Fighting the Good Fight: Looking Back Five Years

I was recently invited to share the story of my company, Hip Pocket, with another startup community. The organizers’ stated goal for my talk was to help attendees, “hear your Fintech startup story” and because, “we need to inspire hundreds more like you.”

The organizers were lucky enough to catch me on a great week and my talk was inspiring…according to those who talked with or emailed me afterward.

But, the attendees were catching me on a pretty great week that was almost five years in the making.

The truth is, many entrepreneurial weeks – maybe most – feel like this:

Many – maybe most – of my fellow founders will identify with the feeling of being knocked down unexpectedly…from behind…then slammed around repeatedly…then pushed off the edge…only to fall face first and mouth open into dirty water…and I think I saw a bandaid in there…maybe two…and now I have an infection.  

That can be the entrepreneurial experience in the bad times. The “we’re almost out of money, crying in the kitchen with your spouse” times.

I’ve been there! You?

When that happens, it’s easy to question why anyone would want to go on this ride.

For many, it’s a compulsion from the onset. Or a deep seated unrelenting drive to create.

But for others, like me, it was mostly accidental and only makes sense now in hindsight.

This September will mark five years since the Startup Weekend where the base idea for our company was first uttered aloud in a simple one-minute pitch format.

I went to that 2012 event by myself as a non-technical participant. I had been in the financial services industry for seven years at that point and was curious about how technology would impact our industry. This event could help me better understand how technology can impact industries as well as how you can take an idea to prototype in a short time.

Before going, a friend who would later go on to found one of the early GAN accelerators, suggested I consider pitching my own idea vs. just expecting to join another team. That day, I worked on this:

And yes, I still have this piece of paper.  

The basic idea – with the worst name ever in “NetWorthing” – was that people often make less than optimal financial decisions on most products, while banks make a lot of money when this happens. But, what if everyone could easily see the best financial decisions of anonymous peers and then act quickly to never fall behind?

At the root of my pitch wasn’t the solution. The root was that banks make money unfairly due to customer inertia and technology could be an equalizer.

The idea received enough votes to recruit a team of three others to help build the idea out, and enough validation and traction to finish third overall that weekend.

Since then, here’s some of our story in numbers:

  • Four co-founders in 2012
  • Several co-founder “Come to Jesus” meetings over the summer of 2013
  • Only one founder left by fall of 2013
  • Two accelerators in 2013 and 2017
  • Four angel investors in 2016
  • One substantial pivot & two abandoned products in 2016
  • Three brief times into negative cash balance
  • Fourteen corporate clients over the years
  • Countless wipeouts we only sometimes saw coming:

Oh yeah, nice try…we got this, we got this like a boss…..IEEEEEE!!!!!

After all of this, we were invited to share our “Success Story” at that event…as well as here on the Techstars blog.  

I didn’t ask any of the organizers why they considered us a success worthy of a spotlight.

Are we a success because we’ve survived five years?

Are we a success because we’ve been able to generate sales, investors, and some potential large partnerships?

Or, are we a success because we’ve had our asses handed to us repeatedly and we still get back up again and again?

Something like this:

There’s something to that last one in hindsight. Something I didn’t understand before reflecting on it.

We’ve been through the startup valley of death in that we’ve experienced many of the top reason startups fail, and yet we haven’t stayed down.

You could label our story as obstinance or tenacity, but we came through the fray and now have assembled a team that has fallen in love with the problem of helping people save money from their phones in just minutes.

The solutions and partners and paths forward have changed a lot over time, but we’re still on a mission to compete with all we have! We haven’t forgotten why we got into the arena in the first place…because we believed we could win!

Or, at a minimum, that we had to get into the arena and fight the good fight. We had to fight the problem.

This despite selling B2B into a regulated industry…which has challenges:

Just one more corporate vendor vetting step to clear and then contract is…IEEEEEE….MY FACE!!!!

