How Suneera Madhani Found A Smarter Way To Process Payments
By Yola Robert
Suneera Madhani’s fintech company, Stax, has processed over $23 billion in payments for 22,000 businesses. With a growth rate of more than 500% year over year, Stax has tripled its valuation leading the company into unicorn territory. But Madhani’s beginnings with Stax weren’t always this gleaming. The first-generation Pakistani American found herself with an “aha” moment while she was newly out of college working at a fintech company that was still operating in an old-school manner.
“My aha moment was back in 2014 when I sensed there was an opportunity for better payment technology in the fintech space, especially for SMBs. I predicted that the future of payments would be omnichannel, and multi-threaded, which was proven during the pandemic. I also believed businesses would need to set up payments in a multitude of ways and at the time, a single place to tie it altogether didn’t exist. I felt that we needed to invest in technology and set ourselves up as a SaaS subscription model, to eliminate the nickel and diming of customers on the transaction side. We would provide the software and charge a subscription fee, thus letting the payments essentially be free, and in the end own the payment volume, which is what most companies wanted,” explained Madhani.
When she presented this solution to her higher ups, she was quickly rejected, which made her realize she had to pursue the idea on her own. “Having never had a seat at the table, I was always kind of fighting/having to prove I belonged. Once I realized there isn’t a table for me to sit at, I decided I’d have to build my own. I have always been underestimated. I see it happen in every meeting with the banks, investors, and venture capitalists of the world. There is a bias that people have seeing someone who is young with vision, and they’re just not used to seeing a woman in the driver’s seat. Representation matters, and when you see other people that are like you who are successful, breaking glass ceilings and changing industries, you’re bound to see more in the future.”
When Madhani first started the company, it was called Fattmerchant and it was solely an SMB subscription-based payment platform. She spent the first five years investing in the company and growing its customer base to close to 10,000 customers with ten billion in payments processed. However, the pivotal moment for the company came in 2018: “I had this new vision come about where I felt like our software was so powerful that our partners, who were software companies, could benefit themselves from our payment processing for their own customers. So, we opened up our API and invested heavily in infrastructure architecture. That led to getting our Series B round for Stax Connect, which is the API arm of our business. We officially changed the company name last year.” As it stands today, Stax focus’s on four key verticals: professional services, field services, health care, and retail. “What makes us special is that we help businesses with omnichannel payments. What all of these sectors have in common is that they all need to take payments both in person and digitally. We are the bridge between online and in-person payments,” shared Madhani.
Although Stax just raised their $245 million series D with a $1 billion evaluation, in the beginning, it was very hard for Madhani to raise capital as a minority female. With less than 1% of minority and female-led companies that are able to raise funding, Madhani got creative. She entered over a dozen pitch competitions and won six of them. Winning these competitions allowed her to build credibility and make connections with other investors. Now as Stax crosses $100 million in revenue, the focus is on scaling their verticals, market share and brand presence. “We are investing in our technology, and just staying heads down until we’re ready to go public.”
Beyond the financial achievements at Stax, Madhani has made it a mission to give back to her community. “In 2020, I started a podcast called CEO school, because I didn’t go to CEO school. Every day, here I am, trying to show up for a job that’s greater than the one I had yesterday. I always felt like I needed to go to CEO school; the answer is you don’t, which is how CEO School came about. CEO School is a digital community and safe space for female entrepreneurs where I can give back in so many ways: through mentorship, retreats, live events, and virtual workshops. It’s a place where we feel like we can ask all the questions, get the resources we need and learn from actual women in business,” she shared. Stax, also, has a philanthropic arm called “Stax Cares” dedicated to supporting women in business.
Photo Source: 2019 Arlene Laboy