Top Innovators

Pete Kight: Defining Payments

Though it predates the Internet age, CheckFree founder PeteKight's vision of paper-free electronic bill payment has defined the e-payments market.

Often, innovation comes from the need to solve a simple problem. CheckFree founder Pete Kight's initial goal, while far-reaching, was straightforward enough: eliminate paper bills and checks for the health and fitness industries. But the path for CheckFree from concept to market leader in electronic bill pay wasn't easy.

According to Kight, who founded CheckFree in 1981, some 30 venture capitalists turned him down at the start. Corporations were slow to adopt electronic funds transfer, and banks were reluctant to go online, much less take the lead in championing electronic payments, he adds. But despite all this, Kight says, he held on to his belief that paper could be eliminated from payments.

"Our biggest challenge was the fact that we had three constituents in electronic bill pay: the bank, the biller and the consumer," Kight explains. "We could only grow as fast as the slowest of those three at any given time. By far the slowest to move and adapt to the technology change were the banks," he continues. "They didn't really want the Internet or online banking to happen, as it represented a significant change that they always worried would be used to disintermediate them from their depositors."