When you’re in the thrash of entrepreneurship, aka the wipeouts, it can be hard to take stock of where you’ve been as well as staying focused on what’s ahead. It’s hard because you’re experiencing the physical and emotional shock of the recent blow, which is understandably disorienting.  

But the pain of each blow is eventually paired with time-tested knowledge that “this too shall pass.” Eventually, the time between shock/pain and recovery gets quicker.

NOTE: I’m referring to the outside pain of the startup journey and not the pain of depression, which is very real and can f*ck with a lot of us. That’s real and requires the strength to engage with those around you for help. A strong founder support group is vital for this and so many other reasons. Here are some resources on this topic.

There will be shocks and pain ahead. But, if you believe in your industry, in the problem you’re solving, and in your ability to address it, then you should stay the course. You should fight through and endure some of the pain.

It’s to be expected, especially toward a point of breakthrough. Recently, I’ve found it useful to reread “The Dip” by Seth Godin at these times of potential greatest pain and greatest breakthrough.

If the fundamentals of your industry are the same and you believe you can get through this, then you owe it to fight through the last mile at a time when so many give up.

I wrote this piece to share our own LONG journey with those are are on the same path.

I wrote this for those of you in pain.  

I wrote this for those who may be starting and unaware of the potential obstacles – which despite the painful pictures above – are often just obstacles to be bested.

I wrote this for 2012 me who read and was told how hard entrepreneurship is and yet was still unprepared and had to experience the pain for himself to really understand.

And I wrote this for so many of you in the final dip.

Wherever you are, know this: You. Are. Not. Alone!

You have many, many fighting the fight with you.

Entrepreneurship isn’t an overnight success story, though it can seem so when you compare your own struggles with someone else’s exit.

I hope today is a great day. Or a good day. Or even just a day.

I hope the same for myself but I know you or I will still be OK if there’s some pain. I finally understand this. It just took me five years to figure that out.

Are you ready to learn, network, startup? Find a Startup Weekend event in your region today!

This post is also published on Medium.

Cape Town Startup Globalisation

We’re halfway through July here at the Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars in Cape Town, which means that the 2017 class of FinTech startups have less than 3 weeks left before they stand on stage at the annual Demo Day.

These 10 startups will be representing their companies as capable, forward-thinking visionaries, setting a path to the future of financial technologies.

Although likely not at the forefront of the founders’ minds, their efforts through the program will further solidify Cape Town as a nascent startup ecosystem on the brink of massive expansion.

Investors and potential partners from across the world will be looking eagerly to see the opportunities coming out of the Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars in Cape Town.

By the time Demo Day comes, the Techstars team will have spent the past three months in closed quarters, getting intimately acquainted with these teams and their companies.

These 10 startups have been selected from a global network that spans far outside of just Cape Town. In fact, 40 percent have relocated from across the world, mostly outside of Africa, to take part in the hands-on accelerator programme located in the buzzing Techstars corner of Barclays’ Rise office space.

When creating global businesses, why relocate from a first world America, or Israel, both of which are renowned for their tech entrepreneurship ecosystems?

It’s no secret that Cape Town’s tech scene, while having the continent’s strongest funding landscape, is still considered “emerging,” at best.

Or is it?

More importantly, is an “emerging” ecosystem any less empowering for local and global startups than a Silicon Valley, or do some startups thrive globally even more in these emerging ecosystems?

Regardless, these international startups have officially been welcomed with wide open arms by the local startups in the class, to work together as ambassadors of a startup ecosystem rooted at the tip of Africa.

Local “Activation” Initiatives

Many cities across the world have initiatives to represent their city as buzzing tech cities worthy of the world’s attention. London has Silicon Roundabout, and here in Cape Town, we have Silicon Cape. This is an initiative that I’ve previously been part of driving, in collaboration with some of Cape Town’s most prolific internet companies, VC’s, and government representatives.

This and similar initiatives, as their names suggest, are primarily focused on getting locals to rally behind creating a more supportive environment for technology-based startups in their backyard.

