Monica Eaton-Cardon, COO & Co-Founder at Chargebacks911 | Episode 14

Greg: Hello and welcome to episode 14 of the Leaders in Payments podcast. I’m your host, Greg Myers, and my special guest this week is Monica Eaton-Cardone, the COO and Co-Founder of Chargebacks911. Monica grew up mostly in Idaho and a small town of 22 people. She developed a great work ethic at a very early age and learned many great life lessons by playing sports, specifically basketball.

Chargebacks911 was truly born out of necessity. Monica owned an online business and started getting chargebacks, so she decided to dig in and learn what they were all about and how to mitigate them and then quickly learned there were many others out there that had the same issue and thus Chargebacks911 was born. Monica discusses in great detail the services that Chargebacks911 provides its merchants and customers and provides some great insights into starting a career in payments. So, let’s get started…

Greg: Thank you for being here and welcome to the Leaders in Payments podcast.

Monica: Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.

Greg: Great. So let’s just dive right in. Tell the audience a little bit about yourself, maybe where you’re from, where you grew up, went to school, currently live, maybe a few things like that.

Monica: Sure. So I have probably the most interesting childhood. I grew up all over, mostly in Idaho in the tiniest town you could possibly imagine that had 22 people, absolutely ideal for COVID-19 and I grew up on a farm and then my father was an investor and so he would buy different properties, stores, businesses. So, I had just an amazing experience with moving to different states, different places being in the city, being in farming communities, really dependent on where his investment strategies took him. So from there I learned how to work at a very, very young age. So, probably half of my life we lived in like country areas where we had horses, cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, everything you can imagine. And I actually used to sell eggs. I worked at a mink ranch. I would move pipe in all of our fields and cut hay, milk cows, do all of the things that you actually don’t have any appreciation for until you get older and you recognize like what an honest day’s work really is.

And of course, growing up I thought, “oh my gosh, I have the hardest life.” I have to wake up at 4:00 AM and do all these chores. And then when I got older, of course we moved into different cities. And then I had an opportunity to work at the general store that my dad bought and beauty salons that he owned. And then of course I felt sorry for myself thinking, oh my gosh, I actually have to manage all this inventory and I have to work in our general store and help all these customers and balance the till. And I’m so unfortunate. And I think that started, of course it developed, a great work ethic, a lot of appreciation. And through my career I have often looked back at how thankful I am that I was exposed to such amazing opportunities. You know, at a very young age I learned how to work hard and the appreciation of that and developed a lot of discipline and responsibility.

I have a big family, I have four younger sisters and five younger step-brothers, so massive family. And then when I got into high school, because we moved so often, my saving grace was playing sports. So I love playing basketball, volleyball, and it really gave me an avenue where I didn’t have to join a school and then worry about how to make friends because I could join the sports league. And instantly you have teamwork, you have comradery and it’s just an instant fit that really developed a lot of confidence and taught me tremendously actually. I would say probably everything, every single lesson that I’ve learned in how to manage people, how to work in a team, how to follow people and get results was something that I learned on the basketball court. Lots of life lessons there and tremendous gratitude in that arena.

And another pivotal thing I think happened also in high school. So I, because again, we were moving quite frequently, nearly every single year. I got to go to a different school and oftentimes we would get enrolled in school and it would be mid-year. And so of course all the fun electives were gone. I couldn’t take fashion, I couldn’t take Home Ec, cooking was not even available. And so this one year, I ended up getting stuck taking woodshop and programming and it was like, great, this is like not anything that I’m interested in. And I discovered I had an aptitude for technology and actually I loved it. It was creative, it was artistic. I could build things. And I really, I absolutely fell in love with just figuring out ways to use technology and model things and build stuff and it had all these elements of design and that probably really wet my appetite for things that I would get exposed to later in my career.

And from there I think probably I’m the type of person that, anything that I do, I want to make sure that I do it well and I get passionate about it and I want to be the best. I’m probably one of the most competitive people. I want to be the best at anything that I do, definitely the perseverance and willingness to do what it takes to succeed. That has always worked well for me. And joining the first company that I joined was this little tiny company called Showcase Interiors and they sold carpet and I got a job first as a forklift driver. I was taking college courses in Idaho and dead set on becoming an architect and I was going to create computer programs and become an absolute architect. And unfortunately I, well or fortunately, I guess I wasn’t really that committed to school.

