August 12

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Sam Ettus On How Nothing Will Stop Her From Building A Billion-Dollar Business

By Mimi MacLean

August 12, 2021


Sam Ettus headshot
Samantha Ettus, founder of PPP

Sam Ettus is the true Badass entrepreneur. She is a five-time best-selling author, a public speaker, and podcast host of the What's Her Story podcast, but one public speaking event inspired Samto to start Park Place Payments. Park Place Payments is a female-founded credit card processing company that is disrupting the status quo of the credit card industry. The male-dominated industry has never focused on customer service or women, and she is here to do that with PPP. Sam explains why nothing will stop her from making this a billion-dollar company and how you can do it too.

Episode Contents

Mimi:
Today we have Sam Ettus. She is a total badass. She has three kids. She's written five books. She's the founder of Park Place Payments and the host of the What's Her Story podcast, where she shares the stories of inspiring women with her friend and fellow female entrepreneur, Amy Riveter. Sam founded Park Place Payments as a way to fundamentally change the experience business owners have with their payments. A female-founded, female-focused company, PPP works to ease the struggle women face in the workforce, the lack of diversity, and the poor customer service rampant in the business world. So I am excited to bring her on, to talk about her story. To get your Top 10 Tips Every Entrepreneur Should Know, go to badassceo.com/tips.

Sam, thank you so much for coming on today. I really appreciate it. I can't wait to dive into your newest adventure, Park Place, and I love your story of how you came up with the idea.

Sam:
Yeah, so I was on book tour for my last book, which came out over four years ago, and the book, The Pie Life was all about how women can thrive professionally and personally at the same time and never have to make a choice between their career and their personal life. And the one group of women that I couldn't help were the ones who left the workforce and wanting to get back in but found very few opportunities. And a lot of them were stuck selling for multi-level marketing companies, most of them not making any real money, and a lot of them losing money. So cut to 10 years ago, I do a lot of public speaking and I'd been on a trip, it was like a boondoggle trip for the top guys in the payment processing industry, an industry I knew nothing about and basically any business that accepts credit cards has this middleman between American Express, MasterCard, Visa, and the business.

Whether they're a dry cleaner or a sports team or a dermatologist, they have a middleman. And the middleman at the time was 30,000 white men, and when I was on the trip and I said to these guys, "Where the women? Where are the people of color?" They kind of had laughed at me and said, "There are none." And I thought, okay, I'm very competitive. I was an athlete as a kid. I'm going to come back and crush these guys one day, but I thought I'd do it when I was like 60 or 70. Then when I'd been on a book tour and met all these women, I thought, hold on, what if I could train these women, who are so impressive and have incredible backgrounds, to sell payment processing to their local communities? Their kids' pediatrician and their dentists and their hair salon and their yoga studio.

I spent 2018 testing the model. We went to six different cities and we trained former teachers and flight attendants and doctors and people in every different field you can imagine seeing if they could be successful selling financial services to their local community, and based on that success, Park Place Payments was born.

Payment Processing and How She Raised Capital

Sam Ettus on New Entrepreneurs

Mimi:
That's a great story. So how did you begin to even learn about payment processing?

Sam:
Well, I'd had a front-row seat do it for a while because my husband had started a company in the Fintech space a long time ago called OnDeck, which did loans for small businesses and I was actually that company's first cold caller, I hired their first salespeople and I named the company. So I was very involved at the beginning of that company. So I've been very, I guess, around it for a long time. And also I've always been a huge believer in hiring around you. So I didn't need to be an expert in payments, I needed to be an expert in understanding how to disrupt the industry, how to hire great people, and how to motivate a sales team and recruit all of these account executives, and that was kind of my thing.

I hired a head of merchant support who'd been in the industry for 30 years. She built out a team. I hired around me for the things I didn't know, and I think that, that… It's funny. If you look at entrepreneurs, most entrepreneurs didn't have expertise in the specific thing they go into, but when you're an entrepreneur, it's like if you even open a wine store because you're passionate about wine, wine is going to be such a small portion of what you're thinking about every day. You're dealing with inventory and you're dealing with insurance and legal and all that stuff. So no matter what kind of entrepreneur you are, you have to deal with so many of the things that every business has to deal with. And then in terms of the expertise, that's probably the easiest gap to fill because you can hire around you.

