People and Companies

Business Leaders of the Year 2016 – Suneera Madhani

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Market disruption is all about taking a transformative idea from concept to realization and delivering it to customers. Few in this area have been as disruptive as Suneera Madhani, CEO of FattMerchant, in bringing a revolutionary idea into the market. The market her company targeted was the credit card processing industry, and her product came out of both inspiration and frustration, but has been wildly successful.

As a young girl, Madhani moved around a lot, attending 10 different schools in 12 years. That all changed when she moved to Orlando. “This is where, for the first time, I felt I had roots. That’s why I’m passionate about Orlando, about growing the community. This is the first place I genuinely called home and felt like I belonged,” she shared.

A scholarship took her to the University of Florida, with a major in business finance and a minor in leadership. After graduation, she headed for the corporate world. “I didn’t think I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but rather to rise through the corporate ranks. But I found there were some things that bothered me about working for a major corporation.  I was essentially a serial number on the back of a laptop. Plus, I hated what I was selling, so there was no alignment or passion. Regardless of how much money I was making, I knew I wasn’t where I belonged.”

Madhani had her entrepreneurial epiphany when she went to work for a merchant services company and proposed an innovative approach to her new bosses: charge a flat subscription rate for processing cards and eliminate the labyrinth of fees. Her proposal was greeted with less than enthusiasm, basically “Who is this 25-year-old upstart?”

Madhani knew that large retailers or restaurant chains could negotiate fees, but small businesses didn’t have that kind of leverage. The attitude, according to Madhani was, “This is how the industry works, so it is just accepted and a handful of companies completely control the market.”

The direct costs are posted by the card brands, but the processing companies or merchant services charge fees on top of that, usually a percentage, along with a host of other fees. “My generation loves transparency and we said, ‘Instead of charging all these variable costs, why don’t we just charge a flat monthly membership fee?’”

It was her brother, Sal Rehmetullah, working for Deloitte at the time, who confirmed this idea had merit and proposed that they should start a company of their own. “We not only wanted to simplify the process, but also provide business owners with the technology to help them grow their business,” she said.

Astronomical is the operative word to describe the growth and development of the company they launched in 2014. Madhani quit her job and Rehmetullah joined her six months later. The name “FattMerchant” was intended to be memorable, along with being an acronym for Fast, Affordable, Transaction, and Technology.

Focusing their business model on four verticals — retail, restaurants, healthcare and professional services, with the latter being their fastest growing sector—FattMerchant continues to drive innovation and gain market share.

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