Val Pinkhasov, President of Total Merchant Resources, joins the program to discuss the work that he does helping businesses get access to working capital, and what it was like to be featured on Shark Tank. Val reveals how he works to instill the values of hard work and humility in his children and the importance of self-reliance. He also discusses the importance of experiencing failure along the way to success.

Episode Transcription

Speaker 1: Welcome to Hidden Human, the podcast where we explore the stories behind the business leader. Get ready to hear insights from business leaders, speaking candidly about how they became who they are today and the lessons they learned along the way. And now here’s your host, leadership coach and speaker Kelly Meerbott.

Kelly Meerbott: Welcome to the space where we share our own personal humanity to connect with the collective humanity. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Val Pinkhasov, president and co-founder of Total Merchant Resources. Val, I have been waiting for this interview because a couple of months ago you and I had the good fortune to cross paths and for me, I don’t know if you experienced this as well, but it just felt like a deep connection, like I was talking to a brother that I hadn’t known I had in a very long time.

Val Pinkhasov: Yeah, that’s fantastic, Kelly. Was a pleasure to meet you and get to know you as well. Thank you.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. Tell us what, first of all, why would you found something called Total Merchant Services? And what is it?

Val Pinkhasov: Well, it’s Total Merchant Resources.

Kelly Meerbott: Thank you, thank you.

Val Pinkhasov: I’ve always been in finance. After college, I’ve always been fascinated with the way money moves and the stock market and with the mortgage industry falling apart back in 2008, I needed to know what’s next. What type of transition I could get into that would be similar. And this industry, merchant cash advance and alternative business lending was just starting to bloom at that time. People would take out money from their houses as a refinance that would cash out and use it for various reasons. A lot of it had to do with having their business grow. But when that type of liquidity dried up, business owners didn’t know what to do.

Val Pinkhasov: This industry started to, like I said before, bloom and start to prosper. We got into it and I had my partner at the time, we were both in the mortgage industry and it was a battle. It was a very, very different type of business in terms of, you’re dealing with a business owner rather than a homeowner. You’re dealing with 20, 30,000 or a $100,000 transactions versus, five or $600,000 transactions. It was a very different environment, but similar enough for us to find our footing and make it work. And that’s what we did.

Kelly Meerbott: If I was a six year old child and you were trying to explain to me in a way I could understand what it is exactly that you do, how would you explain that to me?

Val Pinkhasov: We give cash to businesses across America for them to grow their business.

Kelly Meerbott: Perfect.

Val Pinkhasov: That’s what we do.

Kelly Meerbott: And what, I know financially and strategically from a business perspective, why you would do this, it makes perfect sense. But what was it in your soul that said, “This is what I’m destined to do?”

Val Pinkhasov: That’s tough. I don’t think this was really a soul searching adventure. I’ve always known money. Out of college, I worked at Merrill Lynch as a training to be a financial consultant. I worked throughout college, so I was there for about four years as an intern and then started to get into their training program. And then I transitioned into being a trader on Wall Street. I’ve always been in the world of finance, but there’s a lot of unethical people that surround this world. And there’s a lot of things that you hear about with Wall Street being manipulated and different types of industries related to finance that have a lot of unethical people. Everywhere I would turn it would be tough because you would need to be the outlier in the space.

Val Pinkhasov: And nice guys always finish last. We know that. When me and my partner met, which was about 11 years ago, we were trying to figure out what to do and if we would be our own bosses, which is what I became when I launched this company and we would be able to set our own rules and set our own goals and with God’s grace, it worked. And then when we went, we decided to go on Shark Tank. That was kind of my idea because I love the show and I figured we would go on there and be pitching as mini sharks because we do what the sharks do. Only on a much broader scale. And that just catapulted our business tremendously. And that was five years ago so we’re doing great.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah, you are doing great. And like I said, I feel lucky that you’re in my orbit now because you’re just, like you said, there’s a lot of unethical people and you know my own story in dealing with that. And Val was like, you’re such a great coach. He’s like, but I’m going to be your money coach. And he really was. Take us through the what the experience was through Shark Tank. Because we see it, you see the end edited result but give us a little peek behind the scenes if you can. What was it like for you?

