How does a student who listens to a self-help tape end up building a MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR COMPANY?
When he was 19, Don Siclari heard a tape that told him to write down what he wanted to earn. He wrote down what he thought was a really high number, $50,000.
Turns out it sensitized him to what he wanted out of life and set him on the right path.
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Hey there freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, home of the ambitious upstart and the place where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. They come here to tell you their stories, to fire you up, to inspire you, to give you a few ideas, and to set you off on a path that will hopefully lead to you being right here where you tell your story one day and inspire and help other people.
In this interview I want to find out how a guy who listened to a self-help tape ended up building a multimillion dollar company. When he was 19 Don Siclari heard a tape that told him to write down how much money he wanted to earn. He wrote down a number that he thought was really high back then, $50,000. Well, it turns out it set him on the right path and it sensitized him to what he wanted out of life. As a result, partially, of that experience today Don is the founder and head of Inchek which offers payment processing services including credit card processing, remote check deposit, and collections.
Don, welcome and thanks for sharing your story.
Don: Thanks Andrew. Great to be here.
Andrew: How much revenue are you doing? I said multimillion dollar company. Be a little more specific if you could.
Don: We’re in the seven figures. We haven’t hit eight yet. We’re in the seven figures. I’m pretty happy with that.
Andrew: What do you mean you haven’t hit it yet? You’re doing over a million in sales a year, right?
Don: Yeah, we haven’t hit eight figures yet.
Andrew: Oh, you haven’t hit eight figures. That’s the next goal?
Don: We’re at seven figures. We haven’t hit eight though.
Andrew: OK. And you started out with how much?
Andrew: Two hundred fifty dollars. That’s what you invested in this business?
Don: That’s all I had, man. I was in college.
Andrew: And partially the reason that you went off and started your company is, well, a friend of yours told you that you had the personality for sales. What did he mean by that?
Don: Well, he had a company that was doing a check processing technology at the time. This was in the early 2000′s. They were looking for sales guys and I, apparently, had a personality that he thought would work for sales. We were fire fighter, EMTs together. I said sure, why not? I’ll give it a shot. I don’t know anything about sales or checks or business. But I’m living on, you know, a few hundred dollars a month which is what I was making as a paid-per-call volunteer fire fighter so why not?
Andrew: And before that did you think that you were going to be an entrepreneur or get into business?
Don: Well, I didn’t think so. My dream was to be a doctor. Apparently there’s a picture of me at six years old holding a briefcase. My grandfather was a CPA, my father was a CPA, so apparently there’s this business bug gene in my family. But my dream from the time I was young was to be a doctor, hence the paramedic thing and so forth.
Andrew: What was it about your personality that made you suited for sales?
Don: I guess I was friendly and outgoing? I really don’t know.
Andrew: All right. Were there points in your life where you saw it coming? Because I remember for myself, I was a big nerd but there were times when I would talk business or I would go work for a guy named Paul Sorbera [SP] in Manhattan. I could actually make sales calls where I felt like I saw a glimpse of who I could be. Were there examples like that for you?
Don: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah. I was really fortunate to have some really incredible mentors in my teen years. I was looking up to them from a very young age. I always had a thing for networking. I always wanted to meet people who were more successful, more accomplished than I was. I didn’t become jealous. I became sort of envious in the sense that I wanted to know how they do what they do.
Andrew: For example, who was it that made you say how did he do it? Instead of damn him, why did he do it?
Don: Well, I have one mentor in particular that encouraged me to start this company. He was my martial arts teacher and he had, this was a guy who had run an advertising agency, did really well with that. Started a martial arts school, did really well with that. Went on to become a body guard for the royal families, did really well with that. And then went off to work with Microsoft with Bill Gates. This was somebody who kind of just starts something, becomes the best in the world at what he does and then does something else and I kind of went, ‘That’s cool,’ and he really turned me on to the idea of resourcefulness in networking. Being able to find the resources to do the things I wanted to do.
I remember he introduced me to an investment banker and this was, at the time, somebody who I considered ultra-wealthy. I remember I was so afraid to meet this guy because I thought he would come out in a suit, all put together. He shows up in a big flannel shirt and jeans. I kind of went, “Huh, when you really reach the top and you’re successful. . .”
I was like 20-years-old, and I would wear a suit everywhere because I was dealing with clients who were two, three times my age. I almost said four, but that’s getting a little old there, but I was really intimidated. I was just this young kid, so I always wanted to look put together. I’d always be in a suit and so forth. Then I met this particular man, and I was just like, “Wow! People who really make it don’t have to do that. They can do whatever they want.” That was just a paradigm changer for me. Then, of course, later on, my industry, the financial industry, has been still pretty conservative. Later on, I went out West to our favorite city there, San Francisco, and realized that people on the West coast did things a little differently.
Anyway, I think those two, that first mentor of mine and then the investment banker he introduced me to, he was talking about staggering numbers. I mean he would say things like, “You don’t want to sell your company when it hits $25 million. You want to wait until it’s worth $250 million.” I’m like, “I have $250!”
Andrew: That makes you feel, “Oh, there’s a bigger world of possibilities out there than I ever imagined.” Something bigger to strive for.
Jack: Yeah. It was a process of mind opening through my 20s from kind of the mindset I grew up with, which is you work really hard and long, to the idea that all possibilities are endless and it’s what you’re open to and what you draw to you that arrives.