Mimi:
So that sounds amazing plan, but it also is, I think expensive, right? Hiring people to wind up being expensive in the beginning. So how did you do that? Did you have to seek funding or did you give them equity? How did you kind of get all these great people in that have the expertise?

Sam:
Yeah. So the first thing I did was to raise an angel round of funding. So we raised a million dollars in 2019. And because we were a woman-owned company in a space that's all men, we got a ton of press for it. And so we launched on Maria Bartiromo's show and it was kind of off to the races in terms of starting to recruit our account executives. The unique thing about us is that we recruit account executives, just like the same people who might sell BeautyCounter, Avon, or Rodan & Fields. We recruit that same kind of person, but we don't charge anything for training. All of our training is free. We do all of our training online. And so anyone who's ambitious can just start earning recurring revenue as soon as they start selling. So it was definitely the recruiting has and continues to go really, really well.

I think that when you start a company, as you said Mimi, there's always so much capital you need because you never hire enough people and you never have enough resources. So we actually ended up doing the seed round we just finished a couple of months ago, and that was a one and a half million dollar round. And then we'll probably start our series A in a few months. So yeah. So we really definitely rely on capital. I don't believe that you can shrink your way to glory. A lot of people who were advising me told me not to raise money because this is a very unique business. It's a cash cow business, right? Every month we just keep growing because every time we get another account, it's more money we process. And we just started making money right away from the beginning. So because of that, it's typically not an industry that's venture backed or that's backed by outside capital. But I really wanted to build a rocket ship, not a cruise ship, and to do that, I really felt like we needed an injection of capital. But most people will advise, as an entrepreneur, will say to you, "Do not give up equity. It's not worth it." But I really wanted to grow fast and to do that, we needed outside cash.

Mimi:
But you make it sound like it was easy to get this capital. I think it's much harder than it typically is for… Why would you say most people were… Is it because you had the experience with Fintech or do you think it was because you're already an entrepreneur or is it the idea?

Sam:
It's a combination of things. First of all, I would not say it's easy to raise money. It was never easy. But I'm someone who… I'll go through a brick wall to get something done. And I think that it's all… It's just like sales. It's just like the same thing where I'll talk to an account executive and they really want to make it work, and they've had five bad conversations and they give up. Well, that's not how it works. You have to have a hundred conversations to get 10 sales. It's same thing with raising money. If I had a bad conversation, I just keep going and keep going and keep going. Or if I have someone who ghosts me or isn't interested or whatever, I keep pursuing a new outlet and there's an endless number of investors, it's just making sure that you continue to approach them.

Sam:
I also feel like in general, I've always been a cold caller. I don't mind picking up the phone or sending a cold email or reaching out to someone to set a meeting. I think that it's really, really important to continue to do that, even in the age of technology. People really appreciate when you reach out to them. I mean, think of how little your cell phone rings, right? Everyone texts you, everyone emails you, but it doesn't ring as often as it used to. But when it does ring, you often pick up because you're like, oh my gosh, my phone is ringing. So I think that a lot of times it's a matter of just picking up the phone. Now I'm not going to say that I don't have bad days where I'm like, oh my God, I want to throw in the towel.

Sam:
This is never going to work. I got four rejections in a row. Like that happens, and then you just don't call anyone the rest of the day. You make that, I used to call it a filing day, but you make that a clear inbox day or whatever, or maybe read a book and then the next day you pick up again. And I think it's just a matter of realizing that this is not personal, it's business, and the rejections could be for any host of reasons. It could be the person got distracted by their life and started focusing on other things. It could be that they don't like that specific business. It could be that you remind them of their ex-wife. Whatever it is, there's an endless number of reasons and it's usually not personal.

Mimi:
I love that you said that, because I think that's the biggest takeaway I have learned from sales, when I started doing sales, is don't take it personally. We all do it. We might want something or need something, right now we just can't focus on it, and it has nothing to do with the person who is offering it to you or even the idea. It's just kind of the timing of things. Sometimes you have to keep going back. So I love that you brought that up. That's great. I would love to dial back and go back to you writing your book. How did that happen? If you could talk a little bit about your story of being an entrepreneur and bringing that book to life.

