As fellows at the Robin Hood Foundation, Paul Barnes-Hoggett and Avi Karnani spent a lot of time thinking about how to help people increase their income. The co-founders created Alice, software that helps people keep more of what they earn by automating pre-tax spending on everyday things like commuting, childcare, and healthcare. Barnes-Hoggett sat down with CFSI to share his company’s story.
What is the origin story of your company?
Avi and I were inaugural fellows of a program run by the Robin Hood Foundation that was designed at focusing tech and product talent to help lift people out of poverty. I’d recently left Adobe and wanted to build a startup that makes a positive change in the world, as did Avi. Together we wanted to figure out how to help people improve their financial security without asking them to change their behavior. Our combination of talents–Avi spent many years understanding how ordinary people think about money and my background in simplifying complex enterprise systems–enables us to do just that.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in starting your company?
I think the hardest thing for early stage companies is to attract top talent when competing with a thousand other startups and big tech companies that are far better resourced. We’ve addressed this by focusing on the mission of the business, and the genuinely challenging and exciting problems our team gets to solve at the intersection of fintech, regulation, machine learning, and behavioral economics.
What new innovation in fintech are you most excited about?
This is more a wish than a current innovation but I long for a time when banks offer true API level access to products. I think doing this will unleash a whole new wave of innovation that’s in both the banks’ and consumers’ best interests.
What’s one thing you wish you’d known when you started your company?
Building a startup is a perpetual balancing act of looking after yourself, your relationships, and your business. One of them will always be a little off balance, but you can’t ignore any of them for long because you need them all to survive and thrive.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever gotten?
If you don’t believe with righteous indignation that your product absolutely deserves and needs to exist in the world, go find something way less stressful and better paid to do than starting a business. And I would also say: Find a good way to give yourself self-care. Building a business takes a lot of time and effort and it’s no good burning yourself out.