Andrew: Who was it whose tape you were listening to, to get yourself prepared to get into business?
Jack: You reminded me of this story today because I’d forgotten about it. I went to school in Ohio, and I was driving home, late at night on Route 80, from Ohio back to Connecticut, listening to Brian Tracy sales tapes. I don’t remember anything else that he said in this whole series of 12 tapes, they were cassettes at the time, maybe they were CDs. I think they were cassettes, but anyway, he said . . . you know Brian, he’s really enthusiastic. He said, ‘Pick a number of what you want to make this year and write it down,’ and I did.
Andrew: How long did it take you to get to that number?
Don: I really don’t remember. It probably took me . . . probably the year after. This would have been in the summer of that year, maybe the year after or sometime early the year after that. I really don’t recall what we were doing in our really early days.
Andrew: It changed you to start thinking that way? How?
Don: Yeah, because the number was $50,000. At that point, that was an unfathomable amount of money to me. I was like, “Wow! If I make $50,000 I can go on a cruise.” I remember telling my mom, “We’re going to go on a cruise this year.”
Andrew: So then, this guy gives you an opportunity. He says, “Hey, I’m looking for sales people. You have the personality to be in sales.” What was it that you were going to sell, and how did you do there?
Don: We were doing check-processing services. Basically, if a retail store received a bad check, they’d email to us, the company from their bank. We would notify the client, then we would, essentially, verify funds in the check writers’ account and re-present the check. I was going out door to door . . .
Andrew: I’m sorry, can you . . . you explained that do me before we started so I have a clear understanding of it, but can you say that again a little bit slower so that people understand what this business was?
Don: Sure, sure, sure. A retail store takes a check. Somebody comes in and writes a check. They deposit it in their bank. If the check is returned for non-sufficient funds or whatever reason, typically the bank would mail it back to the merchant, who would then contact a collection agency, re- present it by the bank or call the check writer. We were doing something where the bank would send the clients’ bad checks to our company, we would verify funds in the account, and when the funds became available, we would pull the funds electronically. Basically, it was bad check re-presentment.
Andrew: No work for the retailer, but as soon as there’s cash in his customer’s bank account to make that check good, the retailer gets paid and you’re company that you’re working for gets a percentage of that.
Don: No, we didn’t take a percentage, we took the state fee. Every state allowed a fee to be charged for a bad check. We paid the client 100% and kept the fee. It was a good deal for the merchants because it was free to them. There was no charge to them for it.
Andrew: OK. So first time doing sales. You were an EMT before. You were going to be a doctor. How did you do in sales?
Don: I guess I did all right. I went door-to-door. I called people. Basically I remember going door-to-door. I did a lot of that.
Andrew: Literally door-to-door to what? Pizza stores?
Don: Yeah, just because at that time pizza places were taking a lot of bad checks. In fact, I remember when I started my company I went to, drove to Cincinnati and I didn’t have enough money to pay for gas to get back so I knew that I had to get someone to pay a setup fee in person. Or I wasn’t going to be able to drive back to Oxford. And I did. I literally would go to especially college areas and go door-to-door and ask for the person who handles bad checks and explain what we do and try to get a sign up.
Andrew: I just want to make sure that the audience caught that story. Your car broke down. You didn’t have enough money to have the car fixed and get yourself back home. You say all right, I’m going to walk door-to-door to all of the retailers that I can find. I’m going to tell them about my service. I’m going to hustle. I’m going to get enough customers to pay me that then I can get that money to fix my car and get my way home. Is that right?
Don: Basically. The car didn’t break down. I wasn’t going to have enough gas to get back.
Andrew: Oh, so it was even worse. That little money.
Don: Although there was a time when I was driving, because I drove a car that broke down every other trip between Ohio and Connecticut. It broke down in the Cleveland area, Youngstown area. I was on the highway and the car just shut off. It was like Saturday night at 10 pm. I’m like oh, crap, what am I going to do? I got it towed to a local garage. They couldn’t do anything until Monday to fix it so I spent Sunday going door-to-door. Through that experience, at the time, signed my biggest client at that time which was a chain of 12 pizza places in Youngstown.
Don: Yeah, so I had nothing to do on Sunday so I just went door-to-door.
Andrew: Brian Tracy would be proud to turn lemons into lemonade as he might have said. All right, so you are now working for this company. A few weeks later you go and you start your own business, right? How do you get started with your own company? You say hey, you know what? I see this opportunity here. I’m going to go and create my own business in this space. How do you start your own business? What’s the first step?
Don: The inner and outer factors. I mean, there were first the inner challenges that I had to get over of whether I felt deserving and worthy to be able to start a business.
Don: I’ve got some of those, if you like. Then there were the actual steps I took.
Andrew: Wait, you couldn’t just say to yourself, “Hey, there’s a great opportunity here. I’m going to jump on it. These guys are doing it, I could do it, too.” Boom. Let’s just figure out how we could get these checks paid for. No, there was an inner game. Why?
Don: There was an inner game because I was, like, a teenager. My clients were in a lot of grocers and pizza places and they were much older. I’m thinking, you know, I didn’t know if I could do it. I remember sitting down with this particular mentor I mentioned in New York, having lunch and that’s when he convinced me to do it. I needed that push. I needed someone to say you can do this. Because I didn’t know anything about business. I didn’t know about accounting. I didn’t know about incorporating. I didn’t know any of that stuff.