Sam:
Yeah. I mean, it's funny because I really do tell people that writing a book, for me, it's more like a hobby. Very, very few people are making money from books. So books continue to build your platform, but they're not how you make money. So for me, people are always like, are you going to write another book? And I've written five books. And I feel like I will only reward myself with the sort of luxury of writing another book once I make Park Place Payments into a billion dollar company. I have to make it hugely successful before I allow myself to write another book. I have to stay focused. But my first four books, I was running a personal branding firm that I'd started out of business school and we represented CEOs and experts in different fields. And there were always a bunch of experts that I was fascinated by, kind of the people that would be the next Rachel Ray or the next Susie Orman.

Sam:
And they couldn't afford our services. So I came up with this idea that allowed me to still work with them, which was The Experts' Guide to 100 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do. So I was always very well-educated, but I didn't have a lot of the basics on the way to adulthood. I always felt like I was never taught how to sew a button or iron a shirt, or write the perfect note or set a formal table. So I thought, what if you could go to the world's leading experts and have them each write a chapter on their area of expertise? So I started cold calling. So this is back… My cold calling spans a lot of years. So I started cold calling the world's leading experts in all of these different fields and asking them to write a chapter on their area of expertise. And then once I would get a couple of names, like I think Frédéric Fekkai was the first big name I got, and he did a great chapter on how to wash your hair, because we all know how to wash our hair, but if you hear Frédéric Fekkai talk about it as an expert, it's quite interesting. It's only 500 words and it's the cliff notes on that.

Mimi:
I love it. It's a great idea.

Sam:
So based on that, I was able to keep going. In that first book, I mean embarrassingly enough, but Donald Trump wrote how to negotiate and Susie Orman wrote how to save money and Bobby Flay wrote how to barbecue and it was every expert you could think of within that book. And then based on that book, and that was back when you actually could make a ton of money from books, I ended up with another three book deal with Random House, and that actually was such a big deal that I decided I was going to close my personal branding firm and focus on the books and have babies and books. That was my focus. So I did three babies and four books in that time, and then once that was done, I mean, I'm very ambitious and it just wasn't enough for me and I really missed working with CEOs and I really miss working with women, especially.

Sam:
So I went back to working with women and realized that you really couldn't help women with their personal brands or with what was going on at work without addressing the elephant in the room, which was how they were managing their personal lives. I felt like so many women felt like they had to choose whether they could work or be a parent and men didn't have to make that choice or never felt even pressured to make that choice. I realized that there was no positive framework for how to think about managing your professional and personal life. There was Ann Marie Slaughter, who was like, you can't have it all. It was all very negative. It was like the image of the woman juggling, the hurried woman with like a laptop and a baby in her lap. And the bottom line is you can't juggle, you can't have a conference call with a baby in your lap and feel successful. It's not going to happen. So it's all about how you manage your time and your resources. And I thought, what if you could have a positive framework for doing it? Then fewer women would leave the workforce or feel like they had to. So that was how The Pie Life was born, which was my last book, which came out in 2016. And that was sort of what set me on this journey.

Mimi:
That's great. And then also, if you could just touch on your newest venture too, with the podcast which you're doing.

Sam:
So I launched a podcast, it's actually owned by Park Place, so I don't want to do anything that's not sort of going to further the mission of Park Place. So actually our podcast, I launched it with Amy Nelson, who's the founder of The Riveter, and she and I jointly started this podcast and it is owned by The Riveter and Park Place Payments. And basically we got a deal with iHeart to do 48 episodes of our podcast, where we interview remarkable women from Gloria Steinem to Abby Wambach to Soledad O'Brien. We just interviewed this week, attorney general Maura Healey. So we try to bring the untold stories of remarkable women and tease out the stories you won't hear anywhere else. It's really helped us actually at Park Place. It's helped us with recruiting. We've got a bunch of new account executives who listen to our podcast. It's called What's Her Story with Sam and Amy, and a lot of the listeners have turned into account executives.

Mimi:
Wow that's great.

Sam:
So it's actually really served a great purpose in that way, and then it also serves a great purpose just in terms of inspiring our account executives and also expanding the network for Park Place and for The Riveter. I mean, we've interviewed so many amazing CEOs, from Mindy Grossman, CEO of Weight Watchers, to Cindy Eckert, who launched the equivalent of female Viagra. So we get to interview a lot of incredible leaders.

