Necessity is the mother of invention. This popular phrase, in 2020 and 2021, seems to be proving itself truer by the day. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted and altered the lives of people and businesses around the globe. In 2019, I spent the majority of my time as a Developer Evangelist, traveling the country, hosting events and most importantly meeting and bringing people together. During the pandemic I have had to make adjustments in the way I work, just like so many of you. And also like so many of you, I have had to find new ways to work during the pandemic. So instead of traveling and hosting events, I spent this year developing a groundbreaking platform called the Envestnet | Yodlee Launchpad. Born out of our award-winning Incubator, the Launchpad is an ecosystem that provides opportunities for education and industry connection, ultimately enabling growth for FinTech companies of all sizes. The Launchpad helps cutting-edge developers and business partners launch and grow by providing the tools and services they need to support their innovation. This platform provides content for virtual events, as we have all shifted our focus to online learning and interacting.
Startups and Founders
On June 24th 2020, the Launchpad hosted a new podcast series, “Startups and Founders”. The episode titled “FinTech Solutions Amid a Pandemic” features the founders and CEOs from FinTech startups, including Eric Griego from Betterfin, Steven Khoung from Curacuby, and Heather Holmes from Genivity. All three are graduates from Envestnet | Yodlee’s Incubator, and Curacuby and Genivity are continuing to partner with Envestnet | Yodlee’s Launchpad. Jeff Cain, Envestnet | Yodlee’s VP of Strategic Solutions, moderated the episode. Jeff formerly oversaw Envestnet | Yodlee’s Incubator, giving him firsthand knowledge of the participants and their companies, making him distinctly qualified for the role.
The three CEOs and their companies each offer a unique differing viewpoint within the wider FinTech world. Eric Greigo and Betterfin primarily work with SMBs (small- to medium-sized business owners) with a data driven approach to financial management. Specifically working to simplify the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan process, they were able to help SMBs access the funds they needed amid this crisis. Heather Holmes and Genivity already had a primarily remote workforce. And with a product geared toward virtual interaction, they were perfectly poised to share that knowledge and experience with clients adjusting to a virtual work environment. Steve Khoung and Curacuby work primarily with schools. Their three separate offices (Oakland, El Paso, and Salt Lake), serve a geographically diverse client base that makes staying ahead of changing laws and regulations, in the wake of this pandemic, crucial to their success. While approaching the issue from different perspectives, the expert panel offered insight on growing a business during COVID-19. Collectively, they offered astute advice to their contemporaries working through this pandemic as well as the future entrepreneur waiting to start their business.
Due to Betterfin’s focus on assisting SMBs in getting loans, Eric has had the most direct interactions with businesses suffering the ill effects of the pandemic. Which perhaps is why his outlook concerning the pandemic and our immediate future seems more dire than his fellow panelists. Betterfin, a small company itself, has also had the added task of learning to work remotely. The group discussions which previously helped shape decisions and solve problems Betterfin was facing, were no longer viable. Combine that with the undue financial, regulatory, and logistical burdens shouldered by their SMB clientele, and the reasoning behind his grim projections is easy to understand. The loans that were meant to help save these companies have had an unforgivable tendency to arrive too late to be helpful. Or even more indefensibly, are somehow diverted to large companies taking advantage of the PPP program. According to Eric, this causes most small businesses to either close down or lay off employees; because those who remain open see around a 75 percent decline in commerce. In response to this, Betterfin developed Ready Relief, a product that Eric likened to the Turbo Tax of PPP loans. With this tool, Betterfin was able to help almost 2,000 companies qualify for just shy of $20 million in loans through the program. Most impressively, these were not large lump sum loans. Considering, the average loan was only for $18 or $19 thousand, Betterfin was truly helping the smallest, neediest and most disenfranchised SMBs, the companies that had no other avenues to receive a loan. But Eric sincerely admits that his company can only do so much to help. Sometimes, through no fault of their own, Betterfin is forced to have a very difficult conversation with a client. Eric says, “The strategy is to keep it very candid,” later adding, “A lot of people just want someone to talk to.”
Genivity on the other hand, had the unique advantage of being accustomed to working remotely. But with the closure of shared work spaces and coffee shops, Heather and her staff did have to adjust to working from home and the issues inherent with developing a healthy balance between work and domestic life. But as a business model that was already geared towards a digital presence and digital communications, Genivity has been able to showcase the capabilities and the value of their product. From the company’s inception, a primary focus has been the virtual experience they offer their clients. The pandemic has been a rare opportunity for them to fully engage their customers in some of the capabilities their products offer that were often overlooked. Heather explains that Genivity, “built our platform out, from the get-go, around creating a best-in-class digital experience, one that could help our advisors win,” and that one of Genivity’s goals was to remind their clients that, “while the software works great in face-to-face meetings, the advantage for them right now is the digital experience that they can deliver when they can’t be face to face.”
Curacubby, an integrated payments and workflow platform for schools of all sizes, leveraged their financial data to identify customers negatively impacted by COVID-19. Armed with insight, they proactively helped their schools across the country plan for economic uncertainty. Steven Khuong, Curacubby's CEO, expressed, "We felt that schools could potentially be one of the most vulnerable environments during the pandemic. We anticipated closures early on and placed a tremendous emphasis on our customers' ability to reopen. Understanding our customers' cash flow and A/R, and developing sensible steps to mitigate their diminishing revenues was a priority for our team." As for their own operational struggles during the pandemic, Curacuby is comprised of three separate offices in three fairly different places, Oakland, Salt Lake City, and El Paso. And while working remotely has been a shift for most of the staffers at the Curacuby, amidst the changes Steven was able to notice a silver lining. While each office may be less connected due to working remotely, the company as a whole is working in a more regular cadence. And throughout the three offices, the company is “actually forming a more homogeneous culture than before.”
FinTech During Uncertain Times
Given the success of these three entrepreneurs, Jeff wanted to make sure to ask their advice for anyone considering a career shift. Heather began with explaining her departure from her “golden handcuffs” in the corporate world. She shared the response given to her by her mentor when she asked if she was ready to start off on her own. Her mentor replied simply, “If you’re asking, you’re not ready.” Heather said initially she was hurt, but six months later when she finally left without asking anyone for advice, she knew she was ready and that in hindsight he was right. Steven has been an entrepreneur, in the sense of creating companies, since he was a teenager. The best singular advice he had for any entrepreneur was to not look inward but outwardly. He says the most important thing to do before you begin is to, “Make sure you know from your gut, you have the right people.” Eric offered a cautious enticement. More than anything, he believes you need to decide how much you value stability, saying, “If you like the idea of always being the underdog, if you like the idea of taking personal responsibility for all the failures, and just taking a bunch of risks, if you’re comfortable with that, then, I would do it.”
Before the panel ended, Steven Khuong took the time to credit the Envestnet | Yodlee Incubator for helping him fine-tune his go-to-market strategy and providing the financial data tools required to help schools improve their business operations. He went further, sincerely stating that, "Beyond having a great idea, and strong execution, startups rise and fall because of teamwork. Teamwork means both internal staff and external partners. Envestnet | Yodlee has been a foundation for Curacubby's success by providing guidance, technology, and ongoing support." Heather quickly seconded him in thanking the Incubator and Jeff for all the help that she and Genivity had received. And while the first episode of “Startups and Founders” covered a wide array of issues facing the FinTech community, I think the Professor Scott Galloway quote, “COVID is not a change agent, it is an accelerant,” used by Steven during the panel, best encapsulates what our panelists think. Stay connected with Envestnet | Yodlee Launchpad to make sure you’re accelerating in the right direction.