How I didn't get my first paying customer!

Yes, you read that right!

This is about how I did not or could not get my first paying user.

I started working on GoNevis sometimes around April 2016, it was all in my head, later on paper and on May 2016 the writing code and prototype started, later Amir and then Arsalan joined.

We all had full time jobs back then. Working couple of hours a day in our free time and many hours at weekends was something we were doing for 3 years to come.

We didn't want to charge anything for GoNevis until we felt it's something valuable that people would want to pay for. I mean, even we didn't want to pay for it, we still wanted to have something stronger (I guess, I was wrong, we should have started accepting payments and paid plans much sooner.).

Not wanting to charge people didn't mean I wasn't being prepared for it. In matter of fact, I was fighting for the problem to be solved since 2011, but not much of a chance.

Accepting Credit/Debit Card Payments Online

AFAIK, you have to be an entity, meaning you have to be a registered company to enter the arena.

Establishing a company can be done quick, either by yourself or hire a lawyer to do it for you.

Accepting payment from your users on your website requires a payment processing gateway like PayPal, Stripe, Braintree or you can even have your bank get you a Merchant Account and go through bunch of certification and audit until you get approved to process credit/debit card payments online, doing that is a huge headache so I strongly advice to go with one of those fancy online payment gateways and let them handle the hard part.

Once you have the Payment Gateway, you can customize your website or enhance the payment flow based on your requirements and then Money <3.

Done, welcome to billionaires club!

Establishing my Company

I've took this early morning in UAE, Sharjah beach 6th Jan 2014

I lived in UAE, Dubai for almost a decade and I like the place as well, I mean that's where I grow up and did many things and I considered it home as well, even though I am originally Iranian.

Forming the company in UAE makes lot of sense too;

  • I'm already living there with my family and hold residency visa.
  • Tax doesn't mean anything, 0% tax on income and corporate profit.
  • Good infrastructure and businesses pop-up and vanish everyday.
  • I know every single regulation and process as well.
  • Many more things...


I have my projects running, great ideas and even customers waiting to get billed.

Alright, not we have everything ready, let's do it.

Like any other person, I submitted my application for establishing a company and waited 20 days and I get rejected.

I did it again and same result.

Applied many more times with different procedures and requirements, the rejection would be the final result every time.

I didn't want to believe it, but despite all the good things about UAE, the government has been hostile toward Iranian businesses when it comes to opening a new business. Means as an Iranian I have a very small chance to be approved to establish a company there.

In those days the relationship wasn't heated between Iran and UAE like it is now, it was just because UAE government was trying follow what US has been telling the Persian Gulf Arab countries to do so.

That was disappointing, I got many further suggestions about how to apply again and what to do before it. None of them made sense and I tried bunch of them with no success as well.

In matter fact, I could see many people coming and collecting their approval documents and happily going for the next step of their business. What about me ? No, I had to just watch the my failures one after another and hours of waiting in queue to just get the rejection paper.

I tried many times, I started doing it when I was 18 up until 23, yes 5 years I was hoping that I could get my business approved.

It wasn't like I was doing it 24 hours, between each attempt it could go up to 3 months of waiting.

Anyway, in some times I was tired, had full time jobs and I didn't feel like needing any other rejection letter.

To make myself convinced and accept the situation I faced the reality as well, UAE had no such thing like a payment gateway back then, banks would give you eyebrows when asking them about Merchant account or payment processing. They would be happy to provide you a POS card reader machine to get your work done or simply ask you to do invoices and process them offline. (later I found out, being an Iranian business owner would need tons of extra paper work and waiting time to even get the card reader at your shop.), you could still go through the Merchant Account and do the hard work of payment processing yourself, but that would be much more expensive and time consuming and you had to pray to convince the bank to open a bank account for your business, a business where the owner is an Iranian.

That was enough, I'm gonna do it!

Vodka & Mashed Potatoes

I started doing research on countries, an ideal country would be:

  • Business Friendly
  • Good Taxation.
  • Easy to understand laws and regulations.
  • English Speaking, oh yes!
  • Good economy.
  • Open to technology.
  • Flexible in terms of e-Commerce (payment gateways...)
  • ...


That's a good list, but nope, that's like unicorn land for my situation.

None of them matter for me unless it's friendly to Iranian citizen.

I needed to be sure that I won't be having problems to open a bank account or establish a company. A place that I can get going without having problems due to my nationality.


Russian Federation was my destination!

It was and is definitely very hard to get to Russia.

It's a long long story of how I was able to get here, but to make it extremely short I was victim of fraud by many people, lost lots of money and had to deal with the most disgusting people on the earth until I get my feet in the snow.

One of the biggest problem I had was not being able to communicate in Russian language, you don't know how difficult can Russian be.

It took me ~2 years to get there.

