A letter to my younger self: Colin Horsford, CurbGenie

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Work with the willing young “Colin-son.” People will waste your time. You don’t realize it yet because you have yet to become an entrepreneur. You’re used to corporate life where meetings are critical, everyone is straight to the point and always on time. There’s comfort in the fact that when you get emails or meet with someone, there is a clear expectation and it’s usually met.

Well, unfortunately, life as an entrepreneur isn’t that way. 

People will waste your time and you will compound that by chasing them. That’s why I say, work with willing and excited “young grasshoppers.” Wax on, wax off. If they don’t want to work with you, then cut’em off.

You will come across people who seem to have good intentions. They will sound incredibly interested in you and your product or offering. They will love what you are building. They will set up time to meet you, and even promise you the world. Then, as quickly as you piqued their interest, they’ll just as quickly avoid writing that check. Money talks. Bull poopie walks. Going even further, I’ll tell you not to get excited until the ink dries on the check or contract. It’s normal for you to get excited when you get some positive feedback or when you think you’ve closed a deal. That’s alright, because it is exciting, but I’m telling you as your older self, wait until the ink dries. See, it’s easy for people to say yes. Wanna know why? Because talk is cheap. Heck, it’s free. So people will say yes until it’s time to bust out their wallet or put their John Hancock on a contract. This is why I tell you to wait until the sale or contract is completed.

Meetings are different as an entrepreneur.

Most of the meetings you will attend in the beginning will be a waste of time. People will invite you to hear themselves talk. You will leave feeling like it was a big waste but it will build character and also sharpen your intuition. You will learn who is serious and who wants to waste your time. You will learn how to pre-empt and intercept wasteful interactions. But here’s why it’s good that you go through this. It will also help you practice. People will pepper you with questions and the more you hear them, the more comfortable you are answering them. This is great because by the time you step into a meaningful meeting, you’ll be so well-versed that you instill confidence in your counterparts. You’ll know when they’re serious. You will start to feel a rush. Just remember though, wait ‘til the ink dries and work with the willing young blood. 



The Most Unexpected Lessons I've Learned: The Great Fantastic

One of the unexpected lessons I’ve learned and continue to improve upon throughout this process, is recognizing the false illusion of urgency.  Often times when people find a solution to a problem that is not currently being addressed in the market, they develop this fear that if they don’t launch their solution tomorrow, someone else will.  On a more micro level, you can get so caught up in executing, and checking off your to-do list that you rush ahead without understanding the scope or impact of the decisions you make. Putting this imaginary countdown on important objectives is natural.  We’ve been conditioned to do it our entire lives. From having a fixed amount of time to finish exams, to arriving at the airport 3 hours before an international flight...you’re rewarded for respecting, and meeting deadlines.  


So why should running your own company be any different? In my entrepreneurial journey to date, the majority of rushed decisions I’ve made have been due to arbitrary deadlines I have imposed on myself.  My default setting as a human is to “act first, ask questions later”, and having the freedom to do this with my business whenever I please is one of the most rewarding aspects of being an entrepreneur. Additionally, setting up deadlines holds me accountable, and allows me to stay efficient in my day-to-day initiatives.  However, moving full speed ahead and making quick decisions has at times caused unnecessary headaches for me and my business. For example, on the production side of things, I cut corners with quality control checks and size/measurement approvals on a production run last year. I did the bare minimum so we could get our products online and sell them as soon as possible. The time we made up in deliveries to the warehouse did not outweigh the less than amazing experience some customers had.  Not by a million miles. Had I allowed myself another week or two to thoroughly trust the process, we could’ve turned sub-par product experiences into incredible ones. Another time where I made quick decisions that weren’t the best, happened to be on the partnership side of things. I rushed an agreement with an Instagram influencer in order to meet a random start date we both agreed on. This time I was in such a rush to agree that I committed to terms I didn’t read thoroughly through, and thus couldn’t honor.  If I had just “slept on it” and reviewed the plan with fresh eyes, I would’ve been able to highlight the issue. 


Every day, business owners make hundreds if not thousands of decisions; some small and some potentially life-changing.  It’s a constant game to identify which decisions look like they’re urgent, and which truly need immediate attention...although again the large majority of choices you need to make should have some breathing room.  And because most decisions have some time, I try and use an approach I first learned on the lacrosse field. There’s a concept in sports called “slow-play”, and skilled athletes will implement it sometimes when playing.  Slow-play involves withholding from any immediate action so you can determine the best move to take. In a game, instead of lunging for the ball or trying to guard the opponent, you might sit back and see what they do. In business, you can “slow-play” by not acting immediately, and gathering more information before deciding the best move to make.  Some people think business can be analogized to chess, but the concept of slow-playing decisions is the #1 reason I think this is a fallacy. In chess, you must always move before and after your opponent (unless of course you’ve been checkmated). Yes, there is an opportunity to develop a strategy and anticipate future moves in chess, but in a real business decision-making environment you can use time to your benefit.