Val Pinkhasov: It was very nerve wracking. You get into this, I think it’s Mark Burnett or one of the Burnett’s that run the show. It’s a huge production and there’s so many different people involved. But they were all gracious, very good people. We actually had the pleasure of briefly and when I say briefly, I mean 10 seconds, meeting the sharks while they were getting ready for the other episodes or the other scenes of with other contestants or other entrepreneurs rather.

Val Pinkhasov: And we spoken Mark Cuban very briefly. He was very good guy. We were happy. Great people there. And the sharks were down to earth. They beat us up in that room for about an hour and a half, and we were negotiating. We had to, we really had to be calm and collected because you get intimidated when you’re dealing with people with that type of status. And here we are, a couple young guys that are just launching in a way, our finance business and anybody could do what we do. But like a O’Leary said, we were smart enough to get into the Tank and we made, on TV we made a deal with him. We didn’t close on the deal, but we had several meetings afterwards. But it was a great experience.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh, that’s, so that’s an interesting Val. The deal that we see on TV, it’s not necessarily closed when the show is run basically. You had additional meetings after after and it didn’t, the deal didn’t go forward?

Val Pinkhasov: Absolutely Kelly. They even warned us at the beginning that the, I don’t know what the statistics are, but it’s a very large statistic where they just don’t close. You basically do a handshake deal. If everyone likes what’s going on and the sharks like the business and they want to pursue more negotiations then that’s kind of what happens. And that’s what happened. He went to our Christmas party, he took us out to dinner and we met with his staff. It was a great experience. Kevin O’Leary is a really good guy. On TV I know he’s portrayed as aggressive, ruthless person. But our experience with him was very good. He’s a very down to earth, very, very good person. Not, not like a lot of people think of him as being selfish or ruthless in any way.

Kelly Meerbott: That’s really interesting. It’s such an interesting perspective because even as a viewer of the show, I thought, okay, well they’ve handshaked the deal. It must move forward. And then they show you the after. But you know what I’m really interested in, because obviously Val, just knowing you for the brief time that I’ve known you as president and co-founder of Total Merchant Resources, it’s a great product. Obviously you’ve carved out an amazing space and the thing that makes you different is that you have integrity. But tell me about the kind of personal characteristics that you have to have in order to be successful on Shark Tank. Obviously you had the product, you made it to the show, but what do you need inside of you to make sure that it’s successful?

Val Pinkhasov: If I could summarize it in one word, it’s confidence.

Kelly Meerbott: Got it.

Val Pinkhasov: I think in any business, especially in a business like yours where you’re a public speaker or you’re coaching people, you need to be confident in what you’re selling. When you’re dealing with business owners, whether they’re a pizza shop owner or Mark Cuban, they need to know and see from your mannerisms that you’re confident in what you’re doing and that what you’re doing is good and helpful and profitable. At the end of the day, we all go to work to make money because we need to sustain our livelihoods. But there’s a lot of people that do what we do and there’s a lot of people that own big businesses, small businesses that may not have certain confidence. And I think that’s, if anything is lacking with some business owners, whether they’re on Shark Tank or not, is confidence.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. Yeah. Where did you, obviously we have a little bit of a New York accent, which warms my heart because I’m from Long Island, so okay, where did you grow up?

Val Pinkhasov: I grew up in Brooklyn in Canarsie. In a government project called Bayview.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh my gosh, I know Bayview. My mom was from 69th Street and Colony Road and my dad’s from Manhasset. That area I know really well. Tell me, what do mom and dad do?

Val Pinkhasov: Well, my dad used to be a crane operator. And he owned a couple small businesses. Unfortunately he passed away last year.

Kelly Meerbott: I’m so sorry.