I was actually having so much fun working at this little place, Showcase Interiors, and I started seeing I had all these different opportunities and the owner of that location, I’ll never forget his name is Blair Rigby, was such a mentor because I signed up and I came on and he said he caught me lying about my age. I lied about it because I was afraid I couldn’t get the job and he caught me lying about the experience that I’d had because I had zero experience. So he gave me a job as a forklift driver. I figured it out. Then I got experience learning how to sell. Then I learned how to do accounting, then he taught me how to install carpet, like I learned all these things and then had an opportunity to actually work with him on expanding that business. And slowly but surely all of my interests in becoming the next greatest architect started to just die on the vine because I had this amazing career with all these opportunities.

So yeah, one thing led to another, lots of opportunities, lots of meeting the right people and ended up creating my own business to track different statistics kind of centered around marketing campaigns and a lot of the experience that I had put together in my earlier years, sold that company in 2000, let’s see, 2006 and then started Chargebacks911 as a result of solving a horrible problem that I had becoming an online merchant in 2008. So, fasting forward in 2008 I got bored. I decided I’m not really the best retired candidate and I thought I’m going to take all of this experience that I have in software and technology and that I had built these components for consumer behavioral science and all these different cool things and now I’m going to become the next eBay and how hard can it be?

You know, you just build this website and I can build a website and then I know what I know I’ve had all this experience and how to attract customers and I can figure things out. And I failed so many times. It was actually the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. But finally, as the company started to grow and I was selling different products, my thought was I want it to be like the next eBay because I had so many great contacts, previous customers who all had great products and I considered, I can build this great marketplace. I was doing business internationally. And the thing that kept getting in my way is this horrible problem called chargebacks. And literally I lost one merchant account after another. I got hit with all sorts of fraud. I didn’t know what was going on. As soon as I was ready to celebrate, then I have this backlash of all the money getting taken from my account with chargebacks. So to solve my own problem, a technology to help understand what causes them, I read everything about chargebacks and as it turns, that became definitely an interest with the banks I did business with and created this little website called Chargebacks911, only because I wanted to provide consulting because I was getting so many referrals from banks that I did business with saying, “Monica, jeez, you have a solution for chargebacks. I have a retailer that is actually suffering from the same thing. Can you help them?” And I thought I’m going to create this little site. I hate chargebacks. I don’t want to live in chargeback hell. But it makes me feel good to help people. And you know, it’s crazy stories. Like three weeks after I made the website live and I wrote all this blog content about how much I hated banks. And the chargeback was like, it was the victim was the merchant and it’s not fair and these are things that you could do. The Wall Street Journal did a story and then the New York Times and pretty much like the rest is history. Then it became, all right, you know what? I’m going to build a chargeback business.

Greg: Wow. That’s all, just your upbringings. Fascinating. And then the way the company started, I mean it seems like successful companies start by solving a problem, right? And you definitely were solving your own problem, but then had so many, so many people with the same problem. So yeah, let’s talk about Chargebacks911 a little bit. Just tell the audience exactly what all you do and maybe the journey from back then until now.

Monica: Sure. So Chargebacks911 and I know it has such a funny name, but at the time, as I said like this, this was really born out of necessity to solve a problem that I had as a merchant and as a retailer online because I couldn’t scale. So you know, I kept getting chargebacks so I’ll just break it down. A chargeback is basically what happens to a merchant. It’s a penalty. It comes with fees and you get all the money taken out of your account for a sale that you made when your customer goes to their bank instead of coming to you. And it’s really like a guilty before innocent scenario. And if you get too many of them then you lose your merchant account. So there’s a lot of things that cause chargebacks. Most things as a merchant you have no idea what they are.

So, your focus as a business owner on selling to more customers, making sure that your customers love what they buy. You never focus on the half a percent to 1% of customers that are always going to be mad about something. But with chargebacks you have to pay attention to that because it’s that tiny little percentage that can actually come back to bite you. Because if you’re a business and you can’t accept a credit card or you can’t accept a debit card, especially if you’re an online business, you have no business. So when it comes to chargebacks, there’s a few important things that every business owner needs to recognize. First, many businesses actually don’t even know how many chargebacks they have. It’s very, it’s a difficult statistic because there are different ways of looking at what thresholds are for Visa versus Mastercard, Discover, American Express.

