SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Processing credit cards, online checks and other international payment types for Internet merchants, Santa Monica, Calif.-based Epoch is one of the most known and trusted names within the e-commerce billing space — serving a broad range of merchants.
Epoch is an Internet payment service provider that enables companies offering/selling digital content to accept global payments without requiring them to obtain and manage their own merchant account. Epoch offers worldwide acceptance, multiple currencies, state-of-the-art merchant tools, subscription and per-unit billing, world-class customer service, and a full suite of marketing and revenue features.
But there is more to this Epoch story than simply a roster of services, as revealed in this look back through time at one of adult’s leading billing companies, now celebrating its 15th anniversary in this dynamic market space.
Epoch started out as the brainchild of two childhood friends who wanted to create a bridge between banking and online adult entertainment.
In a 2005 Interview, CEO Joel Hall told XBIZ that he has always run Epoch with a small-company attitude that helps it stay quick and agile, yet thoughtful in its decision-making — keys to balancing a business based on evolving technologies and fraud reduction, which leaves little room for error.
“We were doing a better job with billing than the billing companies at the time because they weren’t looking at it from the merchants point of view; they were looking from a billing company's point of view,” Hall added. “So we said, ‘Let’s start a company that solves webmasters’ problems with things like online real-time reporting.’”
Extreme challenges were constant due in no small part to the rapid growth fueled by the launch of its affiliate system, the first of its kind in the industry.
“We were building a business from the ground up with no real archetype,” says Rand Pate, Epoch veteran and director of communications. “In many ways we became the archetype, being the first to offer many of the services that are standards today. Our team, most of which has been with us over 10 years, has been tried-by-fire and we all came out of it stronger, more experienced, and as a finely honed business.
One of the reasons for Epoch’s success was that many companies were having trouble managing their merchant accounts. In the early days of the e-Commerce, the chargeback threshold was five percent and company’s were still burning through merchant accounts because of the enormous amount of online fraud in this new and emerging frontier. The third-party billing model was a great solution for webmasters who knew little about banking rules and Visa regulations. As an added benefit, when fraud was detected from any transaction via Epoch risk management, the entire Epoch-processed client portfolio benefitted. This solution continues to serve clients well to this day and another reason why an experienced billing company is so important to your long term-business model.
“Even with all the tools available, lots of companies didn’t have the discipline to keep chargeback levels down,” Pate said. “We wanted to solve headaches behind the scenes for webmasters so they could concentrate on marketing.”
Managed growth during times of unlimited opportunity and ongoing stability despite profound challenges are respected hallmarks of the Epoch brand, which consolidated its EpochSystems.com and Paycom.net sites under the Epoch.com domain name around the time of the company’s 10th anniversary in 2007. A series of service enhancements were also performed at the time, bringing several new tools for making, tracking, forecasting and reporting sales, along with combined affiliate payouts, and new marketing options that ensured the company’s continued growth through innovation.
Meeting the diverse payment processing needs of a global audience and the industries that serve these consumers, Epoch offers both the flexibility to handle various billing options and currencies, as well as sophisticated tools for tracking payments and sales — such as its customized integration of cascading billing and affiliate tracking system, which it offers to clients for free.
This high level of support for international end-user customers and merchant clients is further seen in Epoch’s offering of payment platforms such as the Dutch iDeal card and innovative billing system UKash, among others. Additional sales and support personnel were added to respond to the company’s growing European clientele, along with worldwide live chat support, further underscoring its commitment to customer service.
Epoch also has a long history of supporting the online adult entertainment industry, “giving back” to the community through its generous and continued financial support of a wide range of trade events — such as the upcoming XBIZ EU digital media conference being held in London — of which Epoch has signed on as a Platinum level sponsor.
These trade events serve as a showcase for the company’s offerings, allowing Epoch representatives to meet with new, existing and prospective clients; reinforcing its brand and keeping it solidly in touch with its client’s evolving needs. The stability and longevity of the Epoch staff adds to many merchant’s comfort level with the organization.