Val Pinkhasov: Yeah, it was tough, definitely we were very close. But he taught me a lot about business and a lot about the real estate. Always told me that no matter what you do in business, you should always own property because what God creates can be created again, in terms of land and properties. And I followed his direction and he’s been right. My mom, she was a dressmaker. I was born actually in Russia. I came here when I was three years old. Child to immigrants that came here with nothing and just a couple skills. For three decades or four decades, my mom would be making wedding dresses and gowns and stuff like that. That’s what they did.

Kelly Meerbott: Is mom’s still alive Val?

Val Pinkhasov: Yes. Thank God. She’s a wonderful, happy woman, still living in the project in Canarsie, which kind of breaks my heart because so many times I wanted to get her into a nicer area and, but she likes it. She’s used to it.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah.

Val Pinkhasov: You got to honor her wishes.

Kelly Meerbott: Absolutely. And again, that resonates with me because my grandmother, my great grandmother were, they did piece work and were both dressmakers as well. It’s every time we talk it’s just a deeper and deeper connection with you. Tell me about your siblings. Do you have any siblings?

Val Pinkhasov: Yeah, I have two older sisters. I’m actually the baby in the family. But nobody would be able to tell if we stood side by side. I have one sister is a 10 years older and the other one is nine years older. They’re a year apart from each other.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay. If we had them in the room and we asked about what their little brother Val was like as a child, what would they say?

Val Pinkhasov: Oh man. I don’t know. As a child?

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah.

Val Pinkhasov: As a child, how would I do? It’s hard to remember so far back, Kelly.

Kelly Meerbott: Come on now. It’s not that far back.

Val Pinkhasov: Oh boy. I think they would say that that I was always getting in trouble. I would, I was a tinkerer, believe it or not. I grew up in the age of technology, when VCRs came to be and computers came to be. Whenever something would happen and not something would happen, whenever a new piece of technology would come out, like a Walkman or the Commodore 64 if you remember back then, my parents would do everything that they could to have their little son have everything he needed to grow up and have a good education and have a good career because that’s not what they had. What I would do, is I would find a screwdriver and a hammer, I started taking things apart and see how they work. That’s a lot of family stories are like that. Where my sisters remember how many things I would break and then try to put them back together but they would never look the same.

Kelly Meerbott: How young were you when you created your first business? Because obviously you’re an entrepreneur and we’re looking between the ages of eight and 14.

Val Pinkhasov: Believe it or not, this was my first business. Everything that I would get into would be heavily regulated and require a lot of infrastructure. Whether it’s trading stock or being a financial consultant or even the mortgage industry. I was never put in a position where I could build something like that from scratch and have the wherewithal to maintain it and go through all the requirements. There’s a lot of equity requirements and collateral that was required in order to build businesses like that. I would run the offices. I would go in and I would run big teams and have a lot of people reporting to me and broke records. As I got to those places and started to grow. And then we built this business. This business didn’t have as many barriers to entry and this was my first baby in terms of a business starting 2010.

Kelly Meerbott: I’ve talked to tons of entrepreneurs and business owners and CEOs on the show and a lot of them will tell me stories about selling candy in grade school or kind of stockpiling money to buy a car or whatever. You had no experience like that.

Val Pinkhasov: I guess it’s not something that I go back to remember and reminisce about, but I had a paper route growing up that my mom helped me with because we were poor and I needed to make some money as I got older in my young teenage years and I was 13. That was a grind.

Kelly Meerbott: Whose idea was that? To get the paper route?

Val Pinkhasov: Mine. And actually, you know what? Come to think of it, you just really, you made me go back deep into my hard drive in my head to find a memory. When I was about 12 or 13 also, there was a guy going around our camp when I was a kid, like a day camp asking parents if they wanted their kids to sell candy door to door as, I forgot what the term was. It was to keep kids out of trouble, for them to have a little bit of a job and it would be during the summer so he would pick us up, four or five young teenagers, drop us off in neighborhoods and walk with us while we would give them a spiel on why we need to sell them a $5 box of cookies that they could buy for $2 anywhere else. And a lot of those people felt bad for us and they liked the spiel so that, if anything, maybe that was my first sales gig.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking because let’s be honest.

