21 Aug August 21, 2020 – FattMerchant Suneera Madhani and Personality Expert Dr. Dan P. McAdams
I was in the Merchant Payment Service industry. I saw a pain
that the customers were facing that no one was solving. I saw
a need for an ‘all you can eat’ model in payments.
Suneera Madhani, Fattmerchant’s Founder & Chief Executive Officer, is a payments and technology innovator who has catapulted her business idea from startup to processing over 5 Billion in payments. After seeing the need for a better payment experience for merchants, her entrepreneurial spirit took hold and she decided to solve the problem herself. She built Fattmerchant from the ground up, providing a sophisticated and merchant-friendly platform. Under Suneera’s strategic leadership, Fattmerchant has reached record high numbers since its existence; attaining triple-digit growth year after year, scaling operations in multiple cities across the United States, raising 20M in venture capital, and employing close to 100 individuals. Fattmerchant is now recognized as the top 5% of Fastest growing companies in America by INC. Suneera been recognized as 2018’s The Most Influential Woman in Payments, CEO of the Year , Top 40 Under 40, Entrepreneur of the Year, Women to Watch, and Ernst and Young’s Winning Women of 2019.
Dr. Dan P. McAdams – Henry Wade Rogers Professor of Psychology – Read interview highlights here
Can we change the parts of our persona that we don’t like? One school says you can’t do it. Basic traits (like being introvert or extrovert) are strongly hardwired, driven by genetic differences. Having said that, there are areas of your personality that are more malleable, like goals and values.
Dr. Dan P. McAdams is the Henry Wade Rogers Professor of Psychology, and Professor of Education and Social Policy, at Northwestern University. He is the author of nearly 300 scientific articles and chapters and seven books on personality development and psychological biography. Dr. McAdams is a recipient of the Jack Block Award for career contributions to personality psychology, the Henry A. Murray Award for excellence in the study of lives, and the William James Award for his book, The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By. His theoretical and empirical writings focus on concepts of self and identity in contemporary American society and on themes of power, intimacy, redemption, and generativity across the adult life course. He is the author most recently of The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump: A Psychological Reckoning, where Dr. McAdams examines the central personality traits, personal values and motives, and the interpersonal and cultural factors that together have shaped Trump’s psychological makeup.
Highlights from Suneera’s Interview
So the Mom Boss Blog actually lives on Instagram now, you can just follow me @SuneeraMadhani on Instagram. That used to be a blog, I ran it a couple of years ago, and then I switched over to just having a live blog, you could say. I’m very active on social media, I’m very active on Instagram. I run a second company, which has just more intrinsic value for me. It’s called CEO School, where I’m on a mission to help women founders hit $1 million in revenue. So that is the premise of my online social life, but everyone can follow me on Instagram and that’s where I primarily live.
So my story began in 2014 is when I started Fattmerchant. But prior to that, I was working for other payment companies. So I did that for a couple of years and I learned the ins and outs of merchant services, and that was the industry that I was in. I saw a huge pain point that the customers were facing and nobody was really solving the issue at hand. There were different technology companies emerging, but this is a pre-subscription economy, this is pre-fintech really. I saw that there was a need for an all-you-can-eat model in subscription and payments. I took this idea back to a company that I was working for, and pretty much wanted to just run a division for my company. I had zero desire to become an entrepreneur, this was not something I wanted to do was to go start a payments company. Obviously, I pitched the idea and it didn’t go as planned. I left that company, pitched the idea to about 12 different processors and banks, pretty much got told no every step of the way, until I decided to take a bet on myself and go launch this thing. In 2014, I launched Fattmerchant. It was the first subscription-based credit card processor where I helped small businesses get direct costs with Visa and they had an unlimited model.
