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"We're Not PayPal," Says New Online Payment Player, WePay

WePay’s co-founder Bill Clerico can sum up his company with a simple phrase: “We’re not PayPal.”

The online payment giant claims 94.4 million users, but if you Google the firm, above the fold search results include a link to PayPal Sucks, with horror stories of frozen accounts, scams and other bad consumer experiences.

“One of the problems is that PayPal was built back in 1998, but the world has changed a lot since then,” Clerico observes. And one of the biggest ways the world has changed is the emergence of social media, especially Facebook.

“A huge piece of the friction between financial services institutions and the customer historically has been identity verification,” says Clerico. But now, thanks to the way people share their true identity on Facebook, “it’s much easier to verify who you are and have that validated by the many people who agree you are who you say you are.”

By signing onto WePay with Facebook Connect, new users can start using WePay almost instantly, with few of those intrusive questions (your mother’s maiden name?) even being necessary.

The company isn’t shy about taking on the 800-pound gorilla in its category.

Late last year, at PayPal’s annual developer conference at the Moscone Center, WePay dropped a 600-pound block of ice with $500 in $20 bills embedded in it and the words, “PayPal freezes your accounts.”

This led the brash little startup to get a rash of resumes from inside PayPal as well as publicity as a viable alternative.

Today, backed by various investors and angels including Ron Conway and PayPal founder Max Levchin, the Palo-Alto based firm has 26 employees, five of whom are dedicated to customer service. There is a link to CS on every page at the site, including an 800 telephone number and an option for live chat.

“Our primary objective is to provide a good customer experience,” says Clerico.  Since launching in late March last year, he says the company has attracted hundreds of thousands of users processing millions of dollars every week.

WePay charges a straight 3.5 percent processing fee on every transaction. Accounts are free and there are no other charges for using the service. It seems particularly friendly to small business owners and entrepreneurs, and it is quite easy to set up a storefront to showcase whatever you might want to sell.

Companies like Startup Tees and The Flux Foundation exemplify this type of partnership with WePay.

In July, the company released a full API, which now makes it easy to integrate its functionality in other sites.

It has not yet developed a mobile app, as Clerico explains, because “It’s hard to deliver a killer financial services user experience on a cellphone yet, too much information is needed. So until we can do it right we won't release a cellphone app. Meanwhile, the big guys -- Google, Amazon and eBay -- are spending a fortune on mobile spending platforms.”

Clerico projects a WePay mobile app by the end of Q1 next spring.

The two major uses for WePay at present are selling tickets for events and billing. The company has found that the average value of a “share” on Facebook is $5, and its growth is largely driven by word-of-mouth on social media.

“We're growing 70 percent month over month and our number one driver of traffic is Facebook," says Clerico. "It’s bigger than Google.”

One current boost to WePay’s user base is coming from the Occupy Wall Street movement, with some 250 donation pages resulting in over $230,000 in donations to the cause to date.