Jessica Willis, CEO & Founder of Pocketnest

Pocketnest, a venture-backed B2B2C SaaS platform that helps users achieve financial wellness, while strengthening their relationship with their financial institution.

Episode Transcript

Tony Zayas 0:05
All right. Welcome, everyone! It’s the SaaS Founder Show! Back again for another week. Andy, how are you doing?

Andy Halko 0:13
I’m doing well. Just getting ready for, you know, Valentine’s Day. I got you some flowers and candy. They should be on their way. So hopefully you’ll enjoy this.

Tony Zayas 0:23
Yeah, it’s actually my wedding anniversary today. So…

Andy Halko 0:27
Oh, look at you.

Tony Zayas 0:28
A lot flowers and stuff this month. So anyway, today, I’m excited! We have a guest, Jessica Willis from Pocketnest. And I’m super excited, about to hear from her. Her SaaS is a little bit different than some of the ones that we’ve had. So I’m excited to hear her story. So let me go ahead and bring Jessica on. Hey, Jessica, how you doing?

Jessica Willis 0:52
Hi guys doing all right. How are you?

Tony Zayas 0:54
Awesome, really good. So thank you for joining us here today. Before we dive in and learn all about Pocketnest and how the journey started and all of that. I would like to hear a little bit about if there’s a possibility our paths have crossed.

Jessica Willis 1:10
Oh, interesting!

Tony Zayas 1:12
So, it looks like you went to Loyola, Chicago?

Jessica Willis 1:14
Yes, I did.

Tony Zayas 1:15

Jessica Willis 1:15
I did, yes.

Tony Zayas 1:17
At any time at 25 East Pearson?

Jessica Willis 1:20

Tony Zayas 1:21
Okay, so I used to be the, my first job right out of school was at Loyola. I worked in that building on the seventh floor. I was IT operations supervisor like near the academic computing and all that.

Jessica Willis 1:35

Tony Zayas 1:36
And it was from like, end of 99 to like, 2002. So it looks like I might have your credits. Not a big school. Right?

Jessica Willis 1:45
Yeah, that’s incredible. I want to say I thought you looked familiar, let’s go with that. Let’s go with that. When you put those dates out there. You make us a little bit older than, yeah.

Tony Zayas 2:00
Yeah, you, I probably missed you. Because you were there much, much after?

Jessica Willis 2:03
Because I’m so

Tony Zayas 2:04
Long after Yeah,

Jessica Willis 2:05
Yeah right. Got it. Thanks,

Tony Zayas 2:08
But, yeah, so very cool. We appreciate you taking the time to spend with us here. I think just to open it up. Tell us a little bit about Pocketnest. Would love to hear about what you’ve built.

Jessica Willis 2:19
Yeah, yeah, what our incredible team has built. So, at Pocketnest, we do comprehensive financial planning or financial wellness. There’s kind of a lot of words that people use right now. But really, this this comprehensive platform, we do that for Gen X and millennials, and we do that by licensing our software to financial institutions. So banks, credit unions, investment advisors, benefit plan sponsors, 401k providers, insurance companies, other fintax. Really any company touching personal finance can be a customer of ours.

Tony Zayas 2:50
Very cool.

Andy Halko 2:52
That’s awesome. So I always like to start with origin story. How did you get into this? What did the, you know, ideation process look like and, you know, what was the before and after of the startup experience?

Jessica Willis 3:07
Yeah, so. The before… So the origin story, the background, I’ve got 20 years of experience in wealth management, doing investment advising work, all for high net worth individuals. Because that’s the way the industry is. You need a ton of money to get really good, independent financial advice. The origin story is there’s two trends I saw a lot of. The first was, I started to get really kind of that next generation of clients in, those late 20-year-olds. And the way they wanted to be served was very different than the way my baby boomer clients wanted to be served. You know, baby boomers are happy to come into the office once a quarter while I would read them every number on their performance report. You know, and of course, the millennials are like, I don’t want to know if my small-cap value fund. I mean, we’re already bored with this conversation, right? So that was kind of the first trend I saw was next-gen asking for something different. The real origin story was that my peers were constantly asking me to take them through the same process I was doing for my clients. So I was getting asked by friends. In fact, develop this sweet little reputation that all you have to do is take Jessica out to lunch, she’ll give you all the free advice that you can listen to in an hour. And the questions I kept hearing were the same it was ,okay level with me. What do I actually need in life insurance? Don’t sell me something. You know, what, how do I save for college for my kids while saving for retirement, while building a cash reserve, while paying down the mortgage? Again, these high level comprehensive financial planning questions. These questions that you know, hiring a a robo advisor can’t necessarily answer. Mm hmm.