That first year took it from zero to $5 million in payments, and we had a big feature article in Fast Company that year because I was pitching out every pitch competition that I could get my name into. We took home over $200,000 in prize competition wins from just getting on stages, sharing the business plan. It was a super scalable model with payments, it was really interesting. We were becoming more and more cashless as a society, and there was this huge value add that we wanted to provide small businesses, which was technology. So we wanted to provide them with incredible analytics based off of their transactions, we wanted to provide them with tools to help them grow their business, versus just take take take, which is how the other payment companies were doing it. So when I was pitching at all these pitch competitions, we would take on these giant checks. Then a writer from Fast Company gave me a call and said, hey, I want to do this article. No clue where that would go, and it ended up going viral. It was front-page Fast Company, titled ‘Meet The Woman Who Is Trying To Change The Credit Card Industry.’ That was the start of it. From that day, in 2014, we were a tiny team of three doing $5 million in payments. Five years later last year, we hit $5 billion in processing, we’re now at 123 team members, raised $20 million in venture capital, and doing some really cool things in the industry.
The competition space was definitely a good opportunity for us to get in front of an audience, I was pitching. I think this is where a lot of entrepreneurs go wrong, what they don’t do is they hold on to their idea and they’re like, “Someone’s going to steal my idea, I can’t share this idea that I have.” It was a great place for us to go, we would get challenged by incredible judges and have audience members become customers. It was a good stage opportunity for us to get validation against our MVP that we were watching, so it was a win-win. It was fantastic also that then we would take home money that we can then invest back into the business, but it also gave us a lot of opportunities to discuss our product, get customer feedback, learn about what tools that these companies are using, get challenged by really smart judges, and then, of course, get exposure as well.
A lot of the time, it’s just the art of storytelling. So since being on the other side of the competitions, I now have judged quite a few of those competitions. It really comes down to who delivers the best pitch sometimes. They’re able to hit on all the things that you’re looking for, which is, are they solving a big problem, do they have the right team, do they have the right product-market fit; there are so many things that you look for. So it really depends on their pitch. I think that, definitely, there’s probably so many missed opportunities. Like, you’ll have companies that don’t even place that end up being successful, and then you have so many companies that end up winning, that’ll never even get their idea off the ground. I think that we were very fortunate and in a different position. We were winning, but we were also very determined on making this a success. So this was something that we were doing alongside just getting more exposure as we were growing.
Let’s get back to the main topic here, the unlimited model of Fattmerchant. So the way that the model works is it’s a flat monthly subscription and it’s tiered on basically how much you process, but it’s a flat transparent fee that you pay. What we do is we go get you the direct rates from Visa, MasterCard. So you do end up paying, there’s still a percentage that’s associated with accepting credit cards. I can’t get rid of the fees that are charged by Visa, MasterCard, or American Express. But what is really interesting is that most payment companies charge you tons of variable percentage on those cards. So a debit card may be just cost 1% to charge a Visa card, and instead, you’re paying 3% on that transaction when you should only be paying 1%. So we have a deal with the card companies, we give you the direct rates directly from the card brands. So we save businesses about 30 to 40% of their processing fees by switching over to this model.
But what is even cooler is not only do we save the businesses a ton of money on their card processing, we have incredible technology to actually streamline the way that these small businesses accept payments. So it’s 2020. One, we’re going through a global pandemic, and I’m going to talk about that later of how it affects businesses from a payment standpoint. But in 2020, small businesses need to accept payments in a multitude of ways: they have mobile processing, they have online eCommerce, they have in-store payments, they have invoicing. So prior to our technology, businesses had to go to multiple different platforms to go take their card transactions. Whereas with Fattmerchant, you could do all your processing under one platform and under one tool, and it all talks to each other. So that’s really the big power of the platform, it’s called Omni. So we provide incredible value, not only do we help businesses save money, they have an all-in-one tool and it connects with all the top tools that they’re using. It’s one place that they could go in the morning, close their laptops or close their computer at night, and see how their business performed as a whole.
The payment industry has just been run for so long that exact same way, and it’s just so greedy. It’s truly a transactional world, it is as transactional as it gets. So we really did bring a completely different perspective to it. I actually started in this industry, I was a door-to-door merchant sales rep. Field sales is definitely one of the toughest jobs that any human can have. I’m so grateful for having gone through that experience because what it really taught me was the customer. I really learned the customer experience firsthand. That was something that we set out to change. It wasn’t about the transactions, it was really about the experience.
