MovoCash is a financial services company specialising in P2P payments, mobile banking, fintech, and finserv. It empowers customers to instantly send and spend money right from a mobile phone, even without a traditional bank account.
Eric Solis, CEO and Full Stack Entrepreneur calls himself a ‘fail-forward entrepreneur’. Behind the MovoCash product, there has been a long process of hard work and perseverance required to build the MOVO vision; it hasn’t been an instantaneous win. Eric believes MOVOcash is on the right track, on the ‘lean, mean good stuff’ building a product which is changing the lives of millions, but there is still much to be done.
Read on to learn about Eric’s MovoCash journey, the MOVO MVP, tackling the mother of all pivots, the concept of pushing yourself up just one more hill, bootstrapping like you are fasting, and how MovoCash is helping sheep herders in places of the unbanked ‘hopscotch’ over the old ways to the newest means of banking.
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Developing a startup is a challenging endeavour. Many believe you need to be a particular type of individual to make it through the initial hurdles before your product begins to gain traction. As a result, you may decide that you can’t take any more of the heat in the kitchen and decide to leave. However, Eric assured me that throwing in the towel was never something he could even consider.
“It isn’t about whether you think to yourself, ‘I can’t do this,’ and whether you say to yourself, ‘I quit. I’m done.’ That’s all I can take. If those moments do not occur, you are not deep enough. That is part and parcel of the journey. You can’t give in and must continue climbing that next hill.”
Eric told how he used to mountain bike with some of his friends who were higher in ability and fitness than he at the time. When motivating him to keep pushing, they would always tell him, ‘It’s just one more turn. One more right turn. We’ve just got to get around the next turn. He says that this analogy is precisely how you have to face the startup challenge. One problem, one day at a time.
“You gotta wake up today, and you’ve gotta go get it. If you get too far ahead of yourself, you’re gonna crash. But, nevertheless, it doesn’t make those hills any less steep!”
MovoCashwas on a roll, killing it, after having opened up two and a half million accounts on a prepaid platform. They were generating a revenue trajectory of $70-80 million a year. Eric tells us how they were growing at a crazy impressive rate, opening up 15,000 accounts a day. Still, they soon realised that the agreements were not scalable, the technology was not scalable, and they were not able to be agile enough, from a technological perspective, to make the required changes.
“Once we learned what the issue was, we had to shut it down. We pivoted completely to a digital banking platform, which is now our neobank full-blown digital banking solution, but deciding to turn that off was one of the biggest pivots to date.”
Eric stresses that even though it sometimes doesn’t seem right at the time, and you know you are going to get hell from your shareholders and teammates who, he described, wanted to hang him by the ceiling from his toenails and chop off his fingers because of it, it’s something you have to do. Pivoting, no matter how significant it is, maybe the only way to get around the corner and keep riding the successful startup trail. In Eric’s case, it gave them that free ride up the mountain, enabling the MovoCash team to identify certain moments that other companies much later realised they had to take on board and ultimately repackage their product.
Eric says that thanks to his leadership style of making others be their own leaders, MovoCash is comprised of employees who possess the ability to lead and solve critical issues which inevitably occur in the Fintech world.
“The hallmark of my leadership style is that I train all my staff to think like a CEO. I don’t consider what functional area you’re in. To my mind’s eye, if you are working at MovoCash, you’re training to be a CEO. I forced them to make really hard decisions all day long. Nobody gets a free pass here. We’re all in this together.”
MovoCash employees are taught to work on the concept of ‘failing fast and forward’. FinTech is a demanding sector, and building a banking system means you must prepare to be incredibly well managed for your failures. Eric has also actively built an environment in which the ripples caused by a team member leaving are kept to a minimum.
“My amazing mother described the perfect team similar to a bucket full of water. You reach in, grab a handful of water, and if you do it right, there’s still a bucket full afterwards. That’s how we work at MOVO; it’s a great way to describe our management. I give all the credit to the team for buying into the philosophy and helping make it our reality.”
