To embrace and acknowledge the contributions to this country by our diverse population, and to honor and celebrate Black and Woman’s History Month, Peter Bonnell on the Dun & Bradstreet Emerging Business team conducted a series of interviews with minority and women business owners. The interviews can be found on Dun & Bradstreet B2B’s Minority-Owned and Women-Owned Business Resource pages.

Payroll is something each and every business has to address, from the hiring of its first employee to the opening of its first office overseas. Payroll has the ability to cause a fair amount of stress for the budding entrepreneur, especially as a new venture grows. In a recent CNN Town Hall with Senator Bernie Sanders, a small business owner said, “You haven’t lived in this country [as a small business owner] until you’ve put payroll on a credit card.” Tweet This

Craig J. Lewis, a young, black entrepreneur with established experience as a payroll software sales professional, understood the burden that payroll poses on small businesses. He started his company, Visage Payroll, after he noticed two things, First, that “Small business owners were very sensitive to price. More times than not, the best deal [or] lowest price would win you the business, even if the services weren’t in the customer’s best interest,” he said. Second, that “Small businesses were also extremely frustrated by the entire payroll experience. A quick Twitter search of ‘I hate payroll’ or ‘payroll sucks’ will provide you with hundreds and on some days, thousands of people, employers and employees, complaining about their payroll experience.”

“Once I drummed up enough courage – disguised as experience – I knew I had to solve these issues,” Lewis said.  “All I could think of was how much people enjoyed Facebook and Google, and how they both were free. So, we set out to ‘consumerize the enterprise,’ and that’s where the idea for free, smart payroll came from.”

How He Began

Craig J. Lewis is the Founder & CEO of Visage Payroll, but he began as a payroll software sales professional at Automatic Data Processing (ADP). He spent years learning the industry and building relationships while driving record-breaking revenue at various other payroll software companies. He has a natural entrepreneurial spirit, and is also the author of The Sport of Sales. He has published numerous other payroll software related articles and has been featured in Inc. Magazine, The Huffington Post and DCEO Magazine.

Lewis took his business-minded spirit and accompanied it with a desire to serve other small businesses, stating, “Visage Payroll is on a mission to provide free, smart payroll to 1 million small businesses.”

Like most entrepreneurs, he also faced several obstacles early on. “We missed several product release dates and it caused a ton of issues with our customers, partners, investors, and staff internally,” he said.

However, those challenges led to streamlined practices and increased business acumen and awareness. “Operationally, we now place a huge emphasis on project management and code development rigor and reporting,” he said. “Planning and insights with measured milestones and deliverables are critical. Organizationally, after some turnover, we’ve learned the importance of trust, accountability and communication.”

Developing a Strategy and Practices

Understanding one’s personal and business strengths is vital, but equally as important is understanding one’s weaknesses. Craig highlighted each regarding his company, stating, “Our strengths are innovation, flexibility, our culture, and our mission. Our biggest weaknesses are making sure we are properly capitalized to compete at scale, and making sure we have the foundational resources to support that scale.”

He then elaborated on how he’s addressing those weaknesses: “We are strengthening our technology by partnering with Microsoft, strengthening our team by bringing in a proven COO and cyber-securities expert and by adding to our development team. By taking these steps we make the business more attractive to additional growth financing,” he said.

Lewis also understands the importance of marketing, particularly as it impacts customer acquisition, retention, and the associated costs.

“When we first started Visage Payroll we knew it would be important to keep our customer acquisition cost down, so we focused on PR and digital strategies,” he said. “But during a meeting with a prominent west coast venture capitalist, he mentioned that all of his best companies had found a way to leverage distribution at scale. So, since then we’ve been focused on partnering with companies that solve a problem for our target customers: small businesses. This lowers our customer acquisition cost, allows us to beat our competition to each customer, and helps us scale and provide some predictability to our future growth.”

Finding Funding

Many business owners need access to capital to get things off the ground, whether they use their personal savings, get a loan, or open a line of credit. Craig alluded to this during our interview, when we asked him, “What is something you wish you knew more about as a business owner?”

He replied, “More access to capital. Financing is about who you know and who knows you, and it takes a ton of hard work to build those relationships from scratch. Less than 1 percent of venture-backed companies have black founders, and only a handful are ‘well-funded.’  Venture capital is not a mark of success but more so a strategy, that if implemented correctly can create exponentially impactful businesses and wealth for early team members.”

As it stands right now, Craig has raised $710,000 from Angel investors and and currently raising $3,000,000 from strategic investors.

Personal Influence and Advice for Prospective Entrepreneurs

Our environment helps to shape and mold us as people, from our view of the world to how we operate in and react to it. Our environment is also impacted by the people who we interact with – influencers one might call them.

For Lewis, one person had a particular impact on him: Robert Smith, CEO of Vista Equity Partners. “I love how he worked at an industry leading firm, left to start his own company, and has grown one of the top private equity companies in the world. Vista Equity Partners also invests in companies similar to Visage Payroll, although at a later stage. His patience, focus, and strategic determination are all extremely inspiring.” Lewis plans to work with Smith and his firm in the near future.

Lewis wants to influence those around him as well, and his advice for prospective entrepreneurs is one of optimism:

“Your disadvantages are your advantages, leverage them as such. Don’t look to be given anything; you’ve got to take what you want. Do the hard stuff and keep showing up until you get what you came for. Dream bigger. Fail faster. Get better. Go for it.”

The Path Forward

Accompanying Lewis’ entrepreneurial attitude and spirit is his desire to serve others and his community. He wants to help fill certain voids that exist in African American communities by drawing on his experience. “Being a black entrepreneur that’s building a venture-backed technology startup focused on helping small businesses can help bridge the technology and financing gaps,” he said. “We have the opportunity to impact employment in our communities and hopefully offer inspiration and encouragement to future entrepreneurs.”

As far as his vision for Visage Payroll’s future, he has optimism and determination.

“In addition to providing free payroll to 1 million small businesses, we also want to help 100,000 entrepreneurs start new businesses,” he said.

Lewis certainly represents the American dream, and serves as an excellent example for budding, prospective entrepreneurs. His ability to develop a business not just as a profit engine, but in service to others and their entrepreneurial dreams, undoubtedly resonates with many.

Photo Credit: Craig Lewis