Andy Halko 4:53
Yeah, that area in between. It’s interesting and maybe you can touch on it and it’s part of of your vision, but I have a number of friends that are in financial planning. And they’re typically targeting people at 55 and older. So they don’t even want to talk to the millennials or anyone younger. Did that factor into, kind of your thinking and developing something like that?

Jessica Willis 5:16
That’s for sure, Andy. I don’t know what the status now but two years ago, the stat was only 18% of advisors were actively marketing to millennials. So they’re broadly ignored. And the Gen X and millennials by the end of last year had $40 trillion in assets, which is a huge, huge amount of money. 98% of millennials will fire their parents investment advisor upon inheritance. So when you look at the fact that they’re being ignored, and they have this huge pot of money, and they’re going to fire mom and dad’s advisor, this is obviously a recipe for developing a new tool. And in that basket, you know, we’re not trying to replace the advisors by any means. The, as an industry, we’ve been set up to not be able to serve a lot of people. And so yes, we’ve looked at the 55 and older and we look at people with over a million dollars in assets, it’s really hard. And it’s very time consuming to get to know everything you need to know about someone, to give them independent advice. And so it’s just it’s resulted as an industry that only serves those ultra high net worth. And so the tech we’ve built, again, we don’t want to replace the advisors, we want to give them this, this tool that allows them to scale, serve more people. Get to these really important intimate conversations faster.

Andy Halko 6:37
So you’re really selling B2B and not B2C?

Jessica Willis 6:40

Andy Halko 6:41
And helping them really use your platform to then engage with those consumers.

Jessica Willis 6:46
Right, exactly. So we consider ourselves a B2B2C platform. We license these institutions, we white label and put the platform and the technology in their brand, put it inside the mobile app of the credit union, or the broker dealer, the insurance company. You know, whoever the customer is, and then we partner with them from an engagement standpoint to say, here’s how you get great engagement. And then, you know, they push the platform from there.

Andy Halko 7:11
So how did you get launched? Do you have a technical background? Were you involved in building it? Did you raise any money? Did you find a co founder that had a technical background? How did you actually make this a reality?

Jessica Willis 7:24
Yeah, I think the answers are no, no. So no, I do not have a technical background. How did I do it? I have incredible mentors and advisors around me early on. I still do, but they were really important early on, because, you know, I was always quick to say don’t know what I don’t know, and, and had this really great help from advisors and mentors. Yes, we raised capital, we just closed additional our second round at the end of last year. And then I have an incredible team with. Our executive team includes a CTO who, you know, has led the development process. Also a chief marketing officer who really gets into that engagement. And then we have a great team of developers, both in house and out of house that have actually built the software.

Andy Halko 8:16
That’s fantastic.

Tony Zayas 8:18
So I’d love to hear more about the mentorship, kind of what that looked like, Who did you lean on? That’s something that we commonly hear from founders that are on just the importance of the mentors that early on, until, you know, current day. Typically, we hear a lot of great stories there. So we’d love to hear a little bit about some of the people that you leaned on.

Jessica Willis 8:39
Yeah. Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me that you hear that because, I mean, I don’t think anybody should or would be able to say they built, you know, built something on their own. My, the mentors I found early on, came from two places. One just, you know, cups of coffee and saying, I don’t know what I don’t know, can we go strategize a little bit. You know, just meeting people that way, back when we could meet people over cups of coffee. And then the second place is through, I would say, a community and that community, for me. The first community was through an accelerator called gBETA Detroit through generator I don’t know if you guys know generator, but they’re really really great people. So I joined a really, a pre-accelerator in the Detroit ecosystem. And they that that was all I needed to see. Okay. There’s people out there to help people like me who have ideas, take them from ideas to more than ideas. And then from there, I joined a couple of other accelerators. But that’s that’s always my advice to really early founders is find your community. Find your people, find your mentors.

Andy Halko 9:55
So did you find the accelerators valuable and are there tips for other folks that maybe are starting up a business, looking at accelerators to get the most value out of those experiences?

Jessica Willis 10:09
Yeah, I did find, I would say, all of them. I definitely got something out of all of the pre-accelerators, and, accelerators and you know, boot camps that I’ve been a part of. Some were definitely stronger than others. I would say, you know, you have to vet them very, very deeply. I don’t think, you know, I, anytime I saw, you have to pay to be a part of this accelerator, I was sort of turned off. That’s not to say that model never works, you know, but but I think there are 1000s, of accelerators, and pre accelerators, and programs and boot camps out there for founders. And I just would caution everybody to just you just have to do your research beforehand.