The learnings I developed from rushing too quickly into decisions has been critical to my development as an entrepreneur.  Every time I have a choice to make, I always think about the true deadline or time I have. Being able to gather more information, or even taking a few days to mull the decision over can be incredibly valuable to the path your company takes.



Who Saves The Hero?

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To anyone nervous about starting a business or breaking away from the traditional career path, what has been your biggest obstacle (other than money) when pursuing a startup idea?

I’ve always been perceived as a strong person who can succeed with little-to-no help. Now that I’ve taken on a huge endeavor in starting my own company, I need more support than ever. However, there’s one major issue- my support system has no idea how to help. Below is my perspective on how others can help me (and other entrepreneurs), if they so choose:

The reality is entrepreneurship is extremely difficult. Often, people hear this and say, “But, you chose this path.” My response is this path chose me. Even though I wholeheartedly believe in it, it’s harder than anything I’ve ever done.  This mission requires a ton of the following: time, effort, learning, strategizing, emotional balancing, perseverance, patience, trust, fear and risk tolerance, plus a perfect blend of humility, curiosity and confidence. And truthfully, it’s exhausting.

Here’s why I’m so busy: I’m a solo founder. I am fortunate to have a team around me, but for a long time, I didn’t. As the sole leader of that team, if I don’t run the show, no one will. If I don’t support our clients, no one will. If I don’t run the marketing efforts to ensure the growth of our company, we will die off. If I don’t research the market, we’ll lose out. If I don’t figure out how to protect ourselves from a legal standpoint, we’ll be run over. And lastly, if I don’t create a successful web platform, we will have no product to offer. I am essentially running all facets of this business, and without me delegating to the rest of the team, our company and brand will not move forward. 

Here’s how I feel about all this: I often hate it. I want to relax and hang out and have a normal life again; and now that I’ve built it up to this point, I feel that I can’t turn back. I don’t want to turn back, but it requires so many things from one person. At the end of the day, I am only human and can only do so much. It’s a long road ahead. I know I will need to sacrifice a lot of time and money to invest in the potential success of this vision. I have to ask others on my team to make sacrifices as well, so that together, we can build something great for the world. Belief in my work keeps me motivated, but no real sense of security coupled with numerous uncertainties, leaves me scared as hell. I never know if I’m making the right decision. I spend plenty of time learning, asking questions, and making sure I don’t mess this up, but I know mistakes are inevitable. In reality, they will be used as stepping stones. While I believe in our goal, it all falls on me, and it’s a ton of pressure. When I finally feel like I can relax, everything is still running through my mind. If I decide to take a break to reinstate balance in my life, I am filled with guilt; I feel I’m wasting valuable time. There is constantly a plethora of these emotions- another phenomenon I’m still getting used to.

Here’s what I need you to understand: When I explain how hard my journey is, it’s because I work 12-14 hours a day and have no income. I am NOT comparing myself to you or your stress- I want to understand your stress and help you through it. But when I vent to you, I want you to simply listen. I want you to understand that I may worry slightly more than you because at the very least, you have a secure income, and I may not feel that sense of security for another 10 years. Know that every day is different than the last. Some days are great when I am learning and can do things I’m good at and love; however, most days, I’m struggling by taking on a new challenge. I have been forced to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Things change so quickly. While you used to know me as a routine-oriented person, I’ve had to embrace flexibility. I have been forced to circumvent a weakness that I never thought I could because I know that being flexible is a core requirement for any startup that wants to be operating tomorrow. Most importantly, I must pay attention to myself: my strengths and weaknesses, my blind spots, and even my emotional state. It directly impacts the business.

The reality and bottom line is: This is my job now- a full time gig that pays me nothing. Although I find having peers in similar situations typically offers the most support, I strive to build a world where we can understand people who are going through something completely different. I want to be able to share this with you, friend, in a way that you truly understand, so hopefully you can support me through it.

 

Here’s how: 

  • Know that when I tell you about an achievement or a struggle, I simply want you to listen and acknowledge that you hear me. I don’t necessarily need you to tell me how to feel or react; simply be there for me. Acknowledge why you see that situation is exciting or difficult. 