Epoch further serves as a great example of corporate responsibility, as evidenced in its role as a Founding Sponsor of the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP) — the global non-profit organization devoted to keeping children out of and away from adult entertainment.
Epoch’s recognition of ASACP and its efforts to protect children has not been one-sided, either; with the association in 2010 having honored Epoch CEO Joel Hall with its annual Service Recognition Award, which ASACP says is presented to individuals whose consistent contributions have helped to make the organization’s work possible.
“In order to carry out its mission, ASACP relies on the ongoing generosity and support of those companies successfully operating in the adult entertainment industry,” ASACP Executive Director Tim Henning told XBIZ. “As one of its original and longest-running sponsors, Epoch earned ASACP’s Service Recognition Award for their proven and steadfast commitment to online child safety and for good old-fashioned ‘doing the right thing.’”
Hall also received the XBIZ “Lifetime Achievement” Award in 2008 for his steadfast commitment to the highest of industry ethics and standards in his leadership of Epoch — which itself has received several XBIZ Awards for “Billing Company of the Year.”
Success comes at a price however, with Epoch proving its worth by weathering many storms that put lesser competitors out of business.
For example, 2002 saw Epoch and other domestic IPSPs grasping with newly-invigorated VISA regulations, which mandated lower chargeback thresholds and the registration of domestic websites, along with a $750 per domain fee that was the demise of many smaller sites. These fees were later accompanied by new chargeback fees in 2003, prompting Epoch to develop an enhanced reporting tool designed to assist adult webmasters in understanding their sales, credits and chargebacks, breakdowns and other payment processing details.
While other processors helped, and still others struggled to help their clients cope with the ongoing changes imposed by the card associations, the thoroughness and timeliness of Epoch’s response helped to set it apart from its competition.
Epoch is the longest standing billing company in this market and throughout the years has maintained a core set of people who've been with the company almost since it's inception. They span the companies vital areas of risk management, tech support, client services, executive management, customer service, communications, accounting, and sales and marketing -- amassing more combined years of experience than any of their competitors.
In 2006, Epoch veteran Harmik Gharapetian was named vice president of sales and has been a familiar face at adult industry events since. Gharapetian was recently honored with an XBIZ Executive Leadership Award in 2011, exemplifying a legacy of service that is largely responsible for his company’s positive reputation and a differentiator it enjoys over its less customer-centric competitors.
Epoch’s willingness to go above and beyond the efforts of its competitors in the interest of preserving the long-term viability of its clients and the industry that many of them represent was further put to the test in early 2009 — as news spread that Epoch was dropping some of its clients over questionable business practices.
While the company does not publicly discuss issues surrounding its specific clients, an anonymous source revealed that Epoch did indeed terminate its merchant processing services for “several large adult affiliate networks.”
“Anyone who has processed with Epoch knows that we always act in the best interest of our clients over the long-term,” Pate told XBIZ at the time. “Certainly, we never turn away good business since we only make money by processing our clients’ transactions. We made some hard choices because we felt they were necessary to protect our portfolio of clients and it was the right thing to do.”
“We always think about how to make the most money for our clients today with the understanding that we must ensure they remain successful into the future,” Pate added, “ “and we do this by always looking forward, continuing to adapt to the marketplace, using the most advanced technology, constantly refining our processes, being innovative in our development, and listening to our clients needs.
Several years down the road from these actions, the company’s success (and indeed, its survival) is proof that its self-regulatory initiatives were both wise and well-founded.
“We are the industry’s oldest billing company, and we have remained an industry leader because we offer a top-tier service, pioneer technological innovations and treat consumers fairly,” Pate said. “Those cornerstones of our business will not change regardless of the short-term approaches other companies may take.”
Based upon this legacy of trust and stability, Epoch has a long and profitable future ahead.