The man who made cc:mail famous is hoping to do the same with an Internet transaction processing venture.
Philippe Courtot, who built cc:mail from a small start-up into a market force before selling it to Lotus Development Corp., has taken over as chairman and chief executive officer of PaymentNet Inc. in Pleasanton, Calif.
His appointment came close on the heels of a $7.6 million infusion of capital from investors that included AT&T Corp.'s venture capital arm and Wells Fargo & Co.
"There is a need for a scaleable, easy-to-use payment solution for the Internet," Mr. Courtot said in an interview. "So you will see PaymentNet partnering with many companies to push its payment platform. I also believe we could become a platform for bill presentment solutions."
The investors are "ready to put their feet on the gas," said Scott Smith, president of Tera Group, a newly formed information technology consulting firm in McLean, Va.
Mr. Courtot's predecessor, Bruce Hendrix, who has left PaymentNet, "had grown the company pretty well," Mr. Smith said, but it was "ready to bring in a larger gun."
Banking and electronic commerce observers said Wells Fargo's involvement reflects the San Francisco banking company's desire to stay atop the young and emerging Internet payment and bill presentment arenas.
"It is clear that Wells Fargo has positioned itself to develop a big presence in the market for electronic commerce transactions," said Albert Pang, research manager for e-commerce and software at International Data Corp. in Mountain View, Calif. "Wells wants to be involved in every aspect of that food chain."
Another analyst said speculation is rife that PaymentNet is a prong in Wells' strategy to seize bill payment and presentment initiatives from nonbank companies such as Checkfree Corp.
Wells Fargo officials were not available for comment.
Mr. Courtot said, "We're not trying to replace Checkfree." Rather, PaymentNet wants to offer "connectivity" between the consumer and any biller or merchant, using any type of payment, he said.
"We have a major bank that's going to help us do a good job or a better job at building" a payment processing platform, he added.
Mr. Courtot said for the time being he plans to focus on marketing and increasing processing capacity. When PaymentNet becomes more firmly established, he said, it will add services such as bill presentment.
The company already processes payments for CBS SportsLine, EC Direct, Network Solutions Inc., Value America, and Virtual Vineyards.
PaymentNet functions as a "switch," accommodating multiple payment methods. When a customer clicks on a payment button at the Web site of a participating merchant, the transaction is routed to PaymentNet's server. The server sends the transaction to the appropriate back-end processing system, which could be the automated clearing house network, a check servicer such as TeleCheck International, or a credit card network. Transaction approvals are routed back through PaymentNet's server to the merchant.
Mr. Courtot's experience at building technology companies is not limited to cc:mail. In 1985 he joined Thomson CGR, which had been part of Westinghouse Corp.'s medical activities, and he increased the company's market share in the mammography business.
This growth was sufficient to draw the attention of GE Medical, which later bought it, he said.
Most recently, Mr. Courtot was president and chief executive officer of Verity, a knowledge retrieval provider for businesses. He took the company public in 1995.