When Boston College alumnus Michael Nardy began selling auction software to companies during the height of the dot-com boom, he quickly noticed demand for money-transaction services among his clients.
"I realized there's a whole world of credit-card processing," Nardy says. "There are plumbers, retail stores, supermarkets, gas stations -- that opens up a huge market for us to go into."
Founded in 2000, Electronic Payments literally began in Nardy's college dorm room with only employee -- himself. But within three years, he had hired 25 employees in three different states, with a network of 400 sales agents and 10,000 merchants across the country.
"Finally, I called my college roommate, Matt, and said, 'Here's what I'm doing, here's what I got, and I need some help," Nardy says.
What Nardy had was a nearly omnipresent business model on his hands. As more and more people opt for paperless money, the necessity grows for a service to facilitate card and check transactions. Not only does Electronic Payments dispatch agents to those businesses to sell access to its transaction network, but it also services larger merchants, from Subway restaurants to Toyota car dealerships directly as their primary transaction processor. When a customer swipes a credit card, a signal is sent over the Electronic Payments network, and the company ensures that transaction is secure, fast, and seamless, Nardy says. The company charges a small percentage of each transaction, and some businesses process at least 50,000 transactions a month.
"Transactions are a commodity," Nardy says. "So if you could buy a transaction like you buy flour or wheat, you're going to find success."
And success he has found. Electronic Payments has increased its revenue from $5.5 million in 2007 to $17.6 million in 2008 -- despite the recession -- and processes $1.5 billion in transactions on its network on a yearly basis. The company also landed at No. 70 on this year's Inc. 500 list of the nation's fastest-growing private companies.
Nardy attributes the company's gains to several factors, including the cash-to-card migration, but believes the primary key is keeping a small business mentality as the company approaches big business status. A majority of the success is rooted in local service and support, he says, and he doesn't forget the little things that make a customer feel appreciated, such as zero hold time and returning messages.
"We're very hands-on," Nardy says. "If you could compare us to banking, we're your local neighborhood community bank, but we're you're processor."
Nardy's commitment to customer relations might stem from a discouraging situation he experienced starting up, when he approached two major transaction companies -- in hopes of using their services to help build up his business -- and was flatly denied. While he says he now realizes how his small start-up may not have been attractive to the companies, he remembers the sting of the rejection vividly.
"I didn't understand enough about business to understand where they were coming from," Nardy says. "I was 19. I was disappointed, but it gave me the resolve to work harder."