Val Pinkhasov: I forgot about that. That was a long time ago.

Kelly Meerbott: See, I told you there were things that were going to open up on this podcast that you were going to, you wouldn’t realize. But yeah, I find that people in your industry or people as entrepreneurs like you and I that have created things from nothing, is we’ve had those experiences where it’s a paper route or it’s door to door. I went to Catholic school my entire life, not by choice, it just kind of happened that way. But we used to have to sell raffle tickets for whatever fundraiser door to door. And that’s a really hard gag. And you’re right, you have to knock on doors and get doors closed in your face. And sometimes people pity you and buy things. But it’s, I think it’s a really valuable experience, especially when like you and I, we depend on ourselves to just kind of fill that sales pipeline.

Val Pinkhasov: Yeah. And that’s exactly what it is. Growing up, at least for me, that’s how it was. My mom worked crazy hours for very little pay. And if you wanted anything, you had to either steal it or work to earn it. And obviously I was raised never to steal and do things like that. I had to, at 12 or 13 years old, I had to say, “All right, how do I make $20 I can go buy something?” We did that, that candy route. We did the paper route and that’s how it is.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah. And Val, you’re a father? You have several kids, don’t you?

Val Pinkhasov: I have two children.

Kelly Meerbott: You have two children.

Val Pinkhasov: Two amazing kids.

Kelly Meerbott: Let’s give him a little shout out. What are their names?

Val Pinkhasov: Timothy just turned 15 a couple of weeks ago and my daughter’s 12, Eliana.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay. How do you instill those same values that you learned as a child, that we just talked about, into Timothy and Eliana? How do you do that?

Val Pinkhasov: Well, believe it or not, just to backtrack a little bit, because I like real estate and you get kind of forced into doing certain handyman things. I’m a pretty good carpenter, I build things with my hands. I have a lot of tools. With my son, I have him help me. And I teach him how to tile a back splash or frame something, for a door or wood or hanging up cabinets, things like that. I kind of teach him the value of what it is to work despite their dad who makes a lot of money and doesn’t need to do these things. I teach them how important it is to know how to do things and not rely on others to do them for you.

Val Pinkhasov: And my daughter, believe it or not, even though she’s a cute blonde girl who loves gymnastics, she’s also a bit of a tomboy and she helps a lot. And she does a lot of things that you would figure mostly boys would do in terms of building things or helping their dad out. But I teach them that they have to be humble. Whenever we go to my mom’s house, I’m like, this was my bedroom, this is how I lived. You’re not living in this big beautiful house and driving fancy cars and going on fancy vacations. Isn’t how it was for me. And you guys have to, it’s actually a big concern of mine. Believe it or not, me and my wife both talk about it, that they’re going to grow up a bit entitled because they are living in a nice neighborhood and have a lot of fancy things in their life despite us trying to teach them the value of work and the value of a dollar. We hope with God’s grace that He’ll guide me and my wife in teaching them the right way.

Kelly Meerbott: Well, from what I know of you Val and again, it’s I feel like there’s so much more we could talk about and half an hour is never a long enough time in terms of getting to really know somebody. And tell me what your wife’s name is.

Val Pinkhasov: Her name is Anna.

Kelly Meerbott: Anna. Okay. You and Anna have this awareness of this entitlement that your children may or may not have. And you’re taking steps to actually mitigate that action, and mitigate, let’s just call it damage for lack of a better word. Being, having entitled children and then there are parents out there that just don’t have that awareness. That to me makes you very, very different.

Val Pinkhasov: I appreciate that. I appreciate that. We try hard to make sure, because I deal with a lot of people in our neighborhood, a lot of kids in their school, they tell us stories and when we go to events and parties and we meet certain kids and even my contractors, I deal with a lot of contractors and they’re like, how do you get your kids to do that? When I tell them, who did this? I said, me and my son did this. What do you mean your son? I’m like, yeah, I showed him how to do it and he did 50% of that. He couldn’t believe it, installing a deck and stuff. And my daughter too. Not to keep her in the dark, but I teach them that they have to work, whenever they want to buy something for themselves, a game for their Xbox or clothes, I’m like, you have to work.