Andy Halko 10:52
What would you say you look for is the type of mentors that are there, the other companies, I mean, my assumption, and I always tell people, when they’re looking for funding is to find, you know, people that can give them capital, but also other benefits, like they’ve got industry connections, and all of these other things, would you say? Maybe not just with fundraising, but accelerators looking for, like, if you’re in the financial space, you want other companies that are in that space? Or mentors that have been there before? Was that something that you had thought of? or?

Jessica Willis 11:27
Yeah, I think it’s, I think it’s very specific to a company and the stage. So the pre-accelerators I was in, in the beginning. So gBETA, for one. I was in no position to be a part of the endeavor community, which I am now. So you know, that was two years ago. So I would say, just, you have to do your research. You have to recognize that it’s not only looking for a fit based on all of these things, like mentors, and personalities, and other companies that are in it, it’s everything, but it’s also your stage. You know, your stage of what you need. So gBETA was so great to me early on because they helped me deliver, create and deliver a pitch deck, my first live, you know, live pitch, which is a really scary experience, the first time you do it, and an executive summary. So those were the three tangible assets that I walked away with. Now, I mean, I’ve done you know, hundreds of live pitches, I’ve sent out that executive summary 1000s of times. It’s, and so if I was looking at an accelerator now that offered those things, that there’s just not a fit from a timing standpoint. So yeah, I would say it depends on where you’re at, from the phase from a timing and, and what your needs are,

Andy Halko 12:47
Yeah, I know a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with that, like live pitch and the whole creating a pitch deck, whether it’s for, you know, competition, or investors, and any secrets that you’ve found going through that process to make it a little bit easier?

Jessica Willis 13:06
Yeah, um, it’s never easy. I think the live pitches are, are I like I said, I’ve done hundreds by now I kind of. Now I sort of enjoy them. There’s definitely a dopamine release. And it’s invigorating to, you know, be done when you finish. But I would say the very, that first time I went to do a live pitch, I was walking around the block beforehand, trying to get in the right frame of mind and I was thinking that I don’t need to do that. I’m going to quit, I don’t need to this is not worth it. Nothing’s worth having to go on stage. But, you know, somehow I got on that stage and had fun with it. I mean, that’s something I would say is to anybody doing live pitches, have fun with it. Nobody. It’s a hard thing to do. If you mess up, laugh, call it out. Just be authentic and move on. I mean, it’s a hard thing to do.

Andy Halko 14:01
I love that.

Tony Zayas 14:03
Yeah. You mentioned your team a little bit, you said, you know, you got a team of great developers. You mentioned the CTO, CMO. I would love to hear just a bit more about the team. But you know, how do you find the right people? And maybe who was, who was that employee number one? How do you prioritize bringing that person and then the rest of the team on board?

Jessica Willis 14:24
Yeah, it’s not easy. It’s not fast. Anybody who makes it look easy is, there’s just more to it, recognize that. My first hire was our lead engineer Vlad Otchere, who’s just awesome. He actually came to us through a Hacker Fellows Program. So there was a subsidy there from our ecosystem, which really, really helped because, in the beginning, I had such a low budget. I was bootstrapping in the beginning. And then we raised a little bit of capital. So he was our first hire. He’s still with us. He’s a huge part of the team. He’s amazing. So but from the beginning I was looking for, I was told ‘You’re not a technical founder, you need to find a technical a CTO to support you’. And so there’s definitely this, I want to say, you know, a lot of people could laugh about this. There’s definitely this, this non-technical founder situation where we’re kind of walking around saying, “Hey, I’m looking for, you know, a CTO or a technical co-founder”. And you can’t just find that person. It’s, really, really, really hard. And I think back to a couple of people I maybe almost started working with wouldn’t have been right. So it took us, It took about a year and a half before I started working with Chris Wascha, our CTO. The story there is great. I had a, an investor who knew I was looking for a CTO, and months before I had met Chris, through the intro, through this investor. This investor said to me, I know who your guy is. He’s absolutely you know, the best, for all these reasons. But he’s probably not ready to leave his current job. And frankly, you’re probably not ready yet to, even to hire him and pay him but also just from where our company was at. We were, we were just so early. So you know then I met Chris, a couple months later, and we went through maybe a six-month like, we’re not ready, you’re not ready, but let’s keep talking and then got the call in August of that must have been august 19th. Yeah, that he said, Okay, I’m ready. And I said, Okay, I’m gonna go do some fundraising. I gotta go and raise some capital so that we can afford to bring him in. And yeah, and now we’re, we keep going having a blast.

Andy Halko 16:40
Where did you find the funding to hire that, you know, developers, technical founder or technical folks that are sometimes a little bit more expensive?

