VA 2023 Spotlight: Early Stage Pitch Competition Winner Rainforest

Joshua Silver is the CEO and Founder of Rainforest, a payments-as-a-service platform (PaaS) that helps software companies build and optimize embedded financial services. Unlike most financial service companies, Rainforest’s technology is built for software platform payments. With this innovative approach to payment solutions and the future of Fintech in mind, Silver brought his company to the Southeast’s largest venture capital conference, where Rainforest became the 2023 Venture Atlanta Early-Stage pitch competition winner.

In a recent interview, we had the opportunity to sit down with Silver to delve into his entrepreneurial journey and his experiences with Venture Atlanta. Read more from our conversation below.

The Entrepreneurial Journey Behind Rainforest

Tell us about the moment or experience that sparked the idea for Rainforest.

After exiting my previous startup, Patientco, a patient financial engagement company, I spent several years running a consulting firm where I helped software companies embed payments and other financial services into their products. 

Regardless of a software company’s industry – be it retail, construction, logistics,  non-profit management or any other vertical – payments is a universal language.  What I noticed was that software platforms are looking for the same critical things: a payment provider who has modern, robust technology, great developer experience, exceptional customer service, fair commercial terms, and full portability of merchant data. These software companies are experts in their respective verticals and they’re relying on a payments partner to help them to grow and thrive.

Despite looking at every possible option, I could never find a provider that checked all those boxes. So I created Rainforest to set a new industry standard for embedded payments. 

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing your startup and how did you overcome them?

The three biggest challenges are having a product-market fit, understanding the competitive landscape, and financing.

Product-market fit

Without product market fit, you don’t have a business. However, I was fortunate enough to have been in the payment solutions industry for 15 years, so we already knew where our product fit in the market. I got to see exactly what buyers were looking for and what pain points we could solve. 

Understanding the competitive landscape

Another challenge we faced was understanding the competitive landscape. The embedded payments industry has many well-funded companies. Some are recognizable brands that have been around for years. However, I didn’t let that distract me. 

The market we’re in is massive. There’s lots of inherent dissatisfaction with the current set of providers, which created a huge opportunity.  I had a clear roadmap of how we could create an even better product and company in the space. Since formally launching in 2023,  we’ve done just that. 


The last major challenge I would highlight would be figuring out how to finance the company.  

Certain companies don’t need outside funding. However, building a payments company from the ground up is a capital-intensive venture. There’s a lot of regulatory work,  compliance work. There’s a lot of technology and a lot of vendors and banks that you have to work with.

Acquiring outside funding is pretty important for both validation and hiring aspects.  Fortunately, because I was a repeat founder and had a deep understanding of the space, I was able to find a great set of investors to work with on our journey.

What have been some key learnings or growth experiences as an entrepreneur throughout this journey?

  1. There’s no “I” in “team”

It all comes down to your employees and what the team looks like. It’s important to treat your employees right. I was very fortunate that many of my former colleagues joined me early on in the journey at Rainforest so we could create a sound company culture. 

  1. Focus on the fundamentals

Investors are doing their due diligence more than ever before, even at a company’s earliest stages. They want to make sure that the redundancy, scalability, and legal framework you’re operating in is worth it. 

A lot of times entrepreneurs tend to blow past those things to get a product to market. Sometimes that’s appropriate. But in any highly regulated industry, it’s important to make sure those fundamentals are rock solid, and we’ve certainly done that.  

  1. Treat your customers right

I have a principle at Rainforest. When we make a mistake, we own it. No matter how big or small. People are entrusting us with their money, and it has to be right every single time, down to the penny.

That has strengthened our relationship with customers. It’s helped nurture our commitment to quality. At the end of the day, your reputation is everything – I’m fortunate that every member of our team is as fanatical about quality as I am..

The Atlanta Startup Ecosystem

How has the startup community, particularly in the Southeast, influenced or supported your growth?

