Park Place Payments Raises a $1.5M Seed Round to Offer Gig Work in Payment Processing

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

Since her time at Harvard (undergrad and then MBA), Samantha Ettus has made a career out of motivating women to achieve a better work/life balance through her five bestselling books, hundreds of TV appearances and corporate speaking gigs.

But in 2018, she decided she wanted to do more than talk and write. She wanted to give women a chance to re-enter the workforce and put money in their pockets. And she would do that through an unlikely route: payments processing.


"There were just so many people that were seeking financial opportunities and there was only so much motivational speaking I could do," Ettus said.

Ettus is the founder and CEO of Park Place Payments, which she calls a sales-force-as-a-service business, a play on the plethora of software-as-a-service startups.

The Woodland Hills-based startup, which dot.LA learned has closed a $1.5 million seed round, is trying to bring a friendlier and not coincidentally, female face to the cutthroat commission-based world of payment processing, which is dominated by decades-old incumbents such as FIS, Chase and First Data.

"Any business from a yoga studio to a hair salon to a pediatrician's office has an intermediary between their business and American Express, MasterCard and Visa," Ettus explained. "Until now, that intermediator is pretty much 30,000 white men, a lot of whom came from used car sales. And so the sales tactics in the industry have stuck and everyone's constantly haggling."

Black Clover, a Draper, Utah-based apparel brand switched to Park Place a year and a half ago because it took a lower cut of sales and also offered better customer service, according to Philip J Hardy, Black Clover's financial operators manager.

"They are definitely hands on," Hardy said. "I'll at least get an email or text message at least on a monthly basis, if not every three weeks."

Park Place's greatest asset is decidedly low tech – a network of 693 account executives in cities from Raleigh to Cincinnati to Rochester. And 95% of them are women.

Account executives receive a 50% cut of processing fees for the lifetime of the account, which for a typical business would net them $720 in income a year.

"At the end of five years, that's suddenly four thousand dollars from that one account and they're constantly building their portfolio so next month they could bring in the yoga studio and next month it's the cafe on the corner," Ettus said. "Our intention is that it's like life insurance for these people. We want it to be something they can count on."

Ettus sees her company as especially important now as millions of women have left the labor force since the start of the pandemic. The women's labor force participation rate has fallen to 57% β€” the lowest level in more than two decades, according to the National Women's Law Center.

She views Park Place as a more modern and ethical side hustle than some of the multi-level marketing schemes like Mary Kay and Herbalife that offer the allure of flexible work but often do not deliver.

"They were selling it to their friends and they weren't even making martini money," Ettus said. "But a lot of them enjoyed the fact that they were doing something that felt productive and got them back into the working world outside of their home. And I thought, well, what if they could use that time selling something that actually earned them recurring revenue?"

All the initial training is online and takes as little as two hours. Everyone from former newscasters to flight attendants to doctors have signed up to make extra cash.

"The beauty of Park Place is it's so flexible that I can continue at whatever pace I want," said Jen Mogan, a Rochester, New York -based anesthesiologist who became an account executive a year ago after COVID left her wary about being in hospitals. "I took a step back from medicine and needed something to fill the void."

Mogan admits she had never heard of credit card processing before she joined and said it was a "steep learning curve." After getting vaccinated in March she returned to medicine, but she says she plans to continue Park Place on the side.

"It is a great supplement for me," she said. "And once you earn an account, the residuals continue to come in without you having to do anything."

Park Place's $1.5 million seed round was led by Curate Capital, a Houston-based VC firm that backs female founders. The funding will be used to nearly double the number of account executives by the end of the year.

Ettus acknowledges the round size is small by today's standards, which she says is mostly a function of not needing millions of dollars because she is not running a capital-intensive business. But she also says her pitch was not always well-received in tech-obsessed Silicon Valley.

"We are innovating in the sales process and the user experience and Silicon Valley really likes people to innovate in technology only," Ettus said. "That was definitely our biggest obstacle in raising the money."

In contrast to the growing number of fintech companies, Ettus sees her company's greatest strength as decidedly low tech - legions of salespeople knocking on the doors of doctor's offices, barbers and hardware stores in small towns across America.

"I do not need to hire a team of engineers because we use existing technology and will always represent whatever the best technology is," Ettus explained. "But when you talk to anyone who deals with small businesses, reaching small businesses is the Holy Grail. It's very, very difficult to reach them and the only way to do it is a boots-to-the-street sales force. And that's where we've innovated."

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Weekly Recap: The State of Venture Capitalism in Southern California

Luis Gomez

Luis Gomez is dot.LA's Engagement Editor. Prior to joining the dot.LA team, he served as the audience growth consultant for Capital & Main. He has also previously worked as a digital producer for The San Diego Union-Tribune, NPR affiliate KPCC in Los Angeles and Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter at @RunGomez.

Top L.A. venture capitalists are benefitting from a white hot market.

