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Interview with Sean Harper CEO & Co-Founder TransFS

Posted Under: Entrepreneurship, Our Heroes

Happy Sunday Everyone!! So today, I want to share my recent chit-chat with Mr. Sean Harper. Prior to starting TransFS, Sean worked as a venture capitalist at Longworth Venture Partners and William Blair Capital Partners and as a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group where he worked on a number of projects in the payments industry. Sean holds an A.B. in economics from the University of Chicago, where he also studied computer science and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. His first start-up TSSRadio made it to the 2009 Inc.500 list. And here is our chat:

DD: Sean, Tell us a little about you and your startups TSS radio, and now TransFS and how it all started?

SH: TSS started because my business partner was a satellite radio fanatic – a huge Howard Stern fan.  He was a friend of mine from grade school, we grew up together.  He believed that satellite radio was going to be big and realized that the big electronics stores didn’t have all the parts and accessories that he wanted to get his satellite radio system running properly.

I worked at a venture capital firm at the time and he asked me for help starting the business and I decided to do it as a side project.  We started with a simple website, just selling a few of the most common Sirius radios and accessories.  We expanded the business rapidly, spent every dollar we earned on either marketing, hiring more customer service reps or increasing our product selection.  And it just grew from there, because we were providing something people wanted.

TransFS happened the same way.  I was shopping for credit card processing at TransFS and I was frustrated by how difficult it was to get a good deal with transparent pricing and fees from a provider in which I had confidence.  Why wasn’t there a website where I could just receive legitimate and accurate offers from good providers?

There are lead generation companies, like Buyerzone and ProposalPortal, that promise to do that, but all they do is sell your name to salespeople who call and bug you, they don’t actually offer any help selecting the right provider.

So I created TransFS to solve my own problem.  Fortunately for us, it turns out that most small businesses pay way too much for their credit card processing and are frustrated with the complexity and opacity of that industry and TransFS solves their problems too!!

DD: Have you even had a corporate career, a fulltime job? How did you break out the 9-5 jail?

SH: I sure have, and I think a lot of entrepreneurs switch between the corporate world and entrepreneurship a few times over their career.  When I was first out of college I worked at a strategy consulting company and then worked for a couple venture capital firms, one in Boston and one in Chicago, before striking out on my own.  I was fortunate in that both those jobs are pretty entrepreneurial, so they were good training, and they taught me a lot of skills that I used later in my own businesses.

I started my first business as a side project, which allowed a nice and easy transition from the corporate world and I didn’t have to worry too much about going. Then I started my second business as a side project of the first one. Of course, doing two jobs pretty much wipes out any free time, which doesn’t work for everyone.

DD: Sean, Did at any point you feel like giving up and getting back to taking a regular job?

SH: Of course.  Being an entrepreneur is lonely, there aren’t that many of us, its hard to have peers or work friends because everyone we work with is an employee and we are so emotionally attached to our ventures that every setback, at least for me, really takes the wind out of my sails.

Fortunately, there are a lot of great days too, when I make a customer happy, release a new product, reach a financial milestone, hire a really great employee, etc.

For me, the lows of entrepreneurship are lower, and the highs are higher.  So on the low days I often wish for the stability and predictability of a “square job”.

DD: Is it smart to start a business right now? You know, the economy isn’t so hot, we are in recession, and investors are tight fisted, all that…

SH: It is harder to start a business in a recession, especially if it’s in an area that is sensitive to the overall economy, like housing, or selling electronics.  But the benefits are also greater, because if you survive and your competitors don’t, when the recession is over you are in a very good position.

I don’t worry too much about the economy, I worry about creating something that people want and are willing to pay for.

DD: Your Top 5 Tips for budding entrepreneurs in 9to5 Jail

SH: 1. Don’t get financially overexposed.  Starting a business when you are cash-strapped is a bad idea and you probably won’t ever make it.  Get your financial house in order and don’t invest more than you can afford.

2. Do let your customers drive the vision of your product or service.  Some guys like Steve Jobs can anticipate, predict, and shape customer demand.  The rest of us have to ask customers what they want and deliver it.

3. Don’t spend too much money on lawyers at the beginning.  Simple documents are best, if you are spending $10,000 in legal fees to setup your business its $10,000 you don’t have to spend on other stuff that customers see and care about.

4. Don’t cut corners at the beginning.  Projects half-done often require a lot more time in the end to fix.  At the beginning there is so much to do that it can be overwhelming.  Create a list, do your tasks completely, move on to the next one and your business will operate smoothly.

5. Do something you really care about.  I see a lot of folks start businesses because they think its cool or they have unrealistic expectations.  There are lots of bad things about having your own business, but the one factor that can totally overwhelm those negative factors is if you love what you are doing.  You don’t want to be the guy who starts a sandwich shop because he wants to get rich.  You want to be the guy who starts a sandwich shop because he LOVES making sandwiches – I think ultimately that leads to a lot more happiness.

DD: Thank you so mush Sean, for your time and sharing your stroy with us. Good luck with TransFS. Any parting comments?!

SH: Thanks Devesh, it was a pleasure talking to you! Good luck with your book and blog. My parting comments, well, in my opinion the most important trait of an entrepreneur is mindset – we need to be patiently urgent.  We have to keep an urgency to constantly improve the business, but be patient enough to not give up when things don’t develop as quickly as we would like.

DD: So, that was Sean Harper and I hope you enjoyed the interview as much as I did… I like tip#5 in particular, you should only get into something you love and care about otherwise the overwhelm of a startup would very soon frustrate you out of business.

And, you know where to go, if you were looking for credit card processing for you website. www.TransFS.com

Success to all!!

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