Bank Innovation spoke to a number of thought leaders in financial technology and asked them for advice for future fintech entrepreneurs. Here are the eight tips they offered to those starry-eyed entrepreneurs trying to find great success and glory in financial technology:
- Don’t Challenge the Traditional Banking System. Chris Skinner, the industry seer, thinks that, with all the regulatory issues and barriers of entry, a startup won’t succeed unless they “have a billion dollars.” “Startups should create services around that [core banking system] that remove the friction, where people don’t like dealing with banks,” he said.
- Create Affiliate Services. Skinner cited two buzzy startups — Square and Simple — as examples of fintech startups that aren’t directly targeting the conventional banking system. “Take a look at Square: it didn’t attack banking directly, but attacked the friction around banking. Same with Simple,which attacked the difficulties of finance with user interface. It wasn’t trying to replace banking — that would be too difficult to do.”
- Focus on your Team. Matteo Rizzi, managing director of SBT Ventures, emphasized the importance of a solid team, saying, “make sure the team is strong, resilient, and with relevant connections in the industry.”
- Mix Your Talent Pool. The best staffers probably won’t come from the financial services industry, said Arjan Schutte, founder and partner at Core VC. Schutte. “I don’t think financial services is just about being a smart guy, there’s an incredible amount of complexity and nuance about how specific systems work,” he said. “You should be pulling [talent] from different sectors. Your team can’t just be filled with tech guys, because that way you won’t be reinventing anything.”
- The Best Ideas Take Time. “The ideas in which we invest is often adjusted, shaped and rethought through iterations before you get to something really scalable,” Rizzi said. Don’t be afraid to pivot ideas — there are a few notable cases that prove refocusing your startup can have long term effects. Pivoting is a common operating for all startups. There’s more pivoting that can be done by the average fintech startup, however.
- Know Your Regulator. Core VC’s Schutte told Bank Innovation that a question he asks every startup is if they know which agency regulates them and who they know at their regulator. If they can’t answer, “it is a sure sign that they don’t know what their in for,” Schutte says.
- Banks Aren’t Necessarily the Best Clients. Bain Capital Ventures’ Matt Harris said, “One of the mistakes many companies make is that they focus on exclusively to selling to banks. Banks are not great customers. They’re slow and they valuate you to death. We found the most success with companies that partner or compete with banks as opposed rather than trying to getting them as customers.” It might seem like banks are a perfect client for your company, but the regulatory issues and bureaucratic issues they face causes some startups some apprehension.
- The Real Value Is in the Data. Skinner notes that data, not money, is what makes the world go around nowadays. “What’s of value is the exchange of data… If you focus on purely a digital exchange of data, you can create whole new business models around that. By concentrating on the exchange of digital value — moving what’s perceived to be value between individuals, even things like World of Warcraft gold — entrepreneurs can invent new models of doing financial management, transactions, etc.” Skinner is referring to the way experts define bitcoin, which is considered a digital store of value, but also mentioned non-monetary stores of value like World of Warcraft currency and airplane miles —which is what Ripple’s protocol focuses on.
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