Kai Stinchcombe is the CEO of San Francisco based True Link Financial which issues a Visa card with special protections against fraud targeting seniors.
If you don’t cry when you tell your customers’ stories, you’re not doing something you care about enough. On its good days this is the best job in the world, but there are a lot of bad days too. Don’t seek to be an entrepreneur – try as hard as you can not to! And if you can’t possibly avoid it you’ll be the one with the drive to succeed.
I’m sure we’re the only Y Combinator company with three of its first five critical players in their 60′s, and we’re one of not many with more women than men on the team. We honestly didn’t do it on purpose. Like every other startup out there, you need people with talent, with hustle, who are both creative and know what they’re doing. Our senior-citizen employees have every bit as much spark as we do and every day they challenge us every day to work harder. When everyone else is hiring men in their 20′s, you’ll have a strategic advantage if you take off the startup blinders and recruit the talent that everyone else doesn’t see.
I’ve been doing this my whole life, sometimes with more and sometimes with less success. The biggest driver of success has been solving a problem that I know about personally.
If there’s an investor you want – who understands the problem, can contribute substantively, and has good chemistry with the team – you’ll get them eventually. A substantial percentage of our current investors saw it as too unlikely at first, and as the team developed and the product matured over time it ended up within their comfort zone. It’s almost like when we hear no we pretend we heard yes and that they just aren’t ready to send the money yet.
Our first customers were our own family members and our second set of customers were the family members of our friends, coworkers, and investors. Part of validating the premise of the company was figuring out what percent of people knew someone affected by the problem. I think if you’re qualified to start a company – have a real problem and understand it well – you should have access to initial customers yourself.
One thing we learned early on was that nobody cares about the product, they care about the problem it solves for them. If we’re marketing a financial service, we’ve lost; if we see ourselves as leaders in a movement to respect the elderly and stop the scammers, the financial services aspect of the business will take care of itself. Most of all, our potential customers want to know that we understand and care about their problem, and the best way we can do that is through our existing customers.
Almost everyone on our team has some personal experience in their own family with the problem we’re trying to solve. Empathy is probably the most important value for us, and it makes for a very supportive working environment.
We have a huge amount of regulatory / compliance responsibility – appropriately so, it’s actually been reassuring to see that some yahoo can’t go out and issue a Visa card. But some free advice for anyone out there… don’t start a credit card company unless you absolutely have to.
I’m a skeptic about almost everything, but Y Combinator is the real deal. Get in if you can, and if not, follow all the advice.
Dumbest thing I have done so far is easy: google the TechCrunch article about our product launch and read the last line. It’s a sincere emotion but I could have phrased it lot better.