Well, still I'm trying to not slide, but walk normal.


Yes, Russia didn't have many of my ideal expectations from a country I wanted to form my company.

  • English is basically useless here.
  • Rules and Regulation are really confusing and you can't get an answer form authorities, most of them either don't know or haven't been informed by the changes.
  • Banking infrastructure is good, but mostly domestically.
  • They're open to technology for sure, many things are moving forward pretty fast here. You can live your life mostly online.
  • In terms of e-Commerce is in a good position.
  • Taxation is nice, 6% on corporate profit if you're on simplified taxation system or 15% if you're on old taxation system.
  • 47% personal tax (13% income + pension, insurance, health , etc).
  • By the way, Iran is in the "Category 1 Migration dangerous country" alongside of 105 more countries. meh!


Alright, we established the company "Savand Bros" here in Moscow! Урааааа!

Well, not done yet!

PayPal, the Evil, the Pain, the Stupid!

Credit

The company has been established and it took us a while to get stable here with all the moving, shifting, renting a place, registering addresses and getting ready to start working with clients and projects.

Now our product is ready, it has users, they're growing each week we have requests for premium features.

To be honest, the question "How do you make money?" from our user base was something that I didn't want to explain further, even myself wouldn't go with a service that doesn't charge anything. I will be suspicious about such service, why wouldn't our users.

It was the right time to pursue a payment gateway, something quick and known to people so they're familiar with it as soon as they see it.

PayPal was the one to go.

I never liked the idea of using PayPal, I know how it's on the buyer side, how people can easily scam you and complaints can waste your time. The fee and foreign exchange rate is disgusting as well, PayPal simply is a ripoff.

We had to go with it and later we could add other payment gateways along the way when we find the right time.

I made the PayPal Business Account and started to verify company bank, address etc and the first step our bank account was approved.

Yessss! I smell success, I smell money!

Next step was providing tons of documents:

  • Company charter documents.
  • Tax ID etc.
  • Licenses & Certificates.
  • Owner and Shareholders information.


The above information make sense, let's fill them up!

Despite having the PayPal forms outdated with the new official documents like Tax or Registration ID, the rest were OK, except "Owner and Shareholders information."

I am the General Director or CEO of the company and I have 50% share as well.

PayPal asks for company directors and shareholder's Nationality and Place of Birth and there's no "Iran" in them.

What ? Why not ?

After contacting them here the simply told me I cannot use the service because PayPal is an American company and they have to follow the sanctioned countries by United States of America government.

That doesn't make any sense, those sanctions are regarding business or people or companies operating in Iran or having a business connection in Iran. I myself don't even have proper Iranian National ID, except my Passport.

PayPal customer service was kind enough to tell me a workaround on the problem:

You can appoint another General Director or issue a power of attorney to a Russian or any other nationality person and enter their information.


That means I give legal power to someone on my company in order to use PayPal ? Thank you, niet, I'm fine!

It was that moment, that I found out even if I become a Russian Citizen or become a citizen of any other country, as long as my birth place is Iran, I'm not able to use the service!

"Don't give up, Alireza, we've come a long long way together, I have to praise you like I should, keep pushing..." I said to myself.

I started emailing PayPal and told them about the problem and explained everything and after many email exchanges and couple of follow up calls I get the response that don't worry about the online forms, you can submit your company and personal documents to this email and we'll take care of it.

Oh boy, such a relief.

We kept pushing on the development and payment system in our project GoNevis, included many fancy features alongside the core free features and did thousands of testing on the implementation.

Implementation with PayPal was in parallel with the technical implementation and it took around 2-3 months, it took away lot of energy. I mean the technical part was around 2 weeks maybe, but the communication and getting answers from these people was really time consuming, taken into consideration we had other software consulting work going on as well.

Everything was ready and we submitted the document etc of the company and waiting to get approved for PayPal Business Account. It took around a week until we got back the result and not to my surprise we were rejected because we are not in alignment with the "Terms of Service" of the PayPal and after calling them and following up on the email, I got a final response that my "nationality" was the problem!

I was exhausted, disappointed and full of anger!

I didn't put all my eggs in one basket though, meanwhile I was contacting many other payment gateways, new and old ones and all of them were giving me the same thing.

Nothing, not even a single positive feedback!

It reminded me of the old days back in UAE being stuck in long long queues only to get my rejection letter from Economy Department of Dubai or Sharjah or Ajman and even Abu Dhabi, I tried all of them and all were just the same result, R-E-J-E-C-T-E-D!

I did a lot to get here and it was not suppose to be like this, I sensed some of these before coming to Moscow, but I had to try. I could not live without trying!

Merchant Account by Bank

Bank tellers

I contacted and asked the bank some questions and I found out the bank can provide me a Merchant Account, a Payment Gateway and a nice REST API to do all the stuff.