“An MVP implies that you have something actually to make. For me, it was more of a science project. We were attempting to do something that had not been done before. For example, the processing systems weren’t in place, nor were the card fulfilment systems. Additionally, the compliance and onboarding system hadn’t yet been articulated in the way we envisioned.
Eric told how the initial challenge of the MVP was more about radically innovating than just incrementally innovating something new.
“You’ve got to go out there and really say to yourself, how do I create a rudimentary proof of concept.”
Eric admits that people were more critical of the UI UX of the MovoCash 1.0 deployment. Still, he wasn’t blind to this and also shared the belief that the initial product would be ‘ugly’, not expecting anybody to use it. The main thing for Eric was to create a product that no one else was building, and in doing so, sometimes, something has to give. If that was the aesthetic around the product for the time being, then so be it. It was something Eric and his team were willing to sacrifice because they knew the polishing up phase would be easy in comparison.
“It was just awful. I wasn’t even given any creature comforts. You couldn’t do anything you’d expect to be able to do in a banking solution. This was entirely due to my focus on what no one else was doing rather than what everyone else was doing. I knew I could add all the bells and whistles and make it pretty later on; after all, putting lipstick on a pig is as simple as it gets, right? However, we concentrated on the super-hard task of making our unique delivery and value proposition work flawlessly. That is what we have now. We’re currently applying the lipstick to the pig.”
It’s not where I want it to be. It’s only half a step better than where we were, says Eric. It’s still in the constant proof of concept stage because things change and evolve so quickly in our industry.
Eric was abundantly clear that to have any sense that you’ve arrived at your destination is dangerous and emphasises, by using an American baseball analogy, that the MovoCash journey is still on ‘first-base’ rather than third. That’s precisely where Eric assures they need to be. He tells how the outlook that you’ve ‘got it’ is dangerous because as you move forwards as a company, so should the vision. Also, he believes to stay in the game; customers need MovoCash to be serving with a critical eye, ready to evolve with their needs.
A hybrid approach is how the MovoCash team continues to keep their costs down, as it enables them to iterate quickly. Eric tells us how you’ve got to identify your core competencies and ensure you have those closely protected and guarded in-house. But you also need to be on the constant hunt for a better way to execute, speeding up your delivery and helping to bring the costs down. Eric tells how this is vital when you are right there in the midst of the MVP journey as you don’t know what you don’t know, meaning you can’t go all in and go big without having learned what is viable, what is valuable, and what are people willing to pay.
“Once you’ve identified those things, you can recalibrate and make the necessary decisions. Early on, we built our technology inside the processor, and there was a time when we didn’t even really have our own code base, so it was a risk.”
However, Eric stressed that a risk needed to be taken to prove what he had previously envisioned – a product that could be built in the most efficient-risk and low-cost way. The product was never meant to be designed to be the ultimate product, at least in those early stages. Sometimes you’ll find that you’ve got to make tough decisions along the way. You have to be in an agile state, ready to iterate quickly.
“Some people become very risk-averse, and that’s part of the reason that they don’t survive even the first phase of the startup journey because they’re too conservative.”
“Entrepreneurs often don’t want to share their ideas with others, due to the fear their idea will be poached. I believe the first thing an entrepreneur should do is a significant sanity check and think of the risk involved. One of the first things I did was call the CEO of one of the potentially biggest competitors. If he wanted to, he could have ripped off my idea the next morning.”
“Elon Musk once said, “Hey, here’s all my patents, go build something cool.” The Give to Live’. Give, and it’ll come back to you. That’s the philosophy we operate on.
“We think a lot about financial and marketing models, but I don’t think global organisations think enough about behavioural models. How will we coexist on an organisational level to meet our needs so that you can be your best and I can be my best? That is really overlooked, so we have our own model to combat that.”
“We even have a a common language that we create. For example, If I say I’m in the red or let’s go into the bubble, everyone knows exactly what it means. It is a fast-track way to express what we need and feel. A formulation of how we work together on the front end, instead of attempting to tackle this problem once you’re in the river, in level four, rapids. It’s hard to make changes on the fly like that.”