However, with the focus on creating a local community brand, it’s not always the case that these types of initiatives achieve much success and ensure the creation of more or better startups.

So, what does?

The Startup Genome, through their Global Ecosystem Report, believes they have anecdotally uncovered what does, as they define startup ecosystem life cycles and maturity in four phases, the first of which is “activation.”

This phase is focused on removing barriers and attracting resources – a key responsibility for initiatives such as Silicon Cape, who look at how to promote investor and founder appeal by addressing any government regulations around financial or IP issues.

South Africa also provides a great economy for international businesses to open an office and access a talented local workforce.

Local Funding Landscape

According to South African Venture Capital and Private Equity venture capital survey, the Western Cape has emerged as the center for venture capital activity in South Africa.

The majority of the country’s startups are based here, and 75 percent of venture capital deals were concluded in this province. Some of the largest tech exits have also stemmed from the Western Cape, with the most recent being the $100 million sale of GetSmarter to 2U in May 2017.

Despite the relative maturity of the funding landscape in Cape Town in comparison to the rest of Africa, it still pales in comparison to international benchmarks.

Access to tech startup seed funding in particular is extremely limited, with companies like Yoco, a thriving mobile card payments platform, having raised their initial round from dozens of angel investors, mostly from outside the country.

However, looking forward, cryptocurrency disruption may transform the financial venture capital industry, drastically improving access to capital, irrespective of what corner of the world a business operates.

Companies, including two within the the current Techstars class, can now look to raise millions of dollars directly from a crowd of investors through an ICO  —  Initial Coin Offering  — which often sells out within a matter of hours.


In their report, Startup Genome outlines what they have identified as the next phase of ecosystem development after activation: “based on rigorous analysis, we definatively find that globally connected startup ecosystems grow faster and perform better than less-connected places.”

So while Cape Town is a far distance away from most of the world’s major cities (it’s historically known as “The Cape Of Good Hope” as European explorers discovered the city in the first successful attempt to establish direct trade between Europe and the Far East), it is a highly desirable destination.

In today’s startup world it also reinforces the idea that entrepreneurship and being part of innovative startups allows you to live your dream, and work from wherever you choose.

Cape Town has consistently been ranked highly in the top 10 travel and culinary destinations in the world, receiving the spot of number one city on the Condé Nast World’s Best Food Cities list.

Members of the 500 Startups “Geeks on a Plane” trip through Africa have cited this as a reason that Cape Town is compared to the lifestyle fueling the San Francisco startup culture and dubbed Africa’s Silicon Valley.

Just a few hours outside the city, the Cape Town community even has it’s own version of the Burning Man festival — Afrika Burn. The original event started in San Francisco, and accordingly to Elon Musk, who came up with the idea for SolarCity while at Burning Man, Burning Man is synonymous with Silicon Valley.

Elon Musk is one of the highest profile tech entrepreneurs, who also happens to be South African. As is his colleague from PayPal, Roelof Botha, well known for leading investments at Sequoia Capital into Youtube, Tumblr, and countless others.

On European soil you’ll find SA expat Saul Klein, previously with Index Ventures and co-founder of Seedcamp, an early stage investment company that has invested in over 200 tech startups.

Afrika Burn took place just before the accelerator program kicked off, noticeably bringing in high profile tech entrepreneurs   such as Brock Pierce, co-founder of Blockchain Capital, the first VC fund dedicated to Blockchain ecosystem.

Brock would later be found walking around the co-working space, inspiring entrepreneurs with the belief that every industry will eventually be disrupted by blockchain technologies.

Local Startup Communities

Cape Town also has the highest number of accelerators (20+) and coworking spaces (25+) on the African continent.

Rise, where Techstars is hosted in Cape Town, is a network of coworking spaces spread across four continents, an initiative in partnership with Barclays to support a community “working together to create the future of financial services.”

Right now, it’s easy to consider Rise as one of the most powerful hubs in the Cape Town tech startup community, albeit only primarily focused on financial technology startups.

