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He Left Goldman to Join a Fintech Startup on a 100 Year Mission

"I saw a massive opportunity, so I had to make the leap"

Chris Hladczuk is not your typical Yale graduate turned Goldman Sachs investment banker.

He left the vaunted halls of the world's most hailed bank to pursue a jack-of-all-trades role at Meow, a relatively unknown fintech startup building the “Costco for Financial Services.”

A risky move to some, but not to Chris: “I saw a massive opportunity with Meow, so I had to make the leap.”

And a move that Chris encourages others to take as well: “You have to re-frame risk. You're living in the twenty-first century with electricity and running water. You're not going to die if your startup doesn't work out. So to all the future startup builders out there, I say 'take the leap.'“

Chris credits his unbridled ambition and intensity when it comes to executing on Meow’s “one hundred year vision.” Two traits that serve him well when it comes to dealing with customers, who he loves to “support 24/7/365.”

His approach to work is intense, but when you “do everything except code” on a small, but mighty, thirteen person team, that’s par for the course.

Something Chris feels strongly about, and has written about extensively online. He’s gone viral before for his views on work–one of his tweets racked up almost 11 million impressions and created quite the comment section.

What started in college as a way to have interesting conversations with founders and investors is now Chris’ secret sauce: writing online is how Chris generates “serendipity at scale” amongst his audience of 250,000 (spread across Twitter, LinkedIn, and his newsletter, Moonshot).

And it’s these chance encounters that are proving quite valuable to his sales’ efforts: he’s already converted one of his newsletter readers into one of Meow's biggest customers.

If “distribution is the new currency” like he claims, I’m sure he’ll have plenty more stories like these in the not-too-distant future.

If you’re a remote operator, or a potential-builder-on-the-fence, you can learn a lot from the conversation Almanac’s CEO, Adam Nathan, had with Chris this week.

I fit into both of those categories and I learned (among other things):

  • The importance of building a lean, scrappy team that obsesses over customers.

  • How to execute on a land-and-expand business model that focuses on maximizing value to the customer.

  • Why writing online is the key to unlocking serendipitous encounters with founders, investors, and entrepreneurs across the world.

Here’s their conversation (edited for brevity and clarity). Enjoy.

Tell me more about why you left investment banking at Goldman to join a startup.

It's funny. I was literally the most intense kid growing up. I had a lot of unbridled ambition and intensity. Like, I'd run really hard in one direction without really knowing where I was going.

And I was always looking ahead to whatever was next. Once I started to play lacrosse, I started to look at where I would go to college. And once I got into Yale, I started to look at what kind of job I'd get. And once I got a job at Goldman, I started to look for my next thing.

I was always intrigued by the tech world–particularly startups–and all of the founders and builders who hung out on Twitter. I thought that was awesome.

My dad sells commercial insurance, so I didn't grow up knowing anything about the tech/startup space, but building a startup is really interesting to me. So for me, joining a startup was the logical next step after Goldman.

What do you do at Meow?

I like to say that Meow is the "Costco for Financial Services," because we keep things low cost to pass the savings back to our customers. And that includes our payroll–we only have 13 employees.

So that means I do everything except code. I do content, go-to-market, sales, partnerships, and I like to joke that I'm our "financial therapist." And I love doing all of these things–they make my job fun.

How is Meow different than any other fintech or neobank?

We bring a midwestern mentality to startups. We're an outsider in Silicon Valley. We think that you can have the highest yields, lowest fees, deliver the greatest value to the customer, and be profitable.

We reject the Silicon Valley approach. We reject fancy billboards. We reject bloated company building. We hate the words “spend to grow”. We never equate headcount with success. We reject the idea that slick design and sexy branding is the secret sauce. And we reject the idea that hype and press build generational companies.

Again, it all ties back to the idea of how we're the "Costco for Financial Services."

A lot of our competitors operate under the assumption that in financial services, you have to sell a high-cost, high-margin product. We think that's wrong. Because if you operate that way, then you have to hire a certain way, spend a different way, and market a different way.

