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The Payment Provider Shortlist, Part 3: Spreedly

(This is part 3 in a series on payment and subscription billing providers. Read part 1: FastSpring or part 2: Chargify)

Over the past few weeks, things have been coming together pretty well around payment solutions for Quplo. One thing that’s been especially insightful is our growing understanding of the various services, contracts and companies involved in just being able to sell your stuff online in 2010. It’s sort of terrifying that this problem still hasn’t been solved concretely for worldwide businesses.

But that’s a story for another time. Today we want to talk a bit about Spreedly, who, as the part of the chain that our users will be interacting with, also seems to be the only part of the chain that actually knows what it’s doing and cares about how it presents itself.

Spreedly, in a word, is great. Unlike Chargify, which shot itself in the foot by announcing to its users that prices would double, or FastSpring, which has a sort of murky-feeling website and hadn’t launched subscriptions yet as we were researching them, Spreedly just works.

Paying with Spreedly

First of all, the user experience of the payment process is fantastic. It’s so fantastic I had to tweet about it:

Here’s what it looks like:

Even though Spreedly doesn’t offer the ability to skin the payment screens to look like your own app, that’s okay, because they look great. They’re minimalistic, with great typography and UI elements, following modern design patterns, and without any awkwardness. Someone at Spreedly cares about this experience.

Managing plans and customers

But it’s not just the consumer-facing process that Spreedly nailed. The dashboard, the marketing site, the documentation – everything oozes an obsession with simplicity, minimalism and elegance. Spreedly is no-BS. There’s no jargon to parse. There’s only one plan ($19 per month + 20¢ per payment transaction). Everything does what it says it does.

A great API does less than you thought you wanted

And like everything, Spreedly’s API is barebones. You can barely even call it an API, it’s that straightforward. Here’s how it works: there are some URLs. You can POST to them, or GET from them, and in some cases PUT something. Authentication happens with HTTP Basic and all you do is send over a token as the username. No password required. Spreedly talks to your app using XML.

But wait, sometimes when dealing with payments, you need notifications, right? Spreedly’s API doesn’t do that stuff. It does two things: first, it constantly polls your app with a list of user IDs that currently have subscriptions (you can ask for the details afterwards). Second, it sends you emails whenever something more interesting happens.

The great thing about this minimal API is that Spreedly didn’t have to build and maintain a complex architecture and as a result, neither do we. All the other services we’ve come across have extensive features designed around keeping track of the status of subscriptions, event handling for exceptional situations, etc. Spreedly just has this air of “why?” about it. And we agree – email is enough. At least for now. Perhaps if we start making millions overnight, we’ll feel differently about it.

Spreedly with European businesses

But let’s return to the theme of these posts for a moment: Spreedly made it to the shortlist, but why is that?

It’s because Spreedly’s no-BS attitude allows them to support European businesses easily. One thing that helps is that they’ve based their internal architecture on the Ruby on Rails ActiveMerchant library, which comes built in with support for a lot of (mostly US-centric) payment service providers. And they’ve extended that with new support for providers their customers have asked for, including Ogone, which is based in Belgium and supports businesses in the Netherlands.

One thing that sort of sold us on Spreedly was their documentation around supported providers. They have a page dedicated to configuring each gateway to work with Spreedly, including screenshots and detailed steps to get things working. In our case, their Ogone setup guide is great.

Beyond the shortlist

That concludes the payment provider shortlist. It might be obvious that we’ve decided to continue with Spreedly for the time being – we may revisit our decision later on, but for now, the simplicity of Spreedly’s service and the overall feeling projected by their site, documentation, API, and service put them ahead of Chargify and FastSpring.

But choosing Spreedly isn’t the end of the road. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, there remains a fundamental challenge for us to solve. Although Spreedly handles subscription logic and credit card input and storage, it’s not a payment service provider in the strictest sense of the term. We still need to connect it to an acquiring bank with whom we have a merchant account so that the money paid to Spreedly can be transferred to us. And that part of the adventure is even more complicated than the one we just faced, it would seem.

We’ll write another post in the near future detailing what we’ve learned there, as well. For now, we need to get back to work as it doesn’t look like there’s an equivalent to Spreedly in the merchant account-providing market…

6 Comments

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  • You should blog about the universe. There is something very trustworthy in your style. I love your QUPLO product and expect you will be even more of a super-star in the HTML world soon. Way to go! Keep blogging!

    by Kirk Wilson • Nov 2nd 2010 • 17:11

  • Hi guys,

    thanks heaps for the Payment Provider Shortlist series of posts, they’re great! Isn’t it amazing that online subscription billing is still such a big hurdle, especially outside North America?

    We were going through the same exercise a few months ago and ended up going with RBS WorldPay for these reasons:

    1. Recurring payments support
    2. Multi-currency support
    3. Combined merchant account and payment gateway

    Recurring payments are essential for a subscription based web application, yet many (most?) of the payment solutions seem to be designed for purchasing traditional physical goods in a once-off manner. For us it was essential that customers only need to enter their credit card details once.

    Most of our traffic comes from overseas and we wanted our pricing to reflect this. Strong as it may be, the Australian Dollar isn’t the most familiar currency in the world – that title goes to the USD. We could not find a local Merchant Account that supports USD at a competitive price.

    Lastly, most of the payment solutions we looked at required a merchant account with a bank and a separate payment gateway. This means two separate sets of agreements, support lines, online administration interfaces, and most importantly taking two cuts out of the same pie (each transaction amount).

    Now it’s hasn’t been all glory (stories for another time) and it’s early days yet as the new plans launched only this Monday, however so far so good.

    Feel free to try out the Naview sign-up process here and let us know what you think.

    Kind regards, Jussi


    Jussi Pasanen | Volkside | http://www.volkside.com/contact/
    Interaction and Information Design, User Experience and Usability

    by Jussi Pasanen • Nov 3rd 2010 • 04:11

  • Hi,

    Thanks for sharing! I just started looking for solutions around recurring payments in Europe and your posts are going to spare me a significant amount of pain.

    Too bad Chargify is not ready for prime-time in Europe yet, I like their approach. I think I’m still going to give Paypal and Google Checkout a try but I won’t be able to say I’ve not be warned :) So I’m also going to keep an eye on Spreedly.

    Quplo looks great btw!

    by bcurdy • Nov 7th 2010 • 15:11

  • Hi Jussi,

    We looked at RBS Worldpay and they told us they can’t work with Spreedly – they do all the payment processing internally and don’t work with 3rd parties. Several other companies have said the same thing. Right now we’re waiting for a reply from Iridium, which is on the Spreedly list of providers they work with.

    But if things don’t start shaping up soon, we may have to sacrifice Spreedly and go with something like RBS Worldpay. I just don’t like sacrificing things like this, especially since Spreedly was so easy to integrate and has such a great attitude about things.

    Thanks for your comment!

    Rahul

    by Rahul • Nov 10th 2010 • 10:11

  • Hi, just wanted to add to this conversation a new payment processor we’re launching called PintPay.

    Using PintPay, you can literally add payments to your website in 5 minutes.
    - NO payment gateway required
    - NO merchant account required
    - NO coding experience required
    - NO monthly fees until you start making revenue

    It’s arguably the leanest way to start taking payments. Unfortunately, we don’t support non-US merchants.. but thought people who find this thread might still be interested.

    Use the code LEAN to get in the beta.

    by James • May 21st 2011 • 02:05

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