Mike Nardy is the founder of one of the fastest-growing companies in the country, yet most people have never heard of him or his outfit, Electronic Payments--a credit-card processor. The company essentially acts as middle men between merchants and credit card companies like Visa (NYSE: V) and Mastercard (NYSE: MC), charging a small percentage for each transaction. But with 40 million transactions annually, the change adds up and this startup is making quite a name for itself, even if it is under the radar.
Nardy, who grew up in Southampton, N.Y., says from the time he was young, he was a computer nerd. But as it became increasingly cool to be tech-savvy (think dotcom boom), he took advantage; starting an online auction site when he was in college. The web site didn’t last, but he came out of the experience with a valuable lesson: Businesses from far and wide need credit-card processing.
In 2004 he borrowed $20,000 at his local bank as a line of credit and went from there, buying his own processing software to do everything in house. He says he started small, focusing mostly on the local economy in his hometown. He is a proud graduate of Boston College, but he says the degree wasn’t necessarily helpful to starting a business.
Instead, “it’s on the job training,” he said. “Every day you work and learn stuff that is brand new to you and I never learned anything in school that would help me to this point.”
Still, he must be doing something right. The growth of the company has been exceptional; it is schedule to make $40 million in revenue this year. He says taking on debt initially was good for business.
“By borrowing some money I was able to grow the business and give bonuses and promotions, which has really helped a lot,” he said.
Today, Nardy is debt free and forging ahead with over 400 agents nationwide selling the Electronic Payments network to businesses all over the country.
But even though his company covers a wide scope, Nardy says he steers clear from just being another voice on the other end of the phone by keeping a local feel to his business.
“When we bring on sales agents, we really look for people who want to work with local customers, who want to go down to the local pizza shop and drop off papers and work just in their communities.”
Six Shooter Q&A with Mike Nardy of Electronic Payments
1. What are your three biggest tips to entrepreneurs looking to make it in technology?
There are so many different avenues to get into in technology. Look at the iPhone and all the startup companies that were created just to develop apps for those devices. Before iPhone, these companies didn’t exist. Now they are some of our fastest growing businesses in software. The software behemoths like Oracle or Microsoft don’t really startup anymore. It’s the small “micro-software” companies and there are literally thousands of them. The lesson from this is there are opportunities in all areas of technology – you just need to be open to seeing a challenge and taking it on. For entrepreneurs of any kind, stick to it and have a plan. A plan can be as simple as a 1 page loose-leaf paper with a series of numbered steps or goals written down on it. But if you have a plan and can visualize where you are going, you’ll have much more success than by winging it. And definitely pay yourself. Sweat equity is nice and is a reward in and of itself, but it doesn’t make your car payment. You must pay yourself a wage and keep that wage in line with your growth. Only public companies should have CEOs making a salary of $1 per year!
2. In three words, how would others describe you?
I think honest, fair and decisive.
3. Who is your biggest inspiration?
I've always been inspired by Bill Gates. When I was younger, I actually wrote him a letter return receipt requested. The return receipt came back, but it was probably signed by a secretary’s secretary. What inspires me when I look at his history is the growth of his business and the far-reaching connection his company’s product had between consumer and business. What further intrigues me is his ability to step away from the company he created and grew in order to pursue charitable giving. It shows us that there is not one job you’ll have for life and you can constantly re-invent and retool, changing positions within a company and even embarking on new adventures in other arenas.
4. What do you say to people who tell you your business is boring?
I agree with them, mostly. I would say, however, that I find banking boring. I would never want to process loan or mortgage applications all day, every day. We all migrate into careers and jobs that we find interesting or challenging. My company facilitates payments between merchants and their customers by using the tool of the credit or debit card. It’s not glamorous or high-profile. Most of the time outsiders don’t really “get” what we do. But it’s a daily challenge and for me, it’s exciting that our company can be such an integral part of commerce across the country.
5. What is your favorite thing to do outside of work?
I play tennis and enjoy the beautiful area where I have the privilege of living. I have taken up motorcycle riding and enjoy riding early in the morning when the sun has just risen and the overnight fog is burning off. There’s less traffic on the road and the smell of salt water hits your face as you ride. It’s the epitome of freedom. Last year, I also competed in my first Olympic distance triathlon. I like to seek out and take on new challenges.
6. Why is it important to stay local, even when your business is national? How do you do it?
When companies lose touch with their clients, they become an unimportant (and easily changeable) vendor. We strive to treat all customers as if we would be eating at their restaurant or buying shoes at their sports store later today. If you treat your customers like you live in their same small-town community, then you will provide a higher level of service to that customer and cultivate a stronger relationship. Customers are your #1 asset and if you treat them as a depreciable asset like real estate instead of just a revenue stream, you’ll do whatever you can to keep the quality of that asset growing strong – you’ll fix the roof, mow the lawn, paint the walls, etc. In our business, attrition (losing customers) is a natural part of the industry, but you can easily lower your attrition rate by going the extra mile with your customers. Developing a sales force (ours is over 400 independent agents nationwide) that mirrors those corporate philosophies is a surefire way to build a successful national operation.
Christina is on Twitter @ChristinaScotti