Recruiting Women for Flexible & Fair Financial Services
Conversation with Samantha Ettus, Founder & CEO, Park Place Investments
Recruiting Women for Flexible & Fair Financial Services
December 18, 2019
1. What problem is your business solving and/or how is your business making life better? What is your product?
For the past decade I’ve been helping women find a work-life balance where they can reach both their professional and personal potential. But there was one group of women I couldn’t help: those who had left the workplace and wanted to return. There’s actually less than a 50% chance women who have taken just two years off will ever work full-time again. These former professionals with so much talent often start selling makeup, skincare and clothing to their friends, but these consumer product sales roles don’t boost their resume or skill set.
At the same time, I had discovered a gap in the credit card processing industry. Not many people know about this piece of running a business – but it’s crucial. Payment processing is the intermediary between a business and the credit card companies, like Visa, Mastercard or American Express. The industry is male dominated and is designed to be hard for small businesses to navigate due to the lack of clarity around the fees and products. After researching the sales process, I felt there was room for a new player with transparent rates, a professional salesforce, and exceptional customer service. I also saw how this type of commission-driven sales role to local businesses could be ideal for anyone looking for flexibility who also held deep community ties.
I designed Park Place to be a launching pad for women whether they want to boost their earnings or want to get back into corporate America. Being an account executive at a financial services company is legitimate, resume boosting work experience. These women are gaining sales skills while building a portfolio of clients and earning recurring revenue.
2. What obstacles have you overcome as you have been working on your solution?
There is definitely a barrier to entry with having to navigate an industry I haven’t worked in. I raised a round of funding because I needed to hire a talented team of experts in payment processing. That one seed round allowed me to poach people from other companies in the industry who I had my eye on. Now I’m surrounded by this incredible team that has more than 50 years of payments expertise.
Because Park Place has a salesforce of people from outside the industry, one of our main goals is to make it turnkey for them to get up and running. One way we do this is by giving our newly minted account executives a tool called a “payment check-up” which helps businesses compare their current pricing, technology and service to ours. Our back office then puts together a savings analysis and a presentation that the account executive presents to the prospect.
It turns out that payment processing is a necessary part of running a business that owners do not enjoy. So, when we offer a “check-up,” we eliminate a headache. The business owners find out if there is room for improvement in their customer care and their rates, and they don’t feel cheated because we are so transparent. It’s less about sales and more about the account executives directly helping these businesses learn and grow.
The idea is that we have top performers in every zip code in the United States. They are kind of like the payments mayors of their own towns. They know all the local businesses, they know the fabric of Main Street, they go to chamber of commerce meetings, they become a pillar of their community. And they do it all between drop-off and pick-up. We have people who work for us four hours a week and others working forty hours a week. Obviously the more time you spend, the more successful you will be.
3. What are some metrics or milestones that are important to your product?
There are a few metrics that I am focused on, mainly just overall growth. We have a very, very low attrition rate. I don’t think anyone in our industry has a lower attrition rate than we do. We always want to be adding accounts and not losing them. That’s an easy metric for us to focus on. The other thing we are laser focused on is growing our account executive team.
Right now we have just over 100 account executives, next year we’ll have 1,000. One thing we do when someone joins the team is give them a “forever number” and our vision is that at the annual conference in a couple of years people will look at each other’s name tags and be like, “You were number 81? What was it like in the beginning?!”
Our main measurables are account executive growth, merchant growth, and the number of payment check-ups we review. We also do a lot of contests, like this quarter we launched a vacation giveaway for a four-day trip to Mexico.
It’s funny, because I remember early in my career, my boss launched a “Dial for Dollars” contest and I huffed and puffed because I didn’t think I needed a contest to motivate me and thought it was just offensive. Then what happened? Of course, I made all the calls and won the contest because I am so competitive. Sales people thrive on competition.
4. How have advice and external partnerships impacted your business decisions?
We have a partnership with Forbes Business School which is part of Ashford University. I am on the board of the business school. We also have partnerships with organizations targeted towards female business owners and female employees. And our Account Executives are building out local partnerships with merchant and business associations. We are always actively seeking new partnerships.
