Interview between Maria Aponte, Head of Programs at Fintech Cadence and Liza Akhvledziani, Founder and CEO at Chexy, a recent graduate in our Ascension 2022 Cohort.
Chexy is the first-ever rewards program tailor-made for renters, allowing them to pay digitally, while earning rewards on every dollar they spend on rent.
Can you tell us about your backstory and what inspired you to take the leap into building Chexy?
Having come to Canada as an international student, I have been a renter for over 9 years. My needs as a renter have definitely changed, yet the process of finding a place and paying the rent has largely stayed the same. Right before starting Chexy, I was working as a Finance & Strategy Lead for Square and witnessed the adoption that digital payments have had across verticals (due to the pandemic) that have historically been laggards in adopting them. Yet, in my last move in 2021, I was still asked to pay rent via cheque. It just didn’t make sense and I decided that I want to change that, and finally make paying rent better and more rewarding for everyone.
Chexy is bringing a fresh perspective into the prop-tech sector. While historically a significant number of the startups in this industry focus on solving the landlords' pain points, your mission is to provide value to the tenants. What has been the most rewarding aspect of bringing Chexy to life?
Our founding team at Chexy have all been or still are renters. Building something that would provide value to people of our generation, who tend to be renters for much longer drives us every day.
On the other side, what have been some of the most challenging aspects of the startup’s creation process?
As a first-time founder and coming from a corporate career beforehand, the biggest challenge I experienced early on was just the lack of triaging. When you work for someone else, there are always people at the top who dictate priorities & agendas. When you work for yourself and especially at an early stage, there are a million things that need to be done and you have to wear different hats, often within the same day. Learning to prioritize ultimately can be extremely difficult at the start.
How do you think Chexy could influence the financial habits of its users as well as their tenant/landlord rapport?
First and foremost, being able to pay your rent online and ditch the cheques. But most importantly – being able to reap rewards from thousands of dollars you already spend on rent, including both through reward programs and the ability to build credit, qualifying for that mortgage sooner. With regards to the tenant/landlord rapport – I hope that observing rental payment data at Chexy, will create better verification opportunities for landlords in the future and provide them more peace of mind, ultimately making the whole process faster and more pleasant for the tenants as well.
What are some of the next big milestones for Chexy?
By having recently received our MSB registration, we are going to do our first cycle of rent payments with our alpha group in February. We will then go forward with increasing the user group and driving payment customers to reach our goal of 10,000 by the end of the year. Needless to say – Chexy has a lot on its plate in 2023.
As a founder and leader, what are some of the most important skill sets that aspiring entrepreneurs should develop?
Learning to distill the feedback and changing/adapting your business based on it, without being unnecessarily swayed into different directions. As an early-stage founder, you will get a lot of conflicting advice and it is important to know what to take & leave and how to stay true to your vision. Another important skill that comes with it, is the ability to prioritize execution over planning as you will never have a perfect plan, but you learn a lot through trial and error.
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?
You have to be genuinely passionate about the mission and the problem you are solving. You will have ups and downs, you will be told “no” a lot, ultimately the only way to keep going is to learn and adapt with every misstep, believe in the north star, and continue enjoying the process. People say “focus on the journey, not the destination” and I think it’s especially true for building a business – that’s why so many successful entrepreneurs don’t stop at just one exit.
You’ve been part of the 5th Ascension Cohort which 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?
Fundraising, even when successful, takes a lot of time and preparation. If someone on your team can be full-time dedicated to that, as was the case with us, make sure to take advantage of it. Another one – work your network and then their network and so on. Sometimes your best investors and biggest champions end up being your 2nd or 3rd degree Linkedin connection.
Wrapping up 2022 what’s been one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned you’ll take with you in the new year?
Last year (2022) was my first one as a full-time founder and my first time working for myself so lessons were ample. If I was to pick one takeaway is probably the importance of your foundational team. Anyone your partner with or hire, if successful, determines the culture of your business for years to come. Select those people very carefully. I have been extremely lucky with our founding and early-stage team. However, in the founder community – you hear lots of less fortunate stories.
Lastly, any books or podcasts you recommend?
My all-time favorite podcast is “My First Million” by Sam Parr and Shaan Puri. If you have an entrepreneurial mind, you will enjoy digging deep into some sexy and unsexy businesses, all while having a good time.