Marqeta has just named a new chief technology officer. And it's an eyebrow-raising choice for a critical post as the payments powerhouse faces new challenges as a public company.
Randy Kern, who joined Marqeta last month, is a tech veteran with decades of engineering and leadership experience, mainly in enterprise software. He worked on Microsoft's Azure and Bing technologies, and then went on to Salesforce where he last served as chief customer technology officer.
Kern is new to payments, though he described it as a realm that he's excited to explore.
"It's something I've been kind of fascinated by for a very long time," he told Protocol. "Payments are such a key critical aspect of every business of nearly every individual."
Marqeta CEO Jason Gardner cited Kern's "engineering skillset and engineering experience required for us to continue to outpace the competition" in a statement about the hire.
Marqeta, which was founded in 2010, went public last month. It's a dominant player in card-issuing and banking services. Its main competitor, Galileo, older than it by a decade, was acquired by fintech giant SoFi last year, although it remains a standalone business.
The two rivals are riding a wave of demand for digital banking and card-issuing capabilities, both from traditional financial institutions and fintech startups. Logan Allin, managing general partner of Fin Venture Capital, a SoFi investor, told Protocol that the two companies "have a significant future in the picks and shovels of fintech."
Allin acknowledged that "from a feature-set perspective," Marqeta has the edge with "a richer set of functionality."
In an apparent bid to catch up, Galileo has also been beefing up its leadership bench. The company recently hired Archie Puri, who's considered a legend in the payments world and recently served as general manager of PayPal's Braintree, as Galileo's first chief product officer.
Last month, Clay Wilkes, Galileo's founder who led the company for 21 years, announced that he was stepping down. He was replaced by Derek White, a banking veteran who helped lead Google Cloud's financial services business.
Despite its advantages over Galileo, Marqeta faces a key challenge: A major customer, Square, accounts for a whopping 70% of its total revenue. That edged higher to 73% in the first three months of 2021. Sutton Bank, the underlying issuer of the Square Debit Card for businesses and the Cash App card for consumers, accounts for an even bigger chunk of Marqeta's business — 94% as of the first quarter of 2021.
Kern demurred when asked for an opinion on these challenges: "I think this is literally my sixth week. I haven't come to the point of having a strong opinion on that yet. I'm not trying to be coy, I'm just too new to the space to have what I would consider an informed opinion. I'm reading and learning as fast as I can."
But while he may be new to the payments world, Allin said Kern could be a smart choice. He said Marqeta needs "to defend [its] concentrated customer base" from rivals led by Galileo and Stripe.
"Randy's background is ideal in providing leadership to develop software layers and capabilities," he said.
Helping lead a smaller organization also presents key advantages. Kern said he now has a sharper ability to focus on customer needs, which was more challenging at the tech behemoths where he spent much of his career.
"I can actually understand what everyone is trying to do," he said. "I certainly couldn't do that when I was working on Azure. I couldn't do that when I was working in Salesforce. I can actually have a conversation about our customer base and understand in a lot more detail what people are doing. And that level of connection is exciting."
Kern said joining Marqeta was a major long-term move that he considered carefully. After he was offered the job, he took a long solo drive in the wine country in Napa. "It didn't require alcohol to make the decision, but I just went out and found some sun and had a whole day to myself," he said.
"I was at Salesforce for seven years, which for me is a short stint," he said. "I want to be here at least 15, 20, 25 years and see this company grow and flourish beyond the amazing 11 years that we've had so far."