A day in the life of a Vancouver fintech startup
What’s it like to actually work in a fintech startup in the fast-growing tech hub of Vancouver?
That is one of the top questions you tend to hear at events like the BC Tech Summit happening this week (We’ll be there, by the way. Drop by our exhibitor space and say hello!). Many attending the summit this week are looking to explore job opportunities.
That’s no surprise, considering that the BC tech sector is building up so fast that experts can’t even be sure they’re measuring it correctly. For those who have never worked in the tech sector, or in a startup, they want to know: how do we do what we do?
After all, building and scaling an online wealth management platform isn’t quite the same thing as producing widgets in a factory or selling shoes in a store. There’s a cool mystery to tech. That goes double for the very niche fintech sector. What exactly do we do all day?
Just as a little background, WealthBar has about 20 people on payrolll, including the executive team, our portfolio manager, financial advisors, IT and development, marketing, design and more. Communicating instantly through Slack, Trello, email and a few other apps keeps us connected. Plenty of times, we’re collaborating the old-fashioned way in front of a white board or via conference call.
The tech startup is not a place where everyone is strapped to their desk, stuck in a bubble of their own tasks. On the contrary, almost everything we do involves working together with different members of the team. Here’s some of what our team was up to this week.
Tracking growth to tell the story right
The mere title of CEO has a lot of connotations: visionary leadership. Bold risk-taking to get the big deals done. A big presence that doesn’t shy from the limelight. That’s true, whether doing an investor pitch, talking on a panel or taking a microphone from a reporter.
There’s some truth to it – but in a tech startup, a CEO has to spend plenty of time in the trenches with the rest of the team. “Today I was working with one of my investors and co-founder on preparing the growth projections for the investor update,” CEO and Co-Founder Tea Nicola said. “I ran two different scenarios and showed the potential outcomes in both scenarios for the business.”
Small victories keep her going. “What gives me a sense of achievement? Having three different workbooks with 7 or 8 worksheets each working in perfect harmony. They’re almost telling me stories of how this business can shape up.”
Even for a CEO with a long background in finance (not to mention mechanical engineering), the critical task is telling a story. “No matter how beautiful you think your spreadsheet is, nobody wants the spreadsheet… Don’t subject anyone to a version of hell that is other people’s complex spreadsheets. Get to the point.”
She has to explain why growth is happening. She also needs to show what changes are happening now, to make the most of that momentum. “The biggest assumptions are the ones that are hardest to validate. Any deviation from the status quo will have to be substantiated with development plans and change management.”
From small details to the big-picture, it’s all got to get done
“A lot of the stuff I’m dealing with is on a critical level for the business or involves managing internal strategic decisions,” said Chris Nicola, WealthBar CTO and co-Founder. “That can be pretty challenging.”
For instance, one of the things Chris spends time doing on Mondays is looking at lightweight management processes. “As a result, we’re doing more 1-on-1’s where more formal opportunities for communication to happen. We’re looking at some kind of quarterly review process. If you don’t have any kind of structure built-in, management can be a disaster.”
Working on the strategic level, you’ve got to pick and choose your opportunities for moving the needle, Chris said. “As a CTO, you’ve got this steady flow of opportunities coming your way. You’ve got to make decisions about which ones you want to take time for.” Before a company can land very large partnerships to move the company forward, there’s a process of meetings, fact-finding and a formal proposal. All of these take time.
One lesson learned from that process: Big partnerships can often bring big opportunities. But it’s often easier to deal with smaller companies and startups that can be more nimble.
Managing tasks, managing time
As a startup scales up, everyone takes on more to get the job done – and everyone has to find a way to cope. “My personal approach is to be prepared,” said Neville Joanes, CCO and portfolio manager. “I prioritize the tasks I plan to work on that day. That way, I can be flexible with new requests and leverage the team.”
That day, he was busy reviewing client portfolios, improving back-office operations, writing a market commentary and more. “Seeing the new onboarding in its final stages after significant investment has been spent by entire team was the best moment of the day.”
Helping customers goes to the core of the business
When Financial Advisor and Portfolio manager Mathieu Chouinard starts his day, he’s got one mantra: double-check everything.
“Our business deals with huge volumes of operations, but this is no reason to cut corners,” he said. “This is particularly true for a business that’s managing wealth. Minimizing cash balances and making sure there’s enough in the fund to handle withdrawals is a critical task. There’s no room for error.”
You might think such detail-oriented work would be hard to handle, but he loves the challenge – and the feedback. “As I get the opportunity to chat with clients throughout the day, I’m always thrilled to realize how satisfied the clients really are. It’s always easier when you’ve got a product people actually want. Every day, I’m reminded that the clients see value in what WealthBar is offering.”
Putting the tech in the fintech startup
Our online portfolio app is at the core of what we do – and none of it would be possible without our team of highly-trained developers.
Today, Jean-Francois is smiling as he wields his battle-worn computer into action. He’s dealing with new account applications, ensuring they’re compliant for the securities commission. He’s making UI improvements and helping change up the mobile style of the platform.
Meanwhile, sitting across from him, Christoffer is improving security around messaging on the mobile app and unraveling the mystery of why some people were missing their collaboration messages (Solution: human error, as usual).
“The best moment of the day for us?” Jean-Francois said. “When each feature is done and shipped.” After a long day of fixing problems and making sure our technology runs exactly as it should, there’s a real sense of achievement. Even better, tomorrow will bring new challenges for them and the rest of the team to prove their mettle. There’s always something to make, tweak and improve.
That sense of always building something pervades the whole team. It’s part of what makes it fun to be part of the BC tech community. We’re enjoying learning from our colleagues in this sector, during and after BC Tech Summit. If you see us there, do say hello!