Hiring Practices, Errors & Managing Expectations

sam ettus at a panel

Mimi:
That's great, and it's a great way to promote your business as well. What would you say looking back on the past couple of years since you started Park Place, what have you learned? I know you were already kind of very entrepreneurial, but is there something you wish you knew when you started that you now know?

Sam:
I mean, I definitely made some hiring errors along the way. I think that it's super important to hire for attitude over expertise. If you have a great resume, but the person's negative, it's never going to go well. I also have learned that… We have a Salesforce of all 1099s, so that's a very different kind of Salesforce than a W2 Salesforce, where you can give people quotas and have hold them accountable. So it requires a different kind of person to lead that Salesforce. So we just brought on a person to run our Salesforce who's amazing, but she's from outside the industry. She comes from Avon where she was managing 100,000 reps and she runs our Salesforce now and that's a very different kind of person than who I thought I originally needed. I received a lot of advice from people who said, "You have to hire from the industry. You need to hire someone with 20 years of experience in payment processing." And that's just not true.

Sam:
Our formulas, we do all the heavy lifting for our account executives, so all they do is start conversations. We create all of their presentations and then once they present and the account says yes, we do all of the boardings, we do all the merchant support, we do all of the heavy liftings. So the only thing required of our account executives is starting conversations and presenting the proposals that we create. So because of that, it really doesn't require a ton of payments expertise. It requires an understanding of how this person thinks, and what's going to be most supportive for them and their success as an account executive.

Mimi:
That's true. So from your experience, I'm sure you're familiar with the statistic that only 1.7% of female CEOs ever reached a million dollars in sales, which obviously you've already become one of that 1.7%. What do you think is the reason why that number is so low?

Sam:
One is expectations. I think that it's the expectations we have of ourselves. We have a confidence crisis in America, I think there's a confidence crisis among women. You and I can spot a confident woman a mile away, but a lot of people don't have that inner confidence, and I think that holds them back. I also think that our system is still rigged a little bit against women's success. I think that if you are in a relationship where you were expected to do 90% of the housework and the childcare, it doesn't matter even if you hire around you, if you hire a housekeeper, if you hire a nanny, even if you can afford those things, the kids still want you, and you're still the one who is doing 90% of the work.

Unless you have an egalitarian relationship at home, you are not going to suddenly reach your professional potential. And I think that we don't talk enough about that, that unless you have equality at home, you don't have quality at work. And that bleeds into so many things. Statistics show if you have a male boss, who is married to a stay-at-home mom, then you are in a worse position as a woman, than if you had a boss who was married to a working mom because of the biases that creep into their management style affects the people that report to them. I give that example not because it applies to entrepreneurs, but because these sort of systemic issues in our society just contribute to so many different things, and so you have to be set up at home to succeed as an entrepreneur.

So you have to make sure you are either single or partnered with someone who believes in your mission and your value and your contribution, and then you have to really treat it as like, this is what I'm focused on. You have to be resilient because you're going to get rejected all the time. You're going to get no's all the time. You're going to have speed bumps constantly, and you just have to keep ongoing.

I think that things are changing for women, but not fast enough. Even just venture-backed female companies went down in 2020 from 2019. I have all sorts of theories as to why, but those are grim statistics and I think that we need to see more women helping women. We have a women-owned payment processing company. I try all the time to hire women-owned companies for everything we do.

It's not always possible, but I always try to hire women-owned companies. So I feel like one of our unique selling propositions that we haven't actually focused on yet is women-owned businesses. Why wouldn't you want to go with a women-owned payment processing company? It's not just because of our service, but we are a mission-based company, and I think that a lot of times we could probably do better at supporting each other as women, but it also requires us to just realize that we're not women entrepreneurs, we're entrepreneurs, and you want to do business with people who are going to respect you and appreciate the fact that you are just as driven as the man next door.

Sam Ettus on Juggling It All as A Female Entrepreneur

Mimi:
That's so true. What advice would you give any woman who's listening, who's an entrepreneur? As far as juggling, because I know you have three kids. Are there any tips to balance it all? What would be your main takeaway besides getting your partner on board, what you were just talking about? What's your trick? Do you have an app in the morning? Is there any kind of things that you've saved a lot of time where you're like, okay, every woman needs to be doing this and they're not doing it as far as just mainstreaming or managing their day-to-day life?

