It’s no secret that e-commerce has exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the biggest winners in the sector has been Fast ($PRIVATE:FAST), a platform that lets users buy items across different sites with one click and no logins required.
Back in 1999, Amazon patented the one-click feature, forcing others to either pay a licensing fee or avoid one-click shopping altogether — but the patent expired in 2017. While one-click shopping is nothing new, Fast was founded in 2019 and quickly pounced on the feature as a cornerstone of its platform to great effect, raising millions in just 18 months. The service recently launched on September 2, though the company has plans to grow beyond just shopping.
We spoke with Fast's CEO, Domm Holland, to learn more about the inner workings of the company and what's next now that the product is available for public use.
Thinknum: First off, we’d love it if you could just explain Fast and its model in your own words.
Domm: So Fast is, in the simplest of terms, a one click checkout for the entire internet with no passwords. It’s a button that goes up on sites that says “Fast Checkout,” and when you click it, you buy whatever you’re looking at. It could be a single item, like a pair of shoes, or it could be a whole basket of groceries.
The fast ecosystem is actually three products, though. We have Fast Login, which is for logging in; we have Fast Checkout, which is for purchases; and we have Post-Purchase, which is where every single purchase you make on every store across the internet all comes into your Fast feed. From there you can track deliveries, download receipts, re-order items, and in the future you’ll be able to return items from there as well.
So really, what Fast is is an intermediary that scales between consumer interactions. So the idea is that we can replace every form across the internet with a button. Because if you’ve given us your name, if you’ve filled in profile information once, then you don’t have to type in anything anywhere else. We can speed up those interactions because we already know who you are.
So how has the public reaction to the launch been so far?
It’s been phenomenal. I think the world really connects with what we’re doing because as humans we all want this internet to exist, right? The current state of the internet is crazy - that after 33 years I have to keep typing my date of birth in as if it's some brand new piece of information with every website that I go to. That every single website wants us to create a new password. It’s just like, no one can remember 500 passwords. It doesn't make sense. The thought that we pay password managers to store all of our information in one honeypot and then sync it with their servers all around the world is just farcical. It’s just all this siloed data. So the world loves what we’re building because it’s just what should exist.
I think you can really clearly see that we’ve got a two-sided network of businesses and consumers that we serve, and it’s very clear that both sides of those networks are aggressively demanding our product. It’s been a whirlwind early 18 months and we’re only just getting started.
Let’s rewind a little bit to before you launched. You’ve been around for a very short time and in that short time, you’ve raised a lot of money, had a successful launch, and a lot of partnerships. But the idea for the one-click checkout existed for a long time. How did you manage to take an idea that was already existing in the marketplace and generate investor interest for it?
I think we have a really different outlook compared to the other people out there. Probably the starkest difference is that we build products primarily designed for consumers. Obviously we sell it to businesses, and businesses put our button on their site. So we do have a product arm for businesses. But over 90% of our product development goes into the consumer side. The company was born out of seeing my grandmother literally not be able to check out groceries because she forgot her password - that is the problem that we solve.
Now, the idea of what we’re building is not a one-click checkout. One click checkout is a feature of Fast; it’s a benefit of Fast. But really, we’re making consumer interactions online much, much easier.
If you look in the checkout space, specifically competitors like Apple Pay, Google Pay or Shopify Pay, they’re all closed ecosystems. Shopify pay only works within Shopify and only for Shopify merchants. Apple Pay only works on Apple devices. In fact the context goes even further. You have to be on an Apple device, on Safari and using a bank that’s partnered with Apple as well. It’s a very close-knit ecosystem.
"IF we become the identity network, you can't quantify what that's worth." — Holland
We don’t have any of that context. We want everyone on every device, on every card, and for every single purchase in the world [to be able to use] our product. I think the biggest limiting factor so far for any of these solutions is either that they’re not solving an immediate pain point, or that they’re not designed to solve the pain point for everyone. We have a very clear pain point that we’re addressing immediately which is checkout, and that solution is available to everyone.
It’s interesting to hear you say that the one-click checkout is just a feature of Fast. When I was first learning about your company, it seemed like this is the company.
I think that the reality is that we’ve got a huge huge story yet to be told. We’re quite open about what we’re building and where we wanna go. One of the largest differentiators between us and every other payment method is that every purchase you make with Fast goes into the Fast [Post-Purchase] dashboard. This is really important because no matter what payment method you use today, what comes next is awful. If you wanna download a receipt you have to search in Google and click a link to download it. If you want to track delivery, you’re searching Google to track the delivery and go to some obscure website. Refunding is way more complex as well. It’s just a horrible experience. So with Fast you have everything in one place. The second you land on Fast’s homepage, you’ll see all your purchases, live tracking data, and more. It’s a huge part of the ecosystem.