Jessica Willis 16:50
Yeah. I mean, that the usual venture route like I said, I bootstrapped in the beginning. I was very, very confident in the beginning that I didn’t want to raise money unless I knew I didn’t want to spend somebody else’s money to make bad decisions. So it took me about a year before I raised capital. So did some bootstrapping, in the beginning. Meaning I put my own money into what we needed and just kept talking to, you know, really validating, I think the idea of validating what we had. Validating that there was a market and customers. And so yeah, I just knew it’s not my personality to raise capital and spend someone else’s capital to see if something wasn’t going to work. So along that process, there were, I met investors and mentors who said. ‘Okay, well, when you’re raising capital, we’re ready when you’re ready.’ So I was able to go back out after that and say, ‘Remember, when you said that to me, we’re ready. We want to bring Chris in’ and then it came together pretty quickly from there.

Andy Halko 17:49
That’s great. Yeah. I’m curious. The whole concept of technical founders. So I think we’ve had almost 50/50 on this show of technical founders and none. I’m curious from, from your perspective. Do you think it’s a benefit to not be burdened by that? Do you think it’s a roadblock to not have that technical? Or did you have to shift your mindset through the process?

Jessica Willis 18:16
Um, I think there’s no right answer. And I hate that. I think there is this. There’s, there’s definitely a message from the startup world that you need a technical co-founder. You need you need a technical person to help. My answer to that is sure. That’d be great. Right? If everybody who had a great idea could find the missing pieces in their backyard. That does not work like that, it doesn’t work like that. It took me a year and a half. So I would hate for anybody to think you, you know. I would hate to have for me to have lost that year and a half, just because I was sitting around waiting for the right person who by the way, I never would have gotten had I not built out a year and a half of validate and proof. So. So I think the answer is, you know, yeah, if all the pieces fall into place on day one, amazing, but I don’t think that happens. So you have to keep going with what you have. And then, you know, make it work from there.

Tony Zayas 19:22
Turning the focus to the product a little bit, I’d be curious to hear what your initial vision was. how that compares to, you know, what it looked like when you first launched it when you had an MVP, and then kind of how it stacks up today.

Jessica Willis 19:40
So the first MVP was a 20 page, survey I guess that I had three friends go through with me. So God Bless those three people. I had to buy them coffee. And you know, it’s a two-hour process of them literally checking yes, no, yes, no, to kind of see if it works. So the product has come a long way since then. I think the only big change, I mean, change isn’t the right word. I think that the. You know, I always get asked the question, ‘What pivot did you have to make? And that’s kind of what you’re asking, Tony. We didn’t do a big pivot. But when we started, when I started with the idea that first year, the question was, can we create technology that. Can anybody create technology that can replace what I do as an advisor? So I started to pursue that question and saw very, very quickly that the answer is no. At the end of the day, people still want hand-holding, they just want a lot less. Again, back to that, you know, prior thing I said, they don’t want to sit across from me while I read them numbers on their performance report. There is a much more efficient way advisors and banks and credit unions can do their job, again, with their job being get to those intimate conversations to be that financial, trusted advisor sooner. Our technology just helps with that process, right? So I think that the question in the beginning was, can we go direct-to-user. Found out very quickly, we don’t want to go direct-to-user. We want to go to the institutions who have the audience have the problem, you know, how, give them the solution to engage with that, that next-gen to bring financial wellness to the masses? I mean, that is our mission as a company is how do we bring financial wellness to the masses? And so I think we can do that by deepening the relationships with, you know, between end-user and institution.

Andy Halko 21:39
How’d you get those first couple customers? Was it cold calling? Was it some sort of marketing connections? What, how did those first couple of customers come on board?

Jessica Willis 21:52
Yeah, the same way the first couple investors came on board. It was from doing the work for 12 months before having cups of coffee with everybody and hearing. You know, interesting, we have that problem. You know, when it’s ready to be used, we’re interested. So it was network? Or I should say networking.

Andy Halko 22:13
Yeah, that’s great. How about, as you’ve evolved, how is your customer acquisition changed? You know, have you gotten big into marketing? Or is it still very personal connections? And going through that process?

Jessica Willis 22:29
Yeah. We haven’t paid a single dollar yet to marketing which, or I should say to paid marketing campaigns, which I’m so proud of. Because through our chief marketing officers, Ashleigh Craven, and through the work that she’s done, in as any good startup, she’s really really, you know. She’s sharp about how do we… How do we what we need to do with a little spend? Scrappy, how are we really scrappy so. So I’m really proud of the fact that we haven’t done that yet. Customers now come from a couple places. So definitely network, definitely referral. I’ve done quite a few speaking engagements to the credit union community, that has helped. And then we have a reselling agreement with a major credit union solutions, organization, credit union Solutions Group, they’re one of the largest credit union service providers in the US. And so they’ve been a really, really good partner to us, too.