When you position your offering as a low-cost, high-value product, like we do, then you can build your company in the same way. And that gives us massive leverage in how we're able to deliver value to the customer. We've built our company differently. We're the leanest team on the planet.

What's been your biggest success so far at Meow?

We recently crossed a billion in assets on the platform, so that was cool. But at the end of the day, we're trying to build a 100-year company in a very crowded space with hundreds of competitors. And we think we'll get there if we focus on one thing: our customers.

Crossing a billion in assets is cool, but it's not our main focus. We're terrified of our customers. Not of our competitors. We're terrified that we won't serve them well, so all we care about at the end of the day is: are we serving our customers well and providing them with value?

What led to Meow's obsessive focus on customers?

Most of our competitors are high-cost, high-margin, but we're low-cost, low-margin. So while they can make a bunch of money on just one offering, we can't. We have to roll out new products and services to our existing customer base if we want to turn Meow into a big business.

And we're already doing this. We just rolled out the Founder Runway tool, which is a simple way for founders to calculate their burn and runway. It's a great replacement for the janky spreadsheet that most founders use to calculate those.

So the obsession with our customers is kind of baked into our business model, which our two co-founders, Brandon (CEO) and Bryce (CTO), get a ton of credit for.

What's different about how the Meow team works?

We're a small, distributed team spread across New York City, Argentina, and Seattle. We're remote-first, but we also have a hybrid culture as half of our team works out of a WeWork in New York City. We have a massive vision, and we want to hire the best people on the planet to help us realize it.

We think there's an arbitrage of talent in the global hiring market, and we want to take advantage of it. So we don't care if you live in Argentina or Albuquerque, we want you on our team if you're the best at what you do.

We also think remote tools have gotten a lot better, so when you couple the efficiency gains you get from improved technology and the cost savings you get from hiring globally, it just makes sense to be a remote-first team.

How do you keep your team from overloading on meetings and messages?

So for us, urgency is everything. When someone wants to wire $10 million dollars, they want to do it ASAP. They want a response from us almost immediately. And we pride ourselves on the level of service we provide, so we try to meet these expectations.

That's part of our value prop: unlike at a big bank, our customers are more than just a number. Every customer is very important to us. So we have shared Slack channels with a bunch of our different customers, and if they're not on Slack, then we have a different point of contact for them.

At the end of the day, we're in a customer service business and I'm on call 24/7/365. But I love that. I've kept it that way on purpose. So while the messages definitely get overwhelming at times, they're just the byproduct of having customers actually use our product. All that to say, we're definitely on the lookout for ways standardize our processes, and make them more scalable and manageable.

How do you keep work sustainable, especially when you're in hyper-growth mode?

I like to think about work as either "one hundred percent on" or "one hundred percent off." If you're on for ninety percent of the day, seven days a week, then you're going to burn out. I like to take Saturdays completely off, like I just won't even look at a screen. These micro breaks help me recharge in between the marathons and sprints, which are an important piece of keeping work sustainable.

I also love the idea of complete immersion in an activity when taking time off. On an episode of the Joe Rogan podcast, Mark Zuckerberg said that he couldn't run anymore because all he would think about was his business. He had to switch to surfing, so he was forced to be fully present and immersed in the moment. So, this idea of complete immersion, is something I try to do as well when I take time off.

How do you convince your team to stay bought in when times get tough?

At the end of the day, every startup is trying to self select for people that are very bought in. We're looking for world-class people who operate with intensity. But it's important to balance this intensity with adequate periods of rest. Like when an engineer ships an incredible feature after they've worked at it non-stop for weeks, it's important that they take a day or two to rest.

When you have this "always on" kind of mindset, you need to recharge in between sprints. Because if you don't, you're going to hurt the company. So for our team, we make sure to schedule–and sometimes force–periods of rest to help everyone avoid burnout and stay bought in.

How do you manage all of the internal chaos that I'm sure comes with managing over a billion dollars of assets?

