Malaysian-born Fenella Yin Fang Kim was educated as an electrical engineer, but the lure of a performance-based salary drew her into a payment processing sales career. With the rare ability to speak five languages -- English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay and Taiwanese -- she became increasingly successful as co-workers sent her their Asian-speaking leads. When customers began calling her for technical support because she was one of the few employees who spoke their languages, she recognized the language barrier as a business opportunity.
Kim launched Reliance Star Payment Services in 2004, catering to businesses serving the Asian market and newly immigrated business owners. She recruited a multilingual sales and support team and expanded nationwide; the company's website now says it can accommodate 100 languages. In 2013 and 2014, Reliance made the Inc. 5000 list of America's fastest-growing, privately owned companies. This month Kim relocated the company's headquarters back to Long Island from Bayside, Queens.
Why did you move back to Long Island?
We founded the company where my husband was born and raised, in East Northport. Then we moved to Bayside in 2008, but realized it's a good location, but is too Asian-focused. As we started to diversify to different markets, such as Vietnamese, American and Spanish markets, we needed bigger office space. Our Great Neck office has 6,000 square feet, and is an easy commute from Flushing and other parts of Long Island . . . it's near the train station and bus.
You're planning to hire 40 more people. What skills are you looking for?
Sales reps, mostly for Long Island, and we are also recruiting independent sales reps. We're definitely looking for bilingual and trilingual abilities: Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, Portuguese. But if someone speaks only English, we welcome that as well, so long as their personality and communication skills are a fit. In sales, they're selling themselves.
When catering to the Asian market, what should people keep in mind?
Can [your clients'] employees get the same support they need if they don't speak English? A [complaint] I hear from mom-and-pop business owners is that they couldn't get away from the business because they're afraid that employees they hired couldn't take care of the credit card terminal because of their language limitation.
Why do you offer business owners a credit card and cash discount program?
It helps businesses steer consumers to a preferred payment method by giving them a cash discount. When they accept debit cards, the [transaction] cost is higher. It helps business owners save 70 to 80 percent in fees.
What do you predict for the future of payment processing?
Companies have to be more technology-oriented. The mobile wallet will take over the future generation: People won't know what a wallet is because they will have everything on their cellphones.
You were chosen for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative in 2013. What did you learn?
It was like an accelerated 6-month MBA program. The main goal was to help the economy since the bread and butter of the U.S. economy are mom and pops. We are the ones who are able to create the most jobs. My eye-opener was that I should think big . . . My goal is to grow the business tenfold in the next five years. Prior to the program, I never thought that way. We plotted a growth strategy, which is different from a business plan. They [also] really gave me the ability to work on the business, not in the business. We have to put the company on the map, and really do some public relations. And the program emphasized applying for government certification. As a minority woman-owned enterprise, [I have] the opportunity to bid on government procurements that need payment processing.
NAME: Fenella Yin Fang Kim, president and chief executive, Reliance Star Payment Services of Great Neck.
WHAT IT DOES: Provides comprehensive electronic payment processing and merchant services, including data and marketing strategies.
EMPLOYEES: 20 full time, 1 part time on Long Island, 100 independent sales reps nationwide.
REVENUE: $2.4 million