Andrew: Beyond the three words you can do this. You can do this, four words. Beyond that what else what it that he said that made you feel like you could do it? Was it that he walked you through the process and said look, this is what it takes and you can do this? Or was it just hey, you’ll figure it out. What else?
Don: He did walk me through the process a little bit. I don’t remember everything that he said but it was how he said it. He was very encouraging. You know, it was more like the idea was you can do this. I don’t know that he said it in those words but that was the gist of it. Then the rest of it kind of figured itself out where I was like OK, well I don’t have the resources to start my own company with an office and a staff and ACH access and all that. I found another company that I could outsource the processing to and they would pay me a commission. That’s why I was able to start with no seed money.
I remember going to a store and buying my first fax machine and I was so excited. Because that was a big step because we would fax our clients notifications. This company that I outsourced to would fax me notifications that they had received a check from the Emergence Bank. Then I would turn around and create our own branded notification and fax it off to the client.
Andrew: I see.
Don: They didn’t know that we were outsourcing it, but that was the only way I could do it because I didn’t have any capital.
Andrew: How did you find this company that would do it for you?
Don: Somebody else that had worked at the other company with me told me about them, I think.
Andrew: I see. Was it standard for them to basically be outsourcers for upstarts like you? Or was this a new idea?
Don: No, it was standard because at that point, we were basically sales reps for them. I just took immediately took a more active role and interest and didn’t let our clients know we were sales reps for them. So they had other sales reps on the street, I just kind of coped that and made it our service.
Andrew: You’re doing seven figures now, you told me you started with three figures… where did that money go?
Don: The three figures?
Andrew: Yeah, the, what was it, 250 bucks?
Don: Like, literally, where did the 250 go?
Andrew: Yeah, when you have very little money, where do you put that money? Are you the kind of person who says “I have to incorporate”, or are you the kind of person who says that money needs to go towards marketing? When you have so little money and you have to start a business, where does the money go?
Don: OK, so, 90 something of it went to a fax machine.
Don: What I did was I created a fax marketing package in black and white and I printed it on my printer and I would fax it to our merchants when it didn’t have any publishing costs. So I would just print it, I’d call them on the phone and say, “Hey, can I fax you some information?” At that point, we weren’t emailing and scanning as much as we are today, so it was easy to just stick the information packet in the fax machine…
Don: And it was color, not on our end; it came out in black and white on theirs. So that’s how I saved a bunch of money, I didn’t really have any marketing costs that way. The rest of it probably went to incorporating or [???], I’m guessing.
Andrew: OK. And how did you get your first customers? A guy with no background in this space, who’s young, who’s a teenager, who has to now to say to businesses, “Hey, trust me with your money, trust me with your customers’ checks”? How do you get that?
Don: Some of the money probably went to business cards. I took some of the customers that I had signed with the other company because one of them was my hockey coach from high school who owned a dry cleaners, two locations, so that was one. I started off with friends or people my father knew or whatever. But then I would just go door to door and I would say , “can I speak with the person who handles bad checks?” or I’d call. And this technology, at the time, was new or it was kind of revolutionary, so to them it was a great idea because they no longer had to deal with the bad checks, we were doing it for them. So it was really a no-brainer to sell, but it came complete with all the usual sales stuff; people would take their time, not get back to us, have every excuse in the world. So I’d keep calling and calling and calling… and went to a lot of pizza places because pizza delivery were taking a lot of bad checks.
Andrew: I think it was the founder of GrubHub who told me that he had to go door-to-door to get the first customers of his business, and one of the things he figured out was, if you go when, obviously when they don’t have a lot of customers, and you walk through the back door, then you’re more likely to get customers. I think he’s the person who told me. Do you have any tactics like that would get you around people’s walls?
Don: Yeah, it was always hard to get through the gatekeepers. And so I would, if I was walking in, I might say something like “I’m in the area doing some marketing research and I want to get some information about, what are bad checks like down here? Do you get many?” And they would start talking… and then I remember saying how do you handle your bad checks? I remember walking into a gun store and I said how do you handle your bad checks? And the guy, big, burly Ohio guy, goes “Well, how do you think?” And I was like… there was a rack of guns behind him, and… But I’d ask those questions: Do you get a lot of bad checks? How do you handle them? And then I would lead into: what if there was… a better way? What if you could have all these checks collected for free and it wouldn’t cost you tiny time or money? “Oh, ok then let’s hear it.” And it was one of those things where people wouldn’t want to deal with bad checks, so it was taking a headache off of their hands as opposed to now, going door to door for the merchant processing. It’s a whole different ballgame.
Andrew: How much of a pain was it for them? What would they have to do as pizza owners?
Don: To collect bad checks?
Don: They had options. They could send them to a collection agency, they could go to the bank and try to re-deposit the paper, or they could call the customers. To be honest, a lot of them would just throw them in the trash.
Andrew: And they just lose the money, because it’s not worth going to collections for, what, 20, 50 bucks.
Don: Exactly, for pizza. Exactly.
Andrew: Gotcha. You said you’d walk in, saying you’re doing market research. I’ve heard this, too, before from other entrepreneurs. That was the in? That’s how you got them to pay attention? “I’m not here to sell, I just want to do some market research”?
