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Fintech Founder Q&A: Manifest

Monday, August 12, 2019

Anuraag Tripathi and Meenakshi Lakshmanan founded Manifest to create a seamless retirement transfer solution. Currently, most 401(k) transfers are done manually, which is a tedious process. It’s estimated that nearly 90% of people who start a transfer, don’t complete the pen, paper, fax, and mail process. With more people changing jobs, the number of accounts left behind or cashed out has increased. A seamless transfer solution will help maximize retirement outcomes for millions of Americans, and helps employers protect employee’s financial health. Tripathi and Lakshmanan shared their founder story and learnings with the Financial Health Network.

Q. What was the problem in the world that inspired you to start your company?

Our previous startup was focused on increasing retirement savings rates. Over the course of serving 300,000 Americans save, we learned that it takes up to 60 days to consolidate 401(k) accounts. To test if this was a challenge, we surveyed 2,500 employees as they left their jobs. From that sample, we learned that most on average have three old retirement accounts and balances under $15,000 frequently get cashed out for non-emergency reasons. That inspired us to found Manifest to help our employees maximize retirement outcomes as people switch jobs so they can keep growing their hard earned savings.

Q. What’s been the biggest business challenge you faced while starting up?

Manifest is the first fully digital retirement transfer experience. Being the first means a lot of invention. We religiously speak with our users to make sure we keep building and refining a solution that meets their needs.

Q. What was an early win or success that made you think you could be a successful startup?

Manifest is Anuraag’s third startup, and his second in the 401(k) industry. Meenakshi built the brokerage transfer systems at Goldman before founding Manifest, and has been building enterprise software solutions for more than 12 years. This gave us a unique understanding of the industry.

While working on our previous retirement startup, we ran into the challenges associated with transfers and had the idea to help providers solve this issue. We developed a proposal and pitched our concept to PNC Bank (small recordkeeper) at the Numo Fintech Challenge. The PNC judges loved the idea and Manifest won first place. The judges’ feedback and access gave us the conviction to start building our solution.

Q. What in fintech are you most excited about now?

Fintech companies are driving the financial industry towards customer-centricity. We’re in an era where the benefits of leveraging technology aren’t limited to just lowering costs. By focusing on the user’s needs, startups are building products that provide financial ease, automation, and transparency. The result has been gaining traction in areas most established firms consider unprofitable or unapproachable. This has created an opportunity for startups like Manifest to tackle areas like retirement transfers with technology, where manual solutions have proven inefficient.

Q. Is there a piece of advice that you wish you would have known that other founders might be helpful? Why?

Never, ever compromise when it comes to hiring. A good hire with the right skill set and alignment with the mission and culture has a ripple effect in the company. Existing teammates learn from their peers and future recruits are also attracted to talent teams so the effects of a good hire is very powerful.

Q. What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received, and how has it impacted your company or career?

Founder of Union Square Ventures, Fred Wilson, told a business school class that a CEO does only three things: “Sets the overall vision and strategy of the company and communicates it to all stakeholders. Recruits, hires, and retains the very best talent for the company. Makes sure there is always enough cash in the bank.”
Creating a new company means there is always so much to do. Each time someone joins the team, the founders get a chance to shift their focus closer to more solively driving vision and strategy so the organization can continue evolving and thriving. That’s why it’s important to find the right team who can help execute against that vision.

Q. Would you recommend an accelerator program to others, and if so why (anything in particular about FinLab)?

100%! All three of my startups focused on selling technology to businesses, and while all three had a social mission, the economic value was something that resonated most with the people around. So in the past I would pitch the economics of the business for the opportunity to make an impact with stakeholders.

Since joining the Financial Solutions Lab, we’ve received access to thousands of people who have had years of experience making impact-based pitches. This has allowed us to explore this side of Manifest. Even more inspiring, many of them have made a big difference by changing their own organizations. Leveraging the force of this network has been invaluable.

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