Brothers Brenden and Nick Martin faced a more than three-hour drive from Tri-Cities in eastern Washington, where they had spent Thanksgiving weekend, back home to Seattle—but first, coffee.
That was the plan, at least. They stopped at coffee shop after coffee shop, only to encounter wait times lasting 30 minutes or longer. “How great would it be if we could just order ahead on the phone?” they wondered. Once they made it to Seattle, they got to work on a mobile ordering app for coffee shops—until a corporate coffee chain beat them to the punch. And then it hit them: their app wasn’t for corporate behemoths but for the small, independent coffee shops they loved.
The Martin brothers, along with Lenny Urbanowski, founded joe to empower these businesses through a mobile ordering app, point of sale (POS) system, and loyalty program. “We give small coffee shops the same technology corporate coffee companies like Starbucks have, so we can level the playing field,” explains Brenden Martin, Co-CEO and Head of Product. Today, they have a global, fully remote team of 15 employees, and products in 1,500 coffee shops across the U.S.
But before they could achieve this growth, joe needed to streamline their clunky, manual payments process. Enter BILL Accounts Payable (AP), whose financial automation enabled them to scale their engineering team and percolate on big plans to champion small yet mighty coffee shops.
From an early age, the Martin brothers were well aware of the unfair competition small business owners faced from corporate giants. Their parents built lawn and garden sheds out of the family’s front yard for a decade—until a leading shed manufacturer put them out of business. “It’s always been near and dear to us to support small businesses, to help the Davids versus the Goliaths,” Brenden Martin recalls. “It’s really hard to build a company.”
“It’s always been near and dear to us to support small businesses, help the Davids versus the Goliaths.” — Brenden Martin, Co-CEO and Head of Product, joe
The Martin brothers experienced this firsthand while working as baristas at a coffee shop in West Richland, Washington. Under the owner’s mentorship, then-17-year-old Brenden Martin learned the ins and outs of running a small business. But in the midst of the hustle, he also developed a passion for serving others. “Coffee is not just about coffee,” he says. “It’s about community.”
Martin co-founded joe as a marketing automation solution that allows coffee shop owners—who juggle countless roles, from CEO to lead barista and everything in between—to focus on brewing coffee for their communities. Out of all their products, their POS offering has contributed most to joe’s growth, as well as that of their customers. Once customers enter their phone numbers into the POS system, they receive incentives to reorder, including points, flash sale offers, and more. Within 6 months of onboarding joe’s POS system, coffee shops typically grow their revenue by about 50%, Martin estimates.
But joe didn’t always have the bandwidth for the product development needed to empower their customers. Before BILL Accounts Payable, they spent much of their time and energy on a messy, manual payables process. At one point, they relied on paper paychecks, which Martin describes as “awful.” “I’m a millennial. I don’t have a checkbook,” he explains. “I hate checks.”
The company’s process for paying their overseas engineers was even more convoluted. “Before BILL Accounts Payable, I’d have to go to the bank, wire money internationally, and wait 30 minutes to process it,” recounts Martin. “I’d have to do it all before the 2 p.m. deadline on a specific day, and there were computer issues. It would take hours.”
Joe had to pay not only their engineers, but the US-based staffing agency that found them. Depending on an agency to vet talent was expensive and risky, Martin notes.
In October 2019, joe adopted BILL Accounts Payable for a much-needed payables pick-me-up. Martin had heard about the solution at previous startup jobs, as well as through working with accountants while at joe. Says Martin, “We chose BILL Accounts Payable because it’s the best in the industry.”
“We chose BILL Accounts Payable because it’s the best in the industry.” — Brenden Martin, Co-CEO and Head of Product, joe
Making the switch to BILL Accounts Payable was a snap for joe. “BILL Accounts Payable is the easiest, most user-friendly financial operations solution,” Martin remarks. “As someone who doesn’t have a background in finance or accounting, I find it very simple.”
The software’s straightforward onboarding process made it an easy sell for joe’s vendors too. Joe simply had to invite them to set up a BILL account, and their vendors could start accepting payments as soon as they successfully added their bank account. “BILL puts the impetus on vendors to sign up,” Martin states. “I don’t have to think or worry about it.”
Likewise, AP approvals now require minimal effort. “I have a thousand things to do. I love that we can just have all the invoices go to the BILL inbox,” Martin says. “We can review them, approve them, assign specific people to approve them, and issue payments in a few clicks.”
“With BILL Accounts Payable, we can review invoices, approve them, assign specific people to approve them, and issue payments in a few clicks.” — Brenden Martin, Co-CEO and Head of Product, joe
No checkbook needed, either. With BILL Accounts Payable, joe and their vendors can choose from a variety of payment options, such as ACH and Pay By Card, which enables payments via credit or debit card, even if vendors don’t accept card payments. Joe can still pay by check, but BILL sends the check on their behalf and doesn’t share their bank account info.
Since BILL Accounts Payable uses the same simple process for domestic and international payments, joe has cut the time spent paying engineers from hours to 4 minutes a month. They’ve also eliminated the need for a staffing agency, enabling them to better compensate their engineers.
“With BILL Accounts Payable, we’ve streamlined our international payments process, we don’t have to hire a staffing agency and can pay engineers directly,” Martin explains. “Being able to pay them through BILL has changed their lives and allowed them to view us as a huge opportunity. It lets us recruit and retain the top talent needed to help us build awesome, stable, consistent technology.”
“Being able to pay our overseas engineers through BILL has changed their lives and allowed them to view us as a huge opportunity.” — Brenden Martin, Co-CEO and Head of Product, joe
Now, joe’s engineers truly feel like part of the company—and, in turn, more invested in it. “Since BILL Accounts Payable makes it so easy to pay our overseas engineers, we can hire them as full-time employees,” Martin points out. “We can give them equity, so we get true buy-in, which increases the work effort. They really love and believe in what we’re doing.” As a result, joe has seen superb engineer retention, with some staying with the company for as long as five years.
Joe also uses the funds they previously allocated to the staffing agency to hire even more engineers. “BILL Accounts Payable really allowed us to scale up our overseas engineering team,” Martin remarks.
With BILL Accounts Payable automating their financial busywork, joe can devote more time to ambitious, long-term planning. “BILL Accounts Payable allows me to concentrate on other parts of the business, mainly around product and company strategy,” says Martin. “It lets us take bigger swings to help coffee shop owners.” These bigger swings include their plans to launch their tech in even more coffee shops in the Pacific Northwest before expanding along the rest of the West Coast, and eventually further east.
“BILL Accounts Payable allows me to concentrate on other parts of the business, mainly around product and company strategy.” — Brenden Martin, Co-CEO and Head of Product, joe
Even as joe grows, their commitment to small coffee shops remains as steadfast as ever. “When we want to give up, we think about the coffee shop owners and remember why they got into business—for the community,” Martin states. “We’re helping them create safe places for everybody to come and feel heard.” Thanks to BILL Accounts Payable, joe has time to equip even more coffee shop owners with the tech they need to help them focus on exactly that.