Across the Board

Blog on e-business and online payments.

Interview with Ramon Ray for Across the Board

Are you a small business technology geek? If not yet, you definitely have to talk to Ramon Ray – the most enthusiastic technology evangelist and a great source of knowledge about technologies for small businesses. He is also a funny interlocutor. We talked about the culture of running small business in the US and the rest of the world, about role of technology in small businesses and social media. Hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed interviewing Ramon.

Ula Lachowicz: Why did you decide to become a technology evangelist for small businesses? Don’t you think that really great things happen in corporations and are created by big players?
Ramon Ray: Well, that’s true. But Google was started by two guys in a college dorm room and Dell was one guy. So that’s true, large companies do big things and have big brands: McDonalds, Nike, Coca-Cola, Pepsi. However, I believe small businesses can grow and become big businesses, but small businesses can be also small giants. Let’s say you are in Poland and you want to be the biggest telephone company. That might be difficult. But let’s say you are in Poland and you want to be the best telephone company for mums. That’s a smaller market. Or the best telephone company in Poland for mums who take their kids to soccer games to play football. So the smaller you get, the less effort it takes to have a better expertize in this small field.

And why I became a technology evangelist? I think I didn’t set up to be one, I didn’t say “let me be a technology evangelist”. I think it really found me. After speaking and talking to people, I believe they came to me and asked what more I had to say. So it really found me, I didn’t find it.

UL: When you write for, do you think about American entrepreneurs, or are your articles do you direct your words to the world?
RR: I think there are two things. I’m always very conscious that most of my audience is American and of course I’m American, that’s the background I have. But I also know that a lot of my audience is global: I have a lot readers in Europe, numbers of readers in Canada and in South Africa, and so on.

However, I’m also aware that European businesses are similar to American. But small businesses e.g. in Kenya have different needs. Maybe they are selling apples on the side of the road, so they don’t know a thing about social media, CRM etc. So I think my readers are all around the world, but I’m also aware that I’m not able to write for everyone. But I travel a lot and meet owners of eastern European businesses and from south Asia. We can all learn from each other.

UL: Especially that development process of some countries accelerates the business growth. Countries like Brazil or China are becoming important players.
RR: Or they are more restricted. Just like America. Things take a long time, 50 years sounds like a long time. But when you think about the tough time that eastern European countries had 50 years ago, you can see a huge difference between the possibilities in Eastern and Western Europe.

UL: Do you see the differences in running small businesses between American owners and rest of the world? Do they have the same values, strategies, attitude to management?
RR: Sure, of course. Maybe I’m not an international expert, but I do have some experience, for example I worked for United Nations for many years. I talked to people from Brazil, France, South Arabia, Romania, Nigeria. And I think in the end of the day all businesses want to make a profit, all have to have customers and treat them well. That’s for sure. But it is the culture which decides that they do it in different ways. For example I have a friend of mine from Togo and in Togo before they ask you for money, they first ask you how are you and your family doing [laugh]. It’s just the way they are. On the other side, there are Americans, who are really direct. They’re going to say “Hi. How are you? My name’s Jack. Would you like to buy a vacuum cleaner?” So culture is one aspect. The other thing is how people societies are. Eastern Europeans and Americans are much closer than the Americans and Kenyan. However, even in those closer societies differ, because of our culture. The respect, how do you treat oldies, how you treat customers. One guy I was talking to at an event was from Germany and he said that in some countries people are much more reserved than in America. You stand up in a room of five hundred people and challenge the leader, challenge the person speaking. In his country they don’t do that.

UL: That’s true, I can see the differences even in Europe. In some countries it is not expected to speak too loud or to be in the spotlight.
RR: Yes, there is also a gender issue. Think about Japan. Women are very quiet. I’m sure there is much difference between women-entrepreneurs who act much different. Let’s take Meg Whitman who was a CEO of eBay.

UL: What is the most important role of technology in small business: to boost productivity or customer service, save money or to manage teams?
RR: That’s a great question. There are two things. Technology surely saves the time and boosts productivity, that’s essential. Just think about Walmart and how they’ve grown because they were using technology. Dell Inc. – they were able to beat traditional computer vendors because of technology. But as you said, there is another advantage that is equally important: communication. There are social media, Skype or Google+. There could be a great designer in Romania or Czech Republic who is able to gain a contract with an American company in Florida because of Skype, Google Docs or Elance. I think they are both essential: communication and collaboration, including marketing and the core of technology – boosting productivity.