So even though a business owner can see debits coming out of their account, they may not realize how those are calculated against them. What fraud thresholds are they close to getting their account in jeopardy. And then the other thing is understanding what caused their chargebacks. So, you’re getting all of these guilty before proven innocent claims and instead of just accepting the fact that this is a negative statistic on your account, really, in order to prevent anything, you have to dig in and find out what caused this problem, what’s the root cause. So that’s something that we do. We help, we do all of the chargeback reporting. So we manage, jeez, under, just under a thousand integrations worldwide, internationally, in order to centralize all reporting for all chargebacks, no matter what language or bank acquirer anywhere where it’s comes. And then we help identify the source of the chargeback.

And then the third thing, which is probably the most valuable thing arguably for merchants, is with identifying the source of the chargeback. Every merchant has the ability to reclaim their funds and defend themselves if they believe that that chargeback was invalid. In other words, it was wrongfully filed. So we provide a service to automate all of those responses and claims so that the merchant doesn’t have to understand all the different codes and templates and case information that you have to know. And it’s like, I mean a thousand pages of reading to understand exactly what you need for every single type of case. We automate all of that and we have a platform that helps automatically process all chargebacks, then identify what types of chargebacks are valid versus invalid, and then automatically work to recover those funds and basically establish the right verdict so the merchant gets their money back and they also get valuable insight to understand, you know, better business decisions that they need to make to avoid this type of liability in the future.

Greg: I’m sure there are other chargeback management companies in your space, but what differentiates you guys from the others out there? 

Monica: So, I think I’m pretty safe in saying that we were the very first and many times I have regretted, you know, creating such a plethora of education around chargebacks. However, that said, it’s actually created more growth opportunities because there are, you know, it used to be that my number one barrier to get a client would be actually educating the merchant that they had a right and they could do something about these chargebacks because there was just such ignorance around this problem. Today that’s not a problem. So that has definitely opened the floodgates in terms of opportunities. Where we stand in terms of how we differentiate ourselves and how we compare is if you take a look in the industry, there’s basically three types of chargeback management types of companies.

One type of company only supports merchants and generally likes a higher risk breed of merchants. So you could think like a merchant that sells a product that it doesn’t have a brand name and it’s typically it’s going to get more chargebacks than normal. And those are called high risk merchants. The other type of chargeback management company is the type that, they may provide a software tool for merchants in addition to maybe they sell a gateway or a fraud filter. And so they add a component. It’s not their core competency, but they add a function for chargeback management. And then the third type of company out there adds chargeback management as a component. Again, not a core competency, but this could be for financial institutions to aid some of these institutions on how to process claims and chargebacks. So, I think the best way to describe what we do is our platform with our history, we do all of those altogether.

So that means we’re able to offer all of the expertise from supporting merchants of all walks of life all over the world in every single vertical. Plus with all of those connections, we are 100% agnostic. So we won’t have another interest in selling any other service. We’ll work with any service provider, any fraud filter, anything like that. And we have a lot of dynamic rules that are able to accommodate a lot of different attributes depending on where that merchant operates, et cetera. And then finally being connected with actual payment methods and you know, Visa, MasterCard, China Union Pay, et cetera, and actually provide also a solution that banks can use to help automate their processes. Then we’re really speaking three entirely different languages and our platform is able to operate to take in all of that intelligence and interpret it in order to produce the very best data-driven decision.

Greg: I think it would be remiss if we didn’t touch on what’s currently going on in the world today. So Monica, tell the audience what Chargebacks911 is doing to support both your employees and customers during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Monica: Sure. So thankfully we haven’t had to lay anyone off. And of course, we’ve definitely moved to remote statuses, unfortunately by force for, for most of us. And you know, we have locations in India, in the UK, Europe as well as the States of course. So, I think, trying to make sure that it always has been a core function to make sure that we stay connected, you know, just internationally. So I think with the challenges of being remote, it’s really dovetailed into even more of a requirement to make sure that the whole team is feeling appreciated. They’re connected. And so one thing that we have done, so every morning, and we try to do it actually twice a day so that we can cover every time zone, but we have what we call a Kanban meeting and we’ve done this forever from inception and it’s a huge whiteboard with like sticky notes and you prioritize any different issue that comes up and all of the managers from each department attend so that we can prioritize any issue.

