ADAM & SHLOMI / CO-FOUNDERS OF STAKD / NEW YORK NY
Meet Adam and Shlomi. These guys are launching Stakd, an app that’s like Venmo, except for loans, something that hasn’t been done before. In the interview they get deep and cover a ton of entrepreneurial tips from getting started, to finding a trustworthy partner, to overcoming failure, and staying motivated. I learned a lot from these guys that I'm looking to apply to Bloom and yep, they’re hustling like crazy and most def blooming.
WHAT IS STAKD AND HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
SHLOMI: Stakd is a mobile app designed for relationship-based lending and borrowing. Rooted in social capital, we give users the ability to create, share, and pay down a personal loan in a way that’s not weird or awkward. Think Venmo, but for loans. The key distinction is that these are private loans with the expectation of repayment, not a one-way transfer of funds. Simply enter your agreed upon terms (i.e., how much, interest, how long) and an informal IOU will be generated automatically with the details of repayment. Our user-friendly interface will take you from terms to tracking in 2-minutes or less.
I started on this project because from a very young age, technology shaped my life. I grew up on the PC, the MP3, and the iPhone. These things have allowed us all to see, touch, and feel things in a different way. Even today, I really enjoy observing the fundamental processes at play and experiencing them first hand. I love that every year, gadgets become faster, easier, and more convenient. I knew my calling was to actualize some creative project that could help the world. Fast forward to April 2016, when Stakd was born.
HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU WOULD BE GOOD PARTNERS?
ADAM: Shlomi and I have been buds since freshman year of college at The University at Buffalo (Class of 2013, what up!). We think differently. Our approaches towards design are not alike and we often debate ideas. Our opposing nature, which may seem like a recipe for failure, has been the reason for our success together. Well, that and the fact that we remain respectful throughout each point of contention. We both focus on our strengths. The grand vision though, which is to codify a personal loan in a way that’s comfortable and safe, is something we’ve always agreed upon—and that is why this works.
For entrepreneurs considering partnering up, it's important to keep the following in mind:
1. Can you foresee them having a consistent enthusiasm for the idea?
Without a consistent level of enthusiasm or passion for what you’re trying to do or problem you’re trying to solve—it won’t work. The engineer won’t learn how to implement a new API if they don’t love the larger coding puzzle. The salesperson won’t try and break into new markets if they’re not genuinely enthused by the prospect of the company's direction. Think hard about the capacity the people on your team have to be immersed with your product or service, because quitting too early happens way too often.
2. Can you foresee them taking all the punches with you?
Bad days and good days should be had together. As an entrepreneur, you’ve basically decided to buckle yourself into a rollercoaster with a foggy destination. Concerning the analogy, make sure you’re buckling yourself in next to your partner and sit at the front - because you’ll need each other to stay seated. When the good times come, and they will come, throw your hands up and allow yourself to smile. The more you face together, the stronger the foundation will be.
3. Can you foresee them taking things seriously?
M. C. Escher once said, “My work is a game, a very serious game.” It’s important that the people on your team take things seriously, because if they don’t - you will fail. If you’re a young 20-something, it can be easy to get distracted by social chatter. Your team has to get serious enough that everything else becomes background noise. If 99% of startups fail, you don’t have the luxury of not becoming a serious founder and leader.
STARTING A BUSINESS IS TOUGH! WHAT SHOULD ASPIRING ENTREPRENEURS CONSIDER BEFORE LAUNCHING?
ADAM: Be humble and realize you don’t know everything. In fact, be so humble that you acknowledge, sometimes even publicly, that you’re a beginner with a hungry work ethic. That type of philosophy as it applies to the world, and not even just the startup world, will generate ideas from places you never thought possible.
Think less about the planning and more about the execution. In fact, stop thinking and just “do” the thing you feel compelled to do. If it’s to start a website building business - develop a portfolio of work and push out examples on social media. Just get out there and start the interactions and you’ll learn quickly what the next move should be.