5. What tools have you used to grow professionally?
I really feel that my biggest strength is my network and my relationships.
I have a really strong team behind me but sometimes I feel that my business grows faster when I am not in the office because that means I am out in the field bringing in relationships. Whether it’s with potential merchants, future account executives or media, I have a team that knows how to execute on leads. My job as CEO is to be out and about.
But I also have a family and three children so I have to find the right balance. I try to network a few nights a week, at book parties or events or get togethers, just to spread the word because we are still in growth mode. I know how important networking is. When I tell people about Park Place I can see their excitement.
6. What are some business successes you’ve had that make you proud?
Putting together a strong executive team is one of my biggest accomplishments so far. It really is a “dream team.” I have all of these amazing people around me and we are all focused on the same goal.
My other great success was closing my first round of seed funding this spring where we raised $1 million from seasoned angel investors. I quickly realized that men control the money. It was such a learning experience for me.
I even had one guy approach me to say that he was concerned because I have a lot of people in my life counting on me. He was questioning if I actually had what it took to be an entrepreneur. If I was a man, he probably wouldn’t have ever said that to me. He was really saying, “You’re a mom of three, are you sure you can handle it?”
Initially my goal was to raise this entire round from women and people of color. In the end I am very proud of the investor group I put together which includes more than half of women and a number of people of color. It’s a great group.
In July, we also launched our business on Maria Bartiromo’s FOX Business show. It was such an accomplishment. We are this little company and I keep thinking about how we are able to do so much, just like “The Little Engine that Could.”
7. What are some of your current challenges?
I like to move at the speed of light. Every night when I go to sleep I wish our company was growing 10 times faster. So my biggest challenge is to be more patient. That and just realizing that every day we are going to trip and fall and we need to get back up and keep going. It can be hard to weather all the highs and lows and stay confident. But it’s important to remember that as long as we are growing in the right direction, that’s all that matters.
As I slow down, my main focus is to build an awesome team of account executives and elevate our training. It’s all about hiring the right people who have ambition, who want to be financially independent, and who want to take advantage of the team behind them.
8. Is your business impacted or helped by government regulations?
The actual credit card companies are highly regulated, but the payment processing part is not regulated. It has a history of being a lot like used car sales, so it’s easy for us to make big waves with a small change like a transparent rate card.
We give merchants the best rate we can along with a technology recommendation and top service and then they can decide if it makes sense for them to switch. It’s amazing to be in an established industry that just hasn’t changed in so long, it’s easy to disrupt it because even the smallest changes are a disruption.
9. What was the best and worst piece of advice you have received as you were starting your business?
That you have to be willing to pivot fast. One of the great things about having a young company is that you can be nimble. That means changing course if something isn’t working.
Having this company has taught me how important it is to trust my decisions and keep moving and not to get caught up in things. If there are ever any politics, I just keep my eye on the ball and move forward.
I grew up as a competitive tennis player and never before have I seen so many similarities to my life as a child athlete. In tennis, if you hit a great shot and stand there admiring it, you’ll miss the next shot. Similarly if you miss a backhand and you stand there beating yourself up about it, you’re also going to miss the next one.
For me, being a good entrepreneur is about realizing that if I have success I have to keep facing forward to see what is coming next and if something goes wrong, I still have to keep facing forward with my eye on my goals.
10. What are your personal or leadership goals for the next five years?
I’m focused on my account executives. When they are successful, we are all successful. I want our Account Executives to achieve their financial goals, and when a majority of them have done that then I will feel like I have achieved what I set out to do.
11. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
Our ultimate goal is to have between 10,000-12,000 account executives. I want to build a strong salesforce of people who have been on the sidelines, and I want to change who controls the money in this country.
We want to empower women to invest in their own lives or work harder to reach their professional potential. Just because someone gets married or has children doesn’t mean the fire inside them dies.
Conversation Date: December 3, 2019
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