UL: Are owners of small businesses willing to use technology or they have to be encouraged to use it?
RR: I think they definitively want to use it. A small business owner has to be nimble, creative and proactive (of course there are different types of small businesses). There are some whom you say Skype and they get sweating and nervous. They don’t know about point of sales systems, e-commerce. But in my mind most of small businesses understand the power of technology.

UL: We observe how technology of online payments changes. Credit cards are not enough anymore. You can pay on a website with just a single click, using your mobile phone, using your watch. Do you consider online payments as technologies that  change fast, or nothing special happens in this industry?
RR: It is very special, that’s for sure. There are a few things about online payments. It’s still in infancy stage because it’s like being a building websites 15 year ago: “I’m a web developer and this is a secret”. But now – almost everyone is able to do it. My point about online payments companies is:

  1. There are still growing and still emerging
  2. There is plenty of room to grow
  3. The big players such as Google, Intuit any many others will be leading the way
  4. It’s really up to small businesses to leverage this in their businesses. But I think it’s really transformative, because more and more users in US, Asia or Finland are using smartphones.

UL: What’s your favorite technology useful for running small business?
RR: There are many that I use, but some that come to my mind are:
Batchbook that I like because of segmenting my customers when I make the events. I also use loot of Google products. Others that come to my mind are Zoho and Infusionsoft (all in one marketing). So I use a lot of technology. My smartphone is something that I use quite a lot. I have a Blackberry, many people use iPhones, others use Android phones. There are also online applications like Dropbox, Carbonite. They really help me share files and collaborate with the team. That’s really important because I have a virtual team.

UL: How do you expect – which technology will be the most popular among small businesses in 2012?
RR: In general, I think there are two or three types of technology. There are technologies that are owned by larger companies, which definitely will have more branding power, more staying power. But I also think there are small companies such as Pinterest, which will be the next hit. Facebook was small before it blew up, so there is time for the next Facebook.

UL: Do you think Pinterest could be useful for businesses?
RR: Well, I’d like to be a pessimist, but in reality this is childish, this is a game and people want to be productive. But at the end of the day I would put my bet on Google Plus more than Pinterest. Pinterest is a hot topic of the day, but in reality you want more customers. Facebook with a billion users is clearly useful. But smaller players are like the hair color of the day: today your color is pink, tomorrow your color is back to blonde or brown.

UL: So Google+ would be better?
RR: For sure: it’s growing and most popular.

UL: And Twitter?
RR: Twitter definitely. I really think it is also a very niche product. When I think about those whose follow me on Twitter, there are no umbrella makers from Poland and there’s no John from Florida, who makes cabins. It’s you Ula – the social media geek [laugh].

There are really a few businesses that we call in the US real small businesses. In US there are 30 million of small businesses, but there are only about 5 million that really have employees and are growing. All of those are on Twitter, just like we are.Bio:

Ramon Ray is a technology evangelist, who is passionate about helping small businesses grow their businesses using technology as a strategic asset. He is a journalist, event producer, speaker, author and editor of As a journalist and writer, Ramon has written two books (“Technology Solutions for Growing Businesses” [2005] and “Technology Resources for Growing Businesses” [2011]) thousands of articles about technology for small businesses. His work appears in Smallbiztechnology and also in, Entrepreneur, Inc. OPEN Forum and Black Enterprise amongst many other publications. He is often quoted in Crain’s NY, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle and other media.

Sociologist and researcher, particularly interested in what happens at the interface between individuals and society, nature and culture. Fan of commercials- claims that ads are Art! Admires pure form in any field of art. At PayLane responsible for good visibility, audibility, readability and brand presence. Thinks about new markets, channels and partners. Open to any form of cooperation. After work - follower of the slow food movement. Always finds time to support NGOs.

Are you a business looking for a payment processor?

Don't miss any articles!

Leave your email and get regular updates!

Close window