee’s API, as it allows them to utilize the product in its entirety. Then there are the non-tech customers who are small-scale, subscription-based e-commerce businesses, that are built upon e-commerce platforms like Shopify, Squarespace, etc., and don’t have in-house developers. These folks make use of a specific set of our features like the Hosted Checkout Page, which don’t require any coding skills.

As for the different customer roles, Chargebee as a product is chosen by the CTO or the engineering team, who also take care of the initial integration process, and any setup changes post-integration. After that, the finance, accounting, sales, marketing, and customer support teams get the most out of Chargebee.

How are your customers using Chargebee? Could you share a few different use cases?

Krish: Apart from using Chargebee to automate recurring invoicing, payment collection, email notifications, and subscription management, following are the other user-specific use cases:

The finance and accounting teams use Chargebee to perform activities related to reconciliation, invoicing, financial data analysis, etc. Then there are the sales and marketing teams that use the product for specific use cases such as running campaigns with discounts and coupons, performing pricing experiments, upselling/cross-selling using addons, etc. In the case of the customer support team, the use case varies on a daily basis, depending on the customer’s request (account cancellation, changes in billing information, change in customer details, etc).

Have there been unique use cases for Chargebee that you hadn’t thought of or expected?

Krish: Since the entire lifecycle data of their end customers are in Chargebee, and it serves as the single source of truth, most of our customers use the product like a mini-CRM system. As a result of this, most customers go a step ahead and store additional customer information in Chargebee.

For instance, our e-commerce customers store data related to their customers’ preferences, like the product color/size, vegan/pescatarian, etc.

This was a use case that we hadn’t anticipated initially, and were quite fascinated about how the product had naturally evolved into a mini-CRM solution for our customers.

Who are some early/key customers?

Krish: Some of our key customers include ABInBev, Calendly, Vinyl Me Please, Freshdesk, Schneider Electric, Fujitsu, Sharetribe, and Soylent.

Were there any early ‘growth hacks’ or tactics that have contributed to your current success?

Krish: Even though ‘growth hacks’ can definitely help in getting that jump and that short-term boost is essential, they won’t be sustainable. And especially in the B2B space, building sustainable channels for long-term growth is very important.

During our initial days, when getting the word out was the primary challenge, we would hang out on the support forums of payment gateways and on discussion forums like Hacker News, Stack Overflow, etc., and would look out for questions related to recurring billing. We would give helpful answers to those questions, and then as a P.S., we would tell them about the billing product that we were working on and would invite them to be a part of the beta team.

Apart from that, from the beginning till date, the marketing efforts that have worked for us have predominantly been around inbound content marketing. Even though we do explore and perform well on a lot of other channels, the primary drivers for our business are the 80–90% of the inbound leads coming in via organic and direct traffic, while the other successful channels give us that extra boost to ramp up our growth.

What were some of the biggest challenges while building the product early on and how did you solve them?

Krish: Aligning the product with accounting best practices was crucial. We had to get the accounting concepts such as negative invoices, credit notes, etc. incorporated in the product, to ensure that there’s no room for billing errors.

For example, let’s say that a customer had signed up for an annual subscription ($1200/year), and you had given them a discount of $200 as they prepaid the entire amount. Then six months down the line, they want to switch to a monthly subscription. Now in such a scenario, if you calculate the prorated credits ($600), you’ll only end up paying out-of-pocket. And you won’t even realize that you’re losing money through such loopholes.

And that’s where a credit note will come to the rescue. By integrating the three different types of credits (refundable credits, adjustment credits, and promotional credits), we’re able to plug in all such loopholes.

So our biggest challenge was to get the model right in terms of the accounting principles and to manage the complexity of subscriptions associated with the credit notes and invoicing best practices.

What have been some of the most interesting integrations you’ve added? Are there any that have been particularly impactful for you?

Krish: Among our list of integrations, the integrations with accounting systems like Xero and QuickBooks had the biggest impact from our customer’s perspective. It’s a given that almost all business owners and accountants find it cumbersome to keep track of the revenue, cash flow, taxes, reconciliation of balances, and the like.

There’s a lot of grunt work involved in manually synchronizing the data between the billing and accounting systems. Our integrations with Xero and QuickBooks automate the entire process, and also provide accurate reporting, thus saving our customers much of their time and energy.

What are the top products that you depend to run the company & how do you use them?

We use Asana for collaborating within and between teams, and to keep track of the group/individual projects and tasks. It helps the entire team to be on the same page and makes prioritizing tasks easier.

For handling customer support we use Freshdesk. As mentioned above, our consultative support has been widely appreciated by our customers, and Freshdesk’s comprehensive system enables us to retain that recognition.

Inbound marketing being our primary lead generator, measuring and analyzing website traffic on a regular basis becomes crucial, and Google Analytics is our one-stop solution for drilling down on those numbers. Once you get a hang of this tool, the number-crunching possibilities are endless.

SendGrid helps us in sending transactional emails. Our favorite aspects are the bounce rates related data provided by them, and their flexible API. We originally started out as a freemium customer, and now we’re on a very high tier. Being strong advocates of the freemium model, we love this about them.

Typeform beats every other online form building solution with its slick and minimalistic design, and we use it for collecting information related to sales inquiries and feedbacks. For running any kind of experiment where we need to collect responses, Typeform is the answer.

Our design team loves Sketch, as it helps them in viewing the different versions of a design on a single page — it gives a great perspective on the how it has evolved over time. They then move the designs to InVision for prototyping, as they have a solid plugin to sync the designs from Sketch.

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