Eric told how one of the most recent unforeseen challenges was when they had a four-hour outage after having made some modifications to their VPN, modifying how their API calls are sent off to the processor.
“We have very specific protocols where we scrub things out. We make sure that before doing something of this kind, we make a list of possible things that could go wrong. But on this occasion, my team were busy. We thought this was a slam dunk and likely no issue. We do these tasks every day, so it was a piece of cake. But that day, we slipped up.”
Eric tells how the repercussions of something relatively minor, ended up having a significant impact and is currently still recovering from the fault. “We took a hit. It affected all of our KPIs.”
Eric tells, however, that he sees this issue as a learning curve, serving as a reminder for all of us to, once again, avoid that feeling that we’ve got it. It forced a reboot of the team and to revisit the importance of why they must follow protocol.
“We’re not heavy on papering things up, but there’s a certain amount of wash, rinse, repeat, which you must go through. I’m one of these guys that was around in the.com Bust era. I saw what happened. When valuations spiked, everybody went out and raised money at those valuations. They had no dry powder, but when the bubble burst, prices declined 50-70%. You can’t ever afford to violate those protocols.”
“The concept of bootstrapping is hard. It’s the road less traveled. You tell a different story when you’re bootstrapping than when you’re not, as it creates different problems. If you’ve only raised $12 or $13 million on a grand total of $20 million, your highest valuation, you may not have the war chest for the hard times. Any path you pick is going to come with challenges. You just got to be prepared to deal with them.”
Eric describes how he and his team are constantly battling resource constraints, but he believes this is a healthy aspect of bootstrapping because it forces you to have a razor-sharp focus on your resources and where you will spend this limited amount of money. He gives an everyday example of how this restricted approach can have life-changing consequences.
“My wife is pursuing a doctorate in nutrition.” She tells us that fasting makes you stronger because it makes your body work harder and absorb nutrients more effectively. We can examine this approach through the lens of bootstrapping. The concept of fat and happy is not the MOVO style. We are on the good stuff, perpetual lean and mean.”
Eric explains how viewing fasting from a corporate perspective will make you hungry for success- the hunger makes you strive for even more. In addition, it forces you to look for things you might not notice otherwise, which can have a transformative effect during the bootstrapping phase. He describes how MovoCash frequently has a plethora of options, but this is where they must keep that razor-sharp, hungry mindset to pick out what will work the best.
Eric tells how, for now, they have plenty of growing to do on home soil and are blessed with one of the most vibrant markets in the US. He describes the current growth of MovoCash as growing at a beautiful rate, and they currently have a product which is hitting all the right spots of the market, which will go global in the not too distant future.
“In terms of vision, it’s all about global expansion. MovoCash, from day one, was a dream to see a sheep herder in Bangladesh using our product to make their trades. This is one of my long-standing passions. One of my mentors and one of the brightest strategic minds ever said to me, ‘If you can make this work here, getting it to the rest of the world becomes a lot easier. So that’s our focus. Make it work here, and then export it. An aim to get to the least of us, the most disenfranchised, from just being able to transact on a basic financial level is what drives me. Take, for example, the generation with a smartphone who hopscotched over how to use the landline. That is exactly what I believe mobile banking has the capacity to do. This is the power of fintech.”
“Our intentionality at MovoCash was to build that bridge where I could send you digital money from any corner of the globe right now, and you could claim it digitally and instantaneously. It would therefore be then converted into a form factor, that being a 16-digit card number that is universally recognised around the globe. And then using NFC technologies, whether it’s Google pay Apple Pay, or Samsung Pay, it converts on the fly in real-time, to an NFC solution that can be read by a reader.”
“Now we’re getting there. Suppose we can hold that on a blockchain so that the ledger systems are much more secure. In that case, we don’t have to worry about the fraud we’ve experienced up to now with the centralised ledger system, merging these together to produce a seamless consumer experience. That’s what we focus on.”