So, it doesn’t interrupt their work stack. And so what we’ve done is we’ve moved that now online, so, and we’ve also opened it up. So it’s not just managers, it’s everybody in the company. So, part of that meeting is of course going through any issues. So everybody feels like they’re informed, but also highlighting individuals that have done exceptional work. Then every Friday part of that Kanban meeting is also, talking about the unsung heroes. So, so many, I think today more than ever, every single employee, especially those that may have been seen as more of maybe an entry level, they haven’t been here for very long. Those people are so incredibly valuable and they are absolutely vital to every organization because I think every owner is and every business has to really confront the fact that you need to genuinely appreciate every single individual that works to make the company successful.

So hopefully we’ve engaged a bit of good teamwork in terms of what we’ve done for the industry. And for our clients, we’ve obviously gotten a lot of demand and being in the business that we’re in for chargebacks and helping manage risks and in answer to some of the support requests that we’re getting, we recognize that merchants today as well as banks, they don’t have the luxury to dedicate technical resources to consider long-term integrations. They need short-term support, no contracts. And so we’ve beefed up our implementation team and a scaled some different strategies that allow us to offer no implementation, no setup fees with basically no contract. And then we’re rolling out a scenario where all of the fees that were paid are on a percentage of the revenue that we recover by helping protect revenues and reduce risk. So I think that will be a really good news story for a lot of merchants that are really finding a difficult time or finding it difficult to watch some of these revenues dissipate and also lacking the resources to keep up with making sure that they’re recovering all of those chargebacks that may be invalid.

Greg: Well, thank you for sharing that. We’re going to switch gears a little bit and we’re going to talk about you. I mean, you’ve already mentioned a lot about your journey to where you are today and about the founding of the company. But maybe talk about your role today and what you do sort of on a day to day basis now.

Monica: So, I will tell you my passion is in product development. I probably can do just about every role in the company it seems. So I’m one of those people that likes to get involved and understand all the little details and figure out how things work. But I’m most passionate and probably most involved with our innovations lab, looking at trends in the market and behavior trends that we’re seeing even with our clients. Also emerging markets to help predict how things are going to change and then build for that. And you know, sometimes we’ve done a pretty good job in, in being able to predict what’s needed. Other times we built something and then I realize actually, you know what, this probably, this isn’t going to be the easiest thing to roll out. So the whole premise is when you find that, then fail fast.

But yeah, I definitely, I spend a lot of time learning more. I think with this industry it always presents challenge and I always find every time I think that, okay, I really understand this, I really have a great understanding of exactly what’s going on. Then sure enough I expose how much I really didn’t know about something and those scenarios create to solve new problems and help improve. 

Greg: Great. And I think this is a good segue because you talked about passion and that’s the next question. What’s one thing you’re passionate about related to work and then one thing you’re passionate about that’s not work-related? 

Monica: Well let’s see. I’ll give you non-work-related first. So I am like 1000% passionate about just anything that has to do with my kids. So I have two girls and we do just about everything. We do cartwheels, we do bike rides, and we’ve done sewing projects.

But you know, there at ages now where it’s really fun to spend time with them and so really enjoy just about every moment and huge, huge into family in terms of what I’m most passionate about at work. That is the question, right? At work. Yes. Yes. So let me see how I can answer this a little bit different. So I’m passionate about product development and product innovation. I am probably, I’m equally passionate about just making, I really care about everybody that is in our company and making sure that we have a type of culture that works hard and gives back. So we make a donation to a charity every week. So that’s 52 donations a year. I’m also passionate about an effort that we funded a nonprofit support system really for kids in need that are having struggles getting through high school. It’s called Paid for Grades and that’s been really rewarding.