Sam:
Well, so my husband and I have a very strong division of labor in terms of who makes the appointments, who do the forms, who are doing playdates, all of that stuff is a very strict division of labor, so that definitely helps. But we just talked about that, I think. The other thing is that it's really important, especially if you're an entrepreneur, that you live your life as though you are a commuter at a corporate company. If you're a commuter at a corporate company, you have to catch the 8:00 AM train, you have to be on the 5:15 home, whatever it is. You are not saying yes to shepherding the field trip every time someone drops out. You're not saying yes to picking up the gift for your mom because your sister works as a corporate attorney. I think that a lot of times when we're entrepreneurs, it's like death by a thousand cuts all day long.

All of these decisions every day, you could do all these things, but you have to protect your time really, really strongly. So you have to have those boundaries around your time, just as if you were reporting to a corporate job. And I think that's very hard to do as an entrepreneur. I'm at my desk at 8:00 AM. I'm doing what I need to do every single day. But by the way, I'm also a big believer in being part of all the slices of your life. So I've eliminated the guilt out of my life, which is a huge time suck for a lot of women. There's no reason to feel guilty, be proud of what you do. One of the best ways to do that is to share your work with your children. Tell them what you did today.

Tell them about the person you interviewed on your podcast, tell them about the sale you made. Whatever that is, your kids become proud of your work if they see that you are proud of it. If you exhibit guilt in front of them or apologize for your work, they're never going to let you off the hook or feel good about it either because they're just mimicking how you are feeling about it. So I think that's a huge thing. And then there are little tricks I have that I always talk about like you should do all of your errands within the golden triangle, which are the three points between your home, your kid's school, and your work. So don't go to the grocery store 30 minutes away just because they have a hummus you like. You have to do everything in the golden triangle. There's a lot of tricks like that. I believe in waking up early and waking up an hour earlier than the earliest riser in your home, just so that you have control of your day. That allows you to take control of the day because the unexpected always happens and so you would just have to be prepared for that.

Mimi:
So in that hour though, do you get up and you're working out or do you take care of the one to-do you really need to do that day? What do you do in that hour?

Sam:
I'm just up, showered, getting dressed for my day. I'm ready for the day by the time my kids wake up. And that really helps me because then as soon as they're off to the school bus or I drop my son at school, I'm able to really start my day, because I'm already dressed for the day. I'm ready. I hike for exercise, and I usually do that either later in the day, like late afternoon or some other time, and I don't do it every day. And then I'm kind of addicted to my Starbucks that I have to have every morning. Yeah. That's my routine.

Mimi:
That's great. That's good advice. I love that. What were the three… The triangle again? It was your school?

Sam:
Your kid's school, your office, if you're a commuter and your home. So make sure all of your errands are within those three points. For example, I once worked with a woman who ran a PR firm and she was always complaining she didn't have enough time for her kids and everything, and then she mentioned one day offhand that she was going to the chiropractor that was 45 minutes away, and she goes every week. And I said, "Well, you know that's an hour and a half a week?" And she lived in Nashville and I said, "What about finding one closer to you? You live in a major city." And she's like, "I know, but I really like this guy." I'm like, "But do you like him enough for six hours a month?" Imagine how much time, what would you do with six hours a month if you could find a chiropractor five minutes away? And so over time she switched, but it's those little things that sometimes we don't realize that just the smallest changes can yield really big results.

Mimi:
One thing I always tell people what I do with my kids, and I think I had the guilt a little bit, but I've let it go, is I don't make my kids' lunches for school, because that's a big-time suck and even making the dinner situation because I'm not the best cook I'll admit. But I've made them start making their own lunches. I'd say, "Let's go online, or I'll take you to the store. You guys all buy the healthy snacks, your healthy food, and you guys pack it." So then they're happy because they're eating what they want to be eating, and I know the food comes home eaten, otherwise it always came home with food that was uneaten.