Andy Halko 23:24
So I’d kinda be remiss if I didn’t ask, given your platform, and, you know, target audience, about Reddit, and Gamestop. And, and just that, I mean, again, it’s it’s not necessarily about that situation, but the mindset of, you know, that’s changing and investment, and, you know, the, like, you’re almost saying, democratizing it. What’s your opinion about what’s going on? And how that might change? Not only the investing world but potentially even your app and involvement?

Jessica Willis 24:01
Yeah, yeah. Um, I would say first, first off, keep in mind that I view trading as something very different than financial planning. So first off, you know, trading is trading and financial planning is getting your financial house in order. And that includes estate planning, income, tax planning, retirement, and investments, you know, including trading, but saving for kids college budget, everything else. So so that’s the first thing. I think the biggest takeaway I’ve had over the last couple weeks is, oh my goodness, we need to educate people more about finances. And yes, that includes trading, that includes the markets, activity in the capital markets, how hedge funds work, everything. We need to promote more financial education to the world. And there’s, there’s really no great way to do that. And so the only way to do that with scale is through technology. So I hope we can help with that. I mean, I hope that this mission we have of, you know, bringing financial wellness to the masses can be something to help educate. With the trading going on, that’s fine like that… that is what it is. But again, I don’t want anybody to be making financial decisions, real money decisions without knowing how that impacts everything else retirement, savings for kid’s college, all the other things that, having an emergency cash reserve, you know. I want people to understand that there is a…There is a path to financial wellness. With financial wellness being sleeping at night, knowing that you have everything in order. Doing risky trades, may or may not be a part of that path. But if your entire financial house is in order, then you can make the decisions of whether or not you want to participate in risky trading.

Andy Halko 25:53
Well, I think it shows a little bit of, of where people are at, you know. People do like, DIY. They like, you know, getting information from social cues of other people, and whether it’s stocks, but like you said, education. You know, all those elements of financial wellness, I think are impacted by that idea of DIY, you know. It’s social influence beyond just the stocks as well.

Jessica Willis 26:22
Yeah, for sure, Andy. And we see that more and more, as the generations emerge is that it’s that’s more frequent among younger generations than older generations. The stat I love is that 67% of millennials get all of their financial advice from two sources, Facebook and Twitter. If I share that stat in a room of millennials, nobody comments, nobody says anything, we just keep going. If I share that stat with anybody my age and above, people laugh, people think that’s the most ridiculous thing ever. Those two are not financial sources. But obviously, people are looking for that DIY. They’re looking for that occasion on their own through social media. So we have to meet we have to meet the next generation where they are.

Andy Halko 27:07
Yeah, the gurus that are out there.

Jessica Willis 27:10

Andy Halko 27:10
That are instagramming. About how to I mean, it really does exist.

Jessica Willis 27:15
Yeah, for sure.

Tony Zayas 27:18
Yeah, along those lines, I’d be curious, you know, in this past year, going through the pandemic. I think a lot of people have, people have focused on different areas. Obviously, a lot of financial uncertainty, and rockiness in a lot of cases. And I think a lot of people spend time doing different things than they had in the past. Part of that is starting to examine and say, ‘Hey, I need to get the things in order.’ How did this past year, you know, going through the pandemic, how did that affect things from your standpoint?

Jessica Willis 27:55
Yeah…So we sell to… We engage with two markets, right? The end-users, which is the individuals, you’re referring to, Tony, and then the financial institutions. We are a tool that helps people with financial wellness by helping them engage and helping the institutions engage with them. So, because people have not been physically walking into their banks and their credit unions, the last 12 months have been good from a business standpoint, you know, we were sort of built for this environment to help people engage over technology. With those two segments that the end-users. Yes, people are looking at their finances more now than they ever have. There’s a lot of stats out there about people saving more than they used to. I think there’s a lot of fear, obviously, going on. And so we, just as human beings, we want to get that financial house in order. We want to get our things in order. And we’ve had the time, right, we’ve had the time at home, a lot of time at home to do things that maybe we haven’t had time to do before. So yes, people are are asking for and looking for more tools to get their finances in order. On the other side of that, that piece, those financial institutions, as I said, they’re looking to engage over technology. What we’ve seen is a lot of the banks and credit unions have taken their potential future spend on technology, and they’ve front-loaded that up to this year and next year. We’ve literally talk to a credit union who took their 10 month or sorry, 10 years spend, and there’s spending that 10 year budget over 2020 in 2021 on technology. Their 10 year tech budget and brought that forward to two years. That is just mind-blowing to me that, you know, these institutions. I think… I think there’s been a, there’s been the thought over the last 5 to 10 years of we know we need to do more and could do from a technology standpoint, but we sort of don’t have to. And I think what we’ve learned over the last year is you have to. You have to do that now. And by the way, you can do that. So we’re learning, I think the institutions have learned that end-users, that they thought the customers, that they thought would know, would never use technology to do deposits, have learned that they’ve had to do that. And so you know, we’re doing that.