We're obsessed with automation, particularly from an engineering perspective (shoutout to Amit, our Chief Security Officer and automation king). In financial services, the KYC ("Know Your Customer") and KYB ("Know Your Business") processes are usually very manual with lots of back-and-forth. But we've built automation and structure for these new customer checks, so our entire team can work in unison to deliver a seamless experience to the customer.

We connect into the APIs of our banking partners and pass information programmatically across our Sales and Ops teams via checklists. Our goal for onboarding is for the customer to say, "that was the easiest thing I've ever done." So we obsess over building automated, scalable processes that help us eliminate points of friction, and ultimately bring us one step closer to our end goal of one-click onboarding.

And we automate non-engineering processes, too. In our customer journey, we have external automation, like emails that send to a customer after their account is approved, and internal automation, like a series of reminders for our Sales team to call a customer, but at the end of the day, it's all about personal touch. Especially when it comes to managing other peoples' money. Customers want a person they can call–someone they can text, yell at, or thank. So while automation is important, we try to find the right balance between automated and personal.

How have you built a culture of connection and trust across your distributed team?

Customer obsession: we tie everything we do back to our customers. It's the same approach Jeff Bezos had. Our CEO tweeted out a video that was just a mashup of clips where Bezos said the word "customer," and there must have been over 150 clips in that two minute video. He was obsessed with his customers, and so are we.

It's easy to get caught up in whatever feature we're working on or all of the things we have to do, but at the end of the day we always try to focus on what the customer wants. That's who we answer to at the end of the day.

This focus on the customer is what makes it possible to ship a feature on the day it's asked for–not in one or two weeks. It sounds cliche, and it's hard to implement, but customer obsession is how we build a culture of trust across our team. When I get positive customer feedback, I pass it along to my engineering team, and that helps them buy into what I'm doing on the sales side of things. Trust, connection, and customer focus go hand-in-hand.

What's been the secret to success in your career?

Content. That's been the secret sauce. I started writing on Twitter three years when I was still at Yale. I've got an audience now of two hundred thousand on Twitter and a quarter million across LinkedIn, Twitter, and my newsletter.

Content allowed me to build serendipity at scale. Think about it: why would any founder, entrepreneur, or investor want to talk to a college kid? Well, when you have interesting things to say and you put them out into the world, you create serendipity for yourself.

One example: I landed one of our largest customers just from writing my newsletter. For six months, this customer read my newsletter and then one day they reached out and said they wanted to buy T bills. I had no idea they read my newsletter, but just by creating content consistently, I was able to create a moment of serendipity with someone in my audience who's now a customer.

Networking is a hyper-transactional thing, and you can make the transactional aspect of it more serendipitous by creating content. That's something I'm going to continue to do throughout the rest of my career. Because in my mind, distribution is the new currency.

What does the future hold for Meow?

We have a hundred year vision. It's very grand. And that's part of the reason why we're called Meow, not "Treasury Services" or something like that. We don't want to constrain ourselves to what we do now. We have a massive vision that goes well beyond treasury services.

The future for us involves rolling out more stuff on the software side of things to enable founders and give them more opportunity. And we plan on getting into a bunch of other markets as well.

What does the future hold for you?

I'm going to continue to build. I'm happy where we're at, and I think it's a really great time to be in financial services. It's a crazy time–certainly the craziest since the 2008 global financial crisis–but there's a lot of opportunity. So for the time being, I'm going to be heads down, building and serving customers.

What advice do you have for other founders or builders?

Leaving Goldman to join Meow was such a crazy moment for me. But I saw a massive opportunity with Meow, so I had to make the leap. You'd think that coming from such a traditional world, Yale and Goldman, would make this move seem risky, but it wasn't.

You have to re-frame risk. You're living in the twenty-first century with electricity and running water. You're not going to die if your startup doesn't work out. So to all the future builders out there, I say "take the leap."

Next Week on The Big Bet: Chase Warrington, The Head of Remote at Doist

Chase is a LinkedIn Top Voice for Remote Work, a Global Top 50 Remote Enabler by Remote.com, and a Top 20 Future of Work Influencer by Onalytica. He’s an expert on all things remote, and is passionate about making remote-work, work. His full profile is coming to your inbox next Thursday.

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