Val Pinkhasov: And I’m not talking about cleaning their room as a chore. I’m talking about doing things that I would otherwise hire somebody to do. I would do it with them. I would show them how it’s done. And they would do it. I would pay them, I’d give them $50 or $100 and they would save their money. And that’s what we try to do. We hope, like I said, with God’s direction that they’re going to be led down a proper path so that they don’t have to depend on others. And I think that’s the biggest thing in life when you have to depend on other people to do things for you. It’s very dangerous. You have to be able to do for yourself.

Kelly Meerbott: 100%. And you are really embodying and illustrating one of the things that I believe, and I’m not a parent, I’m an aunt to nine nieces and nephews.

Val Pinkhasov: That’s great.

Kelly Meerbott: But I work with enough executives. Hey I know. They’re awesome, I love them. And one of my goals in life is to set up a trust fund for each of them. But I have rules. They have to take a vacation once a year as a family and they have to be gainfully employed in order to get the money. I have some rules that go along with that. Like you, you have to work for it because I really believe there’s, in order to really value and appreciate what you do in life, you have to have some skin in the game, which is what you’re saying. And you’re also illustrating the point that kids learn what you show them.

Kelly Meerbott: You’re showing your kids and I love that you’re not leaving Eliana in the dark because what I have found, especially with the female executives that I work with, is the ones that have fathers that don’t treat them as quote unquote precious, like, oh she’s a blonde, cute blonde who likes gymnastics so we don’t want her to get her hands dirty. Instead, she’s working alongside you and your son Timothy. Michelle Obama in her book, Becoming, talks about that. How her mother and her father expected her to do everything that her brother did, which now look at her. Former First Lady of the United States. I think you’re doing.

Val Pinkhasov: A lot of the things I appreciate, a lot of the things that I tell my son, I say “Go get your sister and do it together and be good to her and show her and help her.” And she’s always very helpful. She’s strong, because she’s a good gymnast. She does things that blow everyone the way, even her instructors are shocked. She’s a strong girl. When she does things to help around the house or to help around the yard, she’s tremendous. And it’s, and I even wanted her to learn how to fight. My son, he’s a second degree black belt in a couple different martial arts, ever since he was eight years old. And we’re constantly begging my daughter to go and learn how to fight too so that she could carry herself and be confident and, but she’s still a girl that loves gymnastics and says, “I’m not going to fight anyone.”

Kelly Meerbott: Well yeah, but that takes what you’re saying a step further. You talked about doing it for yourself and being self-reliant. Well that’s part of it. And one of, you reminded me of something my husband said. He’s like, you really need, I want you to go take jujitsu because you can’t talk a good game and not be able to back it up because he wants me to be able to defend myself. I agree with you. I agree with you. And Eliana when you’re ready for it, definitely do that because you are a strong woman and we need more strong women in the world. Val, for your great, great, great grandchildren that may be listening to this years from now, what wisdom would you impart to them?

Val Pinkhasov: One of my mottoes that I shared with you is that vision without execution is hallucination. They need to know that they have to take risk and they have to be confident. And without risk people don’t get ahead. They stay stagnant. That’s what I would tell them is to always look forward and not be afraid of taking risks.

Kelly Meerbott: And what would you say say about failure Val?

Val Pinkhasov: Not to sound cliche, but failure is was also in a way a success. My mom always taught me, couple, I don’t know, it’s a Russian, almost like a poem. That smart people learn from their own mistakes, wise people learn from other people’s mistakes and dumb people don’t learn from their own mistakes. An individual must fail, otherwise, how do you learn? The question is, are you going to fail on the same exact thing that you do over and over again? Or are you going to tweak it a little bit and try something different? I think life is, failure is a requirement for success. I think any entrepreneur or any successful business owner, Mark Cuban talks a lot about it, where he had a lot of failures before he had tremendous successes. And it’s a necessity. It’s something that also humbles a person and grooms a person.

