Startup Spotlight: Finnest
Startup Spotlight: Finnest
Meet Clemens Graves – CEO and Founder of Finnest, a mobile banking service and FDIC-insured debit card account provider for kids and teens!
GH: What is Finnest?
Finnest is shaping the next generation of responsible savers, consumers, and investors through its mobile banking application and FDIC-insured debit card account for kids and teens.
With a focus on behavior modification, Finnest stands apart from simple account transfer services, gift cards or linked checking accounts. The Finnest application creates a conversation between parents and children, allowing kids to make independent choices while learning the trade-offs involved. Incentives and gamification influence good money habits.
Finnest combines real life money management with financial education for kids ages 8-18. Kids can manage their money, establish budgets and savings goals, and experience the power of compound interest, all within an approachable and engaging interface. Parents can approve kids’ requests for funds and exert controls that keep kids from making costly mistakes.
GH: What was your Eureka moment: how did Finnest get started?
In 2016, as I was completing a masters program in innovation management at Brown University, my colleague Richard and I founded Finnest after assessing our own childhood experiences with money. Our understanding of saving and investing, managing cash flow, compounding and more couldn’t have been more different. Our experiences led us to seek a solution for the millions of kids growing up in a cashless society. I’m from Europe where there are many products which drive financial literacy for minors. After assessing the U.S. market for similar products and conducting hundreds of interviews with parents and kids, we saw an opportunity and Finnest was born. Finnest helps families raise kids who can set and achieve their own savings goals and become responsible consumers, savers, and investors.
GH: How did you build your team?
With a product concept in hand, our first order of business was to find software engineers who could help us build it. At the same time, we needed to quickly understand the banking industry, the operational and compliance requirements associated with issuing debit cards and managing accounts. We also needed to develop our customer acquisition strategy and overall marketing plan to reach investors and establish a competitive business model. We were fortunate early on to find a fantastic designer with a background in neuroscience who immediately created a usable, attractive and age-appropriate interface. Our lead backend engineer asked to join our team after he learned about the Finnest product and wished it had existed when he was growing up. Ultimately, as none of us had extensive knowledge in building a banking platform, we surround ourselves with a team of top former banking and financial services executives and engineers.
GH: What is your company philosophy driving your company culture?
Everyone on the team is passionate about helping kids grow up more financially prepared than we were. It’s not enough to hire talented people. I want to build a team whose members are thrilled about the mission while bringing diverse perspectives to our daily interactions. I believe strongly that a mix of women and men from diverse backgrounds builds a high-energy team with greater potential for breakthrough ideas.
GH: Startup life is full of failures and ‘make it work’ moments – can you identify how you bounced back from one of yours?
Rejection is tough and there’s a lot of that when you’re starting out. I think the toughest point so far was after a series of pitches that went nowhere, I wasn’t sure I had the credibility to stand in front of these seasoned investors. But I’ve built a strong network of advocates – advisors, other startup founders, professors, colleagues, friends and family. They all believe in me and in this product. They remind me all the time that some of the best products bucked the trends, disrupted the old ways of thinking, and they too had uphill climbs. Remembering this gives me the fuel I need to keep pushing. And it’s working.
GH: What did you learn from your first customers?
A lot. Perhaps the most significant is that parents’ worst fear is to fail to raise good kids and they hate having to say “no” all the time to their children. They’ve helped us shape our product to put the onus on the kids to make the financial decisions which gets parents back in the role of teaching rather than having to discipline their kids.
GH: What has the Boston ecosystem provided you?
Connections, connections, connections.
Boston is full of brilliant people who are willing to offer advice and lead you in the right direction. Especially our supporters at MassChallenge and the DCU FinTech Center. They do a tremendous job in connecting us with the right people in and around Boston. We are lucky to have them.
GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking from your perspective?
I believe that the Boston startup ecosystem still lacks enough risk takers to invest in companies at their earliest stages. Many Boston-based investors are extremely conservative in their thinking and approach to working with early stage companies. Many of my friends moved to New York or the West Coast where they have had a much easier time getting off the ground. It is sad to see them leave. I believe in Boston and hope that Finnest has no need to relocate anytime soon.
GH: What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?
“Don’t give up, 6 months from now you will love what you’re doing!”
Starting a company is incredibly hard with all kinds of emotional lows and highs. Surviving the lows while staying focused during the highs is invaluable. My advisors enable me to stay laser-focused and manage the lows well.
GH: What was the best thing that happened to you last year?
Becoming part of the Masschallenge community. The four months that we spent in the Seaport at MassChallenge last summer enabled us to meet a majority of the people whom I consider my team and friends today. Many of my advisors and team players joined Finnest when we met them during the program and I couldn’t be more thankful. Without my team, none of this would be possible.
GH: What does the future hold for Finnest?
Many great things!
We’ve landed our first licensing deal with a company that intends to make Finnest available to their clients, and we’re within weeks of delivering our live product to families who have been waiting for Finnest since learning about it on our website.
We’ve won numerous awards and invitations to selective accelerator programs. In short, we’ve got tremendous momentum right now.
Finnest just launched an investment campaign on Netcapital, a Boston-based website that lets anyone invest in private companies, like Finnest! Within just four days we’ve raised nearly half our goal and the team behind Netcapital is doing a terrific job in supporting us along the way. It’s notable that we are two Boston-based FinTech startups and we’re supporting each other to succeed.
The future looks bright.
Learn more about Finnest!