Michael has spent most of the last 15 years devoted to driving growth in businesses dedicated to innovation in financial services. Prior to co-founding Financeit, Michael was the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at epost, a world leader in the electronic bill presentment and payment industry. Michael was responsible for leading the team that built the epost customer network which grew to include every major Canadian financial institution, over 100 of Canada’s largest companies, and over 3 million online users. Previous to this role, Michael was on the founding team of an Ottawa-based Internet startup creating online enterprise solutions, on the launch team of a successful Ontario Labour Sponsored Investment Fund, and was a management consultant with a Washington, DC based systems integration firm. Michael also served as a Legislative and Special Assistant to a number of Members of Parliament at the House of Commons in Ottawa. Michael attended both the University of Manitoba and Carleton University and holds a B.A. in Political Science and Economics.
How did the concept for Financeit come about?
In 2008, I founded CommunityLend, a peer-to-peer lending platform that connected individuals who needed a loan with the appropriate resources in an eBay-like exchange. After identifying a market shift, I pivoted the company using the same principals but focusing on merchant partners and financial institutions, leading to the inception of Financeit in January of 2011.
How was the first year in business?
The first year of Financeit was both exciting and terrifying. We had just gone through three trying years with CommunityLend and the pivot meant we had a sunny destination on the horizon but a lot of hard work and a lot of lessons to overcome to get there. Overall, it was the first year in a new lease on life for our business; our shareholders saw the potential in moving the company in a new direction which meant more market acceptance; a refreshing change to say the least.
What was your marketing strategy?
“Talk to everyone.” When you’re getting off the ground, our marketing strategy was less about developing strategy and more about our network. We wanted to talk to as many people as we could on any given day. Being a B2B company, we called on everyone. We reached out to enormous companies, that at that time, wouldn’t give us the time of day, but our marketing strategy was to continue getting out there to understand where market acceptance was going to happen for us.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
During the first few years, we were growing by 200% each year but you have to remember that growing 200% from a small number, was still a small number in absolute terms.
How do you define success?
Success to me is hearing from our customers that we’re making a difference in their business. If they sign on with Financeit, and implement our platform into their everyday business, they should definitely see the needle move. Hearing our customers tell us that we’ve helped increase their close rates, transaction size, and created efficiencies in their business – that’s how we know we’re doing something right. It really comes down to their success representing our success.
What is the key to success?
Following my above response, it’s about being obsessed with moving that needle forward for your customers.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Persistence pays off.
What are some quotes that you live by?
A personal one that I learnt from my father and I think it works for both business and personal life is, “You are who you are for others”, meaning that you can only measure yourself against the impact you make on the people around you – your friends, children, wife, family, employees, customers, etc.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
At the beginning of our life, when we were getting the company off the ground, and I was the only person backing the company financially, we had a deal with a venture capitalist in Canada who was going to invest in the company and the deal got pulled on a Friday afternoon two months before we knew we would be out of funds to support the business. The situation left us in a scramble, but ultimately, we put together another deal in the next couple months and grinded our way up from there.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
A focus on the end goal. The end goal is to build a meaningful international company in our space, that solves mission critical problems for clients. I have never built something from scratch like I am working towards now. I respect those who have done it and I continue to strive to be one of them.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
This will be the single hardest and best thing you will ever do.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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