Don: Or I would immediately say this is a free program… and then nobody believed me, of course: “Why is it free? I don’t believe you?” And I would say, “Well, we get that fee from the check writer. But I remember interestingly this is a paradigm shift or two. Our biggest check client for a long time was a school photography studio. They called me from the Internet. At that point they were on their website, I guess, and she said to me, “Do you guys have a setup fee?” At that point my setup fee had gone from $25 to $40 to $99. We’re talking big bucks here. [laughs] Yeah, I said, it’s $99. She said, “Well, oh, this other company doesn’t have one so there must be something wrong with them. So I’m going to sign with you.” And I was like, “The other company was much bigger than we were.” So I’m thinking, “That made me realize that people put value on things they pay for.
Andrew: And so, that’s when you started to increase prices?
Don: That’s when we started to charge a setup fee and then we charge an annual fee, and there still was no cost for the service. But I figured somebody could pay a hundred bucks to have someone take all of their bad checks off their hands.
Andrew: I see. At first you didn’t charge any fee at all, and that’s what got you in the door but also made you lose a little credibility.
Andrew: All right. What about the confidence that it takes to walk in the door and say to a stranger, “I want your checks? I want to even talk to you about something other than buying from you. That’s not an easy thing to do. How did you get past that?
Don: It’s like any kind of cold approach. How did I get past that? Can we cut out the ums?
Andrew: Nope. We leave them all in there. It makes for a much more natural conversation.
Don: I just did. It was nerve wracking at time, but I guess I had the confidence that my service was something they needed. Knowing that, it was a matter of how did I convince them that I’m something they need.
Andrew: OK. All right. So …
Don: It was certainly so long ago I can’t think if there were any particulars, like mental tricks or getting psyched up beforehand. I just did it. I just went and did it. I’d say, “Today I’m going to walk this whole block” and I’d walk … Sometimes, I’d hope the owners weren’t there because I didn’t want to give the sales pitch. So I’d just walk in and just hope I could leave my information and say, “Hey, can I leave some information and have them call me?” The phone was a little bit easier than walking in sometimes, but it was also harder because it’s easier for someone to hang up on you than it is to slam the door in your face.
Andrew: At some point you go from outsourcing to starting to do this stuff in-house. How do you do it directly, internally?
Don: I found a company to partner with in relationship with a bank, and he allowed us to process our files through his company.
Andrew: OK. And what was the next step after that for processing? You went from fully outsourcing and basically rewriting the faxes that you send out to partnering up with this company. What was the next step?
Don: It was a direct relationship with a NCH processor which came about a few years later.
Don: We did that until checks started to decline. We still do check processing. We still collect some bad checks for old clients. We still do remote deposit and collections, but around 2007, I’d say, we started to switch mores [SP], 2007, 2008 switch to electronic payments because that was coming.
Andrew: Electronic payments meaning credit cards?
Don: Credit card processing, yeah.
Andrew: How did you get new customers there?
Don: That was hard because in the retail sector of that industry it’s very cut throat, and to this day I’ve got reps on the street that are going door to door. But almost right away we found our niche which was ecommerce high volume, high risk clients. Internet marketers, folks selling information products online, things like that. The first one fell into my lap. I got referred from a client who’s also a friend to somebody else who referred me to somebody, and I got a call. I thought, “This is a real big win for us because this is a big, high volume account. And then we started doing that well, and then referrals just started coming in and it was a lot of word of mouth at that point. I remember reaching to the point where clients were coming to me and I didn’t have to go out and sell. I was like, this is kind of cool because all those years I walked door to door and now I’m answering the phone. [laughs]
Andrew: How did you know that credit cards were the next place to build out your business?
Don: Well, I’d like to say that I had some foresight and planned this. I didn’t, it just fell into my lap. We knew that checks were declining. Electronic payments were increasing. There’s statistics on that. I didn’t know anything about high risk. A friend in Olympia, Washington, that was into high risk credit cards, and he would always tell me about the opportunity, but I never wanted to get involved with the merchant processing end of things because I saw it as a lot more complicated and complex than the checks; so I just didn’t want to go there. And then we did.
I did because our clients were complaining about their credit card people. When I [inaudible] company, I always wanted what I called, at the time, the account manager model where every client had a name of somebody at the company that they’d call and speak with personally; it was a relationship that was being built, as opposed to calling India and pressing four and things like that.
As I began to hear complaints from our clients about their credit cards, I thought “Well, it’s only fair for us to be able to offer that as well.” So we started to do that and then the current vertical just kind of fell in my lap one day and I was like “Wow! My friend was right. There’s a lot of potential here.” And then we just grew; as Internet payments grew, so did we.
Andrew: Was there anything that you started in between dealing with bad checks and credit card processing that didn’t work out?
Don: Yeah. I can’t say it didn’t work out. We do remote check deposit; we’ve got some clients doing that. That was the kind of in-between technology that was coming in.
Andrew: Remote check deposit meaning a check comes in and instead of going to the bank, they go to your website and they start punching in all the information from the check; they hold on to it until the money gets to their bank and then they . . .
Don: But also at the time, I’ve been doing a lot of things. I was organizing charity events in Manhattan, I was working as a paramedic, I had a bunch of things going on so . . .
Andrew: You were still working as a paramedic even while you were building up this business?
Don: And, to be honest, [inaudible] I’m looking forward to getting back in to it in the near future. I love EMS and firefighting.
Andrew: What do you love about it?
