ConnectPay CEO Michael Young has spent a lot of time thinking about how vital it is for small business owners to have local, trusted experts who they can rely on. In fact, it’s something he’s observed since he was a little kid. Michael’s mother, embracing her Upstate New York roots, fought to become State Farm Insurance’s first female insurance agent. She possessed a fierce entrepreneurial spirit that was derived largely from watching her own father, Michael’s grandfather, who went from selling used cars on a very small lot to becoming one of General Motors’ youngest ever franchisees, convincing the corporation he was worth betting on with their Pontiac brand in 1951.
“My mom lived her story, meeting families at night and on weekends with a passion to learn and teach. She broke down the complex into the convenient,” Michael reflects. “She watched her Dad do that, and I watched them both.” Those early exposures to entrepreneurship pointed Michael in the direction of his ultimate career path: building business by connecting communities, their people, and data.
“Technology today allows us to extend beyond our community,” Michael points out. “But it’s truly the local connection between people and technology that significantly accelerates the success of small business. Small businesses are America’s unique growth engine, creating more net new jobs each year than any other economic segment in the country. It’s a group to honor and respect!”
With outside daycare costs practically impossible for their family, Michael’s mother would bring him with her to the office as often as she could. By age 10, Michael was a regular fixture. It was there that he learned the value of connecting experts to ease anxiety around insurance, something people generally knew they needed, but didn’t understand. He experienced firsthand the amount of hard work it takes to build a strong business, especially when watching the challenges his mother faced, defying the expectations of women in her generation when she wouldn’t take no for an answer after being told the Agency Owner position she wanted was a man’s job.
“I remember the day when my mother said, ‘You know something? There’s no reason I can’t do this job. I want to be in business for myself,’” Michael recalls. “And she did just that - she landed the position to open an agency from scratch. What I learned from my mom is the inspiration that if it seems right and it’s doable, you can achieve it. She’s why I have such a passion for small and medium sized business owners. When my mom opened her agency, she could have sat behind the desk and waited for the phone to ring, but instead, she said, ‘I’m going to find a way to excel,’ and the year she launched went on to become the highest first year producer for State Farm in her class of all men. Another first!”
One of Michael’s greatest lessons was watching his mom strategize and build her business plan. At the time, there were no internet searches, so Michael was effectively his mom’s Google. She took him with her after school to visit local public record offices and research through file cabinets the month people closed on their new home purchases. They would write the information down on notepads and then Michael and his dad would sit at the kitchen table each night, looking up those homeowners in the Whitepages to make a call list for his mom while she prepared dinner. Michael’s mom would then make calls every weeknight, while the boys did the dishes, offering to review their homeowner’s coverage when policies were about to renew, which was an effective way to help people because she knew the exact month they purchased their home. The trust she built later earned her the opportunity to discuss auto and life insurance with those same clients, leading to another life lesson: “When you do impactful work, people want you to do more for them.”
Michael’s grandfather’s story is equally as inspiring. When General Motors awarded Michael’s grandfather his franchise, their executives made it his responsibility to sell no less than eighty-five cars in his first year, or they would be forced to close the dealership. Michael’s grandfather wasted no time. A month before the grand opening of his Pontiac franchise, with only pictures of the cars soon to be delivered, he went door to door through his small town on the Upstate NY/Canada border, showing the community what was coming. His dedication paid off ten-fold — the day his dealership opened, he had buyers for all twelve of the new cars General Motors delivered to his lot that day. From there, he went on to sell more than 250 cars that first year, which was beyond anything the GM executives ever imagined.
Yet, as time went on, Michael’s grandfather proved that his business was about more than just exceeding sales goals – it was about taking care of his community. If any customer brought a car back to his lot for the same problem three times, Michael’s grandfather would buy back the car at a cost to himself and put them in a more reliable vehicle. His earnest commitment to his customers allowed him to build a resounding reputation for himself and his dealership throughout the region and state of NY.