Andy Halko 30:26
I’m curious, we’ve talked to a couple folks that are B2B2C, and I’m curious about like roadmap and thinking about features and where the product goes, you know, is there one audience that’s more of an influencer? Your customer versus your customer’s customer? And you know, and it’s an over beaten analogy, but the, you know, if people asked what they wanted, they’d want faster horses, cars, you know, and so that’s where I’m kind of asking, you know, is it? Who’s driving the thought process of the product, and do your customers really even know what their customers need? And do the customers even know what they need? And how do you balance all that?

Jessica Willis 31:09
Yeah, yeah. I love that you used a, I’m in Detroit. So that was a Henry Ford quote, if I if I ask people what they wanted, they’d say, faster horses. And I love that. So, first and foremost, again, we’re we’re a mission-driven company. We’re trying to bring financial wellness to the masses. So yes, our customer is the financial institution, and users don’t pay anything. But they’re at the center of everything we do, we are trying to deliver wellness to people, period. The way to do that is through the financial institutions they trust and they’ve been working with. So first and foremost, people and the user experience is at the center of what we’re building. What drives product and product roadmap? Is that, first and foremost. So we’re doing a ton of user testing all the time, where we’re finding out what works, what doesn’t. And then yes, we also talk to, you know, our customers to see what is working for them, those financial institutions. What else do they need to say? But we are, we’re always telling them look. You do your superpower of the financial solutions you serve, and our superpower is knowing millennials and how to engage millennials with finance. So every customer, institutional customer, we launched, we start with an engagement discussion of you know, how to engage with the members of your credit union, but we know how to engage with millennials as it comes to personal finance. So we have discussions about, about what those marketing campaigns and those marketing tools look like.

Andy Halko 32:51
Do you ever have customers that expect you that change the software or, you know, adjust it to their needs? Or what they think is, right? And how do you handle those situations, if it’s ever come up?

Jessica Willis 33:05
We built the software to be very, very customizable. So from day one, we knew that you know, a Northwest mutual would want a different, would want some different things than a, you know, a local or smaller credit union or community bank. So we built the software to be very customizable, mostly from an integration standpoint. So you know, the really large institutions want all the data that we bring back to them to go inside of there, like a Salesforce or a CRM. The smaller institutions are happy to use, you know, our admin panel to see, to learn more about their, customers. So yes, there is some customizable ability to what we’ve built. Have I had, I’m thinking about one prospect along the way, who was pushing for something so different than what we were doing that, you know, I think we kindly just realized we probably weren’t a fit, and they were looking for a different tool altogether. So yeah, especially being a startup, I think you have a lot of conversations with prospective customers that are like, Oh, you should do this, and you should do this. And you should do this. And, you know, give it to us for free. And we’re, we’re, you sometimes have to say, no, well, no.

Andy Halko 34:24
And that’s kind of my question is. That’s a lot of our audience is people that are in that startup phase. And, you know, how do you handle those situations where people want you to make changes that aren’t part of the vision, but you’re maybe even hungry for for that, for customers? And, you know, from our interviews I’ve heard, you know, there there’s some folks that take the hard line and say, This is my vision and others that are willing to pivot and change and maybe, maybe they’ll learn something new and and I don’t think there’s a right answer, but I’m just kind of curious of your experiences

Jessica Willis 35:00
Yeah, I think there’s, yes to everything you said, I think there’s a fine line between? Well, I don’t think, you know, as founders, I think sometimes we, we have these visions. And if you stick you’re. If you, if we live with our heels in the sand, like, you’re not going to… If you’re so stubborn that you can’t listen to what your customers are asking for, that’s bad. That’s a that’s a recipe for failure, right? So it’s this fine line of listening to the asks, digesting it, maybe researching and processing it, and even you know, having discussions with other prospective customers. ‘Is this something you would want to?’ You know, so there’s you have to. I think we have to listen to that, that feedback, we have to see what people are really asking for too. Because I think that’s, that’s something else that I’ve come across is. I want a platform, I want something that does this. And when you ask a lot of questions, you learn no, no you don’t. What you really want is, you know, more customers. And so you don’t care how you get those more customers, but we need to talk about that. So yeah, I think there’s just a, there’s a fine line between, it’s a decision we make, you know, constantly of do we want to do we want to go for this one customer, they’re asking for this thing, is that different than who we are as a company, is that different than our mission? And we know, you know. I think at the end of the day, you know, if you’re, leaving your vision, leaving your mission, leaving your company culture to give something to someone for revenue. We haven’t had, we haven’t had to do that.