Through a careful curation of community, Cape Town’s ecosystem is tightened locally through a common goal, and expands its reputation globally through connected communities like Rise. Of course, there’s also the Techstars community, who eagerly support their fellow entrepreneurs coming out of the Cape Town program, and other programs across the world.

On the surface it may appear to be an extremely exclusive privilege to have access to the Techstars community, who have been primed to “Give First” to each other, but in truth that privilege is very naturally extended to second and third degrees outside of the Techstars worldwide network.

The presence of strong global goodwill networks like Techstars, Rise, Silicon Cape, or other entrepreneur support programs plays a huge role in enabling startups across the world to thrive, in a world that is becoming increasingly globalized.

The New Era of Fintech Disruption in NYC

I’m thrilled to be joining Techstars as managing director for the Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars in New York City. I am taking the torch for this role from the talented Jenny Fielding, who is continuing her role of managing director of Techstars IoT.

Over the past five years, I’ve been fortunate to have helped nurture the largest community of Fintech entrepreneurs in the world through Empire Startups. My experience in Fintech started before the hashtag with product management and strategy leadership roles at Blackrock, Goldman Sachs, Instinet, and E*Trade. Most recently, I was the Entrepreneur in Residence for the Barclays Accelerator in NYC.

In my past Fintech experience, I’ve learned that building great companies is about throwing out the rulebook, not just creating a mobile friendly version of it.

As tweetable as that may sound, it’s a wild oversimplification. If you just build it, they won’t come. This is especially the case in Fintech, where even the greatest hustlers can fail to acquire customers and secure distribution partnerships.

My deep dark secret is that I’ve also been in the belly of the beast and lived to tell the tale. I’ve been on the inside of the largest and most successful investment banks and asset managers and have built the products that Fintech startups seek to disrupt today. I’ve been an agent of change and I’ve also been mired in the opposite. Now I’m ready to take that experience and help startups pave their way with new products and disruption.

While small, agile startups will always ship technology faster than larger teams, some say Fintech distribution, customer acquisition and trust can’t be accelerated. I disagree.

Here’s how we’ll do it:

  • Capitalize on the lessons learned by the global Techstars network on building products that instill trust in consumers in order to build great businesses.
  • Laser-focus product roadmaps by working with our “enterprise customer-in-residence,” Barclays.
  • Hone the story and test business models by leveraging the top community of Fintech mentors in the world.

Ready to knock the cover off Fintech? Apply here.

This blog post, and the million moving parts before it, would not have been possible without the mentorship, support, and 5am Slack messages of Greg Rogers and Jenny Fielding. I truly thank you and am honored and humbled to join the team.

5 Disruptive Fintech Services

The year of 2005 gave rise to a new technology that would take the financial sector by storm. Fintech was the buzzword of that year, with companies either uttering it out of fear or jubilation at what was to come. This breakthrough in technology saw technologists in t-shirts and jeans competing with the suits in the highly corporate banking sector to offer the same services at a fraction of the cost. Consequently, Fintech services are changing how many industries conduct their business, from loans to investments and so much more.

1. E-Commerce

Imagine a scenario where you need to urgently buy a home appliance but you do not have the full amount at once. Your options are to either take out a loan or go to the store and pay for the goods at unfathomable interest rates.

Some B2B Fintech companies have come up with an innovative solution to this. They enable online retailers to instantly offer monthly repayment plans for goods at checkout on a shopper’s existing credit card. This bears no risk to the seller as customers use their current credit cards.

Also, breaking up payments into smaller installments attracts more customers to you and your net sales will increase. Fintech services such as these are proving to be quite disruptive to the market.

2. Money Transfer

In this digital age, it’s no longer a viable option to have to wait days or even weeks to send money overseas, nor can you incur such high costs. Without banks as the middle man, Fintech companies have come up to fix this problem by offering affordable rates for sending money and also fast transfers – in a matter of minutes!

