Suneera Madhani | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Suneera Madhani

Background:  

Orlando-based FattMerchant provides businesses with payment processing technology that drastically reduces fees for end users. The company processed $750 million in customer transactions in 2016 – a 681 percent increase from 2015. Most recently, FattMerchant launched a new platform, providing business owners with an all-in-one look at their processing information.

The Mistake:

Thinking it’s going to get easier the bigger [your company] gets. I think it’s something we all do all the time – whether it’s in business or whether it’s personal.

So our company grew, obviously, very fast in the last three years. And I’ve always thought, “Oh, it’s going to get easier.” And it has never gotten easier. It has only gotten more difficult.

At first, you set up all these milestones. And you’re like, “Oh if I’m just there – that will make me happy. That’s exactly what we need.”

And you kind of get to that milestone, but from there you have your next set of challenges: You want to fundraise, you want to get validation of your product or your technology. You need to get more customers. So there are all these goals – revenue goals, cash goals, fundraising goals, sales goals, customer success goals, etc. And you keep thinking, “If only I [achieve] this, it would be a lot easier.”

And I can fast-forward and say: The problems only get bigger. It’s all relative to where you are. Three years ago, I was a founder of a startup, and now I’m operating a second-stage company. The challenges are all the same. Their magnitude is just larger.

I probably put in just the same or more hours today than I did three years ago. At first, it was just me and one other person and then we had our first hire in August 2014. And we were all busting our tails off. And I thought, “If I had more people, then obviously the responsibilities would be shared.” But the more people we brought on ... they create new roles and then new responsibilities arise. And then you’re like, “How did we operate without that person?”

So, we never had a content specialist. We never had a product manager. Some of these roles were never there in the beginning. But as the company grows, you need them and they become these full-time positions.

And now that there are 30 people in the company – and we’ll probably be 50 by the end of the year – the work only continues to grow.

The challenges are all the same – their magnitude is just larger.

The Lesson:

I think as entrepreneurs or business owners we have to [recognize] that there will still be operational challenges. You’ll still need to bust your butt. If I knew that then, I’d still be doing it, no doubt. The stresses are still going to be there no matter how big your business gets. You have to be prepared for that.

Would I still do it? Absolutely. One hundred percent. Because there’s no greater experience than getting to see it come to life. Getting a team around you, getting investors to support you, seeing the growth – and really seeing something from a seed to a tree.

But I think we discount how hard that journey can be. All we really hear are the success stories. We look at these entrepreneurs and hear about these amazing startups with great valuation. That’s not the norm. No one talks about the 12-year journeys and all the points when they almost lost the business.

And I think that’s the lesson. There are so many things that I just can’t be prepared for. There isn’t a book. There isn’t a class. I didn’t go to “CEO School.” Every day you just have to face every challenge that comes your way and continue to do the hustle and the grind. And the grind and the hustle never stop. And I think I would have been amazed to know back then that the hustle never stops.​

Follow Fattmerchant on Twitter at @fattmerchant.

Photo courtesy of Suneera Madhani

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