Andy Halko 36:32
What about mentor feedback, because that’s the other that I’ve seen is stubborn founders that have an idea of what their product is. They go and find mentors, the mentors have insights, and then, you know, they don’t pay attention to them, or they push back against that. Again, I think it’s all about balance. But how do we help people find that right balance of when do you need to open yourself up, and listen? And when do you need to, you know, stay committed to the vision that you have? I don’t know if you have any thoughts. It’s not easy!

Jessica Willis 37:07
It’s not easy. And I think I mean, you’re, I love how you said that. ‘When you need to open your mind And listen, the answer to that is always’. You always have to listen to every piece of feedback. But you have to then process it and talk about it with people you trust, if that’s your team, or to say, to process it, right? To see if it’s a good path to follow. I have seen, I have seen a lot of founders who I think are just so… they don’t listen, or they’re so stubborn. And that turns everybody off, and you lose, you lose the ability to learn what the markets are asking for. So it’s so hard because as, as I think, as a rule of thumb, I think someone who, who starts a company tends to be a little bit visionary. And sometimes that comes with some arrogance of I know everything. I don’t need any advice, which can be a strength at times until it isn’t. But you have to man, you have to just let it all come in and accept those feedback and accept those ‘nos’ and that rejection constantly to keep going.

Andy Halko 38:09
I’m curious, you mentioned, you don’t know what you don’t know.’ Which are you familiar with Johari window? Is that potentially where that came from? Okay.

Jessica Willis 38:17
no, but that’s interesting.

Andy Halko 38:18
It’s great for you and for other folks, go check out Johari window. It’s, it’s about your blind window and your hidden window. And you want your blind window to be open by people sharing things that you don’t know about yourself. You want to open your hidden window by sharing things that you don’t normally share. And by doing that, both of those kind of move, and it expands the what you know that you don’t know. And so there’s a whole theory around this blind and hidden window. So worth checking out if you get a chance.

Jessica Willis 38:52
I will I will. That sounds fascinating.

Tony Zayas 38:56
So you mentioned, we briefly touched on culture, and you talked about your mission. And so that seems pretty crystal clear for you. We talked to founders quite a bit about how do you articulate that mission vision and create that culture that you’re striving for through your team? And like, how do you implement that? How do you take the vision and turn it into work to turn it towards a reality?

Jessica Willis 39:28
You don’t rush into hiring people who aren’t a vet. At you know, year and a half it took to bring in our CTO and almost two years to bring in our chief marketing officer although she was working with us part-time from literally day one. I have complete trust in the two of them that they want the same culture that I would want. We talk about our culture all the time. We just had a conversation about an hour ago about something new. We’re going to be doing that the CTO brought to Ashleigh and I about you know, we should be doing this from a culture standpoint not because it solves a problem we have right now. But because it as we grow, we want to make sure to keep this culture. So I think you just have to be really, really intentional about. It’s like parenting, I’ve got three kids, it’s like parenting, you have to, you know, be intentional about, about what you want out of, you know, what you want for our culture, what, and but I couldn’t, it’s so beyond me, I couldn’t have have. I couldn’t have done that without having the right people on my executive team that you know, want the same culture and recognize what’s great. And you have to be really, I think, vulnerable, really vulnerable with one another to acknowledge that, you know, we’re in this together, and we’re working together, and what culture do we want together and that sort of thing. We communicate a lot, we talk a lot.

Tony Zayas 40:54
That’s cool.

Andy Halko 40:57
Good, Tony,

Tony Zayas 40:58
I was just gonna ask real quick, kind of along those lines, do you have any, anything you would share with other founders as far as what you’ve learned? Because it sounds like you’ve made the right hire and in some really key roles in your organization? So, how did you you know, and it might have been through experiences where you didn’t, you know, hire the right people at other times, what are some, you know, tips given finding people that are a good fit?

