Stax CEO Suneera Madhani has built fintech’s latest unicorn

Suneera Madhani Founder of Stax
Suneera Madhani, CEO of Stax.
Courtesy of Stax

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Anti-feminist backlash is a factor in South Korea’s presidential election, the trial over the attempted kidnapping of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gets underway, and a new female-founded fintech unicorn hits the scene. Have a wonderful Wednesday.

– Unicorn alert. The fintech industry welcomed a new unicorn yesterday after the Orlando, Florida-based payments company Stax announced a $245 million series D round, valuing the business at more than $1 billion.

Cofounded by CEO Suneera Madhani and her brother Sal Rehmetullah in 2014, Stax is a subscriptions-based payments processor that charges merchants a flat subscription fee rather than a percentage on sales for both in-person and digital transactions. Over the past eight years, the 300-person company has processed $23 billion in payments for more than 20,000 customers across retail, professional services, and health care. With its new valuation—backed by investors Greater Sum Ventures, HarbourVest Partners, and Blue Star Innovation—Stax plans to go “head-to-head” with Stripe (like many fintech rivals promise to do).

Madhani, wearing a “Girls can do anything” t-shirt, talked to me over Zoom yesterday after her funding announcement. Here are some edited excerpts from our conversation:

What spurred your decision to launch a payments company?

I launched the company out of my parents’ home at the age of 26, with no money in my bank account. I was in the payments industry—selling payment terminals out of the trunk of my Volkswagen Beetle. As a millennial, seeing what I wanted from apps, I had this aha moment. Why wasn’t there a flat subscription fee in payments instead of all the fees and nickel-and-diming?

Suneera Madhani Founder of Stax
Suneera Madhani, CEO of Stax.
Courtesy of Stax

What does this valuation milestone mean for the business?

The concept of unicorn status as a benchmark in tech—it’s a boys’ club for all the wrong reasons. It’s amazing that we have validation for the company, but as a woman, sometimes you don’t know this is even possible. I didn’t even know I could go build a $100 million business, or to say, ‘I don’t want a $100 million business, I want a billion-dollar business.’

How was the fundraising experience? How did investors respond to Stax?

The first check is always the hardest. The hardest round I did was the first seed round. It was not easy out of Orlando, Florida, being a woman of color, and [during an earlier round] I was pregnant while fundraising. I didn’t go to CEO school. I don’t have an MBA. I didn’t have the background.

But it doesn’t get easier with time. It just becomes a different experience because the stakes are higher, right? It was incredible, finally at the table, to have other people now be the ones saying why they should invest.

What’s next for Stax?

There isn’t anyone with an omnichannel platform like ours. We believe we are industry-leading. Everybody’s thinking about payments, and owning that ecosystem and that user experience within their platform. We want to be that payment stack in that architecture for software companies who need omnichannel payments. We’re just getting started and we’re taking on Stripe head-to-head.

🚨 SXSW alert: I’m heading to Austin, Texas next week for a panel on how to support working women during the pandemic. Will you be at SXSW? Shoot me a note if you’d like to meet—and stop by our session with leaders from Color of Change, SEIU, and JUST Capital on Tuesday, March 15!

Emma Hinchliffe

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Subscribe here.


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