Kelly Meerbott: Can you share a failure with us that you recovered from? And maybe one lesson you took from that failure.

Val Pinkhasov: Oh man, before I got into this business, I invested a lot of money with someone in the mortgage industry that ripped me off. And it was hard because I worked a lot of, I worked very hard for that money. It was a lot of money. It was almost six figures. And it was about, I would say about 10, 12 years ago, right before I got into this business. The lesson that I learned is, trust your gut because my gut was telling me that something was wrong. And action always speak louder than words. A lot of people who just talk and talk. But they’re, whether it’s their appearance or their mannerisms or their actions that are maybe even subliminal that you choose to ignore because you feel that their words are more valuable than their actions, that could hurt. That was the lesson that I learned. You have to read a person by their actions not by their words.

Kelly Meerbott: You’re so right Val. And I have to dovetail off of that. I had a client that came to me in a serious amount of pain in August. And she talked a really good game and really pulled on my heartstrings and I thought I could help her. But there was something in my gut that was like, don’t take her on. Don’t take her on, don’t take her on. And I didn’t listen. And I was just telling Doug, our producer, before you got on that she just skipped out on a $10,000 invoice. And my coach, if she was on here, Katherine O’Gorman would say, “What was the choice that you made to lead you to this point?”

Kelly Meerbott: And the choice I made, I can tell you right then and there, just like you, I could feel it in my gut and I didn’t listen. I think that what you shared is really valuable. Really listen to your instincts and your gut. They’re there for a reason. Okay, we’re going to stop. We’re going to end the interview with four rapid fire questions. Are you ready?

Val Pinkhasov: Let’s go.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay. What’s your favorite comfort food?

Val Pinkhasov: Steak.

Kelly Meerbott: How do you like it cooked?

Val Pinkhasov: Medium.

Kelly Meerbott: Okay. And where’s your favorite steak from? You’re in New York, so give us an idea.

Val Pinkhasov: My favorite was in Morton’s.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh yes. Morton’s is great. Okay. What music do you have on your playlist?

Val Pinkhasov: Metallica.

Kelly Meerbott: Oh my gosh. What’s your favorite Metallica song?

Val Pinkhasov: Enter Sandman.

Kelly Meerbott: Yes. I knew you were going to say that. Okay. What books are on your nightstand?

Val Pinkhasov: Forbes magazine. If you could call that a book.

Kelly Meerbott: Sometimes you can. Sometimes you can.

Val Pinkhasov: I’m not a big reader unfortunately. My wife beats me up all the time because she reads a ton, but I’m not one of those unfortunately.

Kelly Meerbott: Anna, don’t worry. We’ll work on him together. Okay. What are you most grateful for in this moment right now?

Val Pinkhasov: Believe it or not, my wife. She’s an exceptional person, very strong and she’s had some issues in life growing up and even in her adulthood and she’s still able to do so much. With our kids, with our house, she designed most of the things in our house from the tile work, to the kitchen, to the bathroom, to a lot of different things. And she works in my company, so she also runs a lot of operations. I’m very grateful for her. That she’s just remarkable intellect.

Kelly Meerbott: Yeah, it sounds like it. Plus she’s the CEO of your household. Correct?

Val Pinkhasov: Of course.

Kelly Meerbott: Well hopefully I get a chance to meet all of you at some point. We’ve got Val Pinkhasov, president of Total Merchant Resources. Val, if somebody is listening to this and wants to reach out to you, what’s the best way to get ahold of you?

Val Pinkhasov: Let them give us a call at 732 671-5710 or go to our website at totalmerchantresources.com.

Kelly Meerbott: It has been just a true pleasure talking to you. I always enjoy talking to you. I could talk to you for hours, and it’s our intention here at Hidden Human that you go out and create deep connections through authentic conversation. Thank you so much for listening and make it a great day.

Speaker 1: You’ve been listening to Hidden Human, the stories behind the business leader. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Kelly and the services she provides, visit youloudandclear.com. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll be back soon with a new episode.