Interview between Maria Aponte, Head of Programs at Fintech Cadence and Jennifer Schell, Founder and CEO at Finliti, a recent graduate in our Ascension 2022 Cohort.
Finliti is an engaging platform for investors. Understand risk to reap the rewards. Build your financial future!
Can you tell us about your backstory and what inspired you to take the leap into building Finliti?
The risk of obsoletion became very real. I’ve always been passionate about the capital markets and how they work and I’ve spent over fifteen years in wealth management at the largest brokerages in Canada. Helping people achieve success and build their net worth was very rewarding but it wasn’t feasible to provide quality advice to those who needed it most: millennials or beginners starting their investing journey. I could also see that technology was progressing and it was just a matter of time before new digital solutions would revamp the whole sector, compromising a career I’ve spent a lot of time and effort building. After experiencing some frustrations with mindset and workplace culture, I took a vacation and gave this a lot of thought while on the beach in Croatia. When I came back, I decided to build a solution because if I didn’t someone else would and I was worried what their solution would look like in terms of integrity and impact. Creating a safe space where retail investors could learn to love the markets as much as I did was very important to me.
Finliti aims to bring financial well-being to its users by delivering them customized investment strategies. What has been the most exciting aspect of bringing Finliti to life?
Building a winning team culture and having people from different backgrounds and strengths come together to make the vision into a tangible product is definitely a highlight. Making a new discovery by unlocking financial awareness in a psychometric study that gave meaningful results was very rewarding and it validated my inner geek. Solutions evolve but I believe that a sound foundation is imperative to success. Once one part of the vision comes alive, new branches of creativity get sparked and we progress to make the original strategies even more powerful. It’s like creating your own world and it’s a very magical feeling.
On the other side, what have been some of the most challenging aspects of the startup’s creation process?
Aside from the obvious shoestring budget, persisting through a lot of skepticism and rejection has been hard to take. Risk is a four letter work in the financial industry and it evokes a lot of fear and aversion. Demonstrating that when risk is understood that it can be monetized still seems like a threat for many. In my experience, entrepreneurs see the world differently and we also see the impact of decisions 5, 10 or even 20 years from now. Speaking up, staying resilient and coming to the realization that there is no overnight success if you want to build an enduring company were concepts that I had to understand and accept in order to move forward. There are times when everything rolls and then you hit a plateau and you need to figure out why things aren’t progressing. Knowing my limitations with knowledge or domain experience and recognizing when I was overwhelmed were key personal performance indicators for my startup journey. The best action you can take when you get stuck is to admit you’re in over your head and to ask for help.
As trading apps become more popular, the competition in this space grows exponentially. How is Finliti different from similar tools we can currently find in the market?
Finliti uses your individual unique personality to build a secure structure around your finances to improve your probability of success when investing. The more you learn the more you earn and we’ve proven this in our psychometric study. We’re at least 2 years ahead of the competition in terms of building a tool that works and studying the emotional cues by providing a user-friendly customer experience that sets us apart from the competition. Many solutions are cookie-cutter and not customized for individual preferences because that’s how people have scaled. There are trading strategies, but you have to know a lot before you can use them properly and one of the main issues is getting people to learn basic financial literacy to get them motivated to learn about these new applications in the first place. I also went through my own hero journey going through the investing process and going up against defensive personalities but also, learning from some wonderful peers to develop my knowledge in the industry. We also have a solution that’s ready right now to be integrated with a narrative to satisfy the curiosity that’s needed to motivate users to stay engaged.
What are some of the next big milestones for Finiti?
The next big milestones are to integrate the FIPI into the brokerage system along with the fulfillment algorithms and to complete a successful intervention.
As a founder and leader, what are some of the most important skill sets that aspiring entrepreneurs should develop?
The easiest way to get ahead is to learn from those who have done it before you. Learning from their failures and their successes can be a huge time saver. Don’t overbuild… be scrappy from the beginning and find motivation that goes beyond money. Money can be made in many different ways and there are a lot easier ways than building a startup. Delegate tasks where you are weak and assert your strengths and lead with those. It’s good to understand the risks and I believe that not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs seek out risk and opportunities and if you find yourself getting bored or pushed out of a corporate role, then you may just be an incredible entrepreneur. You need to build resilience and working a corporate job for a number of years can give you great experience. Being a startup entrepreneur is time consuming and it can take a toll on your family relationships and loved ones. If you’re thinking of becoming an entrepreneur, hang around entrepreneurs and see if this is the lifestyle for you. I interviewed and analyzed over 1000 small cap issuers’ management teams before making the leap. They taught me how to raise money, how to tell a story and emphasized the key metrics in their respective industries. The smaller companies can give you a window into the future of where industries are headed and you can take this with you to build something new in your area of passion and expertise.
Being a founder and undergoing the startup journey can be a rollercoaster. What have been the driving forces to keep you going despite the lows and what advice would you give to founders?
Your health is the most valuable asset that you have. Grow and invest in your network and find your supportive peers. Sometimes family and friends get uncomfortable with your ambition to become an entrepreneur and to start your own business – especially when you start achieving the first sprouts of success. Set boundaries and distance yourself from people who put you down, but take feedback from the people that count. These people can be experts in the industry, other startup entrepreneurs and advisors. Don’t take one opinion but gather at least 3 and if they are telling you the same thing, chances are that you’re the one who needs to pivot. Eventually if you work around the clock, you will burn out and that is a horrible feeling. Take naps or breaks when you need them and set alarms for your tasks to avoid going down rabbit holes. Also, keep a journal by your bed because you might get brilliant thoughts at 3am in the morning and you will most likely forget them. Writing them down will help you unwind and give you material to work with the next day.
You’ve been part of the 5th Ascension Cohort that has undertaken a new spin on supporting founders by maximizing their funding opportunities and fostering peer support from founders. What have been some of the biggest takeaways for you?
The network of deep Fintech Expertise and mentorship has been instrumental to moving us forward. We also participated in the Fintech Cadence Case Challenge and had to come up with solutions in 48 hour sprints and we were ecstatic to win the AMF Case Challenge as it validated our product and reinvigorated our purpose. This was tremendously helpful because it reframed the problem in another way from different industry perspectives. Fintech Cadence provided us with a lot of answers, like how and who gives funding and what they are looking for in terms of milestones and traction and structure to enhance our financials, decks and pitches to increase our probability of success during the funding round.
Wrapping up 2022 what’s been one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned you’ll take with you in the new year?
Always add context, because people may not see your vision like it looks like in your head, setbacks are just opportunities to drive forward and when faced with a setback, identify it and ask for help from at least three people who have the expertise in the area. A little bit of progress each day can lead to big steps forward. Finally, being assertive with my vision and in my writing conveys the thought leadership and conviction needed to move forward.
Lastly, any books or podcasts you recommend?
- Emotional Agility (Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life) by Susan David, PHD
- Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- The Hard Thing about Hard Things – Building a business when there are no easy answers, by Ben Horowitz