Sam:
Another thing we do is, and I don't know if they have it on the east coast, but on the west coast, we do One Potato, which is this food delivery service that Catherine McCord, who runs Weelicious… Anyway, she started it and its healthy meals delivered to your door. They're really well-priced and they're still things you have to make, but they never take longer than 30 minutes to make them and all the ingredients are right there. So it'll be like these vegetables and mix this and the recipes right there and my kids can even make them.

Mimi:
That's good. I need to find a good delivery service. I haven't done that because I feel like… Just the whole conversation, what are we doing for dinner? What do you guys want? That is just so much draining.

Sam:
The worst. I agree.

Mimi:
It's awful.

Sam:
And it's stressful.

Putting It Out There and Telling People Your Goals

Sam Ettus Quote Card

Mimi:
Okay. So to end on the last question, what would you suggest or kind of takeaway or advice that you would say to somebody right now if they're thinking about leaving their job or doing something entrepreneurial or even if they were in a job and they want to make it to CEO someday. What kind of advice that you give after how many years of being in the entrepreneurial world?

Sam:
I'm a big believer in putting it out there and telling people what your goal is. So your bosses can't predict what your goals are and you want to state them over and over and over again. I know right now I'm the director of marketing, but I want to be a CMO one day. That's my focus. So if you see something I could be doing better or you see an opportunity for me to grow and expand, I would really appreciate it if you would think of me. Those are the kinds of conversations you need to be having on an ongoing basis and even share with your colleagues, this is my goal. What's your goal? I mean, you want to be talking about those, and a lot of times, especially if it's something important to us, we're afraid to share it because once you put it out there, it's like you're vulnerable.

Then those people know if you haven't succeeded, and that's what we all think about. It's funny when I started Park Place, I started going around and saying, I'm building a billion-dollar company. And I think it was a guy I was trying to raise money from, I didn't raise money from him, but he goes, "You know, I just want to let you know, just some feedback is that it's just not appealing to say a billion-dollar company." And I was like, "Really? Why do you say that?" And he's like, "Oh because it just sounds so ridiculous." And I said, "I have to tell you that if I don't say that as a woman entrepreneur, people think I'm building a lemonade stand."

Mimi:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). It's true. It's not thinking big enough. Yep.

Sam:
A woman I had lunch with a year ago who's invested in very big companies and she's really awesome, I met her at Money20/20, this conference. I said it to her and she goes, "Oh my gosh, I will love you forever because you just said that. I wish more women would say it." So it's such a funny thing, but you have to put these things out there. I think that as entrepreneurs if you are considering starting your own business, start talking to people about it. Start saying, here's what I'm thinking. There are ways to test a lot of what your idea is before you take the plunge. I mean, I think that financial security is really important, but I also believe that men are taught to take risks from a very young age and women aren't, and when you read a women's magazine, they talk about how to save money, and when you read men's magazines, they talk about how to invest. And so one of my passions is getting more women to invest in companies because it's an excellent way to earn money and to really create a nest egg for yourself. In fact, there's a great book, it's really a bro book and it really doesn't give women examples, but it's an excellent book called Angel by Jason Calacanis.

Mimi:
I love that book!

Sam:
I mean, there are no women examples in there. One day a woman will write an equivalent book, but for now, it is a great book. Yeah.

Mimi:
Oh, that's awesome. Okay. Last quick question. Have you ever gone back to that conference that you saw those men speaking at and say, I'm here with my company now?

Sam:
No, because it was a boondoggle conference for these guys in the industry. It was only like 20 guys. They all showed up on private jets, but I have run into some of them and eventually, they'll know our name. I think right now our brand is bigger than our company, because we've been able to get a ton of press as a woman-owned payment processing company, but I still have a long way to go to be their real competitors. Yeah.

Mimi:
That's awesome. Thank you Sam so much for coming on today. This has been amazing.

Sam:
Thank you, Mimi, you're so great at interviewing. It's really fun talking to you.

Mimi:
Thank you for joining us on The Bad Ass CEO. To get your copy of The Top 10 Tips Every Entrepreneur Should Know, go to badassceo.com/tips. Also, please leave a review as it helps others find us. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them. So email me at mimi@thebadassceo.com.

Links

https://www.parkplacepayments.com/

https://www.instagram.com/parkplacepayments/

https://www.instagram.com/samanthaettus/

https://www.instagram.com/whatsherstorypodcast/

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