Send money in your currency and the recipient receives it in their currency.

3. Loans

Let’s face it, paying off loans is not a bed of roses. Half of the time, you do not know what your repayment rate is and the other time, you spend dreading to go to the bank to repay your loan or even find out how much you need to pay. Fintech companies like CommonBond have come up with an innovative way to help students get out of this fix.

They pay off the borrower’s lender and then deal with the students at a more personal level. This works well the borrowers as they are assured of the whole repayment, and the borrowers can easily get all the information they need about their loans.

CommonBond also offers other services such as funding students in need and helping them identify job opportunities.

4. Mobile Payment

So you are a small business and have no idea how to go about receiving payments from your customers. How are you ever going to consolidate all those payments? Well, not to worry, Fintech companies are now helping small businesses operate like large companies all from the comfort of your tablet or phone.

They let you accept both card and cash payments once a customer has browsed your products, chosen what to buy and is at checkout. The customer then proceeds to receive a receipt either physically by mail or printed.

5. Investment

Have you watched one of those movies where you see stock traders huddled in a room trading and making lots of money from it? There are several Fintech companies that enable you to trade via their platform from your laptop or phone.

What’s better, is that they give you information on trading trends at the click of a button so you can have information on all the stocks you are trading and users can slowly build their portfolio.

Fintech is definitely here to stay. The rise of Fintech services is sure to grow in the next couple of years and we will see many businesses adopting Fintech services due to their accessibility, low cost and efficiency. This is good news for both business owners and customers, as they will be able to offer their services and goods at reduced costs.

Going Beyond Bitcoin: Revolutionary Applications of Blockchain

If you’ve heard the word Blockchain mentioned in conversation, you probably have heard it been used synonymously with Bitcoin. Well, that is not the case. Bitcoin is essentially only an application that is built on the blockchain platform. Blockchain, more impressively, is a secure, distributed and shared database on which various applications, not only digital currency, can be built.

If you are wondering what some of these applications are, this article will give you a few that will have you thinking outside the box.

Digital Identity

The world today is at a great risk of digital insecurity. It is estimated to cost the digital security industry about $18.5 annually. Managing digital identities could be made both efficient and secure by Blockchain technologies, thus reducing cases of fraud.

Whether it is banking, healthcare, citizenship documentation, national security or retailing, the adoption of Blockchain technologies would be beneficial. This is because they are based on digital signatures and irrefutable identity verification based on public key cryptography.

Distributed Cloud Storage

Before, the only way to share a digital document with another person was to send it to them and ask them to make revisions on it. This scenario would create a lengthy back and forth between the people concerned as one had to wait until the other person was done editing and sending the document so as to view it.

That is how databases work today. Even in banks! They briefly lock access while they make a transfer and then update the other side and finally reopen access to update. This process is not very efficient. Imagine if the database can be accessed concurrently and a single version of it is always available.

Smart Contracts

What would you say if someone told you that you could significantly slash your mortgage rate? Ridiculous, right? At least not in the current economy. Wrong! The use of smart contracts is increasingly drawing near. Smart contracts are simply digitized contacts that are entered by the Blockchain that is automated and can self-execute.

The current norm is bringing in a third party to execute a contract rather than trusting one central authority. Companies such as Rootstock and Ethereum are trending in this area.

Online Voting

Whenever the topic of Online voting is brought us, there is a general sense of apprehension. This is because many think that it is sufficiently insecure. The adoption of online voting can be made more acceptable through the use of Blockchain technology. This is because is it transparent and immutable in nature.

In 2014, the Liberal Alliance, a Danish political party became the first major political party to adopt Blockchain technology for internal voting. Other organizations around the world have expressed interest and we will, in the near future see it being actualized. An added advantage is that the implementation of Blockchain technology for voting should increase the number of voters per region.

Tracking Taxpayer Money

Blockchain technologies can be used to track money including students loans and international aid. It has potential to be used also to manage the distribution of grants as this has proven to be rather complex. Blockchain will make this easier as it is accessible to both parties, thus solving the problem at hand.

