On Hunger for Success, Safety Nets and Merchant Accounts

On Hunger for Success, Safety Nets and Merchant Accounts

Several months ago I was listening to a BBC radio program (by the way, I absolutely love the BBC and truly believe that our world would have been a vastly more unenlightened place had it not existed; should the British ever decide to reduce the BBC license fee or withdraw their financial support altogether, they would do an incalculable amount of damage to the entire world community — even in a country like the U.S. there is not a single radio station whose product comes remotely close to the quality of BBC World Service; I would suggest that the BBC starts charging fees in the U.S. and other rich countries, while leaving it free in less well-off places — if you put your online radio player behind a paywall, I’d be the first to sign up, but would be far from alone), which was dedicated to the subject of getting a job in the recession-hit Western world. One of the guests was a straight-shooting American venture capitalist from a well-known Silicon Valley firm. The other participants were several young people from different countries who were all looking for a job.

The youngsters were all given a minute or so to convince the VC to give them a job. However, none of the Western candidates — an American, a Brit and someone from a European country whose name escapes me — managed to impress the VC and he let his feelings be known in no uncertain terms. They were all talking, the VC informed the candidates, mostly about themselves and the skills they had on paper, which was necessary, but they were all neglecting the part that was the only thing a potential private employer would care about — how they’d be making him money. Yes, you could argue that, especially in larger organizations, there are positions whose money-making potential would be difficult to assess, but even in such cases new employees are expected to bring value. In any case, the Indian candidate’s pitch was everything his Western counterparts’ presentations weren’t and was precisely what our VC was looking for — a point-by-point plan for justifying the prospective employer’s investment, for that is precisely what a new hire is. The VC was impressed by the Indian candidate, but wasn’t exactly surprised — job seekers in developing countries are hungrier than their Western counterparts, he told his audience, and are precisely the kind of employees he hires for his companies. Well, I thought, that is exactly what I see in the merchants who contact me.

Why We Love Our India-Based Merchants

At this point, most of our inquiries are coming from merchants based in India and a substantial number of the remaining inquiries are submitted by Indian entrepreneurs living and doing business in the U.S. and the U.K. And, unlike many of our competitors, we love working with them. True, for reasons that are often beyond our applicants’ control, we are unable to service merchants with whom we would have been able to work had they been based in the U.S. However, it’s all a numbers’ game (from our perspective, at least) and the few applicants who do manage to overcome the hurdles more than justify the effort. What do they have in common? Well, they are all incredibly determined to get what they need and refuse to take “no” for an answer. See, there are two overarching reasons why we would be unable to work with a merchant — incomplete documentation or insufficient volume — and in each case, we would tell the applicant what the issue is. Once they find out, our India-based applicants would immediately start looking for a solution and you can be sure that, if one exists, they would find it. How can you not love working with such partners?

But it gets better — if our applicant cannot immediately solve the problem, he (and it’s almost always a “he”) will keep working at it until he does get it solved. For example, we insist on our India-based applicants having at the very least a $100,000-worth of monthly processing volume, before we initiate the application process. Otherwise, it’s just not worth it for us. Whenever an applicant does not have the volume, which is the case most of the time, he would inevitably attempt to convince us that he nevertheless deserves a chance — a hopeless task, but one that the applicant, rightly, feels must be undertaken. Only after he is certain that we won’t budge, does the applicant move on. However, and this is what I’m driving at, many would still not give up. Instead, they would keep working at expanding their volumes until their business becomes sufficiently attractive to us that we consider reviewing its application several months down the road. Needless to say, these are precisely the merchants we love the most, as they are the ones we know will bring the most value to our own business.

The Hunger Game

The contrast between the type of merchant described in the preceding paragraphs and the ones represented in the majority of our domestic inquiries is similar to the one confronted by the VC in the BBC program I talked about earlier. Yes, we do get contacted by large, experienced merchants who have little trouble complying with our requirements, but that is rarely the case with smaller and younger organizations. The applicants of the latter kind often attempt to convince us that their potential is much greater than what their paperwork would have us believe, much as their India-based counterparts do, but are much less likely to work on whatever it is that may need improving. Now, I should say that this is not necessarily indicative of indolence on the part of our American applicants, but is rather the product of a false perception that the merchant will inevitably find what he is looking for. Well, in the high-risk world, at least, such belief is rarely justified. And the worst thing is that, even after they’ve gone through the list of potential service providers and have found none willing to work with them, our American applicants are much more likely to give up than Indian entrepreneurs are.

I am not at all surprised by my “discovery” — this is precisely what I would’ve expected to see, had I thought about it before starting UniBul. We lead privileged lives in the Western world, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. Business success is welcome and, at least in the U.S., celebrated, but failure is certainly an option — we have a safety net to cushion our fall should things not go according to plan, as they often would even with the best of preparation. In contrast, in India and elsewhere in the developing world failure can easily mean utter destitution and in these parts that word doesn’t mean what it means in the U.S. Success in India may well be the only alternative worth contemplating and there may not be a second chance.

The Takeaway

So fear, I am reminded once again, can be a powerful motivator and is arguably the biggest factor driving the relentless economic rise of the giants of the developing world. But what do I do with that knowledge? Do I campaign for the demolition of the social safety net in the U.S. or, if I don’t believe in that, for some other cause I may believe in? No, I don’t and won’t do anything of the kind. And no, I haven’t formed an opinion on the safety net issue — whereas I’ve seen plenty of evidence that any form of financial aid dulls a person’s appetite for professional success, I don’t want to be seeing people starving and dying in the streets. Instead, I use my observations to inform my day-to-day business decisions and as a source of topics of conversations with my friends. And as far as the former exercise is concerned, the conclusion is inescapable — India-based businesses are worth placing a bet on — they are led by hungry entrepreneurs for whom failure is not an option.

Image credit: Quotepaty.com.

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