Jessica Willis 41:30
Um, I think you just have to give it time and give it work. Work meaning every conversation I had, before I hired anyone was, you know, I’m looking for X, Y, and Z. And and again, that being vulnerable by sharing, by sharing your needs with every person, you know, you’re having coffee with. And when someone says, ‘What can I do for you?’, you’re answering. ‘Well, I’m looking for this, I’m looking for this.’ I think, you know, that’s how we that’s how we got the team we got. But again, you can’t rush into it. I would also say I think in the very beginning when we have these when founders have these ideas, we think we have to be very secretive about them. Because we don’t want people to steal our ideas. I swear, at some point over the last few years, it’s been like you want to take it? Because it comes with so much work, right. But I think you have to, again, maybe it’s it’s being a little bit vulnerable, but being confident enough to share your idea with the right people without saying, you know, I want you to sign an NDA without, without being worried about someone stealing your idea. Because if you don’t do that, you’re not going to find what you need, you’re not going to find those people, you’re not going to find those potential customers, if you’re not, if you’re not comfortable enough sharing the message and the idea out there.

Andy Halko 42:51
I’ve heard in the past, you know, ‘share your idea with everybody because other people don’t have the time, money or interest to do it.’ And you you overestimate what you think is gonna happen. So I’m kind of curious from the the female perspective in the startup space, you know, do you feel that it’s, it’s more of a boys club? Are there any barriers that you think that you faced? Or? Or for those women out there that are looking at starting a technology startup? What would you kind of share with them?

Jessica Willis 43:30
Yeah. Find your community. So for? Yeah, find your community first and foremost, if, if you’re a female founder, and you feel like it’s a boys club. Find, find the women where we’re here. And now is kind of a really exciting time to be on this side of things, because we’re talking about that there’s so much in the startup ecosystem about supporting underrepresented founders and female founders. So it’s, it’s kind of a fun. I mean, it’s definitely a fun time to do that. I haven’t I haven’t seen this as a boys club at all, because I grew up in the finance world, right. So I spent 20 years in finance. So to me, you know, this is the… No, I haven’t seen it being a boys club. I know it’s there. I’ve seen all the stats, the stats are atrocious. They’re atrocious.

Andy Halko 44:17

Jessica Willis 44:18
About all capital goes to females, female-led founders, that’s startups with female-led founders. That’s ridiculous. That’s, that’s unacceptable. But we’re talking about it. We’re trying. There’s some amazing people out there trying to solve it, both men and women. So, you know, we’re having the conversations we need to be having.

Andy Halko 44:35
That’s good. So what’s the vision for the product and for the business? Where do you want to be in five or 10 years with it and what’s the Big Hairy Audacious Goal?

Jessica Willis 44:49
Um, I always like to say change the financial trajectory for millions of people. But to boil that down to you know, layman’s terms. It’s bring financial wellness to the masses. That’s the that’s the big goal, you know, millions of people having napping scared of their finances. From a company standpoint, we’re selling some of the smaller financial institutions right now, although three of our customers are three of the nation’s largest credit unions, but our plan has just been to keep working up the food chain, starting with the smaller institutions, and then working with the larger institutions as we grow and as we can support them.

Tony Zayas 45:29
Very good. And you’ve had that question that you’ve been asking people this year, you want to go out and ask?

Andy Halko 45:35
Yeah, so I always like to know, if you went back in the past, let’s say, right, before you started this business, you said had coffee with yourself? What kind of advice would you give? Or what would you share with yourself to say, for the future?

Jessica Willis 45:57
That’s a that’s a really big, deep question. I love it. Um, I would say, Don’t be scared. I mean, I think we, it was hard for me to embrace leaving a stable, high paying secure job for not that. And yeah, I, I, I would say, don’t be scared, just just go for it. It’s so much fun. I asked myself that question, actually, periodically, as a mom. So like I said, I’ve got three kids. Two of them are our daughters. And I think about you know, if my daughters were as nervous as I was about leaving the stable world to start a startup, I’d be like, ‘What is the matter with you do go for it!’ This is life. It’s so fun. You know, go for it. Try. Who cares if you fail? So and fail is in quotes, right? Who cares if you if you don’t do what you think you’re going to do? So I think as as a parent, I can answer that question a lot easier, which is, don’t be scared. Just go for it.

Andy Halko 47:00
Do you think it’s more about the journey or the destination, for you? Oh, the

Jessica Willis 47:04
journey for sure. The journey, for sure.

Andy Halko 47:07
It’s great. Awesome. Well, thank you for joining us. I think it was a great conversation.

Jessica Willis 47:14
Thank you! I appreciate it. Nice to meet both of you. A lot of fun! Thank you.

Tony Zayas 47:18
Fantastic. Thank you so much, Jessica. This was outstanding. I would just encourage everyone, go check out and see what Jessica and her team are up to. It’s pretty, pretty awesome stuff. So again, thank you for your time today. And thanks to everyone for tuning in. We’ll see you next week.

Jessica Willis 47:34
Thanks, guys.

Andy Halko 47:36
Thanks, Jessica.