Record Keeping

When you buy something online from a site, you get a digital receipt, closely resembling a physical one. Imagine if you could integrate all your receipts from all your spending into one Blockchain. All your data can be verified without a third party and it will all be immutable and unforgeable. The best thing about it? All your records are automatically timestamped.

Most of these applications are still in development phase and the full extent of Blockchain capabilities has yet to be unearthed. The bottom lone is that Blockchain is here to stay and is transforming how we, as a society, function.

The purpose of Techstars’ Worldwide Entrepreneur Network is to help entrepreneurs succeed. Check out the impact of the Techstars’ network over the past 10 years.

Top Four Predictions for Fintech in Africa for 2017

Blockchain Everywhere

The Blockchain may be the more notable technological innovation that has come out of Cryptocurrency. In 2017, we will see a plethora of uses for the Blockchain. We’ve already seen the Blockchain being used for diamonds (Everledger) and land title registrations (BenBen). Expect to see even more startups going after new and currently unimagined uses for the Blockchain.

The Year of Mobile (again)

2016 saw monthly mobile money transactions exceeding one billion per month (more than double what PayPal processes). Expect to see even more proliferation of mobile, as a payment platform in both emerging and mature markets. Mobile wallets will become ubiquitous, while contactless and peer to peer payments on mobile will eat into credit card transactions.


Katlego Maphai, the founder of Yoco and a Techstars mentor remarked: “Money ‘electronification’ is getting a strong push globally, even at a policy level in some nations out of necessity. Sub-Saharan Africa will be active in this trend. It presents substantial growth opportunities for ambitious startups. Through this, I expect to see an increase in VC activity in the ubiquitous payments space, with expansion activities coming out of fintech ventures from Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. It may include some potential ecosystem collaborations across these markets.”

The Rise of the Robots…AI

2016 saw a milestone breakthrough in AI with Google’s DeepMind beating the world number one at the extremely complex game of Go. Expect to see AI becoming more prolific in combating fraud, improving credit scoring, impacting insurance and a new stream of robo-advisory across multiple segments.

Barclays Rise is growing an ecosystem for fintech in Africa, leading this initiative is Yasaman Hadjibashi, Group Chief Creation Officer for Barclays Africa. She had this to say: “As one of the major opportunities for our continent to make a difference, I see alternative lending frameworks, products and experiences as a unique chance to help Africa’s emerging generation youth, customers, employees and entrepreneurs on their path to success. Therefore, fintech ventures, industry experts, researchers, advanced data scientists and innovators, who are actively focused on this opportunity, are my personal target for new exciting collaborations and solution execution.”

To apply to the Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars in Cape Town complete the application here. Applications close on 5 February 2017.

Banks Shouldn’t Reinvent the Wheel

Laura is the cofounder and CRO at Alloy (Barclays NY ’15), which offers an identity and onboarding API for financial services companies. To send feedback, questions, or simply connect with Laura: TwitterLinkedIn, or email



We’ve added “aas” to so many functions and products, from Software to Platforms to Backend (there’s some joke to be made here, but I’ll refrain…). If you started building products or services in the last few years (like me), you might take for granted that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you want to access basic infrastructure and functionality; you probably rely on AWS for hosting, and use a CRM in the cloud to keep track of your customers.

But when it comes to financial services, building products & services is still largely on-premise, and most product managers and developers are reinventing the wheel.

Development and product teams can focus on what they’re good at.

Let’s say you have a great idea for a new savings app based on behavioral economics. To build an MVP and get your first 100 users on it, you’ll have to have a mechanism to move money and you’ll have to be compliant with KYC and AML regulations. Neither are easy tasks, and neither one is core to your product or competitive advantage. They’re simply table stakes for getting off the ground.




