Today, I’m starting a new role as Managing Director for the Western Union Accelerator Powered by Techstars, where we are seeking out the world’s best entrepreneurs working in payment tech and cross border money movement. I’m thrilled to be applying my experience as a founder to help startups think big and different around the cutting-edge of these spaces, and to partner with a forward-thinking company like Western Union in doing so. The startup world is a place I’ve spent a lot of time, and I like it here. Let me explain.
Cast your mind back to 2008. I know, it was just 11 years ago, but those years have been huge. Social media was still brand new (Twitter was founded in 2006, the same year that Facebook opened up to everyone with an email address). The world economy was in financial crisis. Payment tech wasn’t something that the average person knew or thought about: IndieGoGo got its start in 2007, and Kickstarter in 2009.
As for me, in 2008 I launched a startup called GiveForward, centered around peer-to-peer fundraising. My co-founder Desiree Vargas-Wrigley and I had this notion that people should be able to use the internet to raise money for the people and causes they care about. To us, this seemed like a pretty sensible idea. But when we went to raise capital from VCs, we were laughed out of the room. Literally. Time after time, we were told this idea would never work and that we should instead be a non-profit. We knew these investors were wrong but we didn’t have many options, so we decided to bootstrap the company and hoped that one day people would come around on the idea.
Two years later we found our first true believer. We received an offer to participate in the inaugural class of Techstars Chicago (then called Excelerate Labs). After deliberating for a solid half second, we accepted the offer. I can pinpoint that moment as one that would change my life forever.
Coming out of Techstars, we raised several rounds of venture capital, partnered with Nationwide Insurance, and went on to help people all over the world raise hundreds of millions of dollars on our platform for things like cancer treatments, organ transplants, and life-saving surgeries. Just a few years after we launched, the idea that you could raise money on the Internet officially caught on. More than a thousand platforms like ours sprang up around the world, and this new industry has changed the way we think about financing everything. Today, we know this space as crowdfunding.
I tell you this not to claim I can see into the future (I can’t, unfortunately), but to demonstrate that I’m comfortable with new ideas that may sound crazy—but may also be the beginning of next big thing. And to explain why I’m such a strong believer in Techstars and the amazing boost that it can give to startups—by believing in them, investing in them, mentoring them, and connecting them to the worldwide network.
I also want to point out that I’m not alone in my love of big ideas. Western Union has been an innovator for its entire 167 years. They built the first telegraph line across the U.S. (1861) and launched the first commercial satellite into orbit (1974). Today, more than 70% of their digital transactions originate on mobile devices, and in the past year they moved $300 billion across 200 countries and territories and 130 currencies. They can handle your big idea: they want to hear it. Just imagine how crazy that telegraph line sounded the first time someone pitched it!
Western Union and I want to hear your crazy, amazing, world-changing ideas for payment tech and cross border money movement. We’re looking to solve the industry’s biggest opportunities through technologies such as digital identity/KYC, digital/omni-channel solutions, digital wallets, reg-tech, crypto and blockchain, ML/AI and new analytic approaches, all while leveraging the creative and agile thinking of some of the fintech industry’s brightest minds.