Comparing Payment Gateways and Merchant Accounts

PaymentBrain logo

Working out how to accept payments online is a pain. What do you need, exactly? Which payment gateway should you choose? How much will it cost?

I’ve set up a few online businesses now, so I think I have a pretty good idea of it all, but I remember how confusing all this payments stuff was to begin with.

What’s so Hard about Payment Processing?

When it comes to payment processing, there’s lots of terminology to get your head around (PCI, chargebacks, 3-D Secure, IMA) and dozens of factors to consider (security, shopping cart compatibility, support, retention periods).

Even when you understand it all, it takes ages to dig out relevant information about the different providers. And if you’re getting a merchant account you really need to shop around and play different providers off against each other to get good rates.

Does it Need to be so Hard?

Taking payments really shouldn’t be this hard. But no-one seems to be doing much to help UK merchants figure all this stuff out. The best resources I’ve come across are some excellent blog posts by David Mytton and Daniel Tenner.

So I’ve decided to have a go.

Introducing PaymentBrain

I’ve set up a site called PaymentBrain as a home for resources to help UK merchants choose online payment solutions.

So far, it’s hosting my first stab at a comparison engine to compare payment gateways. I hope to be adding and improving upon it as time goes by.

If you have a friend who’s planning to apply for a UK merchant account in the next few weeks, please put me in touch. I’d love to chat with him or her about it and to share what I know.



Boudoir Privé – Beauty Boxes by Subscription

Two pink boxes with the Boudoir Privé logoI’ve recently launched a new subscription e-commerce business and it turns out we’re in a hot space again (as we were with DealBunch and the daily deal phenomenon last year)…

Boudoir Privé is all about meeting the desire that a lot of women have for beauty products. Each month, we send out luxury ‘beauty boxes’ with 5 or 6 deluxe-size samples of everything from makeup to skincare. It’s a way for people to try out expensive and high-end products to figure out which ones work best for their personal needs.

Each product comes from a different brand and, for the brands we work with, it’s a great way to get their products into people’s homes and to reach a key, influential group of customers who are both passionate about beauty and active in social media.

I’m happy to say we’ve had a great uptake since our launch. Only about 12 hours after the public launch of our website, all our August boxes had already been snapped up.

If you or someone you know would like to get hold of one of our September boxes, then don’t miss out! Take this tip from me: sign up here now and we’ll let you know when the September boxes go on sale.

Update 1: I’ve now launched a website covering the subscription commerce industry in general. If you’re interested in subscription commerce, take a look at Subscription Commerce Insider.

Update 2: We ultimately sold Boudoir Privé to French beauty box company JolieBox who in turn sold to Birchbox.


Group-Buying Deals for London

Analysis of a Korean meal

Very soon, together with my co-founders, I’m going to be launching a new venture.

Like VouChaCha, it’s going to offer local deals. And like MenuLover, it’s food-related. This time, though, there’s a new twist: group buying.

The group buying bit works like this: When you sign up for our service, we use the bargaining power of our large group of members to negotiate special deals for you.

Business owners, in return for lots of lovely new customers (like you), agree to offer discounts off their usual prices. They grow their business. You enjoy a good time out at a fun new place and save enough money to do it again very soon.

We’re focusing on food and drink-related offers so, for example, we might offer you 50% off a cookery class or half-price meals at speciality restaurants.

An important rule is that, if you sign up for a particular deal, you only actually get the deal if a certain threshold number of people sign up. e.g. you might get the half-price cookery class only if another 29 people also sign up. If not enough people sign up for a deal, you don’t get anything (or pay anything).

I’m really excited about this and can’t wait to see the site live and people getting deals.

The more people who join us, the better the deals we’ll be able to bring you, so if you like discovering great new places in London (and enjoying special discounts when you get there), then do head over to DealBunch now and be a part of it. Invite your food-loving friends, too!

You and your friends will get £5 of free credit if you sign up with the invite code M2777017 (a thank you for kindly reading my blog, and limited to 35 people, so get in quick.)

Without further ado, follow this link for some delicious London group-buying deals.

Nearly forgot… if you have any feedback on the site or any suggestions for us, then do let me know in the comments below. Thanks!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Mendhak [???]

ReceiptFarm – Easy Way to do Expenses

I’ve been working on a new service lately, called ReceiptFarm. The idea of it is to take the pain out of doing expenses.

It works like this:

  1. You send us your expense receipts once a month.
  2. We scan and input them.
  3. You get a report about your spending and a digital archive of your receipts.

We’re looking for beta testers at the moment, so if you’d like to be one of the first people to try it out, head over to the site and sign up for free. Save me from my expenses!

Launch48 – Launching a Start-up in a Weekend

Making Stuff Happen in 48 Hours

The last couple of days I was involved in another “build a website in 48 hours” event. This time, it was Launch48, organised by a couple of friends of mine, Ian Broom and Adil Mohammed. Thanks to lots of great work from Ian and Adil, some generous sponsors who provided important things like office space and free pizza and drinks on the last night, and the boundless energy of around 70 enthusiastic participants, it was a great weekend.

We started on Friday night with a vote for our 4 favourite ideas out of a series of rapid-fire elevator pitches by anyone who fancied suggesting an idea. Excitingly, my idea was one of the four that was chosen. 15 or so people duly signed up to work on the idea over the weekend, and a whirlwind 48 hours was underway.

