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Helcim transforms payments for small and medium-sized businesses

Small and medium-sized businesses and enterprises are the backbone of the US economy generating more than 44% of GDP1. Yet these organizations are still underserved when it comes to online financial tools—and dealing with payments is no exception. Complaints include hidden fees, limited capabilities, long-term lease agreements, and poor customer service.

These are the issues that we wanted to solve when we launched Helcim in 2020 in Calgary (Alberta, Canada). We provide a payment service that offers low rates through our interchange plus pricing model, no monthly fee for the core payments offering, and numerous payment options, as well as simple, affordable hardware such as card readers. 

Our digital-first approach makes it easy for owners of small and medium-sized businesses to get started. Online sign-up means no paperwork and near instant access to Helcim’s software and all-in-one platform experience. Merchants can choose from a range of payment solutions from the Helcim app including in-person payments, SMS payment requests, online invoices with pay now buttons, and more. 

To achieve our goals, we built most of the business systems and processes in-house including our technology stack, financial partnerships, marketing, and everything in between. This is something that few startups would dare to do, but it enabled us to build a payments platform offering the rich capabilities and performance SMBs really need.

Taking control with the cloud

Before migrating our infrastructure toGoogle Cloud, it was hosted at two colocation data centers in Calgary. This model served us well, but as we grew, most of our hardware needed to be replaced to maintain service security and performance.

A successful round of Series A funding also impacted our trajectory. Giving us the fuel we needed to scale and innovate faster. When we considered the choice between making a large capital investment in our existing environment, or to transition to the cloud, the decision was clear: The cloud was the way to go.

We looked at other big names in cloud hosting and tested another platform. But Google Cloud is by far the best environment for us. It’s much easier for a lean technology team to manage, as we embark on our first cloud strategy. It also offers all the tools and advanced machine learning capabilities we need.

Google Cloud also comes with the backing ofAlphabet, a business that in the past five years has spent more on research and development than any other organization in the S&P 5002. The ability to engage the Google Workspace account team for guidance to improve our everyday processes was another bonus. 

A variety of investment and training programs from Google Cloud also influenced our decision. We participated inGoogle for Startups Accelerator Canada which gave us access to Google Cloud experts across all our technology domains. This helped accelerate our infrastructure migration while ensuring we optimized every service from day one. We were also eligible for $100,000 USD of Google Cloud credits, covering our Google Cloud costs which helped us get everything up and running cost-effectively. The partnership with the wider Google team has been extremely impactful as we stand everything up for our business.

But ultimately, it’s the sheer depth and breadth of the Google Cloud environment that makes the difference. Here are the Google Cloud tools we currently have at Helcim.

BigQuery

We chose BigQuery because it is easy to aggregate new data and apply the right access controls. It also delivers outstanding performance running our analytics workloads.

Vertex AI

Vertex AI makes the deployment of new models exponentially faster, and with Google Cloud, we can do most of the work through containers instead of proprietary tooling.

GKE

GKE has enabled us to migrate to a fully managed cloud service and avoid a lift-and-shift exercise that would have prevented us from getting the full benefits of a containerized infrastructure. Running a new GKE environment also enabled us to significantly reduce platform latency by 20%-50%. We can now deploy projects in hours instead of days. 

Cloud Storage

We updated our centralized file system to use Cloud Storage, which is faster and more scalable.

Cloud SQL

All of our software today is built on top of MySQL, so CloudSQL was the natural choice for cloud database management.

Cloud Run

Cloud Run is more flexible than other serverless tools and was an easy way to reduce the burden of managing some of our services.

Boosting performance across the business

By migrating to Google Cloud, we transformed our application performance. We were able to decouple the infrastructure between systems and use modern server hardware for our compute and database instances. With very little change to our code, we saw a 50%+ increase in the speed of our entire platform.

Giving developers more control of the technology running their systems via containers means that they can enhance systems through more frequent language updates and by deploying new technologies to optimize workloads.

We can more closely monitor our systems to diagnose issues and fix their root cause faster. Being able to quickly add resources gives us further options if we experience platform latency or increased traffic.

From left to right: Dejo Oyelese Senior DevOps Developer, Brett Popkey CTO, Nic Beique Founder and CEO, and Richard McCaughey Head of Software Development.

Maintaining momentum with machine learning

Leveraging Vertex AI has significantly reduced the time it takes the team to build and deploy new machine learning models. Greater agility in our data stack has also freed up time for exploratory work in the data team. For instance, by creating low fidelity proxy data for human behavior in the application process, we created a new model that will reduce the number of manually reviewed batches by more than 10%.

We’ve also been able to improve our deployment process and the time to rollback. As a result, breaking changes in production have been reduced from more than five minutes to less than 30 seconds.

Thanks to BigQuery, we can make better use of data to support key business decisions. Previously it was hard to aggregate data from different sources and while maintaining our strict requirements for customer data confidentiality. We also needed specialist SQL knowledge to consume it. By investing in a more modern data stack, the availability of trusted data across the organization has increased exponentially. 

We’ve also overcome the constraints imposed by static hardware environments especially when maintaining a high-availability configuration between two locations. With Google Cloud, we’re no longer constrained by such a rigid arrangement and the deployment velocity of new infrastructure tooling has been reduced from months to days.

Security is another area where Google Cloud excels. From hackers and fraudsters to bots and web attacks, it protects our users, applications, and data, while facilitating compliance with local and regional authorities. We can also integrate more easily with our security partners ensuring that we can empower our team to stay ahead of cyber criminals and other external threats.

Building the payments platform for the future, today

When we look to the future, Google Cloud opens the door to dozens of opportunities to widen our appeal to SMBs while remaining competitive. Its advanced infrastructure for cloud computing, data analytics and ML supports our roadmap to profitability and will help us attract future rounds of funding.

Above all it provides a foundation for growth. We grew 400% in 2021 and raised more capital in the spring of 2022 to grow even faster. In 2022 we were also listed as one of the top payments processors by industry publications such asNerdwallet andMerchant Maverick. With Google Cloud, we can build on this success, continue to innovate, and help our SMB customers take their payments and e-commerce strategies to the next level. 

If you want to learn more about how Google Cloud can help your startup, visit our page here to get more information about our program, and sign up for our communications to get a look at our community activities, digital events, special offers, and more. 

To learn more about Google for Startups Accelerators and to apply to a program in your region, visit the website here

1. Small Businesses Generate 44 Percent Of U.S. Economic Activity
2. Alphabet: Big Value In Big Tech

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