The Entrepreneurial Path
Pablo G. Bejerano
Natalie Cartwright and Jake Tyler met during their MBA at IE and embarked on an entrepreneurial adventure which, in just over three years, has led them to work with banks from four continents. Their start-up, Finn.ai, which provides a personal financial adviser using software, is growing steadily after its creators pivoted their initial project, with great intelligence and hard work.
The joint adventure of Natalie and Jake, both of whom have been nominated to the EPIC Alumni award, began in Vancouver. And it could not have been any other way. After studying at IE, Jake was working in the banking sector and realised it was an interesting area. He asked Natalie to work with him to approach this market. Natalie said yes, on one condition: she wanted to work in Vancouver, her city.
“Two weeks later, I turned up with all my stuff and she didn’t have a choice,” says Jake when he talks about the early days of the project. “At the beginning, I think she was joking but when I turned up it was too late”. He laughs as he recalls this. The third co-founder of the company, Guru Atlu, in charge of the technical side of things, also moved to the Canadian city.
Now, Jake is the CEO of Finn.ai and Natalie is in charge of operations. They are both in their 30s and work side by side on the start-up. Before, however, their paths had been very different. Natalie came from the humanitarian sector, where she has worked with the United Nations and Worldfund (which fights AIDS, TB and malaria). Her partner, who was born in Perth, Australia, worked mostly in London, and came from the sector of market consultancy and research.
When Natalie decided to take an MBA she had a clear idea. “If the humanitarian sector wanted to be successful long term it needed to apply basic business principles.” She was also interested in something beyond that. “There was something in me that wanted to try being an entrepreneur, to see if I could do it,” points out Natalie.
This desire matched Jake’s projects perfectly. The result is a personal finance service based on artificial intelligence. Finn.ai examines the information in users’ bank accounts and compares them with their spending habits. Then it suggests saving or investment options, all in an automated way. “AI is getting to the point that we are going to see it working on a large scale,” says Natalie.
The company has raised $1.2M in investments and has as its clients banks in North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Now they work directly with the banks, but it was not always like that.
“We spent around a year as a consumer company and then we decided to pivot and start working with banks, with our focus on companies,” explains Jake. They had six very hard months, during which they also learnt a lot. “We had to make lots of hard decisions, and there were a few tears, lots of long nights and hard work.” He summarises the lessons learnt: “I think almost everyone who has started a business has spent some time wanting to curl up and cry. But it is not the end of the world. You just have to try and pick yourself up and carry on.”
After its change in direction, the start-up has gone from four to 24 employees in 18 months. And in a year they hope to have more than 100. The founders are thinking about opening offices outside North America, perhaps in Europe. Could they pick Madrid? There are lots of big banks there and Jake jokes that he likes the city’s gin & tonic. “That’s a good reason to open an office there.” However, he admits that neither of them speaks Spanish, so perhaps an English-speaking country would be better. They are looking at London or Dublin, depending on the outcome of Brexit.
They both see Finn.ai’s future in the same way: long term, they want it to become a major tool. However, they each have their own personal itinerary. Natalie loves her work, but cannot help dreaming about the future. “I would love to promote entrepreneurship in developing countries, combining it with public health.” Jake is less specific, but there is one thing he knows for sure. “I hope to continue working with brilliant people on something that is truly challenging.” This, he says, is what he has been doing for the last three years.