Turned out, in Russia many well known banks can provide you with lots of things to start selling online, they even provide you plugins for your CMS or e-Commerce site to start selling in no time.

That was it, I was blind the whole time.

"Alireza, this is what you're looking for, I know you were blind and busy and I don't blame you much, but we got it (high five!)", I said to myself.

I lighted up a cigarette and inhale to relax myself a little.

The technical integration of payment system with the bank was done in an afternoon of a weekend while I had a worst cold of all the time.

Worth noting I was doing all these with an API Documentation all in Russian and error messages in Russian as well, in times like these you know the value of Google Translate.


It was a Sunday, I was enjoying my coffee in an afternoon with a smoke (I can't separate coffee from smoke, sometimes I drink coffee only to smoke and I smoke only to drink coffee.), right it that moment, in the kitchen it hit me "Why there was no Currency settings in the payment API calls ?". The world collapsed in my mind with that question.

Killed the smoke and took the coffee and started contacting the bank!

I got the answer from them.

They couldn't provide any other currency rather than Russian Ruble when accepting online payment! Even though we have a USD account with them. Meaning this whole "Start selling online with your bank" was only for domestic!

I mean I could go and built it, but when you say you charge a client for "$4.99" that means $4.99 being charged on their bank statement.

The way bank suggested me to do was "Telling the customer that you'll be charged an equivalent of $4.99 in Russian Ruble!".

Niet, thank you!

Let me tell you what happens when you do that.

  1. You show $4.99 on one of the subscription plans of your great SaaS service.
  2. You mention the client they will be charged an equivalent of that in Russian Ruble.
  3. User pays, but they get charged $5.01


Why $5.01, well, I'm glad you asked.

You have to convert the local amount from Russian Ruble to USD by getting the exchange rate from one of the online services,

Well, that's not the exchange rate of your client bank. You know, bank have different currency exchange rates.

The fun part is, since on GoNevis we wanted to charge the client in subscription, meaning every month, such exchange rates would change a lot, considering the Russian Ruble that is getting smaller every day compared to USD, your client will be seeing way more different numbers being charged on their bank statement.


I know, I could have live with that, but I didn't want to. I wanted a more cleaner of handling things.

"Let's have this bank account integration for the last option", I told myself.

I took the matter to my keyboard again and keep doing my research...

SPAM is not Junk, got it GMail ?

A Brief History of Spam, an American Meat Icon

While still finding known and unknown payment gateways and many companies I've been in touch with, it was usual that I would miss some of their replies in my inbox or forget to reply them, I'd get callbacks on my phone too and I had tons of emails from other people and other matters too. You know, emails...

I was searching for the word "gateway" in my inbox to find payment gateways followups in my inbox, I've found almost ~60 emails and at the end of the GMail interface I noticed something like "view more emails in SPAM".

"What ? since when prince of Nigeria tries to SCAM me with the payment gateway emails", said to myself.

What I've found next made me to have another round of coffee and nicotine.

CloudPayments follow up (the email been moved to inbox when getting screenshot)

The rest of email exchanges continued and I clarified everything I could with them.

Working with them was good and such great people to deal with.

Technical integration was done and we were ready to go live with payment system and start getting paid by GoNevis users.

I emailed them and asked to move into production.

Federal Law No. 54-FZ

Before going to production, our manager (let's call him Vladimir) at CloudPayments if we have sorted our "54-FZ"

I've saw that mentioned some places but never got into it.

We'll simply it's law that merchant within Russian Federation territory should be complaint with. It means keeping the sales receipts for clients in a fiscal storage for taxation.

I'm not sure if any other country has such law, but well, Russia has it.

We had to go trough a tons of more process, upfront payments, new contracts and bunch of agreements and registration within the territory tax department and it took a month to get it done.

Alright, happily getting back to our manager at CloudPayments with everything ready to go online!

We had everything done, every single thing!

But no, wait, slow down, not that fast.


U for USD!

We were informed that we can only accepts payments within Russia Territory and only in RUB.

I've been told that we need at least a 3 months of turnover on our transaction history and then we can request to have a USD terminal and their risk department will review the case.

"WHAT ?", I told myself and Vladimir.

Because your head is a bird.


That will not work for us at all.
We don’t have any clients in Russia or any RUB payer in any other places.
Showing the RUB currency to our international clients won’t make sense.
Even if we’re going to have a turn-over of one or two months, that won’t do it since we won’t have any income with such condition. 

The reason we started with CloudPayments was because of multi-currency and international payment gateway. There was no such condition and if there was we would re-consider before committing to integration.

Either a startup or a big enterprise, we cannot expect our online clients that may be any corner of globe to pay us in local currency of the place our company has been established which is Russia.

