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August 9, 2022Executive Interview Series

Executive Interview Series: Founder and CEO of Stax, Suneera Madhani

The Executive Interview Series provides readers with exclusive insights from movers and shakers in the payments industry. The Payments Industry is under continuous transformation, as such this series provides diverse perspectives on everything from strategy to payments technology and to the future of the industry.

In this interview, TSG’s Market Intelligence team-member Alex Ferguson sat down with Suneera Madhani, Founder and CEO of Stax to learn more about her meteoric rise through payments and Stax’s journey as an emerging tech unicorn.

Background: Suneera Madhani is the founder and CEO of Stax, one of America’s top 10 fastest-growing fintech companies doing integrated payments and payment processing for small business, large business, and SaaS companies, processing over 23 billion dollars in payments. Under her leadership, Stax has catapulted from startup to Orlando’s first fintech Unicorn with a valuation of over $1 billion, leading over 300 employees and $100 million+ in recurring software revenue. Suneera has become a notable minority female entrepreneur, breaking countless statistics, and raising over $500 million in venture capital.

Q. TSG’s Alex Ferguson

Tell me about yourself. How did you get your start in the payments industry?

Suneera Madhani:

Growing up in an entrepreneurial family, I quickly learned that payments were at the heart of every business. However back in 2012, tech was just about everywhere except in the payments space. I saw an opportunity to fill this hole and took it.

The payments industry was (and sometimes still is) notorious for its subpar customer service. I dug into this more and saw a lack of pricing transparency and poor customer experiences. Banks, fintechs and the like would all take a cut of the transaction before the business was paid, and I wanted to change that.

Not only this, but businesses were collecting so much data from their transactions and not doing anything with it. I knew, with the right tools, they could make better, more strategic business decisions, like projecting slower periods and understanding returns. Stax was how I put these insights into practice to arm businesses to be better.

Q. TSG’s Alex Ferguson

You’ve mentioned prior that throughout your childhood you and your brother worked with your father in a variety of your family’s business ventures. How did these early working experiences help prepare you for your role in leading Stax?

Suneera Madhani:

My parents came over from Pakistan with no higher education, but they opened up a convenience store with the dream that their children – me and my brother and Stax president and co-founder, Sal – could have a good education and a successful life in America. After opening the convenience store, my dad became a serial entrepreneur. Sal and I were always involved in these endeavors, and we learned the ins and outs of a business at a very young age. I’ve never been to “CEO school”, I don’t have my MBA – Everything I know, I’ve learned from my own experience in business and by working with my family.

My parents have deeply influenced how I’ve led Stax. They’ve instilled a dedicated mindset into me and my brother, which we’ve brought to Stax. They always knew we were going to make it, and that support and encouragement has inspired us to think big and grow our business beyond even our wildest dreams. I have a quote from my father that he always used to say to me stenciled on my office wall: “You Have It.”

Q. TSG’s Alex Ferguson

Tell me about the origins of Fattmerchant/Stax. How did this venture start?

Suneera Madhani:

I always knew the payments industry was ripe for innovation. However, creating my own business was never part of the plan. Back in 2013, I was visiting family in Texas and ended up stuck in a snowstorm (yes, in Texas!). Since I couldn’t go home, I needed to reroute some of my subscription boxes to meet me in Texas. I began wondering, why isn’t there a flat subscription fee in payments when it comes to processing?

I took my idea to the payments processor I was working for at the time. They laughed in my face. It was clear they didn’t take me seriously as a leader. I decided to leave that job and pitch my idea to other processors and consistently got shot down. I realized if this was going to happen, I was going to have to take my idea into my own hands and start my own business. In 2014, my brother and our EVP Jacques Fu began Fattmerchant, now Stax, and our journey took off from there.

Q. TSG’s Alex Ferguson

Tell us about some of the major hurdles you encountered in getting Fattmerchant off the ground and how you feel its strengthened Stax as a company today?

Suneera Madhani:

Growing up, I always felt so supported – I had the best support system in my family and friends. But when I entered the business world as a woman of color looking to get her startup off the ground, I encountered several barriers I hadn’t anticipated. The truth is, there is almost no diversity in fintech, and that held me back for a long time. 

I was pregnant when raising a round of VC, and a female VC told me not to talk about my pregnancy or say I was pregnant until I was showing – until I couldn’t hide it anymore. It was telling that, to get ahead, you needed to reject as many of those things that emphasize your gender as possible.

In raising capital and securing investors, I consistently had people laugh to my face at the idea of Stax. Laughed at it being a viable business. I know if I were a white man, I would have had my funding and resources much more quickly.

All in all, my co-founders and I have succeeded in spite of all these challenges. Diversifying fintech – as well as any other industry – doesn’t happen overnight; it takes small, marked changes that end up driving a huge impact. I’m glad that we’ve been able to make those changes in hopes of inspiring and empowering others like us.

Q. TSG’s Alex Ferguson

Stax has been rated multiple times by different organizations as the best place to work in Fintech. What is it about Stax’s culture that has led to this recognition?

Suneera Madhani:

Stax prides itself on a culture of radical acceptance. As a minority founded organization, we believe everyone should have an opportunity to have a seat at the table and that everyone has a voice. We believe in culture that promotes open communication and constantly strive to put people first. We celebrate our wins, support one another through our losses, and always lead with an open mind and open heart. This isn’t something preached at the highest levels, but felt throughout our organization and embodied by every individual regardless of title. We all embody our Core Values as they were our own by supporting one another as One Team, focusing on Getting the Right Stuff Done, and taking the time to Create Joy. Being recognized as a Best Place to Work is a reflection of the authenticity of our team members – every one of them.

Executive Interview Series: Suneera Madhani

Q. TSG’s Alex Ferguson

Stax has recently been in the news with the acquisition of the surcharging platform CardX. How will this acquisition help enhance Stax’s value proposition?

Suneera Madhani:

With our rapidly-growing enterprise segment, customers require more support in handling the regulatory requirements associated with surcharging. Now, with CardX, our customers have access to surcharging automation, pairing card acceptance with integrated compliance administration and reporting. This acquisition enhanced our own surcharging capabilities to provide our customers with automated surcharging compliance with built-in disclosures and tools for seamless reconciliation and cash application. As a one-stop-shop, we wanted to take compliance risks and operational headaches associated with surcharging off of our customers’ plates – CardX allows us to do that.

Q. TSG’s Alex Ferguson

Stax has recently been described as a payments unicorn. This putting it in the same conversation with the likes of a Square or Stripe. How does Stax compare and compete against the established fintech elite in the industry?

Suneera Madhani:

I have a lot of respect for Square (now Block) and Stripe. They’ve built strong, established businesses within the fintech space. However, they’re both one-channel solutions and only cater to a certain group of businesses (typically SMBs and enterprises, respectively). All businesses have to be omnichannel and accept payments in different ways. Integrated payments is the future, and that’s where we set ourselves apart. Stax can be used for omnichannel payments, empowering businesses to scale not only with their own growth trajectory, but with the evolving payments technology landscape, as well.

Q. TSG’s Alex Ferguson

What are you most excited about for Stax’s future? Where do you see Stax five years down the line?

Suneera Madhani:

Our latest funding round, which launched us to unicorn status, was a huge step forward. I couldn’t be more excited about Stax’s potential as I look to the years ahead.

There is a reason ‘Stax’ is a four-letter word. We plan to eventually IPO, and that will truly open up the next chapter of our success and growth as a business.

Want more from this series? Catch up on more executive interviews.

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