A Mindful Thought Leader: YapStone CEO Tom Villante gets Personal about his Brand

In 1999, CEO and co-founder Tom Villante started YapStone with an ambitious goal: Converting pesky paper bills into online payments. Shortly after, YapStone debuted RentPayment -- the first payment solution for the apartment rental industry -- and changed the way payments are processed.
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Photo: Yapstone CEO Tom Villante (left) pictured with Yapsters

In 1999, CEO and co-founder Tom Villante started YapStone with an ambitious goal: Converting pesky paper bills into online payments. Shortly after, YapStone debuted RentPayment -- the first payment solution for the apartment rental industry -- and changed the way payments are processed.

Today, YapStone holds a leading position in the payments industry. It provides online, mobile payment solutions for global marketplaces and large vertical markets, from apartment rentals and homeowners associations to self-storage companies and non-profits. YapStone's platform powers over $15 billion in electronic payments annually, and projects $235 million in annual revenue in 2016.

I recently spoke with Tom about YapStone, its success, and his thoughts on personal branding. Here's what I learned:

Payment technologies have become the cornerstone of the Fintech (financial technology) explosion.

Almost two decades after YapStone's launch, payment technologies are continuing to disrupt the financial industry and accelerate digital transformation. Global investment in Fintech in the first quarter of 2016 reached $5.3 billion, a 67-percent increase over the same period last year, according to Accenture.

Fintech companies aren't replacing big banks, but they are partnering with them. Consumer data on mobile phone use and mobile payments are rapidly increasing. According to a Forrester report, mobile payments are projected to grow to $142 billion by 2019.

Getting close to the target audience is key.
YapStone took care to learn the nuts and bolts of an industry vertical (apartment rentals) -- then they catered to the vertical. YapStone's recipe: Make it simple for customers and mitigate their risk.

There's growth and then there's growth. Only a sliver of companies founded each year achieve $100 million or more in annual sales. Remarkably, YapStone broke the $100 million barrier in 2014 -- and is expected to more than double revenue in 2016.

There's more: YapStone recently ranked on the Inc. 5000 list of Fastest-Growing Private Companies for the ninth-consecutive year. YapStone has raised over $110 million from investors, including Accel Partners, Meritech Capital, and Bregal Sagemount. Headquartered in the San Francisco Bay area, YapStone has additional offices in Santa Monica, California, and Ireland.

What's behind this growth? Tom cites a focus on being a global leader in payments. "In five years, we've transformed the company from being primarily known as a leader in online payments for the property market to globally powering payments in the sharing economy marketplaces, such as HomeAway and VRBO," he explains.

He adds: "Some people are focused on growing their companies into huge corporation machines. I'm focused on keeping the way we run our business always entrepreneurial and agile."

395 "Yapsters," and growing.

Tom recognizes that developing great talent means providing the necessary tools to succeed. "I don't see my employees as means to an end -- I am personally invested in them," he says.

Tom attributes company growth to YapStone's talented and diverse makeup. YapStone has made numerous executive hires, attracting top talent from companies like Twitter, Paypal, and Salesforce. "That means being communicative and setting clear goals and objectives," he notes. "I want my staff to have a level of autonomy and not to be afraid to stand up and let us know what they need."

A recent strategic hire is a Chief People Officer whose expertise is extended learning. "We have online tools for our staff members to continue to sharpen their skills and develop new ones," Tom says. "We also keep employees up-to-date on industry news, and suggest books that we feel represent our management philosophy."

Photo: Yapsters at a recent company outing

Building lasting relationships is paramount.

Thriving businesses understand that to remain successful, it's more than just checking boxes. With an expanding payments platform, innovative payment technologies, and cutting-edge customer onboarding features in place, Tom has strategically developed new marketplace partnerships. He's built lasting, integrated relationships with the leading software partners in the industries they serve -- in fact, the majority of YapStone leads are referrals from software partners.

Leading with thought.
When asked about his leadership style, Tom described himself as empowering and more informal than most. "I aim to be approachable, transparent, and communicative with all my staff members," he says. "In my early days as a CEO, I was far more off-the-cuff and reactive. Over the years, I've become much more mindful."

Personal branding is about getting personal.
You can't separate "personal" from "personal brand." Showing your human side is key. Tom is the proud father of two daughters and notes "they have my same drive and positivity, which energizes me in a profound way."

No ivory tower for Tom.

YapStone understands the importance of sharing content and its expertise. Indeed, studies show that a CEO's social media engagement leads to brand trust. And so both Tom and the Yapsters are very active on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and the company blog. "We're also in the press each month, being highlighted as Fintech experts. And I am a frequent speaker and panelist at large Fintech industry events including Money 20/20 on October 24," Tom adds.

So, what's ahead? "In five years, we're going to be one of probably three of the most important companies providing end-to-end Fintech solutions for the sharing economy," Tom notes. "It goes beyond just payments; it's about how you create a frictionless eCommerce experience for buyers and sellers in large marketplaces."

In closing, an interesting note: The company's name comes from the wheel-shaped currency of the Micronesian islands of Yap. Here's to keeping the wheels a 'turning!

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