Don: Oh man. Well, I’ve had the medical bug since I was a kid so I love the technical medicine aspects. I love the adrenaline, I love being able to help people, and in being with people during what are some of the most traumatic and dramatic times of their lives; being there and being able to make a difference. Firefighting, I like because [inaudible] for a long time and, the thing about fire is that it’s an uncontrollable enemy; it doesn’t have a soul. It’s living and breathing but it does what it wants. It’s very interesting to be running into a burning building.
But anyway, in fact, I can remember this mentor I told you about who was the bodyguard for the Royal families. When I started Inchek, I remember saying to him “Hey, you know, I’d rather run into a burning building than do this bookkeeping thing and hunt for missing pennies.” He said “Yeah. I’d rather go to a gunfight than do bookkeeping.” And he was serious, and so was I.
I was doing a bunch of other things at the time; there were a few other things I was doing too. So the company was kind of stable; it was paying my bills but it got to a point where I was like “OK. I need to do something with this. I need to really grow this enterprise or not.” And I decided to; that’s when my sister came aboard as a partner. She was my first employee in high school. I used to pay her $6 an hour, under the table, to call banks and verify funds and check writer’s accounts; but she was in high school. No, there’s not really anything that didn’t work, per se.
Andrew: But you weren’t fully committed to this business at the time. You weren’t a guy who said, “This is going to be my future. I’m going to build my fortune here.” This was just bringing in some cash part-time.
Don: See, that was the mindset shift because that’s how I started it; I’m going to do sales on the side. I’m going to do this so that I can go to medical school and do the things that I want to do. That continued; I had a staff early on to process the checks. I was able to travel a lot and do a lot of other things and it was paying my bills and supporting my lifestyle. I wasn’t ready to retire on it but that went on for a few years. Then I realized, “Well, I don’t want to be doing this forever so I need to really build this up.” And that’s when we found our current niche with the high risk credit card processing and then everything just took off.
Andrew: It was “I don’t want to do this forever” that led you to make Inchek into a bigger company?
Don: Processing checks? Yeah.
Andrew: Oh, I see. You said, “I don’t want to deal with bad checks forever.”
Don: Bad checks forever, exactly.
Andrew: Why? What was it about it that made you feel like it wasn’t the right life for you?
Don: We were offering a service but I felt bad dealing with all the check writers who would call and tell me their sob stories about why they bounced a check, or blame me for them bouncing a check; it’s my fault they bounced a check or they didn’t bounce a check, even though it’s sitting in front of me. I don’t want to deal with people’s bad checks. I wanted to do something more fulfilling. Ultimately, the company was a means to an end for some of my philanthropic endeavors and other things that I find even more fulfilling on a humanistic spiritual level than merchant processing.
I knew I didn’t want to keep playing with people’s bad checks all day and listening to their stories of, you know, somebody died and they had to pay for funerals. It’s tough, it’s different. Then I’m finally going to just give them a refund because that’s the kind of person I am. I’ll refund them.
Andrew: It’s like being in collections. There might be a lot of money in it but man, it’s painful. It’s hard to live with yourself. All right, merchant processing. My friend, Casey Allen, started to tell me a little bit about the business. There’s a lot of money to be made in it. Tell us about the opportunity in the space that you saw.
Don: I saw the opportunity of being more hands on and more hands off. With the check stuff we actually move the money directly. We move the money from the customers, check writer’s account into the merchant’s account. We don’t move the money, only the banks move the money with merchant processing because it’s much more automated. I saw the opportunity to be more hands on in terms of building relationships with my clients. A lot of my clients are young entrepreneurs who have become friends. As opposed to, you know, dealing with what we used to deal with, a lot of grocery stores and things that were just business clients you know.
I saw the opportunity to build stronger relationships while not having to actually move the money myself. I could spend more time building the relationship, working on the technology. You know, being more of a consultant to my clients’ businesses rather than the person that sits behind the scenes behind a computer and moves the bad check money.
Andrew: I see. You did have high risk customers. You worked with the acai berry people.
Don: I did.
Andrew: What happened there?
Don: 2009, December, happened.
Andrew: What happened in 2009?
Don: It was late 2009. I was getting ready to go to a (inaudible) summit. What happened was Senator Rockefeller sent a letter to Mastercard, Visa, and American Express saying he didn’t agree with the free trial continuity stuff. Mastercard and Visa then shut down tens of thousands of merchants in one week. The industry basically got cleaned up. It was a tough week as most of my biggest clients were shut down that week.
Andrew: How did they work? They were giving away a free sample but you had to give a credit card in order to do shipping and handling. Once you gave a credit card, whether you were clearly aware of it or not, your card would be charged on a monthly basis and you would get something new in the mail on a monthly basis.
Don: Yeah, you’d pay like, say, $4.95 for shipping then you’d pay $90 a month for a bottle of acai berry. The problem was that the affiliates were promoting it as a free offer so for $4.95 they thought they were just getting a bottle. They didn’t know they were going to be charged on a recurring basis.
Andrew: Right, right.
Don: That’s where the problems came in. Also some of the claims that were being made the FDC really cracked down on.
Andrew: How do you recover from something like that? Losing so many customers so quickly?
Don: We recovered because of our model. Because I knew my clients so well I was able to work with some of them to get them up and running again by counseling them on how to do this right.
