Suneera Madhani of Fattmerchant: “Share more female founders’ stories”

We need more women joining the conversation when it comes to building better products, better services, and better businesses for the people we serve. Women are more likely to be inclusive and build highly efficient, high-performing teams. This creates a top workplace culture that brings in diverse talent, which translates to higher ROI in the […]

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We need more women joining the conversation when it comes to building better products, better services, and better businesses for the people we serve. Women are more likely to be inclusive and build highly efficient, high-performing teams. This creates a top workplace culture that brings in diverse talent, which translates to higher ROI in the long term for the companies we run. In fact, private tech companies led by women achieve 35% higher ROI and outperform companies founded by men. There is infinite potential when you have a diversity of thought and experiences at the top level, and it has been proven time and again that women leaders bring about greater growth within the economy.


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Suneera Madhani.

Suneera Madhani is cofounder and CEO of Fattmerchant. Under her leadership, Fattmerchant has catapulted from startup to 9 billion dollars in payments, and Suneera has become a notable minority female entrepreneur in the male-dominated payments space, recently recognized by Fortune magazine’s 40 Under 40 list. Within the last year, the company was ranked number one on U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Credit Card Processing Companies of 2020, classified by the Forbes Fintech 50 as one the most innovative FinTech companies, and listed on the Inc. 5000 List of Fastest-Growing Private Companies year over year. Suneera is also the host of a top 100 podcast, CEO School, that helps female entrepreneurs break the seven-figure business mark and inspires women to start and scale their businesses to wild heights.

Suneera is also an alumna of the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ program, which identifies ambitious women entrepreneurs and provides them with the guidance, resources and access they need to unlock their full potential.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I started Fattmerchant because as a daughter of immigrants who had small businesses, I saw firsthand how the credit card industry had not changed for 20 years. It was just a commodity, and credit card companies were focused on profits versus building technology. However, all the transactions taking place had incredible data that could be used to actually help the business grow. I saw what the power of great software could do for other segments, so I decided to build a first-of-its-kind, all-in-one payment platform that would enable commerce for every business, no matter how they wanted to accept payments — whether in person, online, via invoice, or with ACH. Our journey has evolved tremendously. We’ve gone from being focused on small to medium-size businesses to now doing embedded payments for the largest software companies in the nation. Today, we have achieved 9 billion dollars in payments and we are growing at over 100%.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

As a woman, there are many times where I’ve been in the room with other successful CEOs and have been brushed over as an attendee or an event planner. In one instance, while I was at an invite-only CEO conference coordinated by our private equity group, two of the executives came up to me asking for the event and lunch details. Little did they know, I was going to be sharing the table with them as their peer and was leading a few of the sessions they were there to attend.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Once, I had to bring my three-year-old daughter to a coffee interview with a potential C-level executive with whom we had been speaking. I ended up running behind all morning because of, well, working mom life, but I didn’t want to be late to the interview. I decided to bring my daughter along to the office and entertain her in a conference room with an iPad until I finished my 30-minute interview, and I would drop her off at school after that — or so I thought. As luck would have it, she decided she didn’t want to leave my side. So, I brought her to the interview and put her on the chair next to me while I spoke with our candidate. He was more than flexible, and this honestly took the edge off during the interview. He is now our head of Customer Success, and we laugh often about that morning.

The lesson is that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. We are all humans with real human lives both in and outside of work. I think the pandemic taught us that as well. Life is messy, and that is OK. We need to be flexible and to roll with the punches, even with dogs, cats, and kids running around during Zoom calls. This is something that should be understood by all leaders at every organization. I’m proud of this story and proud of the culture we have at Fattmerchant, where our lives and work can be focused on the journey instead of the destination.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There is a long list of people who have helped me get to where I am today. Fattmerchant’s entire founding team has been instrumental in the company’s success since day one. Most notably, my family is constantly inspiring me and pushing me to grow professionally and personally. My brother and Fattmerchant’s cofounder, Sal, has been my biggest advocate and someone from whom I’m always learning. My immigrant father also played a pivotal role in helping me develop an entrepreneur mindset. He taught my brother and me what it means to be financially savvy and to understand what running a business entails by letting us work in our family’s ventures. I grew up understanding the importance of cash flow and how to manage money, which was life-changing. That really inspired my journey in entrepreneurship.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