Every time that I walked into a store, I didn’t understand why they felt that way. It was all their stories, it was all the shadiness that had happened. It was a lack of transparency, they were stuck in long-term contracts. There are absolutely zero value-adds that these companies are providing, it is just take take take. When you sit down and you just ask the customers what their needs are, nobody ever sat to ask them that, and it was just a necessary evil. When in reality, payments are the heart of a small business, this is the bloodline of every single business. We all have to accept payments to make the business run, yet we treat the most important aspect of our business as a stepchild commodity. It is not treated nicely at all by even the business owner, because their experiences are so bad. Yet, you know what our transaction is? It’s the most important data, it tells us which customers are returning, which customers are loyal, how our transactions are performing month-over-month, so we can make smart educated business decisions. That’s what was missing in the industry.
In 2014, it doesn’t seem that long ago, but there were absolutely no tech players out there. You had Square emerging, you had Stripe emerging. Paypal was there, but other than that, and still even in today, that’s about it. So there was a huge opportunity for FinTech to really get into the transactions, get the data for these customers, show it in a beautiful way, and help them actually create payments with ease, but also help grow their business. So that is what Fattmerchant set out to do, I’m super proud of the company that we built. The mission of our company is literally to provide the best damn experience. There’s 123 of us, this is written all over not only our walls, this is what we stand for; we just happen to do payments.
Obviously, we are going through a really tough time as an economy. Small businesses are hurting, we are locked in, we are closed, businesses are shut down, and there was a huge payment volume decline in March by 90%. It was awful. But what we have seen over the last couple of months is things have really picked back up. I do think for any entrepreneurs out there, this is the time for us to be innovative and not really think about what is the post-COVID world or how are we going to survive COVID, but it’s really about what does this new economy look like beyond this recession. So it’s really important for us to think there and from a transactional standpoint. We just launched an incredible product that’s called Contactless, and we’re really thinking about the future of payments. I know the show is really about startups and entrepreneurs, I implore all of you to think about not just about surviving COVID, but what does your industry look like in five to 10 years?
For payments, it’s going to be contactless, we want to make transactions. Now, every business that has even a physical business must have an online component, must have a digital component. These small businesses don’t have the tools. So for us, we use this as an incredible opportunity to create more value add through our platform, through tech. We just hired another 10 developers on the team through this launch of this product. But my point being is even during the pandemic, we are at our record-breaking numbers, we’re continuing to grow. It’s not just about savings from the platform, it really is how can we support what the future of commerce looks like, and we’re at the forefront of that. So I did want to talk about that with your audience today and implore all of you to be thinking about what does this post world look like and how you can be super-innovative and create so much value that a lot of the giants aren’t thinking about today because all they’re thinking about is surviving this year.
You can follow me online at Suneera Madhani. You can also follow Fattmerchant on Instagram, and you can find us online at Fattmerchant.com. Definitely let us know that you found us on the show, and we’d love to support your business and help in any which way that we can. So that is where you can find Fattmerchant as well as me online. The fat in our name, actually it was meant to be fun, we’re supposed to make your wallet fat. But it stands for Fast Affordable Transaction Technology. So it was an acronym, but we’re also just trying to make it super fun and memorable for our businesses, because who wants to be a trans anything or a pay something.
Highlights from Dan’s Interview
I wrote an article on Donald Trump four years ago for the Atlantic Monthly magazine and they tried to set up an interview between me and Donald Trump. He was a candidate at the time not yet president, but his people said he didn’t want to do that. One of the things I do is studying people’s personality, historically. I did a book on George W. Bush two years ago, so I moved in that direction. But most of my research deals with personality development and regular people out there, studying groups, and so on.
So I would call myself pretty much center, a little bit left to center. I usually vote for Democratic candidates, although not always. In the book, however, I try to take an objective science-based approach and not let any of my political predispositions shape the argument. Now, it’s impossible to do that fully, but I did the best I could. I think that’s one of the things that makes the book unique, it is a more or less dispassionate objective evidence-based appraisal of Mr. Trump’s personality. The thesis of the book is that Trump is lacking an inner story and that that’s what makes him so unique.