Local Vouchers

Our idea was to let people find vouchers for local retailers using their mobile phones. So you might, for example, be out in cental London and decide you want to get lunch somewhere. You pull out your phone and our service tells you that the cafe round the corner is offering a free dessert with their lunchtime menu. Great. You ignore the Starbucks next to you and head off to claim your bargain.

It didn’t take long for our team to get stuck into the problem at hand, figure out everyones’ talents and get to work. Luckily we found that we had a really nice spread of skills and abilities. Two intense days of design, coding, business planning, market research, PR, sleep deprivation and burrito-consumption later, VouChaCha was born, destined to bring local vouchers to your mobile phone.

A million thanks to the VouChaCha team for your immense efforts over the weekend. You were amazing! It was an incredible couple of days and a pleasure to work with you all.

What’s Next?

Well done to the other three Launch48 teams, CharityPie, DecisionsDecisions and ILikeUCoz, too. It was inspiring to see so many people come together (some having traveled very long distances to be there) and producing such neat things. What I liked best was the simplicity of all these ideas. I think they all have the potential to go somewhere.

A follow-up meeting is planned for 6 weeks’ time, so it will be exciting to see where we can all take these ideas between now and then.

Can You Help an Exciting New Startup?

If you think you might be able to help VouChaCha out in some way, we’d love to hear from anyone with experience/contacts regarding:

  • partnering with retail chains, especially restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars
  • vouchers, especially mobile vouchers

We’d also love to hear from any companies interested in sponsoring us by providing a few hundred pounds to cover our costs for the next 45 days. This is a fantastic sponsorship opportunity for somebody and you’ll be really helping us out.

If you think you can help with this or anything else, please get in touch. Thanks!


GoodGym – Winners of SI Camp 2!


This weekend I was lucky enough to be part of the second Social Innovation Camp.

Like the first SI Camp back in April, the idea was to get geeks and social innovators together for an intense couple of days to work in small teams to prototype some socially-beneficial web tools.

It was a huge amount of fun and an opportunity to work on some really worthy concepts and meet loads of terrific people.

I was part of a team working on a slightly wacky idea called The Good Gym, that aimed to help connect joggers needing motivation with potentially isolated old people. Each jogger would be paired with an older person living a suitable distance away and would commit to regular runs to the older person’s house to take them a newspaper and check up on them. In return, the older person would help make sure the jogger kept to their training plan and could impart their accumulated wisdom.

After a very productive (and, unlike last year, surprisingly calm) day-and-a-half of designing, coding, video interviewing and Powerpoint wizardry, we were all set for the judging panel. Here’s our slideshow:

GoodGym SI Camp presentation

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: sicamp goodgym)

The teams put together some amazing stuff over the weekend. It was incredible to see again what could be achieved in such a short time with good people and a lot of enthusiasm.

One of my personal favourites was AccessCity, but all the projects were extremely worthy and I really hope that at list some will live on beyond the weekend itself to start making an impact in the real world.

As for GoodGym, the social innovation gods must have been looking kindly upon us yesterday because we were awarded 1st prize. Great work, team!

Enabled by Design

Social Innovation Camp

I had the pleasure of attending Social Innovation Camp this weekend. It was a chance to meet some great people, all with an interest in making the world a better place by using web technology as the basis for social ventures of one sort or another. A little like Startup Weekend, the idea was to get a bunch of strangers together for a couple of days and put together some kind of website. In this case (unlike Startup Weekend) the goal was to come up with something to meet some kind of social need.

Some fantastic projects were launched over the weekend, including Stuffshare and Barcode Wikipedia, both of which, if they take off, I can see having great potential. All the projects looked really promising, though, and I’m looking forward to some exciting developments with them over the next few months.

I was part of the team working on ‘Enabled by Design‘ – a website to allow people to share solutions to everyday problems faced by people with disabilities (see here for an example). We were fortunate enough to have a team of volunteers with a good mix of skills and backgrounds and we made some solid progress over the weekend. Our hard work really paid off when, much to our surprise, we were awarded first prize in today’s closing ceremony. Nice work, everyone! It was a real pleasure working with you over the weekend and I’m looking forward to working together again soon to take things further. Everyone pitched in to make it all happen and I don’t think we could have wished for a better team spirit. You all deserve a very well-earned rest!

How to Find Top Tips on Almost Anything (…or Just a Few Random Things for Now)

Creative Commons License photo credit: Seth Thomas Rasmussen

Do you collect tips and tricks?

Do you want to know how to do almost anything better?

And do you like to share what you know?

Then Tipfo is for you.

The alpha version of the site is ready to try out now. Expect broken links, amateurish logos and all that good stuff. Let me know what you think.

Try it here: [Edit: the Tipfo site has now been retired.]

Yet Another Localmouth Facelift

Yes, it was time for another round of CSS fun and some delving into istockphoto. I’ve been a bit freer with the colours with this version which I think makes the site look a bit more inviting. I’ve also added some graphical buttons to make the site look a bit more professional and hopefully encourage visitors to sign up and add content. I shall be monitoring the site through Google Analytics to see if the changes have any noticeable impact on visitor behaviour. Fingers crossed!