Manpreet Singh: Supporting the entrepreneurial dream one transaction at a time

From New Delhi to Mesa, Arizona, from his father's garment import shop to a multibillion-dollar Wall Street hedge fund, Manpreet Singh (BS Accountancy '97) has always moved easily between different worlds. The 42-year-old finds himself back on the list for the second year running.

Singh co-founded Payscout, which routinely finds itself on prominent lists, such as Inc. magazine's inventory of the fast-growing private firms for the fourth year straight. Last year, Entrepreneur magazine lauded the Sherman Oaks, California-based firm among the top 20 companies in size for corporate culture.

To many in business, accolades and rapid revenue growth carry more value than the fuzzy abstraction of a company ethos. But to Singh, Payscout's president, the latter begets the former because, he says, "success is about fulfillment."

Payscout, founded in 2008, helps merchants of all types process payments of all types instantly, worldwide. It operates in at least 100 countries, on every continent except for Antarctica.

A savvy 21st-century consumer in the age of globalism might shrug. It has never been easier to book foreign travel, use personal banking overseas, or order and ship a product from some far-flung land. When was the last time anybody actually saw a travelers' check?

Life for the modern consumer is made easy by an invisible network of back-office operations, which experts like Singh call Fintech, or financial technology. Technology and personal relationships make that world turn. Now, Singh is trying to make it just as easy to move money for brick-and-mortar merchants like his father as their modern-day online counterparts.

Payscout's mission is to support the entrepreneurial dream one transaction at a time. It's not just a slogan. It's a mindset. An ethos. A reason for being. 

We support the mom-and-pop operations all the way through to the multinationals," Singh says. "We support them all the same."

Support means making the act of ordering, buying, and paying for a good or service internationally as frictionless as possible. Frictionless, seamless. These are words Singh references often. He wants his clients to glide through business as smoothly as he straddles worlds. That's not to suggest either is easy.

Modern cross-border commerce is complicated by vastly different currencies, languages, legal systems, definitions of fraud or corruption, regulatory environments, tax systems, and cultural norms for when to expect payment for or delivery of a product.

"Every region is unique, and our culture compels us to engage key stakeholders with cultural empathy," Singh explains. "The vision was to make cross-border commerce as seamless as possible."

That is where other core Payscout values come to the fore: trust and integrity. 

"The cliche is business is business. But business is a reflection of your culture," Singh says. "Nine times out of 10, you will have a successful operation because people want to work with somebody they can trust."

Easier to say than do in 2008, as the global economy teetered amid the well-documented transgressions of some financial institutions. But challenges are nothing new to Singh.

He arrived in Mesa, Arizona, from India at age 10 in the mid-80s. He didn't speak a word of English. He graduated high school at age 16. He watched his father start a company importing women's clothing from India and, with excitement, helped the family business grow.

The world didn't seem like a foreign place. If you come from one extreme environment to another, you've basically crossed the globe. Thinking though a global lens wasn't foreign at all. It just came naturally. 

He studied pre-med in college but realized within a year that business better suited him. He made the switch to ASU and earned his BS in accounting in 1997. It was his first big entrepreneurial pivot. It wouldn't be his last, and he picked up another core value, that of innovation.

At that time, very few academic institutions required accounting majors to take computer programming courses. When Singh learned ASU would be adding the requirement for subsequent classes, he took a course in computer programming.

To think that was 20 years ago, it just shows you how strong the history of innovation is at ASU. It was thought-leading then, and to look back on it now you realize how prescient that decision really was. 

Soon after graduating, he was processing transactions for a California tech company, skills he took to a New York hedge fund in 2005 with a $5-billion portfolio.

He started thinking more and more that if moving money on a global scale could be as seamless for everybody, people like his father, as it was for Wall Street, that "would be a real win."

Payscout took shape. Singh molded the ethos. Best idea wins. Mistakes are OK if the logic behind the decision was sound and the lessons can be learned.

Payscout took missteps. They branded a product in a Spanish — not a Portuguese name — in Brazil. Still, the company opened in that market, and others, and grew, quickly. Partners met with finance ministers and other movers and shakers in countries around the globe. Doors opened for Payscout and its clients.

Payscout doesn't just open doors. It embraces new ideas. It recently launched a new platform called Condor that allows people to pay debts more easily. The next big thing, Singh thinks, is virtual reality (VR).

At a recent conference, Payscout demonstrated the first successful real-time charitable donation in a VR setting. Visitors donned a headset, accessed an app, navigated the virtual presentation of a charity, and while still in virtual space and with the click of a button, donated to the Jefferson Awards Foundation (JAF).

It was a big moment.

"It aligned perfectly," Singh says of building the VR donation experience for JAF. "It felt fantastic because not only are we running our business, but we're living up to our social responsibility statement as well. When you can do that in tandem, it's the best feeling in the world."

Global spending on VR is set to double this year over last, analysts predict. The time for virtual commerce is imminent, and Payscout is ready.

It became the first company to offer such a service. Would-be customers can virtually browse a store, learn the story behind the company and its products, gaze at merchandise they want, and with a click of a button, order it, pay for it and ship it.

"The biggest reason for our success has been the culture and the team of people we surround ourselves with."

The company has stratospheric goals — to lead the global industry with cutting-edge technology.

"There's no reason why we can't continue to have very ambitious goals. You have to have enough confidence to say, 'Why can't I do that?' But you have to have the humility once you achieve success to be thankful and ask, 'Why me?' That balance allows you to achieve without getting arrogant," Singh says.

Get to know the Sun Devil 100 Class of 2018

The companies topping the list of this year's Sun Devil 100 are led by a diverse group of Arizona State University alumni who share more than an alma mater. What these leaders all seem to have in common, besides an entrepreneurial ethos, is an uncanny ability to recognize opportunities that others miss and to sense where the market in their respective industries is headed. They're willing to take big risks and to question the status quo as they push themselves and their teams to constantly innovate. Their efforts are paying off, with jaw-dropping growth rates of up to 3,338 percent. Collectively, the Sun Devil 100 Class of 2018 employes nearly 25,000 people and generates more than $8 billion in annual revenue.

The next Sun Devil 100

If you or someone you know is a proud Sun Devil who owns or leads an innovative business, you can nominate yourself or someone else to become a Class of 2019 Sun Devil 100 honoree.

To be considered, a business leader must meet the following criteria:

  • The company must be Sun Devil owned or led.
  • The company must have been in business for at least three years.
  • The company must have verifiable revenues of $250,000 or more in at least one of the past three calendar years.
  • The company must operate in a manner consistent with the ASU Charter.

Sun Devil 100 by the W. P. Carey numbers

The Sun Devil 100 is in its fourth year of celebrating the exceptional achievements of alumni entrepreneurs and business leaders. Over the past four years, W. P. Carey alumni inducted to the Sun Devil 100:

  • 2015 — 13
  • 2016 — 12
  • 2017 — 23
  • 2018 — 42

Meet three Sun Devil 100 winners whose business strategies stand apart.

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