When we set a price of $4.99, the customer expect to be charged exactly $4.99 and not something that has been converted to their currency from RUB, we can easily get bombarded with charge-back or fraud and customer reviews popping up as SCAM on us. We’re already have other brands in other countries that we get such complains and we don’t have the bandwidth to go in that route again.

Again, we’re not targeting Russian Federation territory for our clients and accepting local currency does not work for us. 
Our website is not even in Russian for Russian users, it's completely in English and never in any other languages before, in matter of fact we’re in process of translating into Spanish and Hindi as well.

As you know, an early product lives by ease of use and global reach, we cannot succeed with such condition. That condition is worse when we have to compete with competitors from US or tier-1 countries where they can offer the easiest possible payment system and onboard their clients as soon as possible.


That's the summary (they were much longer) to Vladimir (I may have been little over-dramatic there as well). He told me that we should have talked about this earlier and I've told him that we did but with first person that got in touch with us. Thing is, we got in touch with Vladimir after we signed the contract etc.

To be honest, Vladimir was more than gold in the whole process, he respond even in late nights out of working hours, tries his best to get things going and was always helpful in every single thing and inquiries that I got with him. I was angry how could Vladimir with such a great professionalism miss this part and not mentioning it sooner.

Well, as he said "miscommunication happens" which I kind of agree and disagree at the same time.

He also told me he would push for the international RUB payments for our terminal but the USD may not go anywhere, it's just how it works with their risk-department.

"Well, rules are rules and the same rules always applies!" said to myself that I wasn't agree with.

Suddenly something came to my mind, it was the last thing that I could do.

I told Vladimir that we already have USD account that our clients from other countries use to pay us and we can provide their risk department such statements officially from the bank.

Vladimir agreed and he liked the idea.

We made another contract for 3 months usage of USD terminal and "our man in CloudPayments" Vladimir "succeed to force and get USD terminal approval" for Savand Bros on GoNevis in less than 48 hours. That was it!

"Yes, we got it, we got it, Amir we got it, Maaa, we got it, Zara we got it, Fedor we did it", I said to everyone involved!

It was another round of coffee and nicotine again, celebration at its highest /s

Show must go on!

که عشق آسان نمود اول ولی افتاد مشکلها


This is a very tiny aspect of what I've been through.

I just don't make a big deal out of it because I know there are people who have gone through worst and my sadness is for who have lost it through the way, many gave up and some are getting tired of issues like this and mad respect to those who are still trying.

For a person like me, It wasn't just make something, put a PayPal button or signup on Stripe and start getting a millionaire.

No, it's not like that.

For people like me, even internet is is not a free market. The world is different when you're being labeled because of your nationality or your place of birth.

I still have tons of problems due to my nationality, but I LOVE MY NATIONALITY, proud, standing still and I will never want to change it.

I hate every single person who made me go through this, damn you for putting sanctions on individual people and making their life harder. I spent many days and years just trying to get over this.

Anyway, enough of that. I can write hate letters and publish them here later but those won't change anything.

I wanted to let the world know that how difficult it might be for someone being labeled as a sanction and a dangerous person.

I'm not dangerous, I'm Persian, like a cat, miow!

1st Sales on GoNevis.com

I almost forgot to mention, it did happen finally.

In less than 2 weeks after taking the payment system live, we got the first paying blogger on GoNevis and ~8 more came through.

For the record, we had some other clients that were having a yearly contract with us when using GoNevis way before than having online payment system working.

GoNevis is growing now, it was growing before but even a single tiny grow shines more since I had sorted one of the most annoying problem I had to deal with for a long time.

At Savand Bros they're are stabbing as hard as possible to get things done to move things forward.

Credit


All these could not happen without help of many people involved.

Every single step I was not alone even though it appeared to be.

GoNevis was originally created in the beginning at home, the bedroom division of the Alireza's place somewhere on planet earth maybe. This project is the result of Alireza's obsession for creating something great.

Alireza's depression made him do it.

The PRIMARY AUTHORS are (and/or have been):

  • Alireza Savand
  • Amir Savand
  • Arsalan Savand
  • François‎


A big THANK YOU goes to:

  • François‎ for convincing Alireza to start the project.
  • Amir Savand trying to disappoint and stop Alireza to start the project.
  • Arsalan Savand for learning to code.
  • Guido van Rossum for creating Python.
  • Alireza's wife for keeping him away from programming (just kidding, you know I love you.).
  • Alireza's parents to bringing him to this life. (Even though Alireza was their biggest mistake after their marriage.)
  • Alireza's mother for listening to his dreams and just being there.
  • Fedor for doing all the heavy legal stuff, specially 54-FZ and keeping Savand Bros always legally in check.
  • Internet.


A Savand Bros production.

Keep stabbing <3





Alireza Savand • 2019 Jan 08

Be the first to comment.

Forgot Password