Today I spoke with Suneera Madhani, CEO of Fattmerchant–a merchant services subscription-based technology company homegrown in Orlando. Fattmerchant has been described by Orlando Business Journal as a disrupter in the Financial Services Industry, and Suneera has been written up in Forbes and Fast Company. So in short, Suneera is a total Orlando Lady Boss, and it was a pleasure to speak with her.
Because Suneera has been working in many male-dominated spaces like tech and finance, I think she has a lot of great advice for any woman who has a tech idea but isn’t confident she can execute it. Confidence is not a problem for Suneera, who you will learn is a planner, and has a clear vision for Fattmerchant. It was an honor to speak with her, and it’s amazing to hear how Suneera worked on a local level to grow her technology company.
1. Suneera set off on her own because she believed in her idea even after she was laughed at by her old company.
As a graduate of UF’s finance program, Suneera originally had a goal in college to be a trader. However, when the market crashed, she found herself doing a few different sales jobs which eventually led her to a position selling merchant services.
While selling merchant services, she noticed her customers were frustrated by hidden fees and no transparency with their merchant services account. As a millennial and lover of subscription services, Suneera knew the same model could apply to merchant services too.
Because Suneera knew she had a solution that her customers would love, she brought the idea to her managers but got laughed out of the meeting.
That didn’t stop Suneera. She knew she was onto a good idea. “I have always been risk averse,” she told me, “but I felt very compelled in the mission and vision of what I was trying to do, and I knew there was a market need for it.”
When Suneera quit her job in 2013 to pursue Fattmerchant, she didn’t know how to do all the steps she needed to get the company to where it is now, but she knew she could learn these steps along the way.
Fattmerchant has grown so much in four years. The company has been in business and is now servicing almost a billion dollars in transactions a year (and growing). Suneera helped it grow by staying true to the mission of helping her clients have better transparency of their merchant services.
2. Put the right people in place that complement you, and help fill the gaps in your weaknesses.
After starting Fattmerchant, Suneera quickly realized that entrepreneurship was not just about a great idea, but the ability to execute the idea.
“There’s no such thing as a billion-dollar idea, only a billion-dollar execution,” Suneera said. “Anyone can have great ideas, but what it comes down to is being able to execute upon all the other things that it takes to sustain and grow a business.”
Suneera realized she needed to find others who could help her in the areas she wasn’t as knowledgeable in and found the Orlando Tech community. There, she joined Starter Studio and found Jacques Fu, who took an interest in Fattmerchant.
“You know what you’re good at and what you’re not good at, and you raise your hand,” Suneera told me.
While at Starter Studio, Suneera would turn to Jacques for advice about building her platform from a technology standpoint. Jacques took an interest in Suneera’s leadership and became part of the team.
With Jacques was on the team, Fattmerchant built a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) that they could start testing in the market where they could attract their first customers.
3. Suneera started growing her company locally first.
Although it is an on-line business, Suneera had to work hard meeting people through networking events all over Orlando and selling her product one person at a time. It was really about bootstrapping the business and making that personal connection with those first clients.
Suneera and her first employee Lindsay would go out to every networking event they could find to talk about Fattmerchant with the community. They also started to take advantage of different resources these networking and professional organizations had to offer. Suneera encourages others to do the same too, especially at the start of your business.
Soon, Suneera found herself entering pitch competitions around town where they raised over $200,000 in capital for Fattmerchant. These competitions also helped her plan and work on her company’s direction and vision. “You have to understand what your strategy is and work on all the things to get to it,” Suneera told me.
Suneera encourages others to connect in their local communities too and find the resources that are available to them.
4. Confidence came from planning for obstacles Suneera thought she would have to face.
Suneera’s main source of fundraising has been through venture capital investments. To prepare for her pitches to potential angel investors, she relied on her local connections and mentors through her accelerator program to give her advice and direction. They also helped her practice and perfect her pitch.
To date, Fattmerchant has gone through two rounds of fundraising and has raised over two million dollars for the company. During the second round of fundraising, Suneera faced a uniquely feminine issue–she was seven months pregnant.
While some advised Suneera to start her fundraising earlier, so she wouldn’t be obviously showing, Suneera was up for the challenge. She told me, “I love when I hear a challenge and it can’t be done. It makes me just want to crush it. It just fuels me more.”
She worked the objections she thought the (mostly male) investors might have about her dedication right into her pitch. She wasn’t going to give them an opportunity to think her company wasn’t a top priority for her.
“Confidence is something you have to have, and you have to believe in yourself,” Suneera said. “You have to not let you be the reason you’re not getting things done.”
She also encourages other women to go after the things they want. Plan for the objections and have confidence in your ability. “Don’t be surprised by the problems and obstacles. As you grow, the obstacles will grow. They’ll just be relative in size to where you are on your journey towards your goals,” she said.
5. Suneera believes in helping other women while she rises because of the help she has received along the way.
As a woman CEO with about 20 employees, Suneera thinks about workplace policies and how she can be a better boss to her employees. She tries to offer her staff flexibility in the workplace with kids and family. Suneera hopes this will help create an environment that supports working families.
Suneera also believes in giving back to the community that has supported her. “As we succeed, we want to help others succeed,” she told me.
Because she has had great mentors who helped her succeed, Suneera now tries to give back in the same way to other young female entrepreneurs that have potential.
About Suneera Madhani
At only 29 years old, Suneera Madhani is taking on the antiquated, male-dominated financial services industry and single-handedly cutting one of the biggest expenses for companies. After her former bosses laughed in her face and shot down her proposed payment technology business model for credit card processing, Madhani founded Fattmerchant in 2014, molding it from a monthly membership business model similar to companies like Netflix and Birchbox.
Now, she is shaking up payment processing by offering plans like this and many more to fit businesses of all sizes. Since founding Fattmerchant, Madhani is set to hit $1 billion in transaction volume by year’s end, has a staff of 30, and boasts more than 2,000 subscribers. Fattmerchant has also saved Central Florida businesses over $1.5 million in processing fees since being founded in 2014. Madhani is passionate about her local community, having most recently contributed to WMFE NPR’s “Dare to Listen” campaign, encouraging active listening and civil discourse in Central Florida.