This week, dot.LA published the first of several findings out of its quarterly poll of top Los Angeles venture capitalists. In short, those surveyed remain optimistic about the economic recovery and more than half say their companies saw valuations jump in the second quarter.

Among other findings:

  • All of the 33 investors who took the survey saw employee headcounts increase at their portfolio companies last quarter
  • Most VCs surveyed expect more hiring on the horizon
  • Some (36%) said they're having trouble retaining workers.

LA Startups To Watch πŸ‘€

MedTech Innovator has launched BioTools Innovator, a new virtual accelerator for genomics, personal medicine, targeted drug therapy and other life science startups.

Culver City-based startup Modern Animal is looking to grow by appealing to both overtaxed vets and the new rush of pet owners with its hybrid telemedicine subscription service. On Friday, it announced a $75.5 million investment to help do it.

Adway promises to pay drivers $50-$350 a month in what they call "passive" income by projecting ads on the side of their cars. This week, the nearly three-year-old company clinched a $6 million seed round led by Upfront Ventures.

Spinn, the maker of a coffee brewing machine that uses a unique "centrifuge process," has raised $20 million in a round of funding announced Monday. The startup says its focus on sustainability sets it apart from other at-home brewing machines.

#TechLA's Movers & Shakers This Week πŸ“’

Rocket Lab this week successfully launched a satellite for the U.S. Space Force after a failed mission in May. MIT-trained engineer and serial tech entrepreneur Krisztina "Z" Holly writes that Rocket Lab's quiet launch represents the real reason to have faith in space exploration, rather than space tourism.

Rental services are finally coming to the masses. Los Angeles-based Arrive Outdoors is making the technology behind its camping gear renting success available to brands that want to add a "rent" button on a product detail page. The company also announced it has raised $4 million in Seed II funding led by Amino Ventures.

LA Tech and Venture Capital News πŸ—ž

El Segundo-based Dibbs, which brands itself as "the only real-time fractional sports card marketplace," this week secured a $13 million Series A round led by Foundry Group, with star athletes like Chris Paul and Skylar Diggins-Smith also investing.

Meta Data Software, a company that organizes the massive content libraries at some of the biggest streaming services, is calling Los Angeles its new home.

New data from PledgeLA's survey of Los Angeles tech companies and venture firms shows there is still a big disparity in pay among women, Black and Latinx tech workers.

Even as sports events scaled down during the pandemic, Elysian Park Ventures saw an opportunity in the digital realm. Co-founder Cole Van Nice says COVID ultimately advanced the timelines for the sports industry.

Listen Up πŸŽ™

Need a podcast recommendation this weekend? Here are some new pods we have for you:

Hear from Alex Friedman, the co-founder of LOLA, a feminine care brand created to address the need for more transparency in women's health, in the latest episode of the Behind Her Empire podcast. Listen on Stitcher | Apple Podcasts | Spotify | iHeart Radio

On this episode of the L.A. Venture podcast, veteran media investor Daniel Leff spills the truth about streaming services: everyone's chasing Netflix. Listen on Apple Podcasts | Stitcher | Spotify

🚨 ​EXTRA EXTRA 🚨

Hundreds of Activision Blizzard employees in Irvine and many more remotely walked off the job on Wednesday to protest a workplace culture they call misogynistic and toxic. The walkout came after workers decried the company's response to a lawsuit brought forward by a California agency that accuses Activision Blizzard of fostering a pervasive "frat boy" culture. At their protest, they called on the company to be more transparent in its hiring practices.

Olympics viewership on NBC is taking a dive. New data shows a 36% decline from the 2016 Games across all NBC's platforms, which include its linear TV channel, Peacock and NBC Sports digital.

LA Tech and Venture Capital Events πŸ’¬

Immersive gaming experiences took a hit during the pandemic as venues shut down, but industry leaders expect them to come roaring back as people seek greater connections and the industry grows. This week, dot.LA hosted an intimate gathering at the immersive Two Bit Circus in downtown Los Angeles. Watch the video and sort through photos of the event.

Other upcoming Southern California events in the tech and startup scene in August:

Is your organization having an event? Let us feature it in our newsletter! Email luis@dot.la.

Am I doing this right? πŸ€”

Throw me feedback, compliments or questions on this newsletter at luis@dot.la or on Twitter at @rungomez.

'No Matter What I’m Doing, It's Always Controversial': Cloud9's All-Women Esports Team Talks Sexism in Gaming

Leigh Giangreco
Leigh Giangreco is a reporter covering culture, politics and news. Her work has appeared in outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and Washington City Paper.

The belief that female players aren't tokens in esports is still a radical one. Just as dominant women's teams in traditional sports like the U.S. women's national soccer team struggle with discrimination, women in esports face online harassment and sexism.

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Disney, Walmart Join Local Governments in Requiring Worker Vaccinations

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

Entertainment giant Disney and retailer Walmart on Friday became the latest companies to require employees to be vaccinated. They followed Facebook and Google earlier this week.

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