By Dee Karawadra
Editor's Note: After a year of contributions, Michael Nardy's final Street Smarts article appeared in the March 26, 2007 issue of The Green Sheet. Beginning in this issue, and continuing for one year, Dee Karawadra of Impact PaySystem is authoring the column.
I remember the day I learned of The Green Sheet. I was green myself, having been in the business only a couple of months. I had managed to sign up a few merchants, but I didn't know the difference between a Tranz 330 and Zon Jr.
My wife, Emily, worked for Concord EFS at the time. One of her colleagues mentioned the magazine. I assumed it was a costly, subscription-based publication.
A few years later, a recruiter for another ISO called me. He'd received my business card from one of my merchants, and he wanted me to join his company as an employee. "We provide you with training and health benefits," he said. I turned him down; it was a commission-only position.
Besides, I did not need the health insurance he offered. My wife had a great benefits package with Concord. The recruiter persisted. "Why don't you just come to the training? You might change your mind afterward," he suggested.
I thought, heck, I have nothing to lose.
I arrived wearing my freshly ironed dress shirt, tie and polished shoes only to find the training was taking place in the recruiter's hotel room. The PowerPoint presentation I had expected was actually a dry-erase board on one of two double beds in the room. Instead of a table and chairs for trainees, the seating was the other bed.
But what I learned during that training changed my life.
A woman in attendance had taken a maternity leave from one of the processors in town, and she wanted a job that was more flexible to keep up with the demands of motherhood. She had just received her first issue of The Green Sheet and said it was very informative.
During the recruiter's smoke break, I slipped out and looked for a copy of the publication. Sure enough, I found one and saw I could subscribe for free.
I started reading each issue cover to cover, including the ads. I discovered some ISOs actually pay the residuals they promise. I learned what to look for in contracts and where to buy equipment. I found out there were others like me having very similar experiences.
I kept stacks of The Green Sheet at my bedside until Emily threatened to move me into the kids' room. Soon, I became an avid reader of the new column called Street Smarts, written by Ed Freedman.
Fast-forward a few years. When I was asked to write Street Smarts, my immediate reaction was, me? Though I was honored to be invited to take on the column, I knew it would be a challenging task to fill the shoes of Ed Freedman, members of the National Association of Payment Professionals and, most recently, Michael Nardy.
They all are industry veterans who have done an awesome job of educating merchant level salespeople (MLSs) about everyday challenges and opportunities. I asked The Green Sheet to let me sleep on it and see if I was up to the challenge.
That night, I discussed it with Emily, who has been in this industry for 11 years. She reminded me of something I said months previously about the importance of giving back to the industry that has given us so much.
We had just put together a training program on different facets of our industry so that MLSs wouldn't have to go through the same frustrations I had experienced as a newbie. We did our first training on the petroleum industry in December.
Emily suggested writing articles for Street Smarts would be an excellent way to help MLSs understand the business. So, here I am, hoping to do the column justice.
Let me begin by telling you a bit about myself. I am Chief Executive Officer and President of Impact PaySystem. I jumped into the industry in 2000 as an MLS for an ISO. At the time, I did not know much about payment processing.
I worked for a small ISO that had no training program, and the owner had no time to acquaint me with the business. I worked there for over a year and was often frustrated because of unpaid residuals.
I then moved to another ISO and realized it was hard to get any business written: I was too busy taking care of setup issues.
I found the ISO's relationship managers did not answer my voice mails and e-mails until weeks after I'd called them.
By then it was too late; I had lost the merchants whose issues I could not resolve on my own. Frustrations like these prompted me to become an ISO myself.
Since then, I have worked through every business detail, from setting up a call center for technical support and customer service to becoming a registered ISO/MSP.
Today, Impact PaySystem works with MLSs throughout the country, and my staff and I speak to potential agents almost daily.
I recall the days when I put a lot of miles on my car going from one shopping center to another and from one city to another. I would drive far out of my way just to save a few pennies per gallon on gas.
My office consisted of a computer in my bedroom and a pay-per-use fax machine at a copy center. My cell phone was my office phone. Despite Spartan surroundings, I quickly figured out how to fix a disabled printer on the Hypercom T7P terminals.
I learned how to overcome "No solicitation" signs. And I grew deft at asking merchants for referrals.
Today's MLSs face the same challenges and opportunities as I did when I began knocking on merchants' doors. And I still go out and sell every chance I get.
It is the best way to understand my agents and their frustrations. I have stumbled at times. But I have come out of each experience with a little more knowledge.
I have been very fortunate to have been touched by many individuals in this industry who have helped pave my path. These people range from presidents and CEOs of the major players, to the less visible technical support and customer service representatives.
The Green Sheet has also contributed immensely to my education. Participating in the GS Online MLS Forum allowed me to converse and learn from fellow MLSs. And my ace in the hole has always been my wife.
While at Concord, Emily worked in almost every department. Her tenure in the industry has helped me and my team see the big picture, from boarding merchants to supporting them.
It would have been very difficult to get through all the obstacles of launching Impact PaySystem without the guiding hands of these generous people.
In the coming year, I hope to discuss some of my experiences with you, and I hope you will share some of yours with me. I am not a writer by occupation. And English was not my major. In fact, it is my second language.
The Street Smarts articles I will be writing are not sponsored by Impact PaySystem. I am writing this column for the sole purpose of creating an ongoing dialogue with MLSs about important issues and developments in their day-to-day business lives.
My goal is to educate and learn from the MLSs in an industry that is ever-changing. And I want to do it in an easy, straightforward manner.
I look forward to discussions on the MLS Forum. They will play a big part in shaping the direction of this series. Please watch for my posts. I hope to hear from you and look forward to your suggestions on topics.
Dee Karawadra is the founder, Chief Executive Officer and President of Impact PaySystem, based in Memphis, Tenn. He and his team have a wealth of knowledge on the merchant services industry, with a niche in the petroleum market. Dee's experience on the street as an agent has guided him in laying a foundation for an agent program that is both straightforward and lucrative for his agents. Contact him at 877-251-0778 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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