So we have a term for the inner story in personality psychology, we call it a narrative identity. What that means is that most everybody walking around out there, at least adults, have stories in their minds about how they came to be and where their lives are going. These stories include memories from our pasts that are important to us, like high points and low points, and they also include our expectations for where our lives are going. So what most of us do beginning in our teenage years and after is that we construct these inner stories to connect our past, present, and future. These stories in our minds, they explain to us and others how we’ve developed over time and how we’ve changed, and they also ground us morally in the world.
There are a million different kinds of stories that people have, no one particular one is normal. So what’s normal is to have one, is to have a narrative. There are lots of different kinds, but one of the ones I study in my work is what we call redemptive stories. These are stories about overcoming suffering and adversity and coming out better than you were before; before you had the failure and the loss and so forth. That’s a big idea in people’s life stories, but there are many kinds.
Most people don’t sit around and think about their stories all day, but people have them. So when you make the big decisions in your life, like am I going to marry this person, am I going to take this job and so forth, you often consult the story in your head, and you’re often asked. So take a job interview, for example, or a college application process. People want to know, why do you want this job or why do you want to go to Northwestern University or whatever? They expect you to have a story or an account. Like, “Well, back then I did this, then I got interested in this idea, and then I developed that. We all kind of know how to do do that sort of thing.
But in the case of Trump, it’s not a story exactly, it’s mostly a statement about the world. So if you say, I’m a great person or if you say I’m a terrible person, whatever it is, that’s not a story; it’s a statement about yourself. A story would explain how you came to be that way and so forth. I’m not saying Trump can’t do this, what I’m suggesting instead is that for the most part, he’s not guided by any inner narrative about what happened yesterday or what’s going to happen tomorrow. But by contrast, he lives in the moment. That’s why I call the key idea here for him, he’s the episodic man. He lives in the moment, in the current combative scene. He’s not thinking about the past very much, he’s not thinking about the future, he’s not trying to connect it in his head. He could do that if he wanted, but he just isn’t motivated to do that. Instead, he brings it all to the moment in a ferocious and powerful way.
He has goals the same way we do in the sense that he thinks about the future in terms of what he wants to achieve, but it’s typically in the moment nonetheless. The goal every day when Mr. Trump wakes up is to win whatever the battle is. Now, of course, he wants to win an election and he knows the election is coming up. So it’s not like that’s out of his mind. But when he’s ready to go every day, it’s to fight and to win whatever that battle might be that day. There are a million different kinds of battles that he faces, but whatever it takes to win that day, he will do it or try to do it, and he will construe whatever he says that day to win that day to be the truth for that particular day. So people get really upset and they go, “Well, Trump said this yesterday and now he says that. Today he seems to contradict himself, he lies all the time.” That’s all true, but people don’t understand that from the standpoint of the episodic man, that is how you live. It’s like a boxer in the ring fighting to win for every three minute round. You’re in there, you bring it all to the moment to win the moment, whatever it takes. You go back to your seat for a minute, you wake up again for the next round. That’s the next day of Mr. Trump’s life, and that is how he lives day in and day out. I think it has been that way pretty much since young adulthood.
I think this personality can be either good or bad. It’s good in the sense that there’s probably nobody in political life at least who is more authentic than Donald Trump. The way he brings himself to the moment without worrying about yesterday or thinking about the long-term, not hiding any parts of himself, he’s all right there in your face in a primal way. People pick that up, both his friends and his foes. He has a kind of primal authenticity that really, I think, serves as a charisma for many people. But I think it depends on how you look at that. Again, his fans see that lack of a filter to be something that suggests, he tells it the way it is, he says what’s on his mind. I think, for the most part, they are right. Every once in a while, Mr. Trump will hold himself back and read the teleprompter and say what his aides want him to say. But most of the time, he’s off-script, or that is to say, he’s on his own script, which is a script to win whatever the moment is. So that can be good.
