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1:1 with Founders

1:1 with John Stulas

John Stulas is the Chief Financial Officer and Co- Founder of TOTUS.


Let’s start with a brief intro about you:

I was born and raised in the Chicago area, now proud to be a lifelong resident.  I hold an accounting degree from Northern Illinois University and an MBA from the University of Chicago. My first CFO role was at SVM, a rewarding 19 years. When SVM was sold to Blackhawk Network in 2020, I spent nearly a year working on the post-acquisition transition at Blackhawk.  Now, I am thrilled to join an exciting start-up with a remarkable team, confident that we can provide compelling solutions to companies in the gift card space.

On a personal note, I have three young adult children and two dogs plus a very close extended family. They have always been my greatest motivation. Our relationship is built on shared morals, values and curiosity which has influenced my various philanthropic endeavors and my keen interest in traveling. And we all share a love of sports! Watching, attending, partaking- any opportunity to hang out with each other.

When did TOTUS launch and how much has it grown to date?

TOTUS officially launched in February 2022.  We are at the contract phase with multiple clients, actually our first client is expected to launch as early as June.  The pipeline is robust, as this is a concept that the founders have been exploring for years.  The expertise and the passion exist to make TOTUS the premier gift card issuing partner in the next 12-18 months.

Have other companies pursued the same business strategy as TOTUS?

SVM (now Blackhawk Network) created third-party closed loop issuing.  SVM successfully sold the model to approximately twenty client brands.  Other companies have tried to enter the market since the acquisition of SVM, but did not offer the full suite of services offered in the TOTUS model.  Alternative models have faced legal challenges that could prove problematic for the client’s brand and the issuer.  TOTUS was established to meet the market need allowing brands to focus on their brand instead of their gift card programs.  TOTUS offers the expertise from a management team that has unmatched experience in closed loop gift card issuance.  As of now, there is not a company that offers both the expertise and the tested model that TOTUS will provide to our client brands.

What is the process for a brand to enlist TOTUS for their gift card program?

Once a contact is made with the TOTUS business development team, we will gather information regarding the prospective client’s current gift card program.  The business development team will walk the client through the TOTUS suite of services while also developing an understanding of the client’s objectives.  A proposal will be presented to the client that meets the objectives set forth by the prospective client.  It is helpful to keep in mind the TOTUS team collectively has over 100 years of experience with third- party gift card issuance, far surpassing any other gift card company.  The time period between first contact, proposal and implementation can be as short as one to three months.

If a prospective client does not have a gift card program, then TOTUS will handle all the functions outlined above plus spend more time demonstrating the process. The client will be presented options and will be involved in various decisions in how the program is set-up, explicitly the pros and cons of choosing different options. The time to launch (three to six months) is longer primarily because of the education involved and additional time necessary for a processor implementation.

How is TOTUS publicized toward potential clients?  Do you find them or do they find you?

TOTUS has a robust client pipeline that stems from an executive team that has collectively spent decades in the payments industry.  Linked-In is utilized for messaging and promotion of our unmatched expertise managing gift card programs.  We have executed a marketing plan that will clearly illustrate TOTUS is the leading out-sourced gift card solution provider in the market which will include   participation in strategic conferences and tradeshows. Lastly, but very importantly, strategic partnerships have also resulted in key gift card players offering TOTUS as the outsourced issuance solution for their client base.

Is TOTUS available to all size companies?  US only or global?

TOTUS works with all-size companies.  The initial focus for the TOTUS team is to provide US based solutions to brands with $100M in annual sales, but we do have the expertise to handle global gift card programs.  Additionally, TOTUS will offer service to small and mid-sized brands in the future.  We are a solutions-based provider with an absolute focus on fulfilling the strategic objectives of our clients.

What is the size of the gift card industry?

There are many different sources regarding the size of the gift card market.  All seem to agree that the number is in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually.  On the higher side, there is data that suggests the global market may already be in excess of $500 billion annually and will exceed a trillion dollars in the next few years.  The US market is likely somewhere between 40-50% of the global total.  It is a large, growing market that has been aided by the explosion in digital gift cards and digital gifting.

What is the future of gift cards?

Gift cards continue to gain popularity.  They are an essential part of brand awareness, utilized through gifting, incentives, rewarding loyalty- and of course, as a marketing tool.  With electronic gift cards gaining wide acceptance and availability, the gift card market continues to grow.  We expect plastic to remain, as some consumers will resist the shift to full electronic payments – but electronic gift cards will continue to grab a bigger share of the market.  With continued double digit growth rates, the global gift card market will potentially exceed $1 trillion dollars within a few years.

What defines the culture of TOTUS?

The culture of TOTUS is all about people.  “Be the Brand” guides our approach to each and every client.  White glove service is our mantra- we are an extension of our client brands and value the reputation of our brands as if our company depends on it (IT DOES).  We believe that our vendors and employees deserve the same level of respect and transparency- it is essential to our beliefs as a company and as human beings.

What is your personal objective for TOTUS?

I have spent the last 20+ years of my career in the payments industry and this is by far the most exciting time for gift cards.  I want TOTUS to be the pre-eminent gift card company supporting our client brands as their partner.  We have assembled a fantastic team that truly enjoys working with each other and I know that we are positioned to elevate gift card programs to their full potential.