We’re no strangers to profiling successful SaaS CEOs and founders here on the Fusebill blog. It wasn’t until I started writing a recent article on women in SaaS, however, that I realized we’d never profiled a female founder in the time I’d been with the business.
This wasn’t intentional, of course. In an industry so male-dominated, it's an easy (though unfortunate) oversight. That’s why I’m so excited about today’s article.
Less than 2% of female business founders ever hit $1 million in revenue.
Suneera Madhani, CEO and founder of payments technology company, Stax, smashed that glass ceiling. Not only that, she reached a valuation of over $1B on International Women’s Day this year.
To mark the end of Women’s History Month, I got to chat with Madhani, fintech’s newest unicorn. Here’s how she started and scaled Stax, and how she’s empowering other women to have it all.
Building Stax (and stacks on stacks)
Early in her career, Madhani worked as a door-to-door sales rep selling payment terminals out of her old Volkswagen Beetle. This was when she got the idea to revolutionize the payments industry.
In 2014, she founded Stax—though its name has gone through a few iterations since then—with her brother, Sal Rehmetullah.
Though the company is experiencing tremendous growth today, like most now-successful businesses, this wasn’t always the case. Madhani views the early challenges she and Rehmetullah faced as essential learning experiences that ultimately helped them succeed.
“There are so many [challenges] I could’ve saved myself from, but at the same time we wouldn’t be where we are if we didn’t have to go through that roadblock—and that is entrepreneurship,” she says. “Every entrepreneur faces the same challenges in different capacities, levels, and at different times. The real work begins when you show up every day to surpass it.”
And show up she did, finding the perfect structure to create business growth.
"When it comes to growing and scaling, there's a simple framework that I follow. It all comes down to the five Ps in the following order: power, people, product, process, and profit,” Madhani said.
She feels that one of those Ps—people—has been particularly instrumental in her success. It’s precisely because of her team, she believes, that she has been able to get where she is today.
“I've been able to hire and bring on the most incredible talent,” says Madhani. “It's because I bring people based on values and not competency. The people here at Stax are incredible humans.”
It’s not about doing “all of the things”
Most tech founders start off working on the ground floor of their own businesses, sleeves rolled up and getting their hands dirty. As the business scales, the role of the founder evolves to be more strategic and high-level.
Madhani says, “As you're continuing to grow your company, there's so many different things that you have to continually shift to reprioritize. And there are a million things to do, but it's not about doing all of the things. It's about doing the right things.”
In fact, one of the Stax employee core values is ‘get the right stuff done’. That means recognizing that there’s no point in doing work just to be busy; it’s more important to strategically complete tasks.
Now, Madhani starts each day by writing out her ‘needle movers’, or the three most important things that she has to get done that day.
“Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster,” she notes, “and you have to have a different mindset to be able to operate every single day at that level. It's so high pressure. And so, having that relentless drive, but also working on yourself from a mindset standpoint to be able to take on all the things that are coming your way, that's a huge piece of it.”
Helping other women take their seats at the table
“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,” Madhani says.
After first hearing how rarely female founders hit the $1 million revenue mark, Madhani made it her mission to change the statistic. She launched CEO School, now a top 100 podcast and community for entrepreneurs and female leaders to empower each other and grow together. That community has grown to one of over 150k women.
“We need more women joining the conversation when it comes to building better products, services, and businesses for the people we serve,” she says. “Women are more likely to be inclusive and build highly efficient, high-performing teams. In fact, private tech companies led by women achieve 35% higher ROI and outperform companies founded by men.”
The average CEO is white, male, and middle-aged. As the 30-something-year-old daughter of Pakistani immigrants, Madhani is none of the above. For Stax, this is likely a very good thing.
The diversity of thought that comes with having a diversity of backgrounds in a company—especially at the leadership level—is proven to make businesses more successful. Companies with diverse leadership report an average of 45% in innovation revenue, while companies with below-average diversity levels report just 26%.
This diversity of thought may encourage less traditional (and potentially more successful) solutions for overcoming any given challenge.
It’s about how you overcome the roadblocks
Acknowledging that entrepreneurship is a roadblock-filled path for most regardless of background, Madhani advises aspiring business founders to accept challenges as part of the process. At the same time, your mindset and the people you surround yourself with can make it easier.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” she says, circling back to the second of her five Ps. "What matters at the end of the day is that we all have the same value alignment. And so, if you have a team that's operating from the same place of value alignment, it is operating at the highest level to go achieve your mission.
“That's exactly what we've done for eight years as a team. And when you zoom out and you look at that…the results then speak for themselves.”