We sponsor kids that are, that have had attendance issues or maybe they’re not doing very well in their grades. And the whole premise of that was really based on, I wanted to challenge the education system because we hire a huge amount of entry level employees and some of these guys I find out that they didn’t even graduate high school but they are like so smart. I mean gigantic IQs and they, I’m so lucky that they joined us, but I actually, I was reading all these different articles and I was heavily involved with like the education foundation in the town where I, where I’m at in 2013 and I thought, you know, actually I don’t think that the problem is that high school kids are dropping out because they’re illiterate or they can’t actually do school or they aren’t learning. And I would like to challenge that and see if I can pay the school and actually offer these kids cash.

Then I wonder if they would change because they aren’t going to do anything for a scholarship. I need to speak in something in their language because I actually think the only reason why they’re dropping out of school is because of confidence. They just need more confidence. And so we set up this little trial called Paid for Grades. I did an assembly at a local school, had employees that work here do presentations and we put together a 12 hour course that, every kid that signed up they could get $500 in cash or I would give them $1,000 scholarship and every single one of these kids had to be enrolled by their teacher and they were all virtually ready to drop out. And they went through the 12 hours and we didn’t teach them anything about school at all.

It was all confidence stuff, right? It was here’s how to do an interview, what do you want to do? We actually had them do some work at the office. So, they learned about Excel, real world type of things. Just actually work stuff. And it was amazing. Every single one of these big kids that initially enrolled in the program, 100% of them only did it for cash and 100% of them, if you would have seen the career choices that they had, it was like classic. It was not good. It was like, okay, I’m so glad that you’re here. And you know, at the end, not one of them took the $500 in cash. And I remember that because actually we weren’t making very much money. And I was like, oh crap, I know I need to find a way to fund all this. Every single one decided to go to college and take $1,000 and improve their attendance. And yeah, we had rave reviews and then after that we said, you know what, actually let’s make this into a program and then offer it to more schools. So probably equally passionate about things that give back, especially that can involve the employees, you know? So it’s not a single effort, but yeah, those types of things are fun I think.

Greg: Yeah, that sounds like a really, really good program. Very innovative thinking for sure.

Monica: Yeah, it was. It’s definitely been rewarding. Probably selfishly, it’s probably been the most rewarding, one of the most rewarding things.

Greg: Sure, absolutely. Yeah. So this next question kind of fits in that in that, you know the payments industry as a whole, in the last, I would say five to 10 years has really grown and become actually an industry where people know about it. They may want to start a career in the industry, they may want to jump over from another industry into payments because they’ve heard so much about it. What would your advice be to someone either coming right out of school or maybe changing careers that’s getting into the industry? What would your advice be to them?

Monica: So, my advice would be if you can find a mentor, I think mentors are always great to have because you can get some guidance. Never burn a bridge, ever, ever, ever, ever. This industry is super small and everybody knows each other even though it’s gigantic and like taking over the world. So always make sure that you’re mindful of that. And then I think its great to start out is be willing to prove yourself. I think people take for granted the value of on the job training. It’s actually the most valuable education that you can possibly have. So if you can join a company that will give you an opportunity to get trained and you prove yourself and you can climb the ladder, learn different things, become an expert that is going to serve you 10 times better than a college education in this industry.

I would bank on that because all the things that you can learn in college that will help you in payments are really the things that you should have as a tenant yourself. Like you should already have a good work ethic. You should be able to get things done. You should have good writing skills. These are all things that you should be able to, you should have brought from high school hopefully. But yeah, if you can search for, I would, if you’re starting out in payments, I would search for a smaller company. I would probably not start out in a huge corporation because in a smaller company you’re going to have a bit more flexibility and you’ll probably get to learn a lot more just by nature of it being smaller. And then as you grow, either grow with that company or advance to another company, but you know, look for a company that has the type of culture where you really will be given an opportunity. There’s not a strict roadmap to what you can achieve. I think today more than ever if you perform and if you do well then I mean you can write your own success story. I think that’s always skills that are in demand.

Greg: Yeah, I think that’s great advice and great insights. Well, we’re about to wrap up. Anything else you’d like to add before we go?

Monica: I think that that is, I think that’s about it. We covered a ton of things, so thank you so much for your time.

Greg: No, thank you and I really appreciate your time. I know your time is very valuable, so I really do appreciate you being on the show. 

Monica: Okay, awesome. Well, we’ll talk again soon. Thanks Greg. 

Greg: Thank you. And to all you listeners out there, thank you for your time as well and until the next story…