As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Monica Eaton-Cardone.
Monica Eaton-Cardone is the Co-Founder and COO of Chargebacks911. This risk mitigation firm protects more than 2 billion transactions annually to help online merchants optimize profitability through dispute management. Chargebacks911 is headquartered in the Tampa Bay area, with offices in North America and Europe. Monica has more than two decades of experience in the fields of eCommerce, payments, fintech, and fraud prevention.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Absolutely, and thanks for having me!
So, I took a somewhat unusual path to my current position. I never set out to become a leader in the payments industry; in fact, I was an eCommerce merchant. We did well at first, but over time, we started seeing more and more chargeback issuances, to the point that it was jeopardizing our entire business. I tried everything; I spent tons of money on solution providers, but nothing worked. Finally, I said, “I’ll find a way to solve this myself.”
I learned everything there was to know about chargebacks and the payments industry. I developed a solution based on what I learned, and we were able to reduce our chargeback issuances and save the business. I discovered, though, that our problem wasn’t an isolated one; merchants in every vertical were struggling with the same problem.
I started Chargebacks911 in 2012, thinking I could do some consulting work as a nice side gig. The demand for our services was overwhelming, though, and it quickly developed into my main focus. Fast-forward to the present, and we’re now the industry leaders in dispute management, with 350 employees spread across North America, Europe, and Asia.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Probably the biggest mistake I made was choosing to listen to self-professed “experts” over my own experience. When I was first trying to find a solution for chargebacks, I went with conventional wisdom, which said it was better not to react. I remember thinking, “I know most of these disputes filed against me are invalid,” but I was advised not to fight back.
After months of working on the problem…I was still losing money! I finally decided I would handle things my way, which turned out to be the right decision.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I always recommend the book ‘Agile Project Management with Kanban’ by Eric Brechner. In the early years of the company, we were growing at a rapid pace, and our motto was essentially to “move fast and break things.” While that allowed for us to be adaptable, it created a lot of chaos with systematizing processes, and wasn’t a viable long-term strategy.
Reading Brechner’s book was an eye-opener. It provided the framework to allow for structure and efficiency, while still retaining that all-important element of adaptability. It’s a great introduction to the kanban system, with easy-to-implement guidelines and examples.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Growing a successful global business from the ground-up has its own rewards. That said, I think a key part of what drives me forward is knowing that the success of Chargebacks911 enables me to have a powerful, positive impact on the community. I try to think of every business in terms of its capacity to improve the world, and that’s a primary part of Chargebacks911’s purpose.
We have our ‘Take Charge for Charity’ program, through which we make weekly donations to nonprofit groups operating in our community. We also fund and organize the ‘Paid for Grades’ program, which awards cash prizes to participating students as a reward for their academic performance.
I love helping merchants protect and grow their businesses. That said, I see the charity and community assistance programs in which we participate as the true end product of what we do at Chargebacks911.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
If I were to go with one guiding principle, I think it would be adaptability. You have to be agile and willing to confront change and respond in order to thrive in business. Sometimes, being adaptable can present you with incredible opportunities you never would have expected.
In my case, for instance, there was a big shift in the way the card networks handled chargebacks a few years ago. If we weren’t willing to adapt, it could easily have led us to lose a lot of our business. However, we took it as an opportunity to develop products and adapt our solutions to the new lay of the land.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
It’s certainly been a challenge! I’m together at home with my husband and my two daughters, but we tend to be very active, so it’s been difficult for everyone to adjust to staying cooped up in the house. We’re still going to the office on a regular basis, but we’ve definitely been spending more time at home.
We’re trying to make the most of it, though, by starting a family garden. The girls have loved putting together planter boxes and growing their own produce at home! I think that’s helped them adjust to the current situation.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
As I alluded to earlier, we maintain offices in both Tampa and London. Under normal circumstances, I’m constantly bouncing back and forth between the two locations. Of course, with travel effectively shut down across the globe, that’s made it difficult to keep up the same degree of interconnection.