The downside, there are many downsides, but the biggest one probably is, if you’re going to be the President of the United States, it’s not effective to live in the moment. We need long-term plans and strategies and so forth, and a larger understanding of what’s going on in the world. So it can be a real problem if you’re trying to solve problems and govern and so on if you’re just living in the moment and trying to win the moment. So this has been a serious issue throughout his presidency. It was in the background, but now with the Coronavirus crisis, we see we need a long term strategy. The virus is going to be here for a long time, and Mr. Trump, he lives in the moment. So he’ll say things like, well, we might wake up tomorrow and it’ll be gone. Well, no, it’s not going to be gone. Although, that’s kind of how he lives his life, every day being a brand new day.
Moving on, narcissist, if he isn’t one then nobody is. But to define narcissism, let’s think of it as a continuum, there’s not a cutoff where suddenly you’re a narcissist or not. But it’s a general dimension in human life and it refers to motivation, that is to say, what moves you, why do you do what you do. Highly narcissistic people, they do everything to promote the self. So that’s the defining feature. In the ancient Greek myth, Narcissus, he looks at himself in the pool and he sees this beautiful young man, and he falls in love with that image. That’s the idea of a narcissistic personality, somebody who’s so in love with themselves that all they seem to be motivated by is to glorify the self. Now, to be fair, there are not too many people low in narcissism who run for public office. You have to have a healthy amount of this kind of quality to get out there, especially at the level of national politics. But still, it’s a matter of degree. Historians and psychologists have rated US presidents going back to Washington in terms of how narcissistic they rate them to be, and I think Lyndon Johnson scores really high on that dimension. So I think Trump probably sets the curve, he’s probably way out there beyond any of the others in terms of self-regard and promoting the self, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else in his motivational agenda.
A very good question here is what can we learn from what we like and dislike about Mr. Trump? I have to admit, it’s a difficult one to answer in the case of Mr. Trump. Because another main idea that runs through the book is that Donald Trump is a one-off, there aren’t many people if hardly anybody on the planet like him. This goes against my basic instincts as a personality psychologists, we always want to show that people are operating according to the laws of human nature and you can always find people that are similar to each other. But Trump is unique in bringing together the narcissism with this episodic man, having this notion of living in the moment, and there’s a number of other features that go with his personality too. I honestly cannot name another person in the world of leadership or entrepreneurship that is exactly like Donald Trump.
Sure, there are plenty of narcissistic people out there, Steve Jobs was famous for his narcissism, for better and for worse. We can talk about people who have this kind of trait or that kind of trait. But Trump is extraordinary, I think, off the charts different. I don’t see there being anybody quite like him. So it is difficult for me to derive ideas from his case that we can apply to other people. It’s almost as if he’s like a different species. I talk about this as The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump, and I emphasize the strangeness. Even people very close to him say that too. There’s a butler who has worked with him for 30 years who adores Mr. Trump, thinks he’s the greatest man on the planet. In an interview for one of the books that are very positive towards Trump, he tells the interviewer, “Here’s the first thing you have to know about Mr. Trump, everything thing about him is strange.” So it is difficult to derive general principles for somebody who’s off the charts when it comes to human nature.
In terms of leadership, Trump is what’s called a dominant leader; he exudes dominance and leads by intimidation. I describe in the book how this form of leadership is. You see it among human beings, but you see it more clearly among chimpanzees, for example. There’s lots of research on this, I haven’t done it. I’ve never met a chimp, but there’s tons of work on it. The Alpha chimp rules by intimidation. It’s actually remarkable, it’s as if chimpanzees read The Art of the Deal. They are remarkable in terms of intimidating, the Delta chimp intimidates the Beta chimp, the Beta chimp intimidates the one below him, there’s a very strict pecking order. They make deals, just like in chapter two of The Art of the Deal. They make short term contractual deals; you do this for me, I’ll do this for you. They don’t talk it out. Of course, they don’t have language, but they have ways of doing deals. Deal-making and intimidation, that’s how you get to the top in the chimpanzee world. So there is a kind of leadership there. We’ve evolved from chimps or from the common ancestor to chimps, and we have that kind of dominance perspective. We all know about it, go back to the playground when you were a kid, the biggest toughest kid oftentimes rules the roost. That kind of sheer power of intimidation is strong.
