“For better or worse, there’s never a stagnant day. There is always a new fire to fight and a new product to innovate.”
Todd Gagerman on the business his stepmother started, the mind-clearing benefits that flying provides, and the importance of providing value to the alternative financial services industry.
Name: Todd Gagerman
Company Name: Digital Currency Systems (DCS)
Formal Job Title: CEO
Number of Years in Business: 30
What inspired you to start your current business?
DCS was started by my stepmother in 1986 as a provider of money-order management systems. I was still in high school. While other kids were honing their knowledge of sports stars in sixth grade, I was the kid who would design and build alarm systems with parts purchased from Radio Shack. I loved building things with technology. I went on to study computer/electrical engineering at Purdue University, and also learned to fly aircraft, which I decided to do professionally some time after college. Fast forward to 2002 when I was a pilot for a major airline. My stepmother was no longer interested in keeping the business, which provided me an opportunity to see what I could do with it. Furthermore, with the 9/11 attacks in recent mind, I was looking for something that would not only fit my calling, but allow me to have more control over my own destiny.
What problems are you solving through your business?
DCS provides a completely integrated point-of-sale system to the alternative financial services industry. In short, we provide systems that manage all aspects of store activity while providing the compliance tools required for their unique transaction set. Throw in compliance requirements with real-time connectivity to multitudes of providers, and you have a truly niche product suite. Think of a manned bank-in-a-box. Our merchants use our systems to provide walk-in bill payment services, accomplish check cashing, sell debit cards, purchase gift-cards for cash, etc.—all from a single system.
What do you believe is the key ingredient to your business’s success?
I think there are several. I believe our knack for understanding the market at hand and incorporating that knowledge into products that serve our clients and their customers well is a major key. Additionally, our team’s high level of understanding the industry and customer service enables merchants—regardless of technical capacity—the ability to operate in a sophisticated and cost-effective manner.
How do you keep your business from getting stagnant?
For better or worse, there’s never a stagnant day. There is always a new fire to fight and a new product to innovate.
What area of your business are you hoping to grow and improve?
Distribution. We provide a great platform, and having several integrated partners white-label and deploy our POS is a win-win that will grow our business substantially.
What aspect of your company are you most excited about?
Our ability as well as our plans to scale.
What is one practice that has been key to your success and why?
I still fly professionally. Although I don’t always relish being away, it also forces me into a position where I’m free of all the normal distractions. At times, I do my best thinking at 30,000 feet—literally. Not to mention the fact that the traveling to nice places adds a nice balance.
In a few sentences, please summarize your business philosophy.
We serve merchants in an industry that many times have a shortsighted nickel-and-dime mentality. We take a different approach and look to work with those who provide value and understand ours.
What inspires you outside of work?
A number of things—spending time with my family, flying aircraft and engaging in the aviation community, and really cool technology that serves a great use. Maybe not the next Facebook per se, but more like a DNA cure for cancer. Or, perhaps, a real-life “warp drive.” Elon Musk has done some clearly cool stuff. I also enjoy seeing others who defy all odds and accomplish great things, while maintaining modesty, dignity, and a sense of humility. One example, although it was well before my time—the Tuskegee Airmen have an amazing and inspirational story. It’s a lesson of inspiration I find nearly unparalleled—not because they were the first black military pilots, but because they strove and succeeded to be one of the best military squadrons in the world, despite the forces against them (a lesson they like to talk about). I actually got to shake the hand of Col. Charles McGee (now 97), one of the few remaining Tuskegee Airmen at EAA, the largest air show in the world, which takes place yearly in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I’d say that’s one I have only recently started to do well with. Basically, I have a great team in place and I do the best I can to stay out of their way. Sure, I spend time on vision and new ideas, but from an ops perspective, I try not to be too close. This enables me to stay away from much of the minutiae, less the stuff I really can’t delegate. We’re too small to have a CFO, so that’s me too. But by staying away from the minutiae, my company runs with or without me, which makes it much easier to take time off when needed and enjoy the summer with my family.
How has EO contributed to your business’s growth and success?
It’s been huge! While I haven’t taken advantage of EO events as much as I would like, the forum experience has been invaluable. From new ideas for my company, to understanding how other very talented individuals have tackled problems, to seeing their outlook on life, EO has enabled me to gain viewpoints and focus which otherwise would have proven elusive.