We’re really fortunate, though, that we had adaptable continuity plans in place, and that we’ve built a fantastic team of resourceful individuals. We’ve transitioned most of our teams over to remote work, and have been able to maintain consistent channels of communication throughout the crisis, while still ensuring data security.
Back in 2017, we experienced similar disruptions at our Tampa offices due to Hurricane Irma. But, because we were prepared and had plans in place that could be adapted to the unique challenges of different situations, we were able to provide consistent service to our clients throughout the crisis.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
At this point, I think the best thing we can do for our loved ones, especially children, is to try and create as much of a semblance of normalcy as possible. I suggest looking for the things you can still do, and trying to emphasize those activities. For instance, my girls love to wake up early and go fishing with my husband from time to time, and they’ve been able to continue doing that.
In a more general sense, it’s important to be as supportive as possible, but that means understanding where everyone is in regards to how they’re managing the situation. We’re all navigating this challenge in our own way.
It’s easy for some of us to make the best of a bad situation, but others are really struggling. We should make the effort to try and meet people where they are, and to relate to their sense of anxiety in a way that meshes with their situation and their mindset.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I think eCommerce and digital sales channels are going to see a significant bump as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. People are already more cognizant of avoiding unnecessary contact. Buying options like online ordering, in-store pickup are already seeing an uptick in use. The same applies for mobile wallet tools like Apple Pay; customers can use contactless check out without the need for cash or payment cards.
A migration in customer preference was already underway even before the virus outbreak; this only accelerated the trend. I anticipate that physical retailers who invest in digital buying options will see a good return on their investment. Those who don’t, however, could be left behind.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Most people want things to go back to “normal” as much as possible. By and large, I think many aspects of our lives ultimately will go back to normal. However, I think that we’ll generally be more aware of how we carry ourselves in public going forward, especially regarding how we interact with people.
I think we’ll see people trying to keep more distance from one another when out in public. That could carry ramifications for bars and restaurants, as well as for concerts and other public events. I don’t know if it will be a long-term change, but at least for now, I expect people will continue trying to minimize trips in public. That could further accelerate eCommerce at the expense of brick-and-mortar sellers.
We’re facing a “new normal,” as people are calling it. It’s going to take a while before everyone adjusts fully. In the meantime, people are going to need to explore their boundaries, and decide whether they’re comfortable being in public, and to what degree they’re willing to accept the risk.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We’ve been fortunate, in the sense that our services are actually more in demand in recent months. With the uptick in eCommerce activity, merchants are facing a surge in chargeback issuances, especially in verticals that are most heavily impacted by the crisis. We’ve been able to ensure continuity, so we’re well-positioned to transition pretty seamlessly back into our regular office setup once the worst of this passes.
We’ve always stayed very up-to-date with developments in the industry so we could respond quickly and effectively. As the situation changes, we’ll adapt out strategies and technologies to respond and offer the services that merchants need from us, just as those needs arise.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
This situation should underscore the importance of having a business continuity plan if you don’t already have one in place. Your plan should be clear and focused, but also adaptable to different situations, and flexible to change as the situation develops.
Having a continuity plan is essential to ensuring that your business can still function through an emergency. Or, even if operations are suspended, you can use your plan to get up-and-running immediately.
The first step here is to identify your vulnerabilities, such as where your inventory is located, how your supply chain could be interrupted, and on what third-party vendors you rely. Next, you should develop a strategy to address all of those vulnerabilities, and keep revising your plans as conditions change.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I really love the quote by Muhammad Ali: “I hated every minute of training, but I said ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” I think it’s great because it speaks to that drive that you need to achieve success. It reminds me to keep pushing ahead, even when it seems almost impossible to do so. You push yourself to be better, and in the process, you may discover new opportunities, as I did with the development of Chargebacks911.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow me on Twitter (@Monica_Eaton), as well as on LinkedIn, and on my own personal blog: http://monicaec.com/. I contribute regular guest content to a number of sites including Forbes, PaymentsSource, and other outlets focused on payments, finance, and business leadership. Following me on social is a great way to keep tabs on everything I publish!