AOL founder Steve Case’s book, The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future, made a big impact on me. He explains that we’re living in the “third wave” of the internet and shares how today’s technology innovators and entrepreneurs, in particular, are driving how future generations will live with technology. Another thing he covers in the book that struck a chord with me was the “rise of the rest” phenomenon. It’s the idea that venture capital will start to gravitate toward nontraditional tech hubs. Fattmerchant is a living example of this. Steve Case actually came to visit our Orlando office, and he shared some statistics that have stayed with me ever since — 75% of all venture capital goes to California, New York and Massachusetts, and only 1% of capital goes to companies with minority female founders. I knew that my success as a minority female founder of a tech company was unique, but I didn’t fully understand just how rare it was. After his visit and hearing those statistics, I knew I had to dedicate myself to uplifting other female founders.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“There’s no such thing as a billion-dollar idea. Just a billion-dollar execution.” This quote is something you’ll hear me say often. I believe so firmly that you have to be maniacal about putting execution at the forefront. Every. Single. Day. There is truly no shortcut to success. It’s purely about hard work, dedication and having a clear focus on the execution of the vision.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I learned the statistic that less than 2% of female founders ever hit 1 million dollars in revenue, and I set out on a mission to change that. I launched CEO School, now a top 100 podcast and community for entrepreneurs and rising female leaders to come together to grow and empower each other. We now have a community of over 150k women on a mission to break these glass ceilings in entrepreneurship and in filling the leadership gap that exists in corporations today.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

We have been taught by society that as women we have to choose between being mothers and focusing on our careers. This is the BS that needs to change. We deserve to have it all, and unfortunately work circumstances are 10 times harder for working mothers. In addition, we are limited in leadership roles, and less than 20% of positions of leadership are held by women. It is extremely rare to see other women succeed, and this visibility is critically important.

We need to see more women succeed so that other younger women can envision the success that is possible and dream bigger. Also these women, and all women, should be lifting up and sponsoring more women through mentorship and career development.

I am on a mission with Fattmerchant to be one of the first brown minority women to hit billion-dollar unicorn status. I wish I had known earlier that this level of success is possible and that I can have a seat at the table — or make my own.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

As I grew in my journey as an entrepreneur, I started to realize how many women were missing not only in the payments and FinTech industry, but also as entrepreneurs and business leaders across all industries. I wanted to do something to change that. Last year, I launched CEO School to change the fact that less than 2% of female founders ever hit 1m dollars in revenue. The program is designed to help women grow successful businesses and level up in leadership and life. We also produce and host the CEO School podcast, which shares real-world advice, insight and inspiration from notable women entrepreneurs and business leaders to show women they can have it all. Getting to create the CEO School community, connect with other women in business and help them achieve their goals is one of the most rewarding things I’ve been able to achieve in my career.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

We need more women joining the conversation when it comes to building better products, better services, and better businesses for the people we serve. Women are more likely to be inclusive and build highly efficient, high-performing teams. This creates a top workplace culture that brings in diverse talent, which translates to higher ROI in the long term for the companies we run. In fact, private tech companies led by women achieve 35% higher ROI and outperform companies founded by men. There is infinite potential when you have a diversity of thought and experiences at the top level, and it has been proven time and again that women leaders bring about greater growth within the economy.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

  1. Share more female founders’ stories.
  2. Buy from female-founded businesses.
  3. Require leadership parity for senior level leadership at companies and at board levels.
  4. Invest in more female-founded businesses. Less than 3% of venture capital goes to women and less than 1% to minority women.
  5. BUY MORE FROM FEMALE-FOUNDED BUSINESSES.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I 100% believe that as a successful female CEO it is now my job to help bring up the next generation of CEOs. I am so aligned with this mission and show up every single day to mentor, share stories, and discuss how to bridge the gap and help women break the million-dollar business threshold. I try to do this by actually showing up on my social media platforms, @suneeramadahni on Instagram. I transparently share my insights and learnings because I myself didn’t go to “CEO school,” and every day I show up for this job at Fattmerchant. This movement is bigger than the job I had yesterday. I spend about 10 hours a week serving others in this capacity, and the impact it is making is the most meaningful work I have ever done.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Michelle Obama and Oprah are the top two most influential women in my life. Their work has inspired me to help thousands of women every single day. Their selflessness in their journey and the dedication to the betterment of this world motivate me to show up to inspire others. I feel a sense of duty and I would just die if I had an opportunity to interview them for my podcast.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/suneeramadhani/ , https://www.linkedin.com/company/fatt-merchant

Instagram: @suneeramadhani, @fattmerchant, @ceoschool

Spotify, iTunes: CEO School

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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