FAILING IS PART OF THE STARTUP PROCESS. HAVE YOU FAILED AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?
ADAM: Failing in the startup ecosystem is very natural. Sometimes those failures are small and other times they’re big and force you to pivot or course correct. We’ve pitched investors and been denied, we’ve applied to accelerators and been denied, and we’ve hired people that weren’t as capable as we were led to believe. In the beginning, these all seemed like big failures because we were just getting started and the word “no” felt like a heavy door in our face. After a couple dozen times, rejection became part of the game. Eventually, we got a yes here and a yes there and all of a sudden we were moving. The key to overcoming failure - big or small - is patience, persistence, and an unwavering pursuit of getting what you want.
WHO ARE YOUR MENTORS AND WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE THAT YOU’VE RECEIVED?
SHLOMI: Kudos to our mentors and advisory board for believing in our vision and in us. We truly wouldn’t be where we are today without their continued support during this incredible journey (that’s far from over). When we first started, Adam and I were entering uncharted territory with countless unknown variables. We didn’t know how to code, build, or run a technology company. That’s when the mentorship became crucial. We found someone with a background in banking law, then someone with mobile payments experience, then someone with digital marketing and branding insight, and on and on. Word to the wise: problems are hell of a lot easier to solve when you have someone to turn to.
Something people overlook however is what I call “horizontal mentorship,” which is mentorship we receive from our teammates. Troy Koss and David VanLaeken comprise our technical division but they by no means are restricted to code and programming. On too many occasions to count, they’ve guided company decisions on everything from web design to recruitment to acquisition strategies - on top of illustrating a robust technical roadmap. Although a true advisory board is a wonderful thing to have, often times the answers we seek are well within the founding unit.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?
SHLOMI: For me, it’s always been the belief that I could control my future. “Don’t settle, think big” was the motto I picked up from my father when I was a kid. I grew up in a household with a father who traveled halfway around the world to start a home remodeling business at the age of 23. I’ll never forget the story about how he had landed in New York’s JFK Airport with no place to stay, limited English speaking skills, and only $700 in his pocket. Although before my time, that’s a real story. My father made his own luck and now I have the opportunity to do the same. For me, the ability to turn nothing into something is fascinating. It sparked the creativity and out of the box thinking that turned Stakd into a reality.
HOW WILL YOU BLOOM IN THE NEXT YEAR?
ADAM: The next year is going to be very exciting for Stakd. 2018 marks the beginning of commercial distribution of our mobile product, which means that for the first time in history a mobile app that facilitates direct person-to-person loans will be available. If it takes off the way research tells us it will, we have plans to expand our team, enter new markets across the country, run some kick-ass campaigns, broker strategic partnerships, and much more. As an individual, I think the next year will be an opportunity to raise my standards as a leader and communicator. Becoming a more public-serving company comes with it certain responsibilities that involve message crafting, public relations, investor relations, and more. I’m excited to get better in these areas in particular.
LASTLY, WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR YOUR 18-YEAR-OLD SELVES?
ADAM: I probably should’ve been more patient with trying new business ideas that I had. I remember I had this one idea for a sneaker cleaning company where I would clean, de-stain, and re-lace sneakers that students had dirtied up. I thought about it for months, asked some people on my floor if they’d be interested, and then finally bought some products. I cleaned 14 pairs of sneakers, but got impatient with how few people were asking for the service, and stopped. I didn’t put out flyers, run social posts, or do email marketing - I did nothing. I wasn’t willing to keep pursuing the work or to acquire customers and that was my downfall: impatience.
SHLOMI: As Adam mentioned earlier, the physical action or activity is the only real difference between doing something and not doing something - between building a great company and merely working for one. Growing up I was timid and shy and that stopped me from starting earlier, say at 18, 19, even 20 years old. Instead I was reading books and magazines about others who had been self-made. And although there will always be a time and place for information gathering, it all comes back to the movement, the work, the physical operation. To my younger self I say, “just go fucking do it.”