By Natasa Cvijanovic
Editor's Note: With this article, we are delighted to introduce Natasa Cvijanovic, co-founder and CEO of Tesla Payments. Her strong leadership qualities and charisma leap off the page in this debut as Street Smarts author, and she's eager to engage with you to explore topics central to your business success. So reach out to her; it's going to be a spirited year.
A few months ago, I was at an industry event dinner with a colleague. You know, the kind of colleague that is always connecting people—what I like to call a "serial networker." And while I won't name names, chances are you've met him or been introduced to someone by him.
This colleague had been a Street SmartsSM writer more than once, and over dinner, he suggested I become a Street SmartsSM contributor, as well. I had time to think about it, but I didn't have to: of course, I jumped at the opportunity and decided to do it. What an honor it is to be able to follow in the footsteps of industry experts, colleagues and fantastic writers.
"Your first article should focus on you and your background," was the advice I received. However, as anyone who knows me well knows, focusing on myself is arguably my greatest challenge. I'd much prefer to write about something else, but since our fears are typically trying to tell us something, I'm going to befriend my dragon and see what I learn in the process.
Mom, self-starter, passionate go-getter, entrepreneur and a wannabe pro-cyclist (laughing) are all words that describe me, but they're a little vague, and since I don't want to risk an unenthusiastic response from you all, I'll elaborate.
Years ago, while working for Citibank, I had my first experience on the credit card issuing side of the business. Yes, it was interesting, but my true passion was marketing. Several years later, I was working in marketing, doing what I loved for a small publishing company on Hershey's Chocolate Avenue. That, I'm sure, was the catalyst for my chocolate addiction, but that's another story for another day.
Like so many of my colleagues, I got into this industry by accident. As is usually the case in life, we have no way of knowing what the future holds. Our interests and desires change as we grow wiser, and my road led me to Maine. I landed a job as director of marketing for a startup merchant services company. I had no idea what that meant or required, but knowing I enjoyed marketing, I began my adventure in merchant services.
Although I started off in marketing, I quickly became involved in all aspects of this startup—from legal to operations to sales. Unbeknownst to me, I was quite good at sales, hiring salespeople and building relationships.
My experience in this industry would be incomplete if I hadn't encountered dishonest people and a subsequent total loss of residuals. At the time, it was practically a rite of passage in our industry. Fortunately for me, following those not so great experiences, I ended up working at a merchant services company with some incredible and honest people, where I learned a great deal of what I know today.
In 2013, after years of working the corporate ladder and recruiting and growing ISOs, I took the leap into entrepreneurship and founded Tesla Payments. Today, my husband and I run the company, which was founded with the purpose of setting new standards for the way merchants and sales partners are treated. I've always believed that it's important to consider not only what your company does, but also why it was started, as well as its purpose and vision.
As an entrepreneur and leader, I am a strong believer in business fundamentals such as providing value to customers and sales partners, collaborating with colleagues and team members, listening, empathizing, and being fair.
I'd like to return to something I said previously. How did so many of us stumble into this industry but then remain to build a lasting career? Personally, I enjoy the challenges found in payments and running a family-owned business. Since our business is family owned, I am frequently asked, "How is it working with your husband?" My response varies depending on the day. While most of the days are great, I won't lie: at times I have to remind myself that I would look ridiculous in a striped jumpsuit (laughing out loud).
Kidding aside, when running a family-owned business, we understand our customers entirely. Because it's not only the company's needs that are at play, but also the family's needs, family-owned companies, like ours, usually have a stronger sense of dedication and responsibility than non-family-owned companies. This motivation to ensure the survival of the family and the business results in additional benefits such as a deeper understanding of the industry, stronger customer relationships, and more effective sales and marketing.
And while many of us are accidental entrepreneurs, we are not accidentally successful entrepreneurs. We have viewed merchant service providers from a variety of perspectives and have had both positive and negative experiences. We have worked diligently and continue to do so, and this is always my first piece of advice to our less experienced or younger sales partners: you must work tirelessly early on to reap the benefits of your labor later.
So what can you expect from my writing over the next twelve months? I won't lie. Immediately, I struggled with topics and ideas and what may or may not be interesting to you as a reader. "Use your industry experience and write what you think they'll want to hear" was one suggestion I received. I'm not a mind reader, so will you help a girl out? What topics do you want to read about? There is certainly a lot we can cover including the continued supply chain uncertainties, inflation, worldly events, gas prices, merchant retention, crypto, BNPLs, etc.
When I think about our sales partners and the sales agents I've worked with over the years, I realize that their experiences vary greatly, as do their interests and desire to learn. I will occasionally write about topics that may be boring to some and interesting to others depending on your level of knowledge and industry experience, but I hope that you will find something useful in each article regardless of your level of experience.
Stay tuned ... the rest is still unwritten.
Natasa Cvijanovic, co-founder and CEO of Tesla Payments, has a proven track record within the payment industry of cultivating successful relationships with ISOs, MLSs and strategic partners. In developing national sales channels, she provides training and coaching to sales partners to enable them to become better business partners and advocates for their merchants, and to assist them in building portfolios producing steady residual streams. She is also dedicated to consistently delivering high levels of professionalism, integrity, dependability and trustworthiness. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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