APIs are the way to make viable financial ecosystems and the key to making Financial-Services-as-a-Service possible. A variety of well-designed, easy-to-integrate APIs will let you launch faster while staying focused on your product and customers. You may integrate Plaid, Dwolla, Twilio, or some combination of the three. Think of the developer hours you’re saving by not building those functions yourself.

Big financial institutions can become platforms (the American dream!)

On the other side, big financial services companies are also getting into APIs, and for good reason. They don’t just want to use the services, they want to be the platforms upon which those services are built and distributed. They want to be ecosystems. Be Apple, not Tidal.




Without APIs, banks, and financial institutions are siloed. Few users want to process a payment through their bank or make a trade through an archaic brokerage online when they can use Venmo or Robinhood. But banks have trouble building this themselves — for one thing, as one of my favorite fintech VCs put it recently, “banks think they’ve hired developers, when in fact, they’ve just built IT departments”. By embracing APIs, they can take advantage of innovation without doing it all themselves, by opening themselves up.

Open API platforms and initiatives are allowing bigger financial services institutions (e.g. BBVA, Capital One, Barclays) to have innovative products and services built off of their platforms, bring exciting experiences to customers, and get talented developers connected to their banks without completely renovating their core banking systems.


This was originally published on Medium

Startups Will Save the Banks, Not Just Disrupt Them

Henry David Thoreau once said: “In entrepreneurship is the preservation of the world.”

Ok, maybe he didn’t say exactly that. But the spirit of distilling corporate structure into only what is essential to nurturing innovation is what has led me to Techstars. In 2014, when Greg Rogers kicked off the Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars in London, we discussed how the community can help tear down the barriers to entry in FinTech. In 2015, Jenny Fielding asked me to join a star-studded cast of mentors as she launched the Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars in NYC.  

In 2016, I joined the Techstars family as Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the Barclays Accelerator, Powered by Techstars in New York, and now in 2017, I’ve become the managing director of the program

Defending and distilling innovation is what first led Lockheed Martin to cordon off dev resources into skunkworks operations away from their primary roadmap. Accelerators and incubators are the modern and scalable skunkworks, and these programs and their startups will save the banks and not just disrupt them.

Are you a bank in need of innovation, courting and keeping top talent, and diversifying your product roadmap? The question to ask is: “How are you embracing the startup community?”


Banks are wildly desperate for innovation, but moving fast is simply not their key focus or distinctive competency. Firstly, the comp model of traditional financial services rewards technologists for stability and continuity, which can compete with, if not discourage, innovation.  

That’s right, Wall Street technologists are essentially paid to shower customers in mediocrity.  

Secondly, traditional banks and asset managers with fiduciary responsibility simply can’t afford to “fail fast.” They don’t have the freedom to be cavalier and take chances by diverting their roadmaps away from longstanding competencies. The net result is that banks must look to the ecosystem to play a major role in building out new businesses, products and features.  

Talent Acquisition

Startups are helping to keep top technical talent in FinTech. Young developers demand more than just a strong base salary and the bragging rights of a bulge-bracket firm. They want transparency into the company’s overall strategy, the ability to influence the product roadmap, and a modern software framework to move quickly.  

It’s more common in traditional banking to see the decision-making centralized to a few, little optionality in projects to work on, and a frustrating pace dictated by older tools and legacy code. Startups keep employees happy by offering complete transparency, a seat at the table, and the ability to work with a modern stack. (You mean it’s not the hoodies and foosball? Nope.)  

Banks who forge close ties with the startup ecosystem can ensure the top technologists are still addressing their greatest challenges.

Product Diversification

Banks don’t always have the luxury of putting a minimally viable product in the wild and leveraging customers feedback to refine their offering. The dynamic regulatory environment and deep subject matter expertise involved in FinTech often results in only mature products being introduced.  

Startup companies are able to help banks diversify their product investments, offering the opportunity for the banks to explore and invest in a portfolio of new markets and nascent technologies such as blockchain, social sentiment, artificial intelligence, and gamification.

