Perhaps you have experienced the awkward situation where you want to tip someone but don’t have the cash. Or maybe your company prohibits this kind of gratitude, but clients still want to thank you?
Jessica Dawson, CEO, and Nicole Powers, COO of 55th Degree, came up with a fintech solution that optimizes the service industry’s tipping process and helps users make easy investments via a fully automated functionality. And today, in the Relevant Founders Podcast, we share the creation story of fintech startup FISK.
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Jessica began working on the concept of the 55th Degree about ten years ago. Unfortunately, she was forced to abandon the project due to unforeseen circumstances. “The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time,” Thomas Edison once said.
More determined and experienced, in 2019, Jessica returned to her vision at the 55th Degree. This time, there’s no stopping her!
The idea of Fisk came to her before Christmas—in December 2021. The next day, Jessica called her best friend Nicole to help her get this project off the ground. Nicole, too, saw growth opportunities in fintech, and so they decided to make their mark in the industry.
Jessica and Nicole met long before their work on Fisk. But they were not afraid of the difficulties a friendship can present when launching a business with someone you’ve known in another capacity for a long time. You are no longer friends but business partners.
Their equally strong personalities have occasionally clashed, but Jessica explains how this has contributed to their success. Disagreements are inevitable; this is how great products are created by working through the pain points together. “It is part of a lifelong learning process.”
“To me, 55th Degree means balance. I always try to balance myself as much as possible.”
Every idea comes from experience. When Jessica worked at Home Depot, she always enjoyed helping people complete their projects. One of her local contractors was so impressed with her desire to help, to go the extra mile for her customers, and he, in return, wanted to give some gratuity to Jessica. Many companies don’t allow cash gratuity; it’s frowned upon.
“It happens so often; you’re rummaging through your pockets, thinking, ‘I don’t have the cash to give this person; how am I going to do this? I need an easier way.’ And that’s where the idea to create Fisk came to life.
FISK was conceived as a fintech app that helps users to make easy transfers by sending money via many different ways, such as QR code scanning. All the incomes could be split between regular and investment accounts, so besides simple money transfers, this product helps users to invest in their future without additional effort.
“People ask where this name – FISK – came from. We had a couple of freelancers from Norway working with us. They called the app “fisk” all the time, and we were like, “Huh?“. Turns out “fisk” means “fish” in Norwegian, and because we started as “small fish in a big pond,” I turned to Jessica and said, “What do you think? How about Fisk?” And she said, “I love it.” “Well, that’s settled, then.”
Jessica was responsible for choosing the software development company. This is a stressful situation for a startup and any corporation, regardless of whether or not they have existing applications.
As a result, when choosing a company, she prioritized built-in cybersecurity and experienced programmers who could complete the job on time. So, after conducting many Google searches, interviews, and contacts, Jessica discovered us at Relevant Software.
Considering Russia’s war on Ukraine was in the initial stages at this point, Jessica and Nicole were a bit nervous that the team was based in Ukraine. However, many companies who work with Relevant and other Ukrainian software companies assured them that the main concern for Ukrainians was to continue working and living as normally as possible.
“When we first hired Relevant, we thought we had finished with our discovery phase, but we were wrong. Once we started talking with business analysts and the project manager, we realized that we still needed another month/month and a half of discovery. And so, we pivoted right back to the start.
It was interesting working with seasoned project managers and business analysts. They looked at the original idea and all the pivots and consolidated them into a functioning MVP within our budget and timeline.
We realized that now we can focus more on creativity and the company’s structure by having an outsourcing team, especially in this startup phase. Also, it gives us that much-needed time to set ourselves up to have an in-house team one or two years later. So outsourcing the development side freed us and continued to scale up on the homefront.”
“After getting acquainted with our idea, Ukrainian engineers and the whole team told us: “We can’t do it.” It’s a little bit startling for Americans to hear this because, in the US, people usually say, “We’ll do it, we’ll find a way to do it.”
At first, it was shocking, but it turned out to be the key to our success. Instead of over-promising and under-delivering, our Relevant team found a solution and told us: “Let’s figure out how we can do something close to that.”
Also, Ukrainians are the hardest-working people we’ve ever met. We often got notifications that our project manager added comments to our Slack or Figma. So, I message Jessica and tell her, “Don’t these guys ever sleep?” noticing it must be 4 am on their side. Ukrainian software developers do not work bankers’ hours. They work until the job is done.”
Jessica confesses that if she knew as much as she does now, she would’ve never jumped into the Tech world. She likes to believe that, usually, she can learn something in a week, give or take. But, she now recognizes that the fintech industry is not something you can figure out in a week.
“When I said I would create a financial application, people asked: “Do you write code? I said, “Why do I need to write code?”
So we turned to Relevant to build the product we wanted, and the project is almost complete. We plan to launch FISK on October 15. We will soon start our beta testing, and we’re already attracting people to it.
We can’t wait to get going, help all our new customers, and make our investors satisfied with the progress. We hope people will look at us and go, “How did they come up with that idea? And why didn’t we think of that?” This issue is worldwide, and as soon as we’ve broken the states, we will look to expand outwards.”
As we do for our guests on Relevant Founders, we asked Jessica and Nicole to summarize their experiences and give the most valuable bits of advice for founders and aspiring entrepreneurs. Here’s what they know now, which they didn’t upon creating FISK:
Next, make sure you can get out there and raise that capital. You may have great ideas and a good team. But you won’t go anywhere if you don’t have the funds. That was one of the most exciting things about this job – raising money was a daily challenge. And lastly, always create, to move forward and see things beyond what we are in just today.”
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