I view the Post-Purchase function as the largest scaling problem your company is facing. In our article highlighting Fast, we wrote that essentially the more it grows, the more it will continue to grow. The more sites you’re on, the more sites will want you because a customer won't want to go back from a frictionless experience.
But as you expand, suddenly you’re dealing with all these different ecosystems of customer service, of shipping and handling that all these different merchants use. As you continue to expand, how do you see yourselves tackling that problem? How are you going to bring all these different systems into the same fold and make it work?
So everything you described is absolutely true, but I see them as opportunities, not problems.
All these things are consumer problems with shopping today. It’s such a fragmented experience across the internet. It’s horrible. And I’ll tell you what - businesses hate providing these services because their job is not the post-purchase side. I think we’ve got a great opportunity to standardize across sellers and scale that to provide it more efficiently than they could on their own.
Where I think our biggest challenges lie is - we are inherently global already. Day one. e-commerce is just sort of naturally global. There’s lots and lots of payment laws and privacy laws all around the world that come into play. And there’s more coming. So that is where things get the most complex. We want to do things like let people gift someone an amount of money that they can spend on any fast tool. We want to offer discounts on Fast tools and things like that. It’s incredibly complex to offer a product like that just within the US, and ideally we’d want to roll products like that out all around the world and open them to very large markets in one large go. If you can buy with Fast checkout, why shouldn’t you have access to the whole suite of products?
I think that’s also why you can see that typically US companies have a lot of competitors in other markets throughout Europe and Asia. It’s because they’re slow to move into other markets. And that’s not something we want to happen. So the main challenge is “how do we scale regulatory challenges quickly?”
Do you see Fast moving beyond money and becoming just a one-stop shop for all logins, or all --
Everything. Everything! Absolutely. Payment is just one pillar. I told all of my investors who invested in us as a fintech that I don't consider us a fintech. We are really building the world’s data vault. I like to think that the state of the internet up until now is kind of humorous in that if you're shopping on an e-commerce site you’ve never been to, they know exactly who you are. They know what you’re interested in, they know which ads delivered you to the site, they’ve been tracking you across the internet. But as soon as you go to log in or check out they have no idea who you are.
And then we’ve had huge data breaches, we’ve had people selling our data without our knowledge, shady data brokers in the background - the state of data privacy in the world is kind of hilarious. We are the complete opposite of that model, where we make it as fast and easy as possible for people to use their data, which includes transferring money, than anywhere else. That’s one-click login, one-click checkout - there's no easier way to do that other than automate it, which isn’t allowed.
"I don’t think there’s a natural need for us to operate as quickly as we are just to build a decent sized business. But again, we have a bigger mission than just winning checkout. And I would like to do that before all of my hair is gray." - Holland
Now, if your consumer doesn’t click the button, nobody gets their data. We don’t share it with any party. We don’t do aggregate data. We just do nothing. Our job is just to make all these interactions faster and easier. Really there’s three buckets - authentication, payment and data. Any interaction that pulls from one of those three buckets, we would like Fast to be powering in the time to come.
Has that long-term vision helped you pass by some of the problems that other fintech startups would deal with - even if you don’t view yourself as one?
E-commerce was projected to be $5 or $6 trillion this year, and that was pre-COVID. And we all know that COVID has done nothing but amplify e-commerce. It grew by 30% quarter-over-quarter recently. So if we just won checkout, that’s already an incredibly large business. But really, there’s so much more value we can unlock with consumers and we definitely want to be providing more. I think that conviction spurs us on. But we’re never ever going to drive that value for consumers if we don’t execute on checkout first. For the time being, sure, we’re competing with fintechs. And it will always be a core part of our business. But if we become the identity network, you can't quantify what that would be worth.
The opportunity for us, again, is to service every single consumer in the world, and that opportunity is just so large and affects everybody. I think that mission is what we have over a personal financing app.
One last question is, going back to when the company was first starting and the Amazon patent had just ended, were you worried about getting it out before any competitors? Because it seems to me that the first company to have hopped on this idea would be the last one.
There are lots of players. Apple Pay alone was expected to bring in $20 billion dollars of revenue - not of processing volume, but of revenue - for Apple this year. And again, this is pre-COVID. Alipay processes more money than all of [the competitors] combined. We have some incredibly large players in the payment and checkout space. But none of them have a dominant market share. None of them at all. So in reality, we could actually take our time and probably still acquire quite a large amount of market share, even with all those players.
I don’t think there’s a natural need for us to operate as quickly as we are just to build a decent sized business. But again, we have a bigger mission than just winning checkout. And I would like to do that before all of my hair is gray.
There’s a lot of people in our org just like me who are hungry, and when you see just how many consumers are excited about what we’re doing. Just the other day someone tweeted out “Fast, but for job applications.” And it’s coming. The world can already understand that there needs to be Fast in other areas. We don’t even need to tell them.