  • Understand when I share something with you, it is not me saying I am more stressed than you. Please try to acknowledge the complexities of being chiefly responsible for the creation and oversight of a new business, while handling all of the fear and the risks.

  • When I share my thoughts with you, ask about the issue, rather than immediately telling me your perspective. The situation is from me and my standpoint, not from yours. When I need help or another opinion, I will ask for it; I’m acutely aware of what I don’t know. Mostly, what I need more than advice, is support—know that they are different.

  • Realize that when I share situations with you, I will not boast. I rely on others to help me celebrate good moments, because even in good moments, I feel scared. I may even feel unworthy.

  • Show up. I won’t always beg you to be at my “shows,” but realize when we have a rare moment to invite others into our world, it’s an amazing opportunity to get an update on how I’m doing, what I’m doing, and to show me that you’re interested.

  • Understand that being a startup founder isn’t “glamorous.” In the early stages, before you see and hear media’s take on these companies, the lifestyle is extremely rigorous. Dealing with such risk for an extended period of time can truly affect one’s mental health and I can certainly feel it affecting mine.

  • If you recognize my stress- rather than assuming I want space, show support by asking what I may need.

  • In conclusion (I have to put one last plug here) -- If we ask for a small favor to leverage your knowledge or network, realize that your time and expertise can go a very long way. Time is precious and our resources are scarce. Startups often take a village to get off the ground -- you are that village. Your support extends as far as you are willing, and we need all the help we can get.

When in doubt, simply ask questions. This, I think, is a great rule of thumb for many situations in life. My greatest hope is that I can relate to others and they can relate to me. Empathy and active listening is the key. In my mind, these are the requirements of a supportive friend, but it’s not something we’re taught in school; it’s something we choose to learn as we grow up. I believe empathy is a skill that must be learned and practiced. My friend, this is what I need from you, and this is what I vouch to give to you as well. 

 

 

Meet Verge. Capital

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There are 510m people across European Union and they do not have a common credit score in order to interact with financial institutions, either within borders or abroad; a problem solved long ago in the US. Young people, self-employed or expats face challenges getting credit facilities. Financial institutions rely on snapshots to make decisions and lack a comprehensive and intelligent tool in order to assess credit risk. This has left more that 58m Europeans without access to any credit facility whatsoever.

This problem has been persistent in Europe due to the fact that the 28 member states were not uniform in terms of laws and regulations and this made impossible to launch a common credit score. A number of regulatory changes took place since the beginning of 2018, primarily driven by the revised Payment Service Directive (PSD2), and provided unconditional access to uniform transactional data across all banks in Europe to third party providers. This was a landmark decision from the European regulators which, for the first time, facilitate third parties to offer financial services on top of banking infrastructure by giving access to baking data in uniform format throughout the EU. These laws regarding open banking APIs have been incorporated by all member-states regulatory frameworks and are fully compliant with the relevant privacy frameworks like GDPR etc.

Verge.Capital is going to become a pan-European credit scoring provider that enables consumers and financial institutions to universally assess affordability and creditworthiness of individuals by utilizing machine learning on top of open banking APIs.

Yiannis and Ioanna decided to work on this project driven by personal stories. Yiannis was actually challenged when he first moved to the US and he could not get a credit card. He was a stranger to the financial system and this made him look for ways to solve this issue. On the other hand Ioanna had been working for banks and management consulting firms that assist banks in managing risk and she was baffled that no one up to that point had ever made any steps towards streamlining consumer credit risk within European Union. Thus, when Yiannis shared with her the idea, she was like “it was about time”.

By being members of the Stern family and during our successful participation at NYU $300K Enterpreneurs Challenge, we were excited to learn about Stern Venture Fellows (SVF), a customized summer program for high potential entrepreneurs. We were even more excited to get accepted to the SVF program! It is amazing to have access to NYU Stern's and W.R. Berkley Innovation Labs’ resources, as well as access to our super successful alumnus David Ko and his network!

During our fellowship we hope to accomplish two main goals. First of all start building our brand and positioning in the minds of Europeans, as a financial wellbeing platform and in the eyes of Financial Institutions as a creditworthiness assessment supporting tool based on transactional behavior. Secondly, we want to develop automations in order to utilize our vast network of contacts and to drive awareness and new business via social media channels.

Thumbs up for fintech disrupting banking! Thumbs up for Stern that enables us to do so!