Here are some interesting tidbits from behind the scenes look of my interviews.
Mario Hernandez is a black belt in karate, and he explained how that impacted the culture at his company, Impesa. During our conversation, Mario admitted that I was the first person to ever ask him that question, he chuckled and shared a funny story to answer it. I loved it.
Two of the fintech leaders who had some buzz at the event were Mike Massaro, CEO of Flywire and Fawce, founder and CEO at Quantopian. Both were amazing guests with some incredible stories that had me fully enthralled in the interview.
Mike shared a story that is basically everyone’s worst nightmare. After burning through $6,000,000 and having the company close to bottoming out, Mike was extremely close to relaying that information to one of his most important stakeholders; his wife. Luckily (luck being defined as dedication and focus) and against all odds he was able to raise an A round that kept the company afloat and on track to the giant it is today. I was curious as to how they burnt through such a huge sum of money, putting them in such a dire position. Mike admitted that it was miss-allocation of funds that was the result of chasing too many opportunities and not focusing fully on the missions/goals that would make a difference. Most investors would not fund this company given the state it was in at that time, but Spark Capital and F-Prime believed in Flywire.
During our interview, I asked Mike what it was that Spark saw in Flywire. His answer, “timing, the right KPIs and focus”, is simple but something that often forgotten. He mentioned over and over the importance of solving a massive pain for a large enough market rather than solving a lot of little pains. Changing the world doesn’t always mean changing everything. So, instead of a dramatic death, the company rebounded and was profitable just 18 months later. Now the sky’s the limit for the payment solutions provider, recently closing a $100,000,000 D round.
Fawce and I discussed in-depth what drives him as a founder. His company, Quantopian has two co-founders, and while this is the current center of his attention its actually his second company. Before he starts anything new he tries to understand what he’s structurally trying to change, and what information does he need to change it. For Quantopian, he wants to see the internet actually do real work rather than just allowing people to consume stuff. He believes that great businesses are built on systematically finding and collapsing a massive inefficiency, with Quantopian targeting the Internet.
While the Internet is incredibly useful for a million different things, Fawce has a different idea for its usage. Instead of just focusing on consumption, what if you used it to crowdsource research? That’s Fawce’s guiding question/mission; one that he seeks to answer every day. Incredibly successful firms will have up to 150 researchers… but imagine if you had 10,000? What would success look like for a company with those kinds of resources? It’s an interesting case to consider.
Fawce himself is clearly an innovator. He’s always seeking Alpha. He started his company out of his shed and stayed there until January 2012 when he raised a $2.1M seed from Spark Capital. His company is on a roll and raised a $25M C round in 2016 from Andreessen Horowitz. Truly an inspiring success story.
Christina Qi was another riveting interview. One of Forbes’ 30 under 30, she had such a unique view of fintech and banking in general. One key insight from Christina was her hypothesis behind the abundance of fintech startups. She theorized that banks were slow and almost loathe to adapt/create new tech, which leaves a vacuum for innovators. She saw this aversion to progress first hand when she was fired from her bank when she tried innovate beyond the rote processes she had been instructed to complete. So she decided to create the tech on her own, working out of her dorm room while she was at school instead. While at the time she was given a hard time at the bank, she got the last laugh. The department that pushed her out of the bank has folded and those decision makers from that department are gone.
There were many others and all shared amazing insights.
About John Siracusa
John is the host of the bi-weekly “Bank On It” podcast recorded onsite at Carpenter Group. He is a fintech, venture capital and financial services enthusiast and connector at the center of an ever-innovating fintech ecosystem.