Don: Well, that’s a long, complicated discourse. But basically how to properly disclose the terms and conditions. How to keep your charge backs down by making sure that you’re not making outrageous claims. What the right price points are. What the right products to sell are. All of these things. How to stay off the radar of the FDC by not doing something illegal. Things like that. I worked with some of them to get them up and running again.
Then we started to diversify more of our client base in terms of bringing in more retail accounts, bringing in more medium to low risk businesses. Things that were more stable. We could be more selective with the clients that we took. I was able to start screening my clients. Is this someone who’s in it for the long term? Or the short term? Because at that time you had 19 year old kids that were, you know, making millions in their mother’s basement with the acai berry. They were filling at a fulfillment center, they were doing customer service. But then they were up for three months and they were put down. Really working with my clients and being more selective.
Andrew: The reason that the space is so profitable, doing merchant processing, is that once you sign a customer once you’re getting a share of their revenues on an ongoing basis. The bigger they get the more valuable your share is and it’s just continuous. You go and you get new customers while your old customers keep generating revenue, right?
Don: It’s true but it’s not nearly as much as you think it is because there’s about five or six hands in that pie.
Andrew: What are the other hands?
Don: People don’t realize this. I’m going to put one more log on the fire because I’m getting really cold.
Andrew: OK. It was a beautiful fire as it went.
Don: Most people don’t realize that the vast majority of that money that they’re paying in merchant account fees goes to the bank that issued the credit card. That’s why you get so many offers mail every month. You’ve been pre-approved for this credit card and that credit card, because those banks that issue the credit cards make most of the money. The majority of it goes right back to the bank that issued the credit card.
Andrew: What else? By the way, where are you? That’s a nice fire I see. Is it snow out that window?
Don: [??] out the window. I am in the mountains of New England in my cottage, just doing some . . . finishing some projects and getting some things done before I head back out west for Affiliate Summit.
Andrew: So you’re working from that cottage. You also, can I say this, you have a place in San Francisco that you barely live in, but it’s a fun place to have and to stay connected to the tech world. It’s a pretty decent life you’ve been able to build for yourself, [??] Don?
Don: They tell me.
Andrew: If that 19-year-old who was aspiring for $50,000 would see you now, man, he would be hustling. What do you think he would be saying?
Don: Looking at me now?
Don: Oh, man. He’d be probably jealous.
Don: I’m not yet . . . there are some other things I want to do that I’m not totally able to do because I’m still very hands on with the business and I will be for a while. We did some hiring last year that didn’t quite work out the way I wanted it to, so there were some challenges there. I’m going to be looking to build some new staff.
Andrew: What were the challenges with hiring?
Don: What’s that?
Andrew: What were the challenges with hiring?
Don: I hired somebody that the goal was to be able to let him run operations. Somebody who was much older than me, with more experience and the goal was, vice president of operations, someone who could run operations so that I could focus on high level things like networking and presentations. One of the things I want to do more of this year is speaking on risk and Internet marketing and things like that. The goal was for me to be able to do that and also wanted to spend some more time getting into EMS and so forth. He just wasn’t able to do the job the way that we do it, so I had to take back over operations. Yeah. I’ve got a great lifestyle, got a few different . . .
Andrew: I’m sorry, you’ve got what?
Don: I’ve got a great lifestyle, I’ve got a few different places that allow me to stay connected to cities that are really important to me. I spend a lot of time in Las Vegas because I started training with some Cirque du Soleil acrobats in January of last year and just fell in love with the training, gymnastics and acrobatics. I’m there most of the time I’m in Las Vegas.
Andrew: Cirque du Soleil, martial arts, EMT, firefighting. I’m surprised a guy who’s running a company would want to have all these different interests. You seem not as passionate about your business as you are about these side interests. Is that true?
Don: No. It’s not true.
Andrew: It’s not true.
Don: I’m not currently in firefighting and EMS. I’ve been out of that field for a while. I like to [??].
Andrew: I said EMT, I should have said EMS. OK. I’m just trying to figure out your passion level for this work. I’m trying to figure out why and how you can do other things.
Don: I can do other things because I’ve got great people that . . . One because I can work from wherever I am. I’m able to do most of my work from my laptop and cell phone. I can work from wherever I’m traveling, which makes it really easy. My clients know that they can call me any time, 24 hours a day on my cell phone, that’s one. I don’t need to be tied to an office like I was when I was processing checks. I can move around a lot.
Andrew: OK. How much time would you say you spend on the business now?
Don: A lot. Most of the day, most of the evening.
Andrew: What’d you learn about hiring from this bad experience that you’ve had?
Don: We’re in a pretty big growth phase right now, I’m putting really a lot of time into the business. What I learned about hiring? I learned that . . . that’s a good question. What’d I learn about hiring?
Andrew: One thing you seemed to learn is that earlier on in your career, you weren’t hiring people who were older. I just noticed the person you were talking about a moment ago was older than you.
Don: In the beginning, I didn’t hire anybody older than me. I hired people that were my age or younger. Then, recently, the person I hired last year was a whole bunch of years older than me, had lot more experience and was not really able to adapt to the Inchek model of the way we do things: a more innovative model, more customer intense, if you will. So I guess I learned that I need to work with somebody a little bit more before I give them too much of a reigns. I’m looking for the right people next year and I have some ideas of how that’s going to work. Somebody from outside the industry that has the right mix of experience, knows people from outside the industry that I can groom and teach the industry to, who would be able to assist me. That’s kind of the next step.
