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30 Innovators to Watch 2021

‘Our Approach to Technology is to Match Solutions to the Specific Challenges of Your Business’: Andy Phillips, Founder & CEO of Cliq

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“Our customized solutions will make it easier for you to accept all kinds of payments.”

Cliq is a leader in the evolving electronic payments space.

To highlight and further understand what Cliq stands for, in this segment, I sat down with Andy Phillips (founder), who serves as the company’s Chief Executive Officer.

Below is an excerpt.

Q. What’s your story?

In my early years I delivered newspapers in Denver, Colorado. The Rocky Mountain News before school, the Denver Post after school. I learned at a young age how to overcome obstacles such as delivering newspapers in the snow. No matter what, papers always got delivered.

In high school, I entered the construction industry, working on job sites after school and on weekends. I eventually became a carpenter. I loved the hard work and I loved the creation. When I graduated from high school, I already had my own business going, so I skipped college and went to work. This was the mid 70’s and Denver was booming, - until the recession of 1980 happened.

In 1981, I discovered a franchise called CheckRite. CheckRite was a company that collected return checks on behalf of merchants. I took a look at the landscape, the economy wasn’t doing well, people were bouncing checks, builders were having a hard time paying their bills, so this seemed like a good move. I sold my house, packed up my family, moved to Albuquerque, NM (where the franchise was available), and entered the business of calling on merchants. Not long after I got to Albuquerque, I discovered the emerging market of selling credit card authorization terminals and ultimately, processing to mainstream merchants.

As time went on I began to focus more and more on the technical side of the payments industry, so I createt Integrated Transaction Services (ITS), and set my sights on providing grocery stores a full suite of services, check authorization and collection, credit and debit card proessing and ultimately EBT. Anyone that has ever been involved in pitching grocery stores on a new concept or product can relate to just how difficult that was. I was told no time after time but I persisted. I finally convinced Safway, the largest grocery chain in our area, to let me install the in-lane check authorization technology we had developed and to allow me to collect their return checks. They werent quite sold on the idea of debit and credit yet.  With Safeway as a client I was soon able to sign up about 90 percent of the independent grocery stores in New Mexico and West Texas.

In 1989 EBT was introduced. Albuquerque was chosen as one of the four test markets in the United States. I immediately went to my customers and told them I could support their entry into EBT, and since we were going to go through that effort, why not install debit as well. Every one of my grocery customers said yes. There was just one little problem: I didn’t have a clue how to perform.

So, I came up with a plan, raised capital to fund the development (a story in and of itself) and  contracted a technology firm to develop a Base 1 and Base 2 solution for me, no easy task back in those days. Not only did we need to develop a processing solution, we needed to upgrade our in-lane system to support the new services.  By 1992, I had crawled under the cash registers of about 200 grocery stores installing our homegrown LAN system so we could provide check authorization, debit, and EBT and eventually credit card processing, end to end.

Tell us what inspired the creation of Cliq.

Cliq is the third payment company I have built. It’s often said, “three’s the charm”. The first was ITS (Integrated Transaction Services) the one I discussed above which I sold in 1996. The second was Payment Resources, Intl, (PRI) a pretty conventional ISO, however with a technical twist. At PRI, we created one of the first internet payment gateways in use in the USA. In the year 2000, we were accepting payments through palm pilots, processing recurring files over the internet, processing ACH, and so on. In 2004, I sold the company to TransFirst and spent the next three years working with the founders of TransFirst to transform their company from a bank-centric company to a full-service ISO. I received quite an education while with TransFirst. In many respects, that role provided me the education in Business that I missed in not going to college.

When I formed Cliq, with some of the same team I built my first two companies with, my thought process was to take all I had learned over the years and build a payments company that would be more of a Fintech, specializing in the emerging aspects of the payments industry. 

I would describe Cliq as a boutique firm designed to support businesses that are not satisfied with the status quo. Our motto is, you dream it up, we will fulfill it. Of course, we cater to thousands of merchants that have simple standard processing needs, but the bulk of our volume comes from merchants that require specialized solutions.

Q. What’s Cliq’s point of differentiation?

I would say our primary differentiator is our commitment to service and cutting edge technology. We are large enough to handle virtually any business, yet we still answer the phone. We have a very strong development staff and a ton of experience. I would match my team up against anyone in the space as far as know-how and commitment to getting it done.

We have developed a multitude of technologies, we were one of the first EBT processors in the country, one of the first full-service internet gateway providers in the country, we are one of the nations largest non-bank ACH processors and we now process all kinds of payments, whether its conventional payments or alternative payments. To complement our service and technical offerings, with our various sponsorships we have a wide array of risk tolerances and our Compliance and Risk departments are  robust enough to maintain compliance with the ever-changing environment.

Q. How have you countered hurdles that have come your way since your first company launch?

Those that know me know I don’t look at roadblocks as hurdles, rather I look at them as challenges, and opportunities. Everything happens for a reason, there is a learning experience available from every mistake I’ve made. All of the mistakes I’ve made along the way have provided me with the experience and wisdom to be the CEO I am today.

My personal biggest learning is humility; Cliq’s success is not my success, it’s our success. The team at Cliq is what has made Cliq what it is today. Recently, my team and I were giving a presentation to a new bank we are partnering with. As I listened to each member of my Executive team give their presentations, like a proud father, I just beamed with pride listening to each of them. They are the reason we are successful.

Q. About the future, where do you see your company in a couple of years?

My vision for Cliq is continue to pioneer new frontiers. We are dreamers, that is what got us to where we are today and that is what motivates us every day.

“At Cliq, we process billions of dollars in transactions every year for all kinds of businesses in all kinds of industries. We know other merchant service providers can say the same. However, our difference is summed up when I describe Cliq. Cliq is a boutique firm designed to support businesses that are not satisfied with the status quo.”