We've done a lot since I fundraised last year:
- lawyered up and did payment license paperwork,
- built an app and bank API infrastructure,
- got dozens of customers willing to pay us,
- helped pass a new fintech law and demoed to regulators,
- spoke with bank executives interested in integrating with us,
- spoke with leaders at other fintechs interested in partnering with us, and
- built a great team that loves working together.
Everything seemed to be going well. We had momentum and a good product, pulled forward by a very clear market need for better payment systems in Ecuador.
However, more than a year in, we still didn't have our payment license. We had integrated with zero banks, and it would probably take at least 2-3 more years before a significant one might come on board. Our product wasn't yet great, and making it truly magical would require not only bank integrations, but a willingness from the banks to substantially cooperate with us and perhaps relax certain internal security policies.
Although we could play on the legal angle, and convince ourselves of an eventual favorable outcome with banks and regulators, our traction did not clearly demonstrate how we could achieve an outcome on par with M-Pesa in the medium term. New investors ultimately weren't very interested: "Ecuador is about the size of Idaho, and frankly, I don't care about Idaho."
With less than a year of runway in the bank, I spent April taking a hard look at the big picture. We had gone from "Venmo for Ecuador" to "Plaid for Ecuador" to manually processing bank transfers as our initial product. I know from previous experience how intense, well-coordinated human labor can build a tremendous moat and a technology bridge. But we were still multiple strategic leaps removed from our end goal of powering seamless payments everywhere.
We were simply doing some fancy yak shaving.
I've learned a lot through this journey, about startups and myself. If I had to do it over again, I would do many things differently, and I could write forever about all my mistakes. But there are also three obvious constants that are carrying me forward, and it's worth highlighting them here to close out this post.
- I really enjoy being my own boss. I am the world's worst and certainly suck, but that just means every day is a wonderful learning experience! Given autonomy is one of my highest personal values, I cannot imagine a better job for me. I am super engaged overall, and there are also really precious moments. It seems to me that solo founding can work just fine. The fun-employment continues!
- People are (almost) everything. I had the privilege to serve great customers. I'm floored at how many personal connections, partnerships, and friendships came out of our work or deepened because of it. However, good people with good intentions cannot thrive together in poorly-designed systems. This applies to company culture—see useful idea #4—and also aspects of Ecuador as a country. That said, I'm so grateful to work with amazing teammates and investors, and I really want to continue doing so. Our team is by far the biggest asset we have.
- Go big or go home. The last time I killed a business project, I came away wanting to build something highly scalable. It's more of an intellectual than an emotional need, but often we become more authentic and benefit greatly from these. At the end of the day, multiple orders of magnitude is all that investors care about. Setting aside the important process points above and strictly speaking about results, the same goes for me.