Andrew: OK. Let me ask you something. I noticed that something happened in our conversation soon after I asked about Cirque du Soleil and your side interest. Did it come across like an insult for me to say “Hey, you got these other passions that you seem more engaged with or more passionate about than work.”
Don: Didn’t come across as an insult. I just don’t want listeners to think that, you know, you shouldn’t put time and commitment and effort and focus into starting a business because by all means you have to. And, you know, one of the things that I could talk about is made the difference when we started to really grow is when I decided that, you know, that I was going to put a period of very intense focus on the company. And for a couple of years I did pretty much just in check, I just ran the company.
And so I think, one of the things I wanted to discuss is the power of vision and dedication where you know what the end result is and you kind of work backwards from there and stay committed to the end goal and flexible and open to the opportunities as they come along.
So yes, I don’t want to give people the idea that you know, you can just start something right away from it. You have to put the time and effort and commitment into it. And when I started training with the Cirque du Soleil acrobats, that supplemented, I’ve always been athletic so that became my workout. Spending an hour a day working out as opposed to doing P90X, which I did a couple of times or going to the gym or whatever, so that supplemented that. Of course, I got really excited about it because I always get excited about things.
But yes, I don’t want to kind of give the impression that you can run off and do 8 different things at once and you’re going to do really well at all of them. You can do 8 different things but you have to take, I find you have to take the right amount of time and focus and put it into each thing at a time.
Andrew: One thing you learn from working at Cirque du Soleil you told Jeremy, our producer is that you’ve got to commit 100%. You learned that from hand springs. How does hand springs teach you to focus 100% and commit 100%?
Don: I want to clear this up. I trained with some acrobats who work for Cirque du Soleil. So I decided to take [??]teach me gymnastics and so forth.
The back hand spring thing. Man, hand springs and I just don’t get along now. I’m kind of inconsistent with them, but I learned that when I do it 100%, I land on my feet and when I do it 92% I land on my head. That’s kind of the thing with acrobatics. You have to do it all or nothing.
Don: Why? I think other than the obvious physical reasons, you have to put the right power into the movement. If you’re doubting yourself as you’re doing it, that transcends to the muscles and you’re going to do things to try to protect yourself and actually those things don’t protect you, they injure you.
So for example with the backhand spring, if you throw yourself into it and do it correctly, the move just works. But if I’m hesitating and second guessing and having fear before I do it, that transcends into the muscles and it doesn’t come off the right way. They don’t fire correctly, you don’t land on your feet, you land on your head.
Andrew: I see. So the muscles instead of being directed towards getting you to land on your feet, those muscles are partially being directed towards protecting you which then keeps you from landing on your feet and gets you to land on your head.
Don: It’s a really interesting paradigm to look at in terms of fear and how work with fear, right? Because fear is designed to protect us but too many people use fear in a way that ends up hurting them more.
So for example, let’s translate that to business. I mean, decided to put myself into the company when I was having to make decisions to go into it. Yes, you’re asking about going into doing cold calls and door to door and things like that. If I went in with fear, it came across in the presentation. I was stuttering, I was unsure, just like with the acrobatics. I had to just use that fear as a motivator, not as a block.
Andrew: How do you use fear as a motivator when you’re nervous about going in and talking to customers who never heard you before?
Don: Yes. I think that the key is just to make a decision that you’re just going to do it. And once you make that decision and you’re clear in the commitment, the rest seems to just fall into place.
Andrew: And then you’re able to just get rid of all the doubt when you’re talking to them, just put it all aside and say No, I’m here to talk to them.
Don: Yes and no. I mean, the thing is it still there? But it can be put aside to where you don’t notice it much, you don’t pay as much attention.
It’s like when I was a paramedic. I remember my very first call, one of the reasons I went into EMS was I wanted to learn how to stay really calm under pressure and my martial arts teacher did that by his [??] work and I did it through EMS. And so I remember my very first call when I was out with a preceptor. It was my first time on the streets and there was a call that went real bad real fast. I was shaking inside, I mean, I was really nervous and afterwards she said to me “Wow, you really kept your head together.” I thought, “Well, no, I didn’t.” But I did because I was able to just get in the moment, focus on the goal and the task at hand and push off the emotions until afterwards. And I think it’s the same thing when approaching somebody for business. Same thing with [??], the same thing with you know, dealing with a car accident that’s going really wrong and things like that.
So one of the keys to being able to stay calm I think is to connect into the center of now, into the moment and sort of an intense moment decision making process, which happens naturally when you can just be here and not somewhere else where the fear is. If you’re worried about something, it’s not actually happening. It’s the nature of worrying.
Andrew: I got a screenshot here of the left margin of your website where it says, where you list the different services that you offer. Credit card services and merchant accounts, we talked about that. High risk account management, Bad checks, remote check deposits, collections.
We talked so far about the bad checks and merchant accounts. What’s the next biggest source of revenue for you guys of all these?
Don: I mean, collections with [??] because that’s really our [??] service.
Andrew: How did you get into collections?
Don Sinclair: It’s not something I ever thought I’d be doing. I was interviewing for an account manager’s assistant which is like an $11 an hour job. And I got a resume from somebody who had all this senior management experience in a collections agency and at the time we were outsourcing our bad checks that we couldn’t collect electronically to collections agencies. And they were terrible, I mean, they just weren’t collecting anything. And she left me this voicemail. She says, “I realize I might be overqualified but I want to come in and talk to you anyway.” And I said, “OK, come on in.” By the way, is it getting dark out? Can you still see me?