Following in Their Footsteps
The importance of a determined attitude — and the value of trusted expertise —stuck with Michael over the years. So, when he and Paul Altavena, President and Co-Founder, started ConnectPay in 2008, they set out to do payroll differently. They wanted to build a brand and technology that not only improved the transaction of processing clients’ payroll and taxes, but also connected their clients with trusted business advisors who could guide them and assure their ongoing success. “ConnectPay would not simply be about calculations,” Michael explains. “But rather a connection of people, data and experiences.”
“We wanted to create something that would strengthen our clients’ businesses,” Michael describes. “Our concept is for someone who says, ‘I’m bigger, faster and stronger when I’m connected because I gain focus to do my best work.’ We never want to see a business owner guessing around compliance and taxation – that’s the downside of most online software and the reason you now see Intuit moving in our direction with their personal tax product experts. Our connected technology is supported by trained humans you can talk to, so you get it right the first time…and sleep better knowing it!”
After more than a decade working in the payroll industry, Michael and Paul recognized that many small businesses — those large enough to require payroll, benefits, and insurance but too small to have their own full-time HR staff — had a genuine need for outside guidance from real-live experts.
“In order for them to gain advice to grow their company, they were talking with their CPA, their banker, their lawyer, their insurance broker and their community,” Michael relays. “So, the reality is, if you are not large enough with a budget to carry full time internal staff, you need to lean on your outside partners. And you want those experts close by — connected by technology and geography.”
Making the Connection
ConnectPay helps connect small businesses to a network of advisors, vendors and brokers who can offer the right advice on HR, retirement and insurance plans for their businesses. ConnectPay is built around modern technology supported by trained and dedicated service personnel, experts who take the time to walk customers through the enrollment process and answer their every question so they can use ConnectPay’s technology effectively. ConnectPay’s sales team, carrying what the company calls an “MBA in Connectivity” goes the extra mile by making in-person visits to deliver the right solutions, for the right price.
On top of ConnectPay’s secret sauce for servicing clients, Michael recognizes that technology is digitizing the world and it’s just as important to connect data too. The API-driven solutions designed at ConnectPay allow advisors and employees to confidentially share the data needed to solve their clients’ unique needs between software platforms.
For most people who start a small business, back-office compliance is never at the forefront of their minds, which is precisely where ConnectPay comes in.
“You start your engineering firm to do engineering; you start your landscaping business to do landscaping,” Michael says. “And by chasing your dream and doing what you do better than anybody else, you earn an obligation for all this government compliance - an anxiety that business owners dread and need to talk through. So, we never embraced voicemail. What most people forget is that payroll, taxes, and benefits are more than half of what every company spends. When that much money is at stake, you want someone to pick up the phone!”
Michael adds, “Connected technology infused with passionate trained payroll experts — that’s how we build trust.”
Keeping the Wheels Turning
When Michael is not in the office or meeting with clients, he’s likely off cycling, on the road or in the woods. An avid triathlete since 1980, he’s focused predominantly on biking now.
“The mind says run and the knees say bike!” Michael laughs. “It’s probably something to do with my fifteen years of rugby!”
Pre-pandemic, Michael went to Belgium with a group of friends to ride the Tour de Flanders, and he regularly participates in the Pan-Mass Challenge in Massachusetts each August, riding with a team that supports his friend’s daughter and others who survive cancer.
Both on the bike and in the office, Michael is always moving at full speed. ConnectPay is now working with some of the largest insurance carriers and 401(k) providers in the country, from AmTrust to John Hancock, to support its clients. Through it all, Michael has stayed true to the idea that there’s nothing more valuable than human connection.
“People connecting through modern technology is what really moves the needle. Payroll and HR are just too complicated to set it and forget it,” Michael maintains. “By doing the best for everybody, every day, and by actually picking up the phone and talking to people, our technology shines even brighter.”