I grew up in Atlanta and am a Georgia Tech alum, so my roots in Atlanta run deep. Many of our earliest clients are based in the Southeast. We have local VCs around the Southeast who have backed us as well. We also had excellent support from  Silicon Valley Bank and local bankers who bind us with the venture debt facility. And of course, Atlanta Tech Village, which is where our office is based, is incredibly supportive. 

As someone who’s been building startups in Atlanta for well over a decade, I can say our region is doing leaps and bounds better than we were ten or twenty years ago. I’m very proud to be an Atlanta-based company.

How did you first hear about Venture Atlanta?

Years ago, I presented my first startup, Patientco, at Venture Atlanta 2011. I’ve attended many times since, both as a participant and audience member, and I’ve gotten to witness its evolution into a premier platform for startups and investors alike. In 2023, I was even fortunate enough to go on stage and present!

What was the application process like for Venture Atlanta?

It was a rigorous process, but supportive at the same time. It’s something you need to take time to go through. The Venture Atlanta team offers valuable guidance to ensure your success in the process.

It’s clear that opposed to similar events, the Venture Atlanta team wants you to be successful and show up in the best possible light. They provide a lot of help to do so. They also have high expectations to ensure you have a high-quality presentation.

How did you prepare for your pitch at Venture Atlanta?

Tons of practice. For this pitch, I focused on refining my thinking given the tight time limit. And, as a B2B company whose focus is embedded payments, not everybody is as excited initially as they are about a fun consumer product they can go out and use. 

I spent a lot of time crafting the pitch so it would resonate broadly and have an impact. I practiced extensively to nail the delivery and convey Rainforest’s value propositions. I wanted Rainforest’s story to capture both the judges’ and the attendees’ attention.

What impact did winning the pitch competition have on your business?

Being a Venture Atlanta pitch competition winner was a huge milestone for us. Many prospects reached out, and the recognition helped differentiate us from an industry where there are many competitors.

As a startup, you can get caught up in putting your head down day after day. But winning was a moment of pride for me and the whole team.

What other components of the Venture Atlanta conference and network did you find most valuable?

Venture Atlanta is such a well-executed conference. The space is beautiful, the energy is high. It’s almost palpable. Plus, the who’s who of attendees are there, so you get the chance to connect with old colleagues and meet new people, not just in the Southeast, but nationally. 

What’s Next for Rainforest

We are growing and hiring. We’re focused on adding engineers and technical talent, but we have other roles available in sales, marketing, and operations. As we look to the future, we have some incredible customers we will be announcing over the next quarter or two, as well as some pretty significant and game-changing technical developments. 

Our team is exceptionally busy each and every day, not only delighting customers but also building new products to keep us ahead of the competition.

What’s your long-term vision for Rainforest?

We want to redefine the standard for the embedded payment process. Many of the earlier competitors have not provided great service or great products, and have not treated people the way they should be treated.

We want to be that company where people look back and say, “I remember when Rainforest came on the scene and everything started to change”.  

We’ve already seen in some cases our competitors are making changes to their contracts or commercial offerings and are becoming more nimble than they were before. And while we love a good competition, we want Rainforest to be driving the industry forward as a whole.

Any final thoughts or words of advice for up-and-coming entrepreneurs?

Always stay focused on product, market fit, and revenue. 

There’s an old expression out there that revenue solves all problems. To an extent, that’s true. If you can figure out how to make money doing something, you work out all of the operational and technical challenges.  

I think a lot of entrepreneurs, especially ones with technical backgrounds, focus too much on building a product rather than going out and selling it. And so I think that would be one piece of advice. 

Focus on quality  

In my many years, I’ve learned that reputation carries you a long way. By building a quality product, treating people right, and always doing the right thing, people will give you a lot of credit, whether it’s a mistake you made or whether it’s asking someone to go out on a limb and be an early customer. 

Be the Next Venture Atlanta Pitch Competition Winner

Joshua Silver’s journey with Rainforest exemplifies the resilience, vision, and community spirit essential for entrepreneurial success. To put your name in the ring to be the next Venture Atlanta pitch competition winner, check out our pitch application and selection process. Our applications open in May; it’s free to apply, so there’s no risk. If you have any questions, contact us!

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