After 15 years building industry-leading FinTech products for some of the world’s largest investment banks and asset managers, I couldn’t be more excited for this latest challenge – to help entrepreneurs seek out and capitalize on subject matter experts to solve critical problems in finance. Ensuring the curse of the incumbent technologists does not paralyze innovation.  

I swear to never rarely launch PowerPoint and pledge to save the banks, not break the banks.  

Our 5 Favorite Startup Digest Reading List Articles From Last Week

5 hand-picked articles from across the Startup Digest Reading Lists. Sign up to receive great weekly content on various topics from expert curators.


1. Amazon is Trying to Patent Paying with a Selfie

By Leena Rao

Digest: FinTech
Curators: Camron Miraftab & Thilmin Gee

Several large companies have recently announced integrating selfie technology for increased payments security. Amazon continues this trend. Read More

More from this reading list:


2. Instagram May Change Your Feed, Personalizing It With an Algorithm

By Mike Isaac

Digest: Product
Curators: Sophie-Charlotte Moatti & Reza Ladchartabi

Instagram is changing their algorithm to place the photos and videos it thinks you will most want to see from the people you follow toward the top of your feed. Read More

More from this reading list:


3. Meet The Chinese Tinder

By Emma Lee

Digest: Angel Investor
Curator: Berg Moe

Sudy is a new swipe-based dating app that only pairs rich men with attractive women, especially catering to college students who are looking for financial help on tuition fees. During the seven-month beta test starting in September last year, Sudy has enrolled over 10,000 members, mainly from the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Australia. Read More

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4. MIT: Red lights could someday be a thing of the past

By Lucas Mearian

Digest: Mobility & Transportation
Curator: Timo Hoffmann

MIT’s “lightTraffic” vision, with video explaining how traffic lights will become obsolete when there are autonomous vehicles roaming the streets. Read More

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5. Iranian Artist using 3D Printing to Combat ISIS

By Isaac Kaplan

Digest: 3D Printing
Curator: Dilanka

This is one of those unexpected uses of 3D Printing with interesting social and political implications. Check it out. Read More

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Our 5 Favorite Startup Digest Reading List Articles From Last Week

1. We got 10 CEOs to tell us their one killer interview question for new hires

By Jason Karaian

Digest: Leadership & Resiliency
Curator: Sarah Jane Coffey

Not only are these pretty great interview questions, several of them would also work as journaling prompts. Read More

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2. Fintech is Just Getting Started

By Alan Carlisle

Digest: FinTech
Curator: Camron Miraftab

Driven by the desire to revamp or obviate the need for banking legacy systems, the fintech industry has risen to prominence. This article provides a nice summary of a number of service-offerings by banks that may be disrupted in the near future by fintech companies. Read More

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3. Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurship Series

By Kauffman Foundation

Digest: Startup Communities
Curators: Julian Miller, Brad Feld, Shane Reiser

The numbers are in and for the first time in the last 6 years entrepreneurship in the form of “Main Street” small businesses is on the rise, ultimately making startup communities more robust ecosystems. Read More

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4. Full Color 3D Printing using Paper

By YouTube, electrictv

Digest: 3D Printing
Curator: Dilanka Wettewa

Did you know you can 3D Print in FULL COLOR using paper? The MCOR Full Color Printer does just that. If you touch these prints, they feel like hard plastic (I’ve experienced this in real life) and the detail is pretty damn cool. The only downside is that the MCOR printers costs a lot more than regular old desktop 3D Printers! Read More

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5. Sephora Accelerate – Supporting female founders of beauty start-ups

By Sephora Accelerate

Digest: Women Entrepreneurship
Curators: Babs Lee, Lilibeth Gangas

Sephora is looking for beauty startups founded by women for Sephora Accelerate, a startup bootcamp with a focus on the beauty industry. Startups that are selected to be part of the program may have a chance to pitch their products or technology directly to senior leaders from Sephora’s Merchandising and Innovation teams as part of the Demo Day. Criteria and application is at the link. Read More

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