Andrew: I don’t know. It seems OK.
Don: And she came in and she was semi-retired from her previous job. She was collecting mortgages for the FDIC in South Worth and all these collections experience and was looking for something to do. And I thought This is perfect because she knows the industry, we can collect our own bad checks in-house that we can’t recover electronically. And this is a fantastic opportunity and she wants to do it for her own reasons. She wants to work here for her own reasons, which meant I jumped on that one. And she’s still with us and she’s fantastic.
Andrew: And that’s how you got started? By hiring a person and from there building this whole service?
Don: Again, it’s her service. She handles the whole thing. It’s her department and she’s an expert.
Andrew: Want to do a quick plug for Mixergy Premium and then come back and ask you a question that has nothing to do with business but I think it’s still important.
And the plug for Mixergy Premium I think most of you who listen know that at Mixergy Premium we have over 800 interviews with entrepreneurs who tell you the stories of how they build their businesses. Once you’re a member, you can go in and download any one of those interviews, listen to it and get another and another and another.
And if you notice at the top of this interview that Don’s life was impacted by listening to a tape of someone who opened his eyes to a new possibility for himself. And maybe you remember on your own life how listening to certain people opened you up to new possibilities and let you grow.
And that’s the goal here for Mixergy, to give you more and more of those opportunities, by listening to proven entrepreneurs, share what’s possible in their lives and in your life. If you’re listening and you haven’t signed up, go to MixergyPremium.com right now and join. Get access to all that great stuff and if you are already a member, go in and just start downloading. Go into them and let it impact your life.
MixergyPremium.com. I guarantee it.
Don: Actually, can I help you plug that? Because I think the power of, for me, like I said I’ve been really lucky to have these mentors in my life from a young age and there’s always a little nugget, there’s always something that sticks with me.
There was another case a few years before I started the business. I was in a martial arts class sitting in the back and the teacher said to the class, he was talking to his senior students at the time and I was just listening in. He said, “If you need more money, start a business.” And that stuck with me. I think I was 17 or something. So I think things like these stories on Mixergy or my Brian Tracy tape or the comments that my mentors made to me offer little golden nuggets of possibility opening and you hear them and I had no idea how to start a business but I knew that that sounded interesting and I held on to it until the [??] opportunity.
Andrew: Wow. And it’s not exactly listen to the tape and life changes automatically. It’s the thoughts in your head and when the possibility presents itself that you can act on with that thought you’re there.
Don: Right. Too many people are not ready for opportunities that come along and the universe is constantly sending us opportunities. You have to be ready to embrace them and I think the way to do that is know what your vision, know that you want to get to a certain place and be open as those opportunities come in and those little nuggets of wisdom open your mind.
Andrew: So that’s something that you’ve said about this interview. Know what your vision is and you have a vision for yourself. How do you do it? Is it formal or is it just something that you keep in the back of your head? How do you [??] with your vision?
Don: I’ve written my visions out and they may change, the things that I want. But I think really a lot of this is to know what we’re talking about how manifestation works. How do you manifest something and I think there’s a few different factors to how you make something a reality.
The first one is you have to have an idea of how it looks like. You have to in your mind have a visual representation of what is it that I want, what is it that it looks like. You may not know exactly how it’s going to look. You may know you want a new car, you may know that you want a house in the mountains, you may know that you want to travel Europe and have a visual depiction of that in your mind and hold on to it.
Next step I think is getting it from the mind to reality. And there’s a couple of ways to do that. You can speak it to your friends and to people that are important or to yourself, you can write it out. You got to get it from your mind into physical reality so that’s where things like OK, Brian Tracy says pick a number that you want to make this year. OK, it’s in my head. I’m going to write it down and I’m going to put it somewhere where I’m not going to forget about it. People have vision boards. Then all these things are tools for getting ideas from the mind into reality and the first step is to actually take action towards it.
I’ve always been the kind of person that doesn’t write out the action steps. I take a step, the next step becomes apparent. So as I take steps, the rest of the path kind of opens up and I think those are the three keys to manifesting what you do.
Andrew: So that’s what you do. You have visualization of what you want to do, and then you go from mind to reality by the writing it down or talking to people and then you take some steps, you take some action to make it start happening.
Don: Sounds simple but that’s the basic process of manifesting something.
Andrew: All right. Visualize it in your mind, bring it to reality somehow and then taking action.
It’s a good place to leave it. Don, thank you so much for doing this interview. The website is Inchek.net and if people want to connect with you and say thank you for doing this interview, what’s a good way for them to do that?
Don: Call me or email me. My email is [email protected] and my phone number is 907-546-0965.
Andrew: You just gave out your phone number in the tape. I can’t edit that out. You’re OK with it?
Don: Oh, you can’t? I don’t know how many people are going to see this.
Andrew: We’ll find out right now. It’s all good, entrepreneurs. People do not just call just to call.
I would send an email and say thank you first, before anything else, even I. You and I have gone back and forth for almost a year to book this interview. I think I called you only in case of emergency. Anyone to just call out of the blue is kind of a jerk who’s never going to build a relationship.
Don: And that’s not my cell phone. It’s the office number.
Andrew: Well, somehow I got straight to you when I called that. Anyway, thank you so much for doing that and thank you all for being a part of the interview.