Now among political leaders, you don’t see it quite as much. Certainly, Barack Obama wasn’t out there flexing his muscles and pushing people around and intimidating people. But you need a little bit of it out there. There is something to be said for the idea that leadership involves a little bit of a fear factor, depending on what kind of domain you’re talking about. That’s probably especially true in the military and even in certain sports, for example. At the level of President, a little bit, maybe. Some presidents kick ass more than others do. Obama is probably low on that one, Obama was more on what’s called expertise leadership, which is also very common among human beings. That’s where we use brainpower, we try to get committees and experts and come to a consensus and all that, and that can be good too, maybe some sort of blend of the two. I don’t want to suggest that Mr. Trump is completely lacking as a leader. Again, I think that charisma he has, that authenticity is very powerful, and it’s a refreshing departure from what you get from most politicians. But intimidation is never enough. I think there’s a lot to be said for leaders who try to promote the well-being of others and draw upon expertise, and that is not the President’s strong suit.
But if you’re talking about the other side politically, things that are going on there are also about intimidation, because intimidation is everywhere in human nature. So let’s not say that intimidation is irrelevant, certainly, it’s out there on all sides. As a leadership tactic, I’m suggesting it’s one tool in an arsenal that a leader would have. In Mr. Trump’s case, it’s his primary tool, he doesn’t have a lot of other tools. I think we expect a leader, at that level, at least, to have a toolbox that has a lot more things in it than what Mr. Trump has in his.
Now, a big idea today in personality psychology is, can we change these parts of our personality that we don’t like? There’s one school of thought that says, you can’t do it, so give it up man. There’s a strong tradition in the field of personality that suggests that basic traits of personality, like your tendency to be extroverted versus introverted, for example, or the extent to which you are conscientious and hard-working, or the extent to which you suffer from a lot of negative emotions, something that’s called neuroticism, these are basic traits of our temperament, strongly hardwired, driven by genetic differences between people. That’s one school of thought, and I think there’s a lot of evidence for that. Having said that, however, there are features of your personality that are a little more malleable. I would say these are things like goals, values, strategies, and tactics. So there are ways you can change your habits, that you can work around the edges of some of these dispositional traits.
I think there’s something to be said for that, but I have to admit, I tend to be one of those psychologists who think people don’t change all that much; we try to oftentimes. I’m one for New Year’s resolutions, every year, I’ve got these big plans that I’m going to turn things around, and I’m sometimes a little bit successful. But if you look over the long haul on how people’s lives play out, they often think they’re making big changes in their lives. But in retrospect, when you look back, you see a continuity there in some ways. So I think you can make changes but they are more in the area of goals and values, those kinds of things. But your basic dispositional traits, those basic feeling states that you have that characterize your temperament, good luck trying to change those. Marrying a good person is about the best thing you can do if you want to change your life for the better.
But again, to be fair, people do change, sometimes in important ways and so on. It’s through social relationships, I bet that’s a big factor. So yeah, there are things that do change over time in terms of our personalities, but there’s a lot also that stays the same. In this regard, just going back to our hero here, President Trump, he’s a very interesting study in personality stability. He has not changed. One thing that changes almost everybody is becoming President of the United States. You get into that Oval Office and it’s like, Oh my god; the gravitas there, the tradition and so forth. People rise to the challenge and they play the role, they learn how to play President. Ronald Reagan is famous for this, a great actor on the screen or a pretty good actor at least. His critics would say, he’s just pretending to be president, he’s playing president. I know, he’s got it down, he’s got the role. But Donald Trump, he never did it. Donald Trump plays Donald Trump, he has one role all the time. The presidency hasn’t changed him.
I don’t do much by way of social media, but I have a website at Northwestern University. So you just go to Northwestern University or just google Dan McAdams and you get straight to my website for my research. The book is called The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump: A Psychological Reckoning. It’s widely available in ebook also and audible and all those other ways to read books or listen to books.