Days after moving to Silicon Valley, entrepreneur Schwark Satyavolu tells of a time that he discovered Yodlee had serious competition. This competitor was founded in Atlanta 6 months before Yodlee. Not only was this competitor older, but it had 5 times the money and a team of 20+ compared to Yodlee’s team of 3. The competition looked fierce and Schwark considered going back to his job at Microsoft. However, that situation taught him his first lesson as an entrepreneur: success comes to those who want it most. Sure enough, 3 years later Yodlee beat out and acquired that competitor. When looking for the secrets of success in business, it makes sense to start with the ones who made it. Schwark’s history is the perfect example of what it takes to be successful as a founder, and he was kind enough to share highlights of that history with the founders of Envestnet | Yodlee Incubator’s Cohort 5.
Here are Schwark’s 4 keys to entrepreneurship:
The founders of Envestnet | Yodlee decided that they had to be all-in to beat out the competition. VerticalOne may have been their first problem, but it was definitely not their last. The pull to go back to a comfortable job was strong. However, by pushing through they became the successful company they are today. It takes a lot of willpower to decide to strike out on your own. Starting a new business means freedom, excitement and change, but it also requires hanging on when things are uncertain. Startups face one daunting challenge after another. It takes a stubbornness to see the business through and a willingness to throw yourself into it from the very beginning. Much research has been done on the subject of grit. It is one of the highest indicators of success, above even IQ and emotional intelligence. There are not many who are willing to start a company. To be successful takes the will and determination to see it through.
Much of Envestnet | Yodlee’s success has to do with the fact that they solved problems no one else could. When the competition was unable to figure out how to scrape data from financial institutions, Envestnet | Yodlee quickly figured it out. As a result, they succeeded in the FinTech sphere. Entrepreneurs walk in completely new territory. This takes troubleshooting to find the best answers to questions no one else has had to solve before. You learn new skills, overcome obstacles, and discover how to do things quickly and efficiently. Encountering a problem does not mean failure. To successfully manage a start-up, though, you need to overcome these problems.
A business never truly stands alone. Building an effective and creative team is absolutely essential to whether a start-up thrives or fails. Schwark attributes much of the success of Envestnet | Yodlee to the original team that worked there. Many of the team members went on to become leaders in the technical space, working everywhere from Google to Twitter. The culture that you create for your team is vital for success. A team that builds each other up and collaborates well achieves more than a culture only concerned with the individual.
Although leading a start-up requires some stubbornness, it is a mistake to be stubborn about the methods to success. Every entrepreneur needs to look critically and objectively at the market and their methods. When they are wrong, or find a better way to navigate it, they must change, or they will fail. The willingness to pivot and find better approaches is crucial in a company. It wastes valuable time and money to use tools and tactics out of pure stubbornness or lack of knowledge. Just as problem-solving is critical, the ability to find new methods leads to faster success. In technology, the market changes every 6-7 years as a whole new generation grows up and starts to spend money. This means that change is inevitable and navigating that change is critical for success. Initially, Envestnet | Yodlee didn’t work in the financial sphere because they assumed customers would not give them the information needed. Moreover, they quickly found that their product was limited because not enough people were using the internet then. They were flexible, though, and reinvented themselves multiple times in order to find more customers. Envestnet | Yodlee’s willingness to pivot repeatedly allowed them to take off in a different market than they initially thought. Do not limit yourself: pivot to find what is best for your company.
Navigating a successful start-up means far more than a great idea. It takes determination, critical thinking, a great team and flexibility. Yodlee’s success is a testament to the power of all these elements to run a truly great company. Schwark Satyavolu is a General Partner at Trinity Ventures focusing on early-stage technology investments in Fintech, Security and Artificial Intelligence. Schwark also co-founded Yodlee, acquired by Envestnet in 2015, and Truaxis, acquired by MasterCard in 2012. Watch an earlier version of Schwark’s talk with an Incubator class here. If you would like to learn more about the Envestnet | Yodlee Incubator, visit our website here. If you’re an entrepreneur with an idea to leverage financial transaction data, applications for our next cohort are opening soon.