Digital Ambition

Amy Porter, CEO of online-payments company AffiniPay, reflects on her path to claiming a seat at the financial-tech table.

By Kat Sampson

Long before dreams of running her own company became reality, Amy Porter was a 23-year-old speeding through South Texas, selling Varsity cheerleading uniforms. She’s now the CEO of Austin-based online-payment platform AffiniPay.
“I was a road warrior,” Porter says. “I probably had eight [speeding] tickets my first year, blowing through every town in South Texas. If you ask me the mascot and color of any school south of San Antonio, I got you covered.”

Porter, who graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in fashion merchandising and cheered for the Longhorns, says that first real job out of college came naturally to her. She was ambitious and had a strong desire for achievement. 

“I was always trying to figure it out, and I didn’t really know what figuring it out meant,” Porter says, reflecting on past career choices. “I tell my kids, ‘Thoughts are things. When you picture yourself in a certain way, the actions and decisions you make start driving you in that direction.’ Without knowing it, I started driving myself in a certain direction.”

As she drove from town to town, unloading racks of uniforms and buckets of bows, Porter says her time working for the Varsity cheerleading brand quickly became a crash course in marketing and customer loyalty, two skills she still uses today. 
“Regardless of how you come into Varsity’s circle, they want you to be part of their family,” Porter says.

Fast-forward two decades or so and Porter is sitting in a window-lined office that overlooks Austin’s West Lake Hills, reviewing blueprints for AffiniPay’s new office space. Porter, who was awarded EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2016 for Central Texas, says the team is expanding, necessitating a bigger office. The company growth coincides with the rapid adoption of online-payment platforms—those one might use to buy a concert ticket or a magazine subscription—tailored specifically to professional associations. 

Porter says she first saw the switch from paper payments to online payments during the 2008 recession, when professional groups like bar associations were looking for ways to make membership payments easier for their members. From there, the company built specialized payment systems LawPay and CPACharge for lawyers and accountants to take customer payments using the custom AffiniPay software. 

“That’s become our mission, to help lawyers and accountants embrace technology and online payments,” Porter says. “Our product has become a practice-management tool designed for professionals. We’ve really turned from a payment company to a financial technology.”

Before founding AffiniPay in 2005, Porter worked for Visa Mastercard, Cardservice International (now First Data Independent Sales) and owned her own credit-card-machine sales company, National Bankcard Systems. Porter says she spent much of the 1990s learning everything there was to know about credit-card payment processing, and when the internet blossomed in the early 2000s, she seized her shot at taking the payment process online. 

“I wanted to do something different than what everyone else was doing, which was chasing people around trying to sell credit-card machines,” Porter says. “Then this thing called the internet happened and suddenly, there was another way to manage payments.”

She decided to start AffiniPay after partnering with member-management software Affiniscape. They both had something the other needed: She brought payment knowledge and a certain skill set with electronic payments, and Affiniscape brought a software product and a client base. Porter says business owners, especially those who are new to the entrepreneurial game, should consider strategic partnerships every step of the way and that’s exactly what she strived to do.

In all her years developing the partnerships essential to a company’s growth, Porter has learned a couple things about the art of the deal. She says it’s important the most successful partnerships are the ones in which you wouldn’t mind sitting on either side of the deal. 

“Maybe it’s inherent to being a woman, but it’s important to be aware of both sides of the table,” Porter says. “You want to create a win-win situation. It’s OK to give a victory to the other side.”

Porter, whose daughter currently attends UT, visits the school often to speak with students about her entrepreneurial experience. She says her best advice to young women considering starting their own businesses is to strive to add value. Don’t just trade hours for dollars, Porter says, because there are only so many hours in the day. She also reminds others that the fight against discrimination against women in the workplace has come a long way, and the best way to continue to move forward is to get down to work. 

“The reality is if you are going to UT or live in Austin, if you can sit in on a lecture on entrepreneurship or read a magazine, you have more opportunities than most women on the entire planet,” Porter says. “It’s important to get the chip off your shoulder about being a woman and just be yourself.” 

As AffiniPay continues to grow, Porter says she’ll bring her ever-present cheerful attitude with her. 

“I probably seem a little bit of an anomaly in the corporate world. One, I’m a woman [and] two, I still have some of that cheerleader energy, but it